Monthly Archives: February 2008

Leap Day Weekend Open Post and Trackbacks

Open Post and Open Trackbacks on this most unique of dates, February 29.

Suggested topic: What would make you leap?

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I had a dream about Barack Obama

I had a dream about Barack Obama. I was watching Obama give a speech. It felt so good, so hypnotic. He was so beautiful and he spoke like an angel. I remember wondering if I was actually floating in the middle of the air. Have you ever had one of those dreams where you are having a conversation of such surpassing brilliance and insight that you want to remember every single speck of memory from the dream so you can write it down when you do actually wake up? This was one of those dreams. Every idea, every word, every phrase, every syllable that came out of his mouth was so perfect, so absolutely appropriate and energizing, that I knew I was giggling and couldn’t help it. I was surrounded by thousands who were, like me, giggling, half-floating, transfixed by the wise one, Obama. When the speech was over everyone in the dream clapped and we all tossed our shouts of approval at the great man, like so much confetti at a ticker-tape-parade for returning war heroes. Obama smiled his wide smile and waved his kindly hand at us in a gesture of heart-felt affection, then left the stage. In my dream as I tried to write down the gist of his speech I couldn’t remember what he said. It was something like “Change, blah blah blah,” and “Yes we can, blah blah blah,” and “Not red states and blue states, but United States, blah blah blah.” Everything kind of floated away, all airy and insubstantial as is the way of all dreams. Then I dreamed that I had to use the restroom. I woke up.

When I woke up, I was sitting in my armchair watching the end of an Obama speech on TV. I wasn’t asleep. And I hadn’t been dreaming.

As I went to the restroom I still couldn’t remember what Obama had said. The rhetorical brilliance and insight, blah blah blah, disappeared with the last shreds of the dream that wasn’t a dream and then the hypnotic afterglow was flushed away to be gone forever.

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Turkish theologians are updating the ahadith and their commentaries

Updated. See below.

Robert Pigott writes in BBC News about the Turkish project to update the Ahadith (the collected and, to some degree or other, vetted deeds and words of Mohammed as distinct from the words of the Koran):

The Hadith is a collection of thousands of sayings reputed to come from the Prophet Muhammad.

As such, it is the principal guide for Muslims in interpreting the Koran and the source of the vast majority of Islamic law, or Sharia.

But the Turkish state has come to see the Hadith as having an often negative influence on a society it is in a hurry to modernise, and believes it responsible for obscuring the original values of Islam.

It says that a significant number of the sayings were never uttered by Muhammad, and even some that were need now to be reinterpreted. […]

Commentators say the very theology of Islam is being reinterpreted in order to effect a radical renewal of the religion.

Its supporters say the spirit of logic and reason inherent in Islam at its foundation 1,400 years ago are being rediscovered. Some believe it could represent the beginning of a reformation in the religion.

Whether it works out this time or not, it is a necessary piece of progress. Some day it will work out. Say a little prayer for the reformers’ success.

Update: As John C. K. Daly writes for the Jamestown Report, the relationship between Turkey and the US has become dreadfully bad since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. The cause appears not to be the overthrow of Saddam, but the continuous refrain from Americans that Turkey’s moderate Islamism was a model for the rest of the Muslim world. However, Turks don’t see it that way. Ataturk forced Islam out of public life in Turkey to the point where he banned the burkah and headscarves and fitted his soldiers with billed caps that prevented them from bowing to Mecca while in uniform. And the Islamists in government certainly don’t see themselves as Moderate. This American refrain is such a gross misunderstanding of the Turkish way that it serves as an equal opportunity mortal insult to both secular and Islamist Turks. And so America has reaped what it sowed, with vile movies like Valley of the Wolves, the refusal to allow American passage through Turkey to northern Iraq, and a Turkish invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan in search of PKK terrorists.

However distasteful the result, it is probably good that Turkey not be seen as too friendly with the US while it undertakes the heroic task of updating the ahadith and commentaries.

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Obama versus the Military

Quite the unusual campaign advertisement from Obama. Update: transcript at end of post.

In favor of immediately cutting and running from Iraq and presumably from Afghanistan. Going to drastically cut military spending. Going to appoint a civilian review board over the quadrennial military review board. Going to stop anti-missile defense programs, leaving Americans defenseless and terrorized by nuclear weapons. Going to try for a world without fissile materials, meaning an abandonment of nuclear power. Going to disarm American nuclear weapons that are aimed at Russia.

Wow!

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God Bless and Keep William F. Buckley

Rest in peace.

Rush Limbaugh on Buckley:

It’s a shame to even attach the term conservatism to this because it’s too narrow. It’s just right. These are principles by which people live and order their lives, and they have been shown over the course of human history to work and to be infallible in governing people, in governing one’s own affairs, leading one’s own life, establishing mechanisms by which people, nations, can manage their affairs to the best of society’s purposes and intents.

Kevin D. Williamson quoted Buckley:

“I will not cede more power to the state. I will not willingly cede more power to anyone, not to the state, not to General Motors, not to the CIO. I will hoard my power like a miser, resisting every effort to drain it away from me. I will then use my power, as I see fit. I mean to live my life an obedient man, but obedient to God, subservient to the wisdom of my ancestors; never to the authority of political truths arrived at yesterday at the voting booth. That is a program of sorts, is it not? It is certainly program enough to keep conservatives busy, and liberals at bay. And the nation free.” William F. Buckley Jr., in Up From Liberalism

James S. Robbins writes of encountering Buckley’s writing in the 70s.

I’ve often thought about, growing up in the 70s, the sense of anticipation reading WFB’s column in my local paper. In those dark days his was the only voice of optimism I remembered. While the culture and many of my peers were trying to tell me that America was in decline, that the good times (aka “the 60s, man”) were over, that we had to get used to second class status as a nation and a people, I could always count on WFB to either argue that things were better than we thought, or if there was something wrong, we could do something about it. We did not have to be passive and accept the negative judgement or flawed reasoning of others; we could fight back. I discovered Firing Line by accident — it came on TV after something else I had been watching and I paused to listen to the theme music — then after an embarrassingly long time I figured out the  the man on TV and the man writing those great columns were the same guy! I found out about National Review like many people my age, from Annie Hall (“Why don’tcha get William F. Buckley to kill the spider?”). I loved getting the magazine in the mail, seeing what was in store that issue, especially in the pre-wired days when there was no way of knowing the contents in advance. It was a pre-packaged set of intellectual adventures with a wonderful puzzle in the back. I thought then that if I could ever write for William F. Buckley’s magazine, I would be as happy and proud as I could be. And in time I did, and I was, and I am.

John O’Sullivan describes what Buckley’s work meant when translated into the real world.

When news of Bill’s death reached me, I was in Prague. It was [a] suitable and perhaps comforting place to hear such sad news since Prague is one of the great European cities Bill helped to liberate from communism. Eighteen years ago he and I were here on a National Review Institute political tour of Eastern Europe. This was only a year after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the “velvet revolutions.” Because of Bill’s leadership in the anti-Communist and conservative movements, everyone wanted to meet him. New ministers, heads of new political parties, and editors of old national newspapers (with new editorial lines) told him of how they had read smuggled copies of NR during the years that the Communist regime condemned them to work as stokers and quarry-men.

He took it all very humbly and even a little quizzically. It was as if he didn’t quite believe that he had blown a trumpet and, lo, the walls of Communism had tumbled down — “literally,” to use a word whose misuse he occasionally denounced. He was a great man and a figure of great historical significance. He founded the American conservative movement that, among many other achievements, won the Cold War. But he wanted to slip quietly away to avoid the presidents and prime ministers rushing up to ask for his autograph.

Jonah Goldberg finished an ode to Buckley upon his 80th Birthday as follows:

William F. Buckley understood that conservatism can only be a partial philosophy of life, because any calling which claims to be a whole philosophy of life is not one at all. It is a religion, and in all likelihood a false one. Armed with this conviction, he changed the world by arguing with those who could not comprehend that a man could be joyful, charming, generous, and passionate about hobbies and people far outside politics while walking against what all the right people insisted was the tide of All Good Things. In this he remains the archetype for conservatism, properly understood.

Conservatives believe in dreams but we don’t believe they can ever be made reality in this life.

Watch Buckley debate Chomsky, from 1969. Part 1.

Part 2:

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All Your Celltowers are Belong to Us

The Taliban in Afghanistan don’t like the way that NATO forces can track them at night by their cellphone signals. Rather than simply turning their phones off at night, the Taliban are threatening to murder and terrorize the Afghan cellphone companies.

This is not going to be popular with the locals who have decent telephone service for the first time in their lives.

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Must Read on the Global Counterinsurgency

Jonathan Morgenstein & Eric Vickland have written a must-read article at Small Wars Journal. They propose a way to recast the GWOT as a Global Insurgency that must be countered.

We have distilled the keys to a successful counterinsurgency down to five equally vital pillars: 1) targeted military force and security, 2) intelligence, 3) law enforcement and the rule of law, 4) information operations, and 5) civil affairs and development. Taken together, these five pillars constitute the essential framework needed to guide America’s post 9-11 national security policy. It must be understood that this is distinctly not a military policy, nor a policy to guide the Department of Defense (DoD). This is a National Security Policy, for which we must re-focus the entire national security and foreign policy apparatus. This is a doctrine that must provoke reforms not only in the DoD, but also the Department of State (DoS), USAID, a re-established US Information Agency (USIA), and across the intelligence community. […]Current national security policy puts America at risk by minimizing individual components of this doctrine and overemphasizing only the first pillar, targeted military force.

Read it all.

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Change, OODA Loops, and what the Winter Warlock and the Heat and Cold Miser have to do with it

When Kris Kringle gives a toy choo-choo to the Winter Warlock the evil wizard’s heart melts. The ice caging his heart cracks, the winter gale becalms, and the jagged edged sorceror of snow is transformed into a kindly old man.

The Winter Warlock said, “I really am a mean and despicable creature at heart, you know. It’s so difficult to really change.”

Kris Kringle laughed and replied, “Difficult? Why, changing from bad to good is as easy as taking your first step.”

Every journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. And even if the final direction isn’t clear, the first step in transformation is to break the unconscious bonds of habit and identity that freeze us in place. The Winter Warlock finally realized, when his pattern of wintry wrath was interrupted by Kris Kringle’s gift, that he no longer wanted to be feared but to be a normal human like everyone else.

And the way out of it was one step at a time, one OODA loop at a time, acting and results testing his way out of the fortress tomb of ice in which he had trapped himself for so long.

The alternative is of course to remain stuck in the identity that one chooses. An avid sunbather might become the Heat Miser. A skier might become the Cold Miser. And then refuse in both cases to ever take a different step, to ever consider change, to ever compromise, to ever Observe the effects of one’s own acts. It is no accident that the Heat Miser and Cold Miser remind the viewer of every petty bureaucratic tyrant they have ever had the misfortune of encountering.

And this is, of course, how the US ends up funding LBJ’s great society programs for 40 years while the lives of poor people continually deteriorate, when they had been continually improving for the 40 years before the programs were instituted. It is a failure to Observe the results of the actions. It is a failure to truly see what the programs force people to do, and to confuse perverse incentives with identities.

It is also how the manifest failure of socialized health-care in Canada, Britain, and Cuba is transformed into the media’s glowing and uncritical recommendation to implement the same thing in the United States, when the recommendation is based not on the quality of care available, but on rationing the care equally among everyone without any attention to the patient’s ability or desire to pay for care.

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Response to a Summary of Michelle Obama’s thesis

The Politico’s Jeffrey Ressner has her thesis, (titled “Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community,” written under her maiden name, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson) [Part 1, 2, 3, & 4] and summarizes it in an article about the recent Michelle Obama controversies. I have a response to the summary of her thesis. I haven’t read the whole thesis, and am thus trusting that Mr. Ressner got it right. With that caveat, hoping that I am now protected from embarrassment, let’s carry on with it.

Some of the characteristic sections of the paper follow

“I based my definition on the premise that there is a distinctive black culture very different from white culture.”

and

“Predominately white universities like Princeton are socially and academically designed to cater to the needs of the white students comprising the bulk of their enrollments.”To illustrate the latter statement, she pointed out that Princeton (at the time) had only five black tenured professors on its faculty, and its “Afro-American studies” program “is one of the smallest and most understaffed departments in the university.” In addition, she said only one major university-recognized group on campus was “designed specifically for the intellectual and social interests of blacks and other third world students.” (Her findings also stressed that Princeton was “infamous for being racially the most conservative of the Ivy League universities.”)

and

She quotes the work of sociologists James Conyers and Walter Wallace, who discussed “integration of black official(s) into various aspects of politics” and notes “problems which face these black officials who must persuade the white community that they are above issues of race and that they are representing all people and not just black people,” as opposed to creating “two separate social structures.”

The paper included a research aspect.

To research her thesis, the future Mrs. Obama sent an 18-question survey to a sampling of 400 black Princeton graduates, requesting the respondents define the amount of time and “comfort” level spent interacting with blacks and whites before they attended the school, as well as during and after their University years. Other questions dealt with their individual religious beliefs, living arrangements, careers, role models, economic status, and thoughts about lower class blacks. In addition, those surveyed were asked to choose whether they were more in line with a “separationist and/or pluralist” viewpoint or an “integrationist and/or assimilationist” ideology.Just under 90 alums responded to the questionnaires (for a response rate of approximately 22 percent) and the conclusions were not what she expected. “I hoped that these findings would help me conclude that despite the high degree of identification with whites as a result of the educational and occupational path that black Princeton alumni follow, the alumni would still maintain a certain level of identification with the black community. However, these findings do not support this possibility.”

Response

The idea of academic writing is to let the research determine the conclusions and allow it to support or disprove the hypothesis. The researcher may start with a hypothesis, but has to be ready to abandon the hypothesis if it is disproved.

Now the language gets tricky here because the paper is called a thesis, but I’m going to be using the other meaning of thesis. Let’s start with a few definitions.

the·sis
a proposition stated or put forward for consideration, esp. one to be discussed and proved or to be maintained against objections: He vigorously defended his thesis on the causes of war.
Hegelian dialectic
an interpretive method, originally used to relate specific entities or events to the absolute idea, in which some assertible proposition (thesis) is necessarily opposed by an equally assertible and apparently contradictory proposition (antithesis), the mutual contradiction being reconciled on a higher level of truth by a third proposition (synthesis).

Michelle Obama’s thesis is that there are two distinct black and white cultures that are very different from each other. The antithesis, apparently unstated in her paper, is that there are not two distinctly different black and white cultures in the US. Her research measured whether black graduates of Princeton perceived themselves in a black culture that was different from white culture. Their majority answer was that they did not. In other words, they saw no evidence in the progression of their lives that the thesis was true. To them, other black graduates of Princeton, there was no meaningful or distinctive difference between black and white culture. If Michelle Obama had been open to her own research findings she would have rewritten the paper to state that she had disproved her original thesis and supported its antithesis instead. Then she would have gone on to describe how this happened. Finally she would have expressed her synthesis, her informed understanding of how things work.

Judging from the summary, what happened instead is that she clung stubbornly to her thesis without ever acknowledging the existence of an antithesis or coming to a synthesis. Unfortunately this is symptomatic of the racial divide in this country, which seems to be an intellectual and perceptual divide between those who think there is no systemic racial divide and those who cling religiously to the belief there is one, rather than a divide based on empirical results. Can an intellectual habit or mis-perception be repaired by changing systems, by changing governments, or does it need to be repaired in the hearts and minds of those who believe in a bogeyman who does not exist?

h/t: Ace of Spades. Also on it, memeorandum, Captain’s Quarters, The Corner, Pat Dollard, Atlas Shrugs, Eunomia, Wonkette and JammieWearingFool

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Washington’s Birthday Friday Open Trackbacks

After you read my Washington’s Birthday post, read these other fine posts that have been tracked back here. And trackback with your own best posts.

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