11.06.2004

Well, the political (sort of) site is back after a long hiatus. I can't promise super-regular postings, but I'll try to hit the nail on the head now and then.

The "conventional wisdom" is that GWB won the election by bringing out the gun-totin' bible-thumpin' homersekshul-hatin' nuts. And it's pretty much wrong. I draw your attention to three dogma-smashing analyses from across the political spectrum:

1.) Mark Penn, a Democratic pollster, points out that Bush won thanks to two groups: Hispanics and married women, both of which trended heavily for Clinton in the 90's in "It's the Moderates, Stupid". [Registration required]

2.) Slate's Paul Freedman argues that the key issue this year was terrorism not gay marriage in "The Gay Marriage Myth".

3.) David Brooks demonstrates that the prevailing interpretation of "moral values" as a reason for voting for Bush is really twisted and doesn't match the facts in "The Moral Values Myth" [Registration required]

I'd like to refute the prevailing notion that somehow this election shows that the coasts and upper midwest are islands of sanity that surround a red center. One wag churlishly tried to make a connection between slaves states and those that went Bush in the comments section of Susan's blog. Leaving aside the utter vacuousness of the connection, it's also not geographically correct. We are in fact, a purple nation.

Finally a plea to my friends on the other side: don't just assume that those who voted differently from you are selfish, heartless, stupid or evil. While it may be convenient to think that the Americans are foolish rubes who just want to kill the Arabs and ban pornography, that kind of thinking just demeans you for it is utterly devoid of the complexity and nuance that liberals like to pride themselves on. I for one certainly don't think that most Kerry supporters are blasé about terrorism or want to demolish our healthcare system. We have policy differences that can and should be argued in an environment of respect and tolerance; name-calling and crude caricatures belong at the playground.

5.29.2003

How to Define When We Become Human?

Maureen Condic, in a highly erudite article in last month's issue of First Things, argues that we need an objective standard for determining life's true inception. A clear one may be derived from how we define "death":


What does the nature of death tell us about the nature of human life? The medical and legal definition of death draws a clear distinction between living cells and living organisms. Organisms are living beings composed of parts that have separate but mutually dependent functions. While organisms are made of living cells, living cells themselves do not necessarily constitute an organism. The critical difference between a collection of cells and a living organism is the ability of an organism to act in a coordinated manner for the continued health and maintenance of the body as a whole. It is precisely this ability that breaks down at the moment of death, however death might occur. Dead bodies may have plenty of live cells, but their cells no longer function together in a coordinated manner. We can take living organs and cells from dead people for transplant to patients without a breach of ethics precisely because corpses are no longer living human beings. Human life is defined by the ability to function as an integrated whole -- not by the mere presence of living human cells.


Why is this standard better than classifications based on "form, ability or preference"? Because, in the end, these latter definitions may ultimately be used against us:

Once the nature of human beings as organisms has been abandoned as the basis for assigning legal personhood, it is difficult to propose an alternative definition that could not be used to deny humanity to virtually anyone. Arguments that deny human status to embryos based on form, ability, or choice can be readily turned against adult humans who have imperfect form, limited ability, or who simply constitute an inconvenience to more powerful individuals or groups. Indeed, such arguments can be quite protean in their ability to deny rights to anyone not meeting an arbitrary criterion for humanity.


As the kids say, read the whole thing! And drop a line to tell me what you think!



I'm back! Yes, after a very long hiatus (the second Gulf War came and went in my absence), I have returned to impart my extensive wisdom!

3.25.2003

The Soldier's Psalm

Psalm 91 (RSV)

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, who abides in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, "My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust." For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence; he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand; but it will not come near you. You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your habitation, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. For he will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot. Because he cleaves to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him, and show him my salvation.

3.24.2003

Here are some interesting links related to this past weekend:


  • I saw The Pianist (2002) just before it surprised everyone by picking up Academy Awards for Best Actor and Best Director. The latter award was somewhat controversial, as Roman Polanski has been unable to set foot in this country since 1978 when he was about to be sentenced for having sex with a 13-year old girl. The film is magnificent: a brilliant retort to the return of anti-Semitism in the West and a potent reminder that war, indeed, can be a tool for the liberation of oppressed peoples everywhere.


  • The Secret Cinema, a local treasure, played lost industrial, educational and tourist movies from or about Philadelphia last Saturday. Highlights included The Troc (1966), a very shagadelic student film from the University of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia With Love (1972) which answered such burning questions as: "Does Philly have a theme song sung by the great Segio Franchi?", "Is Philly really a 'fabulous city that puts it all together'?" and "How many damn pirate-ship-themed restaurants did this city once have?" The Secret Cinema's next event is a free screening of the 60's cult film "Blow Up" at Moore College of Art on Friday, 28 March.


  • The world-renowned Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania has a new exhibit entitled: "World's Intertwined: Etruscans Greeks & Romans". An excellent new installment highlighting the undestudied Etruscan civilization links the Greek section, which contains nothing really new, to a revamped Roman gallery (more complete look at Roman life, but way too cluttered). My favorite bit was on the still poorly understood Etruscan language...

  • 3.21.2003

    Three interesting War Blogs:


    Bloghdad (William Saletan): The Slate author has some very thoughtful posts on Gulf War II. Check out today's piece on how the nature of warfare has been transformed, and how, in order to remain relevant, the "peace" movement must change as well...


    Dear Raed... (Salam Pax): Blogging from Iraq.


    War Diary (Kanan Makiya): A leading Iraqi dissident and intellectual, and author of the Democratic Principles Working Group report for the State Department's Future of Iraq Project, reacts to developments in Iraq for TNR Online (you can click on it from the main page).

    Let's go Quakers!!!

    War


    A group of us heard the announcement while at Brasserie Perrier. Afterwards, we were interviewed on the street by an Inquirer reporter for our reaction to the conflict. Alas, we failed to make the final cut for the man-on-the-street article.


    I have been unapologetically in favor of US military intervention for quite a while now -- it seemed early on that most of the world was without the will to fight...

    3.19.2003

    Are you prepared?

    This list, courtesy of Best of the Web Today by James Taranto:

    I. "Aid Workers Prepare for War"--headline, U.tv (Britain), March 18

    II. "Airports Prepare for War"--headline, CapitalNews9.com (Albany, N.Y.), March 18

    III. "Area Churches Prepare for War"--headline, Kansas City Star, March 16

    IV. "Californians Prepare for War, Possible Terror"--headline, KGO-TV Web site (San Francisco, March 18

    V. "Federal Agencies Prepare for War"--headline, Washington Post, March 18

    VI. "Filam Boys, Their Families Prepare for War"--headline, Philippine News, March 11

    VII. "Hot and Dusty Diggers Prepare for War"--headline, (Melbourne, Australia) Age, March 14

    VIII. "Houston Leaders Prepare for War"--headline, KPRC-TV Web site (Houston), March 18

    IX. "Investors Prepare for War, Jump to Safety"--headline, Reuters, March 17

    X. "Iraqi Civilians Prepare for War"--headline, WFIE Web site (Evansville, Ind.), March 18

    XI. "Iraqi School Children Help Soldiers Prepare for War"--headline, Australian Broadcast Corp. Web site, March 13

    XII. "Israelis Told to Prepare for War"--headline, IrelandOn.com, March 17

    XIII. "Kids Prepare for War They May Fight"--headline, Los Angeles Daily News, March 16

    XIV. "Kiwi Pilots Prepare for War in British Uniforms"--headline, Stuff.co.nz, March 14

    XV. "Local Soldiers Prepare for War"--headline, WISN-TV Web site (Milwaukee), March 17

    XVI. "Maryland Leaders Prepare for War, Terrorist Attacks"--headline, WEDN-TV Web site (Washington), March 17

    XVII. "Military Spouses Prepare for War"--headline, Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, March 18

    XVIII. "News Teams Prepare for War"--headline, Guardian (London), March 17

    XIX. "Oklahomans Prepare for War"--headline, Oklahoman (Oklahoma City) , March 16

    XX. "Reserve Families Prepare for War"--headline, San Francisco Chronicle, March 17

    The war is almost upon us; the world with baited breath waits. Let us pray for our troops and for the swift liberation of the Iraqi people!


    Shakespeare - Henry the Fifth (IV iii 36-69)


    Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
    That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
    Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
    And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
    We would not die in that man's company
    That fears his fellowship to die with us.
    This day is call'd the feast of Crispian:
    He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
    Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
    And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
    He that shall live this day, and see old age,
    Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
    And say, 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
    Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
    And say, 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
    Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
    But he'll remember with advantages
    What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
    Familiar in his mouth as household words,
    Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
    Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
    Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
    This story shall the good man teach his son;
    And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
    From this day to the ending of the world,
    But we in it shall be remembered;
    We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
    For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
    Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile
    This day shall gentle his condition:
    And gentlemen in England, now a-bed
    Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
    And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
    That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

    3.17.2003

    Jed Babbin on the effective alternatives to torture in extracting information from Al Qaeda detainees:


    If there was reason to believe that torture would always reveal the truth, and quickly, Buchanan and Dershowitz might have some scintilla of logic to support their argument. But it doesn't, and neither does any other method of interrogation. The choice is not between torture and ignorance of what is in a terrorist's mind. Being tough and aggressive doesn't require Us to become Them. Handcuff him to a chair and swab his arm with alcohol. Don't worry, fella. This won't hurt a bit. And it just might work.

    Happy Feast of Saint Patrick!

    A jaw-dropping exchange between an Iraqi expatriate and a peace protester on a call-in show. "We all start out children and we learn and grow. But she has no point lecturing me on what will happen in Iraq...This is why the so-called peace movement, they cannot even justify their own name..."

    A fascinating series on the ethics and mechanics of human body enhancement. What improvements in vision, strength, hearing, sleep and memory will be available in the next few years? Are we ready for the consequences?