Monday, March 21, 2011

On Standby...

Power | 78/365
... until April 6th. (Image by Surat Lozowick)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Just War

Massimo Pigliucci in Rationally Speaking:
Is this the right thing to do for the international community? Hell yes. 
Readers of this blog know that I am no warmonger, I do not support nation building, and I’m generally very suspicious of the motives of any government when it comes to “spreading democracy” and the like. And yes, I am perfectly aware that Libya is a major oil producing country. 
That said, it seems to be that in this case — at least so far — the coalition that is attacking Qaddafi is getting it exactly right. First, the goal is to protect civilians from an ongoing slaughter. Second, there is an actual uprising going on within the country, and one that has a decent chance of succeeding with international support. Third, diplomatic approaches have been tried and have failed. Fourth, the coalition is truly broad and truly international (unlike, you know, that other coalition...). Fifth, the United Nations has given a clear imprimatur to military action. Sixth, there is no discussion (at least at the moment) of ground troops or nation building.
While there is nothing ideal in the world of politics, and there certainly isn’t anything clean about any war, the above conditions — it seems to me — make this initiative as clear and close to ideal as possible.
Read on.

Have it Both Ways

Scumbag Amr Moussa:
"We will inform the U.N. Security Council of our request to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya," Moussa said. "The U.N. Security Council should decide how it will be enforced."
Not a peep throughout the following process at the UNSC, and now, ass-covering.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

"The Moral Imperative to Intervene"

From March 17th, Shadi Hamid in Democracy Arsenal:
For realists, I would love to hear how doing nothing in Libya was going to help U.S. security interests. Having an oil-rich pariah state that could very well return to supporting terrorism and wreaking havoc in the region would be disastrous, creating Iraq part 3 and making it more likely we'd have to intervene sometime further into the future, at much greater cost and consequence. Did we not learn from the quelched Shia uprisings of 1991? Or from standing by idly (or supporting) the military coup that ended Algerian democracy in 1991? The Arab world suffered for the international community's failure to do the right thing. Literally, hundreds of thousands died as a result. Having Libyans and Arabs feel that we betrayed them yet again would do wonders for our already plummeting credibility, particularly after the Obama administration has moved to back autocratic regimes in Bahrain and Yemen, rather than the peaceful protesters struggling for their freedom and getting shot in the process. 
Another argument we heard endlessly the past three weeks was that Arabs wouldn't want another foreign intervention or that intervention would taint the protesters. Maybe we should have asked the Libyans themselves whether they agreed with this assessment, which, again, was based on an incorrect reading of the Iraq war. Libyan rebels have been pleading for Western military intervention for quite a while now. A child had held up a poster in Benghazi saying "Mama Clinton, please stop the bleeding." When you're bleeding you don't really care you saves you. You just want to be saved.
More.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Action in Libya Is Way Overdue

If the U.S. maintains its position miles behind the U.K., France, and even the Arab League, by continually vacillating and expressing “deep concern” at the slaughter of an Arab people fighting to emancipate themselves from the yoke of tyranny, it will be another stain on the history of American foreign policy serving to further drain the U.S. of what moral authority it retains. If we stand idly by while screams calling for the Western freedoms we so rightly extoll turn instead into the unheard screams of a madman's vanquished, we will reinforce the narrative that the U.S. only cants about freedom and democracy to serve its own interests. This, it seems to me, can only multiply hatred toward the U.S. and radicalize a betrayed population.

To those critics who predictably chime “Iraq War” at the very mention of a no-fly-zone over Libya: advocating one strategic blunder by reminding us of another does neither the U.S. nor the Libyans any good. It is unsound to analogize aggression towards Iraq to a defense of Libya, where a people currently undertaking revolutionary upheaval are suffering active slaughter and desperately calling for an international intervention which has the support of the Arab League. It would serve many of these critics, since they are so quick to raise the specter of Iraq, to remember that the no-fly-zone over Iraq was something of an effective policy, at least after 1993 when Saddam's aggressions toward patrolling aircraft were met with effective reprisals (even in the years between 1998 and 2003, during which Saddam announced he would no longer observe the NFZ, no manned aircraft were shot down).

Failure to lead the Security Council to authorize action against Gaddafi's ongoing war crimes will make a mockery of us and of the Council's credibility and force. And doing so might not be as difficult as those opposed to further action say. The U.N. General Assembly's 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide initially defined genocide as including political killings, though objection from the USSR led to a compromise which removed this criteria. But the force of international law is adequately equipped against Gaddafi with the subsequent adoption of UNSC Resolution 1674 in April 2006, which contains within it the reaffirmation of following paragraphs 138 and 139 of the World Summit Outcome Document of 2005, and compels the UNSC to act under circumstances such as the one we have so far only watched in horror:
138. Each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means. We accept that responsibility and will act in accordance with it. The international community should, as appropriate, encourage and help States to exercise this responsibility and should support the United Nations to establish an early warning capability. 
139. The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapter VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action , in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the UN Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case by case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. We stress the need for the General Assembly to continue consideration of the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity and its implications, bearing in mind the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and international law. We also intend to commit ourselves, as necessary and appropriate, to help states build capacity to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and to assist those which are under stress before crises and conflicts break out.
So, as far as my limited understanding of int'l law takes me, invoking R.1674 against Libya is legitimate. A veto from the Chinese would expose them to the charge of hypocrisy, if not moral decrepitude, and would paint for the international community an exceptionally unappealing view of China's rising stardom. Similar pressures apply to Russia.

Summoning the memory of past escapades in Islamic countries is not a good argument for letting a historic opportunity to rid the world of a murderous tyrant pass us by. Libya is not Iraq. The time to act was yesterday.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Taimane Gardner's Toccata @ Circus Freak


Bach's Toccata with what sounds like Bizet and other flourishes on the ukulele via BoingBoing.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Face of Shakespeare

Morgan Meis saw it, and was unsettled:
We've been told that Shakespeare was actually Christopher Marlowe or Francis Bacon. We've been told that he was Edward de Vere, or some other English nobleman in disguise. The details of these various theories don't matter so much. The point is the disbelief, the sense that Shakespeare can't just be Shakespeare.
I, for one, find myself both angry at Shakespeare and frightened by Shakespeare. The anger is perhaps easier to explain. He took too much. He took too much literature for himself and that's not fair. He broke some sort of unwritten rule about how much literature goes to each man. I couldn't tell you exactly how much that is, but I can say that Shakespeare took too much, and that it angers me sometimes.
The fear comes from a hazier place. I suppose I simply fear a person who was able to view the human beast so truly. Is there something infernal about the wisdom of Shakespeare, something uncanny that has the taint of the dark arts upon it? Strangely, I am much less afraid of the genius of the scientists, partly because their abstract insights into the nature of reality often go hand-in-hand with an intense befuddlement in the face of human-sized things. That seems a fair trade. To glimpse truths about the nature of the material world, it is required that you renounce any great understanding of the creatures who live within it. But to have the huge insights of Shakespeare, to look so deeply into the human soul, to know its every nook and hidden corner, seems, somehow, to contravene the limits that are given to all men.
More. And here is Meis' grandiloquent twitter feed.

Friday, March 11, 2011

They Say of the Acropolis...

Rabbi David Wolpe Asks and Answers his Own Question

Rabbi David Wolpe has asked "Why Are Atheists So Angry?" with the title of his latest article, which is devoted firstly to a complaint that his previous one *gasp* drew passionate criticism in the comments section, and secondly to his answering the title question for himself. My answer to the Rabbi is reprinted below (your reference to his unfortunate article is necessary, because I'm not going to excerpt the entire piece).
This lament is so tired, Rabbi Wolpe. Knowing full well that there is no "Humanism" section on this platform, you presume the "Religion" section as yours to claim for theism (mono, poly, or pan) and are surprised that those who feel it important to actively argue against your advocacy of supernatur­alism dare to engage with your article in a critical way. Also, your title insinuates that to feel anger is somehow lesser-tha­n, or undesirabl­e, which is false. A lot of things cause virtuous and thoughtful people legitimate anger; your third and fourth points, for me, being two such things.
The irony of indicting atheists for not engaging with "religion'­s serious thinkers," of which I'm sure you consider yourself one (correct me if I'm wrong), in an article which laments those very engagement­s should not go unnoticed.
Furthermor­e, please name for me, and this is a sincere request, a few individual atheists who want for wonder. I'm anxious to see at least some seriousnes­s on your part in support of this allegation­, as so often precious little is to be found behind smears like these. I almost always find in atheists the opposite characteri­stic.
As a monotheist you necessaril­y reject as false any views of genesis which are polytheist­ic. You call atheists arrogant for vocally rejecting both of these views on lack of evidence, while you, yourself, in the face of reason and without evidence, make very large, if nonspecifi­c, claims of your own. That is called "chutzpah,­" I believe.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Capturing the Capitol

What Was the Hipster?

Originally published behind n+1's pay-wall, Mark Greif's polemic is run in New York Magazine:
Through both phases of the contemporary hipster, and no matter where he identifies himself on the knowingness spectrum, there exists a common element essential to his identity, and that is his relationship to consumption. The hipster, in this framework, is continuous with a cultural type identified in the nineties by the social critic Thomas Frank, who traced it back to Madison Avenue’s absorption of a countercultural ethos in the late sixties. This type he called the “rebel consumer.”
The rebel consumer is the person who, adopting the rhetoric but not the politics of the counterculture, convinces himself that buying the right mass products individualizes him as transgressive. Purchasing the products of authority is thus reimagined as a defiance of authority. Usually this requires a fantasized censor who doesn’t want you to have cologne, or booze, or cars. But the censor doesn’t exist, of course, and hipster culture is not a counterculture. On the contrary, the neighborhood organization of hipsters—their tight-knit colonies of similar-looking, slouching people—represents not hostility to authority (as among punks or hippies) but a superior community of status where the game of knowing-in-advance can be played with maximum refinement. The hipster is a savant at picking up the tiny changes of rapidly cycling consumer distinction.
This in-group competition, more than anything else, is why the term hipster is primarily a pejorative—an insult that belongs to the family of poseur, faker, phony, scenester, and hanger-on. The challenge does not clarify whether the challenger rejects values in common with the hipster—of style, savoir vivre, cool, etc. It just asserts that its target adopts them with the wrong motives. He does not earn them.
 More.

Monday, March 7, 2011

'You are an apostate and should be killed'

Imam Usama Hasan has been threatened, shunned, and intimidated to apology for speaking reasonably about evolution - in London:
A prominent British imam has been forced to retract his claims that Islam is compatible with Darwin's theory of evolution after receiving death threats from fundamentalists.
Dr Usama Hasan, a physics lecturer at Middlesex University and a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, was intending yesterday to return to Masjid al-Tawhid, a mosque in Leyton, East London, for the first time since he delivered a lecture there entitled "Islam and the theory of evolution".
But according to his sister, police advised him not to attend after becoming concerned for his safety. Instead his father, Suhaib, head of the mosque's committee of trustees, posted a notice on his behalf expressing regret over his comments. "I seek Allah's forgiveness for my mistakes and apologise for any offence caused," the statement read.
The campaign is part of a growing movement by a small but vocal group of largely Saudi-influenced orthodox Muslims who use evolution as a way of discrediting imams whom they deem to be overly progressive or "western orientated".
While I disagree that the two are compatible, both religious and scientific views are often compartmentally held in the same minds, and however unfortunate this capacity to hold mutually antithetical ideas may be, it's better to hold some reasoned beliefs than none. It's an outrage that in the capital city of a leading Western nation, even a relatively timid call for reasoned belief can condemn one to fear for one's life.

Dr. Hasan was bullied into an apology, sure, but the "offense" remains, predictably, a permanent stain:
the imam's apology seems to have done little to resolve the matter. Earlier this week, the group issued a statement saying that Dr Hasan had been dismissed from his position as vice-chairman and imam at the mosque, and describing his views as a "source of antagonism in the Muslim community". Neither he nor his father were present at the meeting that voted for his dismissal.
More news in The Independent.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Pakistan's Descent, Ctd

Shahbaz Bhatti - the latest Pakistani to be murdered for thought-crimes:
Self-described Taliban gunmen have shot dead Pakistan's minorities minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, an advocate of reform of the country's blasphemy laws, as he left his Islamabad home.
Two assassins sprayed the Christian minister's car with gunfire, striking him at least eight times, before scattering pamphlets that described him as a "Christian infidel". The leaflets were signed "Taliban al-Qaida Punjab".
Bhatti's 22-year-old niece Mariam was first on the scene. "I rushed out to find his body covered with blood. I said "uncle, uncle" and tried to take his pulse. But he was already dead," she said at Bhatti's house, extending a bloodstained palm. The sound of wailing women rose from the next room.
Bhatti's assassination was the second killing of a politician in Islamabad over blasphemy in as many months, following the assassination of the Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer outside a cafe a few miles away on 4 January.
Dismayed human rights activists said it was another sign of rising intolerance at hands of violent extremists. "I am sad and upset but not surprised," said the veteran campaigner Tahira Abdullah outside Bhatti's house. "These people have a long list of targets, and we are all on it. It's not a matter of if, but when."
More.

Origins Project: What Is Life?


Great Debate: What is Life? panel discussion from ASU Origins Project on Vimeo.