Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Rational Disconnect

I just read this comic, Candorville -- which is one that I read most days (I read comics when I'm bored at work) -- in which the author makes the claim through one of the characters that affirmative action "ensur[es] qualified blacks and latinos from bad schools have access to college." That is one of the most bigoted and stupid statements I've ever heard. First of all, I cannot say whether or not this author's views accurately reflect those of all pro-affirmative action parties. Also, I realize that many of the rational left do not advocate affirmative action and realize that it is not a solution at all. Thank you for not drinking the party kool-aid, so to speak.

This author's statement is one of the most racist, bigoted, and ignorant remarks I have ever seen in print other than satire. The obvious question then is, why blacks and latinos? What about the Asians or white kids who live in poor conditions and go to bad schools? Do blacks and latinos have a monopoly on poverty in the United States? I'm not even sure they have a majority. But regardless, there are plenty of poor people in bad schools who are not black or Latino. So do they not matter any more? How racist. Or perhaps its the 'qualified' part that singles out blacks and latinos. Perhaps he feels that other poor kids must not be qualified for college. Again, how racist. And this brings up perhaps the most relevant point: What makes someone 'qualified' for college? Obviously not education, because he's talking about kids from 'bad schools' -- presumably schools that don't educate properly. Not standardized testing either, because we wouldn't "need" affirmative action if the SAT/ACT scores were leveling the playing field. So what, then, other than race, makes one kid more qualified than another to go to school if not education or skill as measured by standard tests? And how in the heck does affirmative action support that, since it only looks at race? And of course, that's the ridiculousness of it all. Affirmative action does not solve any problems except making rich white people not feel bad and appeasing powerful pro-minority groups like the ACLU.

The poverty cycle is a real problem. Its true that poor kids that go to bad schools never have the same opportunity as richer kids because they are denied the education that others can get because of things that are out of their control. The problem is no longer a racial problem, though. Affirmative action was meant to stop schools from only taking white students. That's not a serious problem most places anymore, and even if it is affirmative action still doesn't help the poor kids, it just helps the well-off minorities secure positions at prestigious schools -- the schools are all going to fill their quotas with minorities who went to good schools, not those who went to bad schools. So this thought that affirmative action is helping break the poverty cycle is simply ignorant. Unless you take the stance that all blacks and latinos are poor and go to bad schools (which is also ignorant), you can't seriously believe that universities are choosing the kids from bad schools and helping them escape poverty. As far as I can tell there are three real solutions to this dilemma, and affirmative action is not one of them:
1. Improve public education so that there are no 'bad' schools
2. Increase access to state universities so that any student who attended public school in the state can attend. This necessitates that 1 be applied to said universities for it to mean anything.
3. Require universities to fill quotas from socioeconomic classes rather than races. Its like affirmative action except it looks at wealth rather than race. I don't think this will ever fly.

I hope Darrin Bell reads this post, and maybe he can even enlighten me as to how his reasoning makes any sense at all. But I doubt he will, given his past comics that dismiss bloggers as ignorant hacks that don't deserve to be taken seriously. Mr Bell, if you do read this post I want to thank you for your comic strip, I enjoy reading it. However, I think that your opinion about affirmative action is short sighted and ignores the reality of the situation. In lieu of any response from him, since I am doubting that it will really come, I'm interested in hearing anyone's ideas about the poverty problem and any rational ways to fight or solve it.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Stem Cell Research out of the Grey Area

Normally I detest the Washington Post for a variety of reasons, but their coverage of the latest advance in stem cell research is extremely interesting. Apparently a Harvard research team has discovered a way to convert ordinary skin cells into stem cells. The implications of this development speak for themselves. Notably, the new method is actually an improvement over previous work with stem cells because the stem cells are now an exact genetic match for the donor -- which is of supreme importance when we're talking about growing replacement organs and such. Before, making an exact genetic match involved turning one's cells into an embryo and then harvesting the cells -- essentially starting to grow a clone and then harvesting its stem cells. This is both very complicated (and therefore expensive) and morally grey, if not reprehensible.

Furthermore, this advancement is a huge victory for science because it takes stem cell research out of the moral ambiguity realm and therefore out of politics -- for the most part. Senator Frist, you really screwed yourself this time. Frist made the mistake of deviating from the President's stand on stem cell research about a month or two ago. If he would have just waited he could have been pro-stem cell research without pissing off the majority of the hard right wing -- pretty much all the "religious right". Anyway, recent polls have shown that Frist doesn't have much of a chance for his presidential ambitions, and I can't say that I mind. The really important thing here though is that stem cell research can now move forward unimpeded and we no longer have to worry about sacrificing innocent lives to work on cures for other at-most-as-innocent-if-not-less lives. And I think that is a very good thing.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Small Update

I haven't written anything in awhile because I just drove back to Waco for school last week. I've been busy this week getting things in order here and whatnot. Today isn't much of a post, but its something ;)

Michael Yon writes about his frustration with the military's seemingly random classification or release of information. He also states that no matter how classified the military says information is it usually ends up in the hands of the MSM before they give him the go ahead to write about it. And he goes on to explain why this usually leads to the marginalization of stories that should be huge -- especially US successes. He insinuates that its not necessarily the MSM's fault, that they are not intentionally messing up stories. Rather they simply do not have the context to correctly cover the story because they do not have any reporter or journalist involved with the military operations in question in any way. If this is true then the military is, excuse the figure of speech, shooting itself in the foot when it comes to popular support. Yon seems to say that if sources like himself were to disseminate this information first rather than the uninformed MSM then the public would get more of a sense of success from Iraq. That would obviously increase support for the war and military at home, possibly curbing the sharp downward trend in recruitment numbers. So, why is the military doing this? Is it a classic example of ridiculous rules by generals that do more harm than good? Or do they hold out hope every time that someone won't leak this story to the MSM before they're ready for them to? Whatever the reason, I hope that they realize their mistakes quickly. These men aren't stupid -- its hard to get promoted that high and still be stupid. They have to have some reasoning that at least makes senset to them. Whatever it is its not correct, though, and I hope something opens their eyes to that at last. I don't believe that the war is completely going our way all the time. But I do believe that the American people hear a lot about failures and almost never about victories. I used to blame the MSM alone for this -- and in a way its still partially their fault for not having or interviewing anyone who is actually involved. But if the higher ups in the military could change their policies and let more positive information get out to the public I cannot imagine why they won't. Everyone who is actually in Iraq who I have seen quoted says that we are winning this war, but that they enemy is still strong and learning. Thats not at all the impression I get from the MSM. They seem to say that we are getting no where in Iraq fighting some guerillas who are schooling us like those in Vietnam. I hope that the stories from these two sources fall more into agreement in the coming days.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Getting Serious

Iran has dismissed the IAEA ruling that they should cease uranium enrichment. The current president, not the psycho who was just elected, said that the ruling was "cruel" and the foreign ministry spokesman said "It comes from American pressure... It lacks any legal or logical basis and is unacceptable." Haven't we heard all this before from another crazy dictatorship in the region? And didn't it lead to France and the UN saying we shouldn't act on the resolution past? Can anyone deny that Iran's current defiant stance is not at least in some way related to the failure of the UN to act on its words with regards to Iraq? Our actions and inactions have far reaching consequences.

Furthermore, apparently we have proof that Iranian weapons are being smuggled into Iraq. Whether this is with the aid of the government of Iran or due to a lack of security at its arsenals it is very concerning and unacceptable. I know that Iran is supposed to be 10 years away from producing a viable nuclear weapon. However, it doesn't take that much development to pack a mortar round or artillery shell full of enriched uranium and put it in an IED (I learned from Michael Yon that those are mostly made of motor rounds and artillery shells). It won't cause a nuclear explosion, but it will be a very effective "dirty bomb" spreading deadly radiation for miles. That counts as a WMD, I'm pretty sure. This is not a casual threat, but a very real danger for our people in Iraq and the Iraqis themselves. Furthermore, it wouldn't take much more effort to smuggle this uranium into the US and set off a dirty bomb here. In a population center like NYC this would be catastrophic. The damage to the economy would be far worse than 9/11 because we couldn't resume normal operations in that city for quite some time, even if there was relatively little destruction. When we talk about Iran enriching uranium there are other threats besides a nuclear explosion that take far less time to develop. And they're already arming our enemies and training suicide bombers. We have to remember things like that when we consider how to deal with Iran in the coming days and months.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

First Hand

I highly recommend that everyone read this post -- and every other -- at Michael Yon's blog. He is a journalist with US soldiers in Mosul, Iraq. He regularly goes on missions with these soldiers and writes about his experiences -- good and bad -- on his blog. This is first hand information that you can't get anywhere else. Here are some interesting quotes from today's post, but please read the whole thing at his site:

"During the first phase of this war, many of our troops were riding in unarmored Humvees and other vehicles. Soon they were being torn to pieces. Once the vehicles were up-armored, the enemy was unable to defeat much of that defense. For a time. But today—although armored Humvees are great and can defeat many threats—the latest generations of IEDs can effortlessly swat them away, spreading their parts over city blocks. The enemy has destroyed our most powerful armored tanks with underground bombs that leave craters in the roads large enough to make swimming pools... The attack last week that killed 15 people, including 14 Marines, catapulted this topic to the front pages. A massive explosion completely destroyed their 28-ton armored personnel carrier. Traveling almost as fast as that news was speculation that our armor is insufficient. But the news that never flashed is that no amount of armor can completely protect us. Armor is extremely important, but given time, the enemy will defeat it."

"Flash burns from bombs are deadly. I’ve seen it many times: anything exposed is fried in an instant. Skin and flesh just peel-off. The super-hot flashes also melt contact lenses to eyeballs before people can blink. Years ago, when I was a jumpmaster, I remember sticking my face outside the aircraft to check surroundings, and my eyelids slapped and flopped in the torrent. That was only about hurricane force winds. The blast in an explosion opens the eyelids, fusing the melted contacts to the eyeballs. Smart soldiers don’t wear contacts in combat, but others often do."

"A couple minutes later, we leave the base and begin the drive downtown; passing spots where so many car bombs and IEDs have exploded. Within a few blocks, we are 15 seconds from rolling over a large bomb buried under the road... One of the terrorists does a double take at the lead Stryker, blowing his cover. The call instantly goes out to 'Block left! Lock 'em down! Two pax!'"

"The Bionic Terrorist seems mentally disturbed. He's poxied with panic, his face contorted by abject terror. Clearly, he is deranged, possibly explaining his prodigious running ability. The enemy is known to use and discard mentally-challenged persons. The poor guy probably doesn't even know what language we speak."

"But that wasn't the whole story. In the Yarmuk neighborhood, only terrorists openly carry AK-47s. The lawyers call this Hostile Intent. The soldiers call this Dead Man Walking.

Deuce Four is an overwhelmingly aggressive and effective unit, and they believe the best defense is a dead enemy. They are constantly thinking up innovative, unique, and effective ways to kill or capture the enemy; proactive not reactive. They planned an operation with snipers, making it appear that an ISF vehicle had been attacked, complete with explosives and flash-bang grenades to simulate the IED. The simulated casualty evacuation of sand dummies completed the ruse.

The Deuce Four soldiers left quickly with the "casualties," "abandoning" the burning truck in the traffic circle. The enemy took the bait. Terrorists came out and started with the AK-rifle-monkey-pump, shooting into the truck, their own video crews capturing the moment of glory. That's when the American snipers opened fire and killed everybody with a weapon. Until now, only insiders knew about the AK-monkey-pumpers smack-down."

"For a moment, I nearly ran back out to drag the terrorist behind the Stryker, but then I thought, Nope, he’s a terrorist! If Kurilla gets shot, I’m definitely going to get him. But the terrorist can get shot to pieces and I don't care.

Instead of doing something useful—and I feel marginally guilty about this, but not too much—I start snapping photos as the Commander drags the guy by the collar to get him to the cover of the Stryker. I can't believe Kurilla is still alive after nearly a year of doing this."

"That’s three strikes. Time for the EOD[Army Explosives Ordinance Disposal] guys to pull out and leave. This irritates and angers the soldiers immensely, but I’ve run with EOD guys before, and their work is exceptionally dangerous. The enemy specifically tries to kill them, making it important that EOD be used only when absolutely needed. This EOD team said that if we find the bomb, please call. They drove home."

"She smiled the whole time, as if to say, That’s my boy! The translator heard her say to her son, “Don’t worry. You will be released soon.” She smiled at me.

The most serious terrorists do not fear prison here. Captain Jeff VanAntwerp, who commands Alpha Company, recently told me that Iraqis joke among themselves that they would pay 5,000 Dinar per night to stay at Abu Ghraib prison. It's air conditioned, the showers are good, the food is good, and the water is good. The mother seemed to know this and it curled in contempt behind her smile."

"During lunch, the Chief persisted in his entreaties to LTC Kurilla, saying his police would find all the bombs, break the cell, and give the prisoner back tomorrow at the latest. And they could. The Iraqi Police could break the cell because they can break the man.

Terrorists often target Iraqi police--especially this station--so the Chief was becoming frustrated, and he continued to angle for the opportunity to interrogate the prisoner, suggesting creative ways to circumvent the inconvenient rules, like, "Let him go and we will catch him again." But LTC Kurilla kept reiterating, 'You know I can’t give him to you. I might not agree with all the rules, but I must enforce them.'

'Give him to me, just for the night,' the Chief said. 'You can have him back tomorrow.'

'That I cannot do,' Kurilla replied firmly. 'If your police had been with us when we captured him, you could have him. But these are the rules.'"

"I walked back through the dark and did the radio interview by cell phone. During such interviews, I get the impression that people at home are losing faith in the effort, though we are winning. But at home they cannot see it, and when I said goodbye that time, I sat in the dark."

"It happens that the explosion was an accidental detonation of the large bomb we suspected had been left under the road by Yarmuk Traffic Circle. Apparently the terrorists had gone back to hook it up, but it had detonated, scattering some car parts, but no human parts were found. Our hunch left a crater eight feet in diameter, and took out an entire lane. Three artillery rounds also had been blown from the hole and lay unexploded nearby. Had Kurilla not spotted that nervous double-take seconds before the stripe-shirted terrorist could hit the #7 key, that bomb might have hit us."

"That night, there was an important memorial for Nils Thompson, the soldier who had been killed by a sniper. Soldiers had labored for days, and into the nights, to make a fitting ceremony for young Nils Thompson. Top officers, a General among them, came to the ceremony. Though he'd just turned 19, Thompson already had earned respect from officers and men in the unit. Many quiet tears marked the true pain of the loss. A few soldiers wondered, Do people at home even care?"

"Captain V is one of the most respected officers here. When things go wrong, soldiers love to hear his voice on other end of the radio. They know that things are getting better fast when Captian V is on the way. A couple months ago, I rolled out with his section, and soon we were sleeking on foot down the darkened streets and warrens of Mosul, far away from the Strykers. We got into contact and there was some minor shooting drama, and I ended up separated with only two soldiers. We were alone in Mosul. Guns were hot. There was a sergeant and a young soldier, and the sergeant's radio could not reach out. 'Let's stay here and Captain V will find us,' I suggested. But the sergeant was having none of that sit-tight stuff. He wanted to keep moving, and so we did.

Before long, a Stryker came creeping down a dark road and stopped in front of our latest position in a dark alcove. The ramp dropped and Captain V walked out. 'Hey, guys,' he said. 'How's it going?' Much better, I thought. We re-grouped and continued the mission."

"After midnight, the ramps dropped and we slipped silently into the dark spaces of Mosul. Creeping through stinking alleys, we took cover in darkness, sometimes illuminating briefly under shop lights, then disappearing back into the shadows.

No sound, no sight, just soldiers prowling through the murk of war, bringing worry to men who should be worried. The soldiers found the right house, and silently slipped inside."

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Important Questions

"The International Atomic Energy Agency has indicated its board of governors will ask Iran to rescind its decision to resume its uranium enrichment program." And I'm sure they will. Those Iranians are always doing what they're asked, as long as they're asked nicely. Just like Saddam. Such a nice young man, pity about that whole US invasion thing. He really did have a good heart, he was just misunderstood. I'm sure there's nothing to worry about in Iran, they're very reasonable people there -- why would they want enriched uranium anyway? Its not like they have state sponsored suicide bombing camps and a desire to kill Jews and/or Americans or anything like that. Right?

Alright, enough with the old lady routine. The real question here is how long before someone does something real. The so called 'EU-3' -- France, Britain, and Germany -- did some with their incentives offers. Russia has always been counter productive in this regard, helping Iran further their ambitions. The US is being hounded by the UN and others to 'stay calm'. And the IAEA is trying what no one else thought worth trying -- asking nicely. So... how many days is Iran going to be allowed to continue with uranium enrichment before someone does something that will actually stop them? How long is it going to take for the UN to set a deadline, extend the deadline, pass a resolution saying that military force will be used if the deadline isn't met, ask everyone not to actually use military force after the missed deadline, pass sanctions, make a new deadline, and then give Iran money for oil? Because that's pretty much the scenario I see playing out if everyone waits for the UN. So then the question becomes, how many nuclear weapons can Iran make in the time it takes the UN to do all that? A more important question is how likely is it that a suicide bomber will nuke the UN (not their building in the US, but in Switzerland or Austria or some other country "urging restraint" and hindering progress) rather than the US or Israel? Because if its pretty likely then I say we let the UN take their time and see what inaction really reaps. However, the reality is that the US or Israel will be the prime target, so we have to do something before they hit us. So the final question is, how long do we have to wait until we can bomb Iran's facility without the world branding us warmongers and can we afford to wait that long? I'm afraid the answers are 'too long' and 'no way,' respectively.

In other news, Venezuela is holding a socialist youth camp attracting 15,000 youths from around the world. They have collectively decried the US as the worst evil Imperialist empire ever. Furthermore, the Venezuelan president has assured the world that if the US ever invades his country he will make us "bite the dust." I took a poll of all Americans and collectively we're pretty scared.*

*To poll all Americans I asked myself the question. Since I consider my views to be fairly universal I figured I could then extrapolate that they must be the same for all Americans. From what I understand this is pretty typical polling procedure with good scientific backing. I give myself a margin of error of +/- 3, since I'm just making numbers up randomly.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Jackson Jurors just look stupid

Two of the jurors on Michael Jackson's much hyped criminal trial this year are speaking out against the acquittal of Jackson. Which is really stupid, considering it was unanimous. One of these now-dissenting jurors, Eleanor Cook, was asked if she was worried about the other jurors getting mad at her for her new public statements. Her reply was truly shocking: "They can be as angry as they want to. They ought to be ashamed. They're the ones that let a pedophile go." No, Eleanor, you're the one who let a pedophile go. You voted to let him go. I cannot believe that we trust justice to someone who acts so ridiculously irresponsible and ignorant. The other juror, Ray Hultman, made a similarly stupid comment saying, "The thing that really got me the most was the fact that people just wouldn't take those blinders off long enough to really look at all the evidence that was there." If this was 'getting to you,' Mr. Hultman, why did you go along with a "not guilty" verdict? The verdict was unanimous, these two people voluntarily voted for Jackson's acquittal. Yet here they are, acting like it was passed despite their best efforts. And they just sound stupid. There are only two possibilities that I see here: either they're lying and they thought that Jackson was innocent all along and now they just want attention. Or they're so lazy that they voted to let a guilty man go so that they could go home sooner, and they're not willing to stand up for their convictions, even to the point of releasing a pedophile back into the public, against peer pressure. Either way it doesn't say much about them or our justice system.

So why would any one behave like this? Yes, that's right, money. It turns out they're both writing books about 'the experience.' This leads to a much more important question: who is going to pay to read a book written by people who sound so stupid? And of course the answer: millions of Americans. I need to do something high-profile so I can write a book and get rich. Apparently its the American way.

Here is my final scary thought: if 'get out the vote' efforts are largely successful then the same people that pay money to read a book by somebody who sounds really stupid about a court case (that they probably followed closely on TV) involving an eccentric, out-of-fashion pop star are the same people who are going to elect the most powerful man or woman on the earth. That scares me.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Unintelligent Debate

The recently restarted debate over evolution and "intelligent design" is completely and utterly stupid. This whole issue is one that has been fabricated solely for the purpose of pitting the religious (read right-wing) against the non-religious (read left-wing). Even more ridiculous is that the people involved probably know and care a lot more about the evolution of this debate than the evolution of life on earth. These are politicians, not scientists. Most of them probably don't have a clue about the science behind either side, and most of them probably don't care to find out. So why are they in the center of this debate? The answer is simple, as I've stated above -- it's because the debate has nothing to do with the issue and everything to do with politics.

If evolution shakes your faith in God then I'd say you don't have much faith at all. On the other hand, if your world view would change if evolution were officially debunked then perhaps you should rethink your rationale. How life started seems, to me, inconsequential to just about anything today. If evolution is proved true then the religious will claim that God used evolution. If evolution is proved false then the non-religious will claim some other theory. Evolution itself is a non-issue.

And teaching Intelligent Design in the classroom sounds like one of the stupidest ideas I've ever heard. So that would be, what, a two minute lesson? "And kids, some people believe that there is an intelligent force behind the creation of the universe and life." Great. I'm sure that's really going to open a lot of young eyes. Or are they proposing they teach the largely incomprehensible, and probably wrong, astrophysics and astronomy that the ID people use as rationale? To middle or high school students who are probably failing their math classes? Just so that the religious people can feel like they are in control? Great.

According to this article, "most Americans believe that God created human beings or guided the process of evolution, according to a CBS poll last November. Two-thirds said they wanted creationism taught alongside evolution in schools." I've got an idea for that two thirds of Americans: when your kids are at home -- which is more time than they're in the classroom -- teach them creationism. And while you're at it you should teach them about your religion, because I'm pretty sure that they're not going to teach that in public schools either. The right wing is supposed to be against schools teaching opinions or anything but facts about their subjects. They claim that parents should be responsible for teaching their kids things about religion or political opinions. SO START TEACHING YOUR OWN FREAKING KIDS! Its so hypocritical that the right says evolution shouldn't be taught because there is not enough proof for it and they don't want their kids being indoctrinated by anyone's opinions but their own. So their solution is to try to force schools to teach an inane theory with even less scientific proof than evolution. I am speechless to respond to the stupidity.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Terrorism is Still Evil

We have to make sure that the world knows that we, as a nation, condemn all terror, not just Islamofacist terror. Jewish terrorists are just as bad as Muslim terrorists. The world has to know that the USA is against all forms of terrorism, and we need to back up our words with actions. When there are Jewish or Christian terrorists we need to hold people responsible the same way we do for Muslim terrorists. Everyone who says that all Muslims are evil and we need to attack their holy sites if any Muslim carries out a terrorist attack in the US needs to consider that the Palestinians could now say the same thing about the Jews with just about as much justification. Meaning you need to realize that you are being ridiculous. We cannot allow our enemies to spread propaganda saying that when Jews carry out terror attacks against Muslims that we are silent, but when Muslims carry out terror attacks against anyone we talk about bombing Mecca. If that is true then we truly are the bigoted, anti-Islam force that they try to paint us as. On the other hand, if we show the world that we are unequivocally against terror no matter what the ideology of the terrorist then it will be another huge step towards convincing moderates around the world that we are pro-freedom and not evil. And that we are working for something positive in Iraq, not for the subjugation or humiliation of Muslims. Its a tragedy that this attack happened and that innocent people died. But it is also a perfect opportunity for the US to show that we are against terrorism the world-over even if it's carried out in the name of our allies against people who sympathize with our enemies.

This is life?

This post at GrayDrifter today has really spoken to me. It would be easy to write it off as so much teenage drama. But there is much more is these words. There is raw emotion -- anger, confusion, hope, anguish -- the very essence of human life. And it struck me that I don't allow those things in my life nearly so often as I used to. We call it growing up, maturing. But to me its starting to feel like callousing. Like this life rubs and wears us so that as we get older we grow numb. We lose touch with the pain that is the pulsing of human existence. And I contend that without feeling this pain we never feel joy. You can come up with whatever reasons you want -- you can say some cliche like "You can't taste the sweet without the sour" or whatever you want. But just from experience I don't think that you can ever have the one without the other. It is the tragedy of this life. Maybe it's just me... I don't know. Even the somewhat cliche comment by 'Peeps' -- "So the winds of change have started drifting you." ...! It just strikes a chord in my soul. Maybe I remember too clearly my days getting ready to leave everything and everyone... maybe it's that I can still reach out to those days of change and excitement... maybe I can see them slipping away, so soon to be out of reach, perhaps forever.

I think its just the sense of adventure I see in his words. The going forward into the unknown. The process of being changed and molded and refined and broken into something that you may have never conceived before. I think I miss that feeling. And now it seems silly to me. Immature. I think of High School and remember that we all thought our lives were the great story of the ages. The stuff that epics are born from. But as I look forward now I feel that reality is something very different... very dull even. And so I am inclined to shake my head at such 'delusions of grandeur' and think "they'll learn, they'll grow out of it." But suddenly I don't want to grow out of it. Suddenly I am grasped by the hope that perhaps I was wrong to leave my epic dreams. Perhaps this life still is an adventure.

And here I am, indulging myself in drama. I'm sure that the mature who read this will shake their heads at my naivete, tell themselves that I must still be a child with a lot of growing up to do. And that's probably true. But I wish that this could be the beginning of something more. The beginning of living my life as more than just a routine, of feeling more than a dull satisfaction at what I've accomplished. Of being more alive every day. It's probably just nostalgia, but I can't help feeling that I've been missing something important in my life lately... perhaps I've been living a life of quiet desperation. All that and I'm still so young...

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Eloquent or Plain

I have been studying Islam a little lately because I want to understand it more. I am amazed at the similarities between Islam and Christianity and Judaism, although given the history of these religions these similarities should not be surprising. Even some of the prophecies are similar. For example, there is an 'antichrist' prophecy in Islam (look here) that references Jesus. In fact, it's very similar to Christianity's antichrist prophecy. It's very interesting to see the similarities and differences of the world's largest monotheistic religions.

One difference that I stumbled upon is quite interesting, I think. Apparently the Quran says: "Invite mankind to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious." (16:125).
Contrast this with 1 Corinthians 1:17 -- "
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel -- —not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power." (emphasis added)
Or the same verse in The Message: "God didn't send me out to collect a following for myself, but to preach the Message of what he has done, collecting a following for him. And he didn't send me to do it with a lot of fancy rhetoric of my own, lest the powerful action at the center--Christ on the Cross--be trivialized into mere words." (emphasis added)

I'm not sure exactly what conclusions are to be drawn here, but I find it very interesting that the two religions give almost the exact opposite direction for spreading their faith. Obviously it has something to do with the message of the cross in Christianity. If Jesus did indeed die completely innocent of all sin and his sacrifice has brought about forgiveness for all, that is quite a compelling fact on it's own. In fact, I would reason that if someone is inclined to believe that statement then no argument or artful speechcraft will be nearly as compelling as the simple telling of that fact. Furthermore, if one is not compelled to believe that Jesus did indeed do this thing, then it doesn't matter how much you win them over with speaking, they still miss the point of Christianity.

Islam, on the other hand, has no single, simple event to sway non-believers. Rather they have a systematic theology and history that they find compelling. To convince someone of such a theology probably needs a good deal of conversation. Christians, I think, find the same thing when they try to add other doctrines to their core beliefs. In fact, they have to spend a great deal of effort just to convince other Christians of their doctrines, let alone non-believers. Getting someone to believe and conform to a set of theological principals is far more difficult and intellectually engaging than to tell them about a single event, the belief of which is the only core need at the heart of a religion.

So, from what I can tell a major influence in the different approaches by Islam and Christianity to proselytizing is the sheer volume of information that needs to be presented. Christianity is a very simple faith, at its heart, and Paul teaches in his letter that trying to add anything more takes away from the message. Islam, comparatively, is a large and complex religion. To make a real convert you must convince them of a number of truths and discuss many doctrines. I'm not implying that there is not complexity to Christianity, nor that it is without its layers of doctrine. The difference is that you can be a Christian with belief in only a very small, simple set of doctrines. To be a Muslim there is much more that you must first accept.

Of course there is always my belief that Christianity will be compelling without much human effort because God is involved... and I tend to believe the same cannot be said of Islam. However, I hardly think that argument will seem valid in an audience of any but Christians, and that is why I have included the above conclusion about this difference between the two. I just didn't want anyone thinking I was a Universalist ;)

Monday, August 01, 2005

Murky Waters

****** UPDATE 2 *****
Iran says it will delay reopening its nuclear facility for two days -- so that the UN can oversee the dismantling of the seals on the facility. There is no indication what so ever that Iran has in any way altered their plans to restart nuclear operations, they're just posponing them for logistical reasons. So this is not an improvement, just a development.

****** UPDATE ******
The new president of Iran says that martyrdom -- mostly blowing yourself up to kill Westerners -- is supported by his government. Apparently there is state sponsorship of so-called 'martyr squads' where they are trained and equipped. I think the implications speak for themselves, especially with the revived push towards nuclear operations in Iran.

A quote from one of the volunteers should be a warning to Tancredo: "'...We vow to turn into bombs that will explode at anyone who wishes to desecrate our holy places.'"

Iran has bared its nuclear teeth, again, and the West's next move is of paramount importance. It is not clear, however, what the best move would be. On one hand, if we can stall Iran's pursuit of its nuclear ambitions for awhile by giving them some 'incentives' and spare heightened conflict, that might be a very good thing for many reasons. First of all, the plan is that if Iran breaks its nuclear freeze the EU will join the USA in taking Iran's actions before the UN. Which ought to prompt the UN to do something. However, based on recent history, I doubt the UN will actually do anything to stop Iran. That will, in turn, prove to every 'rouge nation' that the UN isn't going to do anything to stop nuclear development. I think that would be a negative thing. Also, that would mean that most of the force behind the threat to Iran would have to come from the US. Right now the last thing we need is any more military conflict. If it comes to that I'm sure we'll be bombing Iranian nuclear plants and whatnot, but it would probably be better for everyone right now if we didn't have to. Finally, signs show that Iran is getting closer and closer to a revolution from within. If we can suspend any conflict with Iran until the revolution begins our job will be much easier. We can let the Iranians do most of the work to topple the current government, and we can just offer support. And then we can avoid a bloody 'occupation' as well.

On the other hand, appeasement is not a good policy. History has shown that it only encourages aggressive regimes to be more aggressive. If the EU does offer some incentive program right now it has to be seen as a temporary measure, not as policy when dealing with Iran. Also, if the West does not cave in to Iranian demands and sparks a conflict, it might provide the impetus to begin the aforementioned revolution, which would be a good thing. And with the US talking about starting to finish up in Iraq in a year, this might be a good time to get involved in Iran, while our troops and equipment are already over there.

There is going to have to be a regime change in Iran in the near future, there is nothing we can do to avoid that unless we'd like to see Iran take over the world. The question then isn't one of what, but of how and when. The West needs to decide whether this is the right time to begin dismantling Iran. We know that the new president has made it a point to say that Iran will resume its nuclear program, so thinking we can stop them with anything but action is foolish. However, strategically it might make sense to try to stall them now and wait for a more favorable time to enter into direct conflict. Whatever choice the West makes, hold no illusions -- Iran will resume its nuclear development in the near future and there will be some action to topple their government, either from within or through Western countries' force. Its too late to change either of those facts now, as far as I can see.