out of context

For the record, the entire quote about Dean and Iraqis' standard of living is:

"You can say that it's great that Saddam [Hussein] is gone, and I'm sure that a lot of Iraqis feel it is great that Saddam is gone, but a lot of them gave their lives, and their living standard is a whole lot worse now than it was before."

In other words, he was talking about dead Iraqis, in an ironic sense. Dean never claimed that the mass of Iraqis were better off under Saddam. I'm disappointed that Brian was so eager to swallow that interpretation from an uninformed Iraqi blogger (unless blogging from Iraq somehow immunizes you from any fact-checking rigor?) . Alas, when discussing anything in today's political climate, leaping to a convenient interpretation is all too seductive. I tried to inform Glenn of the error but didn't get much response, which is a shame because Glenn's post is the primary vector of the disinformation.

X-Box for $99?

This article on CNN suggests it may happen by Labor Day:

Microsoft's Xbox may be on the verge of a substantial price cut, falling from $179 to $99 by Labor Day, according to P.J. McNealy, an analyst with American Technology Research.

"It is our belief that the price on the consoles in North America could see a stepped drop this year, with both the PS2 and Xbox being cut to $129 between now and the May E3 trade show, with [Microsoft] then cutting the Xbox further to $99 in the late summer," he wrote in a research note released Wednesday.

I'm not a gamer - there's only one reason this interests me.


Houston bloggers lunch tomorrow at Dryden Chipotle 11:30am

Use this as an excuse to ride the rail line! We are celebrating the impending baby arrival of Senior Houston Blog Correspondent Charles Kuffner, of Off The Kuff fame. Join us!

the face of religion

Dan Darling chastized me for my statement in the last post that Fallwell and Robertson are probably the "most visible face of Christian America". I'd like to clarify. Note that I was careful not to say that they are representative of Christian Americans. Rather, the point I am making is that there are clear and non-coincidental parallels between the mullah-sympathizers who openly call for Shari'a (ie, their interpretation of such) to be made the law of the land with the theocratic movement on the political right. The insertion of the phrase "under God" into the Pledge by Congress in the 1950s, the cyclical controversies over the installation of the 10 Commandments in various federal and state public institutions, the attempts to legislate morality at the expense of privacy and liberty (such as on abortion rights), and the twisting of religious arguments to justify blatantly ant-religious causes such as tax cuts for the rich at the expense of the poor, all are part of a broad campaign that could be characterized as a Cultural War.

I greatly admire politicians like Republican Alabama Governor Bob Riley, who invoked Christian arguments to try and enact social justice in his state. The defeat of his tax reform plan proved the truth to Howard Dean's assertions that southerners vote against their economic self-interest, because of the Cultural War propaganda[1]

The theocratic movement won that battle in the Culture War. And it's an ongoing struggle. I heard a caller to the radio talk show (Hannity, I think) state that the freedom of religion to which the Founders spoke was meant to make no distinction between various Christian sects, because back then "all religion was Christianity". And thus do the polemicists divine the Founders' intent. This kind of blatant historical revisionism is being taught in schools, repeated on the media, and publicly endorsed by the ostensibly religion-neutral government.

Let me be clear. If Alabama as a state decides to abolish it's Legislature and enact a theocratic government structure, where the Electoral College delegates are simply appointed by the Pope of Alabama or somesuch equivalent, I think that would probably be constitutionally valid[2] But the agenda at the national level causes me much more concern. I don't think even the most hardened theocrat thinks a Pope of America structure is feasible, but it is possible (and in fact, ongoing) to stack the deck of the judiciary with those who interpret law according to Bible first, Constitution second (or third, behind the GOP charter). And it's hard to see any fuure GOP presidential candidate being viable after George W. Bush who isn't an evangelical sympathizer. That sympathy has been explicitly underscored in the media image of the President.

Theocrats like Falwell and Robertson are the most visible face of Christianity because Christianity as a mass political movement has been co-opted by the Culture War. The vast majority of Christian adherents have no rol ein this war, though they do get drawn in peripherally by the theocrats at times. For example, when the threat to remove "under God" from the Pledge was made, the theocrats knew how to frame the issue as an attack upon Christianity itself - which drew a visceral response from ordinary Christian Americans who would be appalled at a theocratic state being enacted in Alabama. Draw your own parallels with Islam.

The point is that the most visible face is almost defined as non-representative. And yet it's that visibility that allows even more extreme strains to flourish.

UPDATE: realized that I forgot to mention that the most public face of Christianity as a whole is probably the Pope, who single-handedly justifies the qualifier "almost" in the sentence above. But my discussion was centered on American Christianity's public face, and speaking as someone who feels a great deal of solidarity with Dan, that face is hijacked in this country.

[1]People are rational actors. But they base their decision-making process on the facts at hand, and in a conservative state with a negligent media and political dominance by the religious right, people make highly rational but factually wrong and anti-self-interested decisions.
[2] as long as the new Church didn't try to cross the 14th Amendment. If so, send in the tanks.


Remember Oklahoma City

it will happen again. It DID happen again - the anthrax mailings just after September 11, which targeted liberal congresspeople like Tom Daschle. And it was barely prevented, no thanks to our department of Homeland Underfunded Security:

You'd think that having a weapon of mass destruction (in this case, a socium cyanide bomb capable of killing thousands), 100 other bombs (including remote-detonating suitcase bombs), machine guns with 500,000 rounds of ammo, a detailed plan for using this arsenal, and even pleading guilty would get you noticed by the the Big Homeland Defender himself. ... The Krar investigation happened almost by accident when a box of counterfeit IDs showed up at the wrong address and the recipient notified authorities.

Now, we have the self-professed Christian Terrorist:

"As cream rising to the top of the milk, so the Christian terrorist rises above the huddled masses of churchgoers and the many voices which denounce their violent attempts to defend the innocent from they're [sic] murderous assailants," Chuck Spingola wrote in a posting on the Army of God Web site.

"Regarding abortion the separation is clear. The CT [Christian terrorist] has the Word of God and a testimony of loving, albeit terrifying [to the wicked], actions," he said.

Spingola declined to discuss the statement with ABCNEWS.com without stipulations, but said he stood by the posting.
"The foreign terrorists (Muslim) resist the imposition of the United States/United Nations charter, which promotes 'population control' (abortion) and 'diversity' (homosexuality), while the Christian/domestic terrorist simply resists the 'law' of the land, which promotes and often subsidizes abortion and homosexuality," he continued.

Extreme violence against abortion providers has dropped sharply over the last two years, though there has been no decline in the harassment of doctors and staff at clinics and women visiting clinics, according to the National Abortion Foundation.

The movement has been hit hard over the last two years by a series of arrests and trials of some of its most notorious adherents, and some who follow extremists say the "Christian terrorist" rhetoric is an attempt to rally new radicals to take the place of people such as Clayton Waagner, Paul Hill, James Kopp and Eric Rudolph.

Waagner was convicted of threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction for mailing letters containing what appeared to anthrax to dozens of abortion clinics. Kopp was convicted of the 1998 murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian, who performed abortions in Buffalo, N.Y. Rudolph, the suspect in bombings at a Birmingham, Ala., abortion clinic and at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, is awaiting trial.
The use of the term terrorist has been taken as a badge of honor by anti-abortion activists since at least June 2001, when Waagner, who was in hiding after escaping from prison, used the word to describe himself in a Web posting.

"The government of the most powerful country in the world considers me a terrorist," Waagner wrote. "That label set me aback at first. Then it struck me: They're right. I am a terrorist. To be sure, I'm a terrorist to a very narrow group of people, but a terrorist just the same. As a terrorist to the abortionist, what I need to do is envoke [sic] terror. Thus the reason I'm posting this letter. I wish to warn them that I'm coming."

Though Waagner, who took advantage of his freedom to send letters containing what appeared to be anthrax to dozens of abortion clinics in the fall of 2001, did not use the term "Christian terrorist," he did make clear that he believed he was on a mission from God.

"God did not rescue me from life in prison for my pleasure," he wrote. "He freed me that I might lay down my life for His will. He freed me to make war on His enemy. He freed me to make war on those who profit from the merciless murder of His children. And a war it shall be."

In light of analogies to muslim terrorists, it is worth asking just how widespread the support for these abortion bombers go. After all, with fundamentalist preachers such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell blaming abortion doctors and homosexuals for 9-11 (Falwell retains a massive influence upon American Christianity, and is probably the most visible face of Christian America), there is likely a widespread network of these militants already operating without any surveillance (despite liing in a post-911 world).


the root cause?

I left some links at Dean's site, to which he has responded:

Every time I hit a Muslim site, I see stuff about how Israel is the cause of unrest in the Middle East, how America is often responsible for the "root causes" of terrorism, and so on. Even when I read Aziz' site--not that he's not patriotic, because he pretty apparently is--I see this same sort of stuff, along with airy dismissals of any attempt by Muslims to change their image in the US.

If he reads my words as an airy dismissal, then I submit that he hasn't read what I wrote carefully. The relevant part is this, with full context:

But let me assure him and you that as a Muslim, I don't really CARE how Islam is perceived by non-Muslims. I care how Islam is perceived by Muslims.
the effort that Muslims would have to make in order to get media coverage to satisfy the opinion of Steven and others like him who rely exclusively on western media for information about the Islamic world, would be wasted. Positive coverage lasts only as long as the next tragedy. That energy would be better spent - and is being better spent - inwards.

you could summarize my view as simply, spend time on the financials, not the statements. The latter problem will solve itself. This is not very differnet from teh dogma of the warblog crowd that creation of the hypothetical America-friendly client democracy in Iraq would lead to the reform ofthe Arab world. We are both talking about root causes, on different scales. Dean seems like a guy who could really be fun to talk to (It would be interesting to discuss my neo-con vs neo-wilson dichotomy with him), but I have a reasonable expectation of an effort to understancd what I'm saying than (essentially) an airy dismissal of them.

As for root causes, I share Bill Allison's view that the problem in the middle east is more due to tyranny, rather than anti-semitism. Hatred of Jews, like love of C4, tends to be a distraction by the rulers of most Arab countries, which gives them a free pass from domestic challenges to their authority. Where Bill and I disagree is on the cause of that tyranny - I blame decades of short-sighted post-colonial foreign policy, exemplified by the Reagan Administration support of Saddam but also continued in the Clinton and now Bush support of Hosni Mubarak. And the Bush 41 and 43 support of the Saudis.

I'm strictly a "people are rational actors" goy - I don't sneer at the unwashed masses. But people are human and their basic desires don't vary (good and bad). And the masses of the Middle East need to be freed of their tyrants. But they have to earn that freedom by doing it themselves.

cant resist

waste of time. via Dean, personal best: 321.1 yards. Secret is to get the penguin to bounce.

towards one-party rule

I've been fairly strident in castigating the GOP on this blog - and equally strident about making it clear I hold no beef with conservatives per se. My goal is to highlight the abuses by a political party. The general subtext of my posts about teh GOP has always been about the (in my view) inexorable drift towards single-party rule, with the Democratic party becoming marginalized and ultimately as irrelevant as the Labor party has become in Israel. As demonstrated with Likud in Israel and with the PRI in Mexico, the GOP is striving towards and achieving dominance of our political system like never before in the history of this country.

I had a long argument via cell phone with Jason (whose neglected blog remains bereft of posts despite my best efforts at persuasion. Hey Tacitus, Jason would be ideal for your SuperConservaBlog project, want me to give you his email?) in response to his comment on my post below, and I explained my purpose was not to portray Republicans and Democrats in stark Manichean terms. My goal is to document the steps by which we are slipping towards one-party rule and the constant denial of this empirically-validated fact by the people who we most need to convince of its truth - not the leftists at Indymedia, but conservatives like Jason and Tacitus themselves.

Imagine, then, my surprise this morning to find over at TAP an entire article on the emerging one-party state! It's a very impressive piece that makes the case with far more rigor than I can achieve in my scattershot postings. Robert Kuffner introduces the article:

We are at risk of becoming an autocracy in three key respects. First, Republican parliamentary gimmickry has emasculated legislative opposition in the House of Representatives (the Senate has other problems). House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas has both intimidated moderate Republicans and reduced the minority party to window dressing, rather like the token opposition parties in Mexico during the six-decade dominance of the PRI.

Second, electoral rules have been rigged to make it increasingly difficult for the incumbent party to be ejected by the voters, absent a Depression-scale disaster, Watergate-class scandal or Teddy Roosevelt-style ruling party split. After two decades of bipartisan collusion in the creation of safe House seats, there are now perhaps just 25 truly contestable House seats in any given election year (and that's before the recent Republican super gerrymandering). What once was a slender and precarious majority -- 229 Republicans to 205 Democrats (including Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who votes with Democrats) -- now looks like a Republican lock. In the Senate, the dynamics are different but equally daunting for Democrats. As the Florida debacle of 2000 showed, the Republicans are also able to hold down the number of opposition votes, with complicity from Republican courts. Reform legislation, the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA), may actually facilitate Republican intimidation of minority voters and reduce Democratic turnout. And the latest money-and-politics regime, nominally a reform, may give the right more of a financial advantage than ever.

Third, the federal courts, which have slowed some executive-branch efforts to destroy liberties, will be a complete rubber stamp if the right wins one more presidential election.

Taken together, these several forces could well enable the Republicans to become the permanent party of autocratic government for at least a generation. Am I exaggerating? Take a close look at the particulars.

The article then delves into each of the three areas in detail. I'll be highlighting those sections in subsequent posts, to try and compartmentalize the discussion (if any).

on human rights

Billmon offers some quotes for perspective:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness...

Thomas Jefferson
The Declaration of Independence

If it be a fundamental principle of free government that the Legislative, Executive and Judiciary powers should be separately exercised, it is equally so that they be independently exercised.

James Madison
Remarks to the Constitutional Convention

The American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.

James Monroe
The Monroe Doctrine

The moment you come to the Declaration of Independence -- that every man has a right to life and liberty, an inalienable right -- this case is decided. I ask nothing more in behalf of these unfortunate men, than this Declaration.

John Quincy Adams
The Amistad Case

By virtue of the power and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States and parts of States are, and henceforward shall be, free...

Abraham Lincoln
The Emancipation Proclamation

A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.

Woodrow Wilson
Fourteen Points

Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.

Franklin D. Roosevelt
The Four Freedoms

I, Harry S. Truman, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim and make public the said Charter of the United Nations, with the Statute of the International Court of Justice annexed thereto...

Harry Truman
Proclamation of United Nations Charter

I have today issued an Executive Order directing the use of troops under Federal authority to aid in the execution of Federal law at Little Rock, Arkansas.

Dwight D. Eisenhower
Address to the Nation on the Little Rock School Desegregation Case

Next week I shall ask the Congress of the United States to act, to make a commitment it has not fully made in this century to the proposition that race has no place in American life or law.

John F. Kennedy
Report to the American People on Civil Rights

What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and State of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause too. Because it's not just Negroes, but really it's all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.

Lyndon Baines Johnson
Address to Congress on the Voting Rights Act

Because we are free we can never be indifferent to the fate of freedom elsewhere. Our moral sense dictates a clearcut preference for these societies which share with us an abiding respect for individual human rights.

Jimmy Carter
Inaugural Address

With today's signing of the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act, every man, woman and child with a disability can now pass through once closed doors, into a bright new era of equality, independence and freedom.

George Herbert Walker Bush
Americans With Disabilities Act Signing Ceremony

No President has ever done more for human rights than I have.

George W. Bush
Interview with The New Yorker magazine


Zaphod Beeblebrox Watch

President Bush at the Restaurant:

THE PRESIDENT: I need some ribs.

Q Mr. President, how are you?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm hungry and I'm going to order some ribs.

Q What would you like?

THE PRESIDENT: Whatever you think I'd like.

Q Sir, on homeland security, critics would say you simply haven't spent enough to keep the country secure.

THE PRESIDENT: My job is to secure the homeland and that's exactly what we're going to do. But I'm here to take somebody's order. That would be you, Stretch -- what would you like? Put some of your high-priced money right here to try to help the local economy. You get paid a lot of money, you ought to be buying some food here. It's part of how the economy grows. You've got plenty of money in your pocket, and when you spend it, it drives the economy forward. So what would you like to eat?

Q Right behind you, whatever you order.

THE PRESIDENT: I'm ordering ribs. David, do you need a rib?

Q But Mr. President --

THE PRESIDENT: Stretch, thank you, this is not a press conference. This is my chance to help this lady put some money in her pocket. Let me explain how the economy works. When you spend money to buy food it helps this lady's business. It makes it more likely somebody is going to find work. So instead of asking questions, answer mine: are you going to buy some food?

Q Yes.

THE PRESIDENT: Okay, good. What would you like?

Q Ribs.

THE PRESIDENT: Ribs? Good. Let's order up some ribs.

Q What do you think of the democratic field, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: See, his job is to ask questions, he thinks my job is to answer every question he asks. I'm here to help this restaurant by buying some food. Terry, would you like something?

Q An answer.

Q Can we buy some questions?

THE PRESIDENT: Obviously these people -- they make a lot of money and they're not going to spend much. I'm not saying they're overpaid, they're just not spending any money.

Q Do you think it's all going to come down to national security, sir, this election?

THE PRESIDENT: One of the things David does, he asks a lot of questions, and they're good, generally.

Senator Edwards's opinion about Islam

At the New Hampshire Democratic Presidential Candidate Debate last night, Senator Edwards was asked a question about Islam. Here's the question and the answer in full from the transcript:

JENNINGS: ... Senator Edwards, many people, I think, believe that the greatest security threat to the United States in the 21st century is the possible confrontation between the West and Islam.

Now, I know and take for granted, having heard you before, that you respect Islam. But could you take a minute to tell us what you know about the practice of Islam that would reassure Muslims throughout the world who will be listening to you that President Edwards understands their religion and how you might use that knowledge to avoid a confrontation, which, as Tom alluded earlier, might indeed end up sending sons and daughters from New Hampshire to war.

EDWARDS: Well, I have been in these parts of the world. I have been in Pakistan, met with President Musharraf, been in Afghanistan, met with then interim chairman -- interim head of the government Karzai. I have met with other Islamic leaders around the world, discussed with them the problems that their country and their people face.

I would never claim to be an expert on Islam. I am not. But I do believe that Islam, as in a lot of other faiths that we as a nation embrace and lift up, that I have shown respect for faiths that are different than mine my entire life. I think I do understand the tragedy of the day-to-day lives of people who live in Arab countries, who live lives of hopelessness and despair.

EDWARDS: I think that contributes to the animosity that they feel toward the United States.

And part of our ongoing vision -- my ongoing vision for America includes getting at the root causes of that animosity toward the United States, which means being able to communicate, not just with the leadership, for example, in Saudi Arabia, but being able to communicate directly with the people...

JENNINGS: Do you think, Senator...

EDWARDS: ... to express...

JENNINGS: Do you think that we suffer and will suffer at the policy level because we do not know enough about the practice of Islam?

EDWARDS: I think we have a responsibility when we deal with the leadership of these countries. Our relationships, Peter, have been at the leadership level. And we see the results of that. We have ongoing relationship with the Saudi royals, with President Musharraf, with Chairman Karzai. We have relationships with the leaders of these Islamic countries.

The problem is, we have no relationship with the people. And not only do we have no relationship with the people, it's absolutely clear that they feel great animosity toward the United States. We need to, first, be able to communicate directly with the people.

Second, find opportunities. For example, President Musharraf said to me when I met with him: They desperately needed a public school system as an alternative to the religious schools, where their kids are taught to hate Americans.

We need to take advantage of the opportunities available to us and our allies, to reach out, not just to the leaders of these countries for our own purposes, but also to develop a relationship for the people themselves so that they understand what Americans care about and that we actually care about the peace and prosperity of the entire world.

Now, this exchange was characterized as a "sandbagging" at Daily Kos, and there were some critical comments at the Dean Nation open thread. I'll admit that Edwards' answer wasn't exactly concise, but I'm not seeing any problem with what he said. In fact, I liked what I read. I haven't actually watched the debate on video yet so maybe it came off badly in that context.


fact-checking is for dweebs

Eric alterman has a fantastic article on the modus operandi of the Bush White House. The main point:

Discussing this phenomenon, Michael Kinsley ruminated on the modus operandi that distinguished this White House from previous ones: �Bush II administration lies are often so laughably obvious that you wonder why they bother. Until you realize: They haven't bothered. If telling the truth was less bother, they'd try that too. The characteristic Bush II form of dishonesty is to construct an alternative reality on some topic and to regard anyone who objects to it as a sniveling dweeb obsessed with �nuance,� which the president of this class, I mean of the United States, has more important things to do than worry about.�

In his third State of the Union, Bush moved from nuance to nonsense. The president pretended that his original invasion had been inspired by something he termed �weapons of mass destruction program-related activities� instead of the weapons themselves. Not only did this contradict literally hundreds of statements by top administration officials who clamed to have clear, positive proof of actual weapons�Cheney even spoke of �reconstituted nuclear weapons��it is also rather difficult to figure out what in blazes it is supposed to mean.

"from nuance to nonsense" - well-put. The institutionalized laziness of the Administration takes almost mythic amounts of rationalization to fail to observe. The sole reason for it is because on all matters of policy, there is already a course of action inspired by simple ideological demands (generated from various sovereign ideological entities within the administration) which has been decided ahead of time. The function of people like former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill is therefore not to help shape policy, but to simply generate cover for the a priori policy. This is well-illustrated in Alterman's example from O'Neills book:

One of the lesser-noticed, but most revealing incidents in Paul O�Neill�s memoir once-removed, �The Price of Loyalty,� also takes place during the first Bush State of the Union. As O�Neill tells it, he woke up on the day of the address to read on the front page of the New York Times that the president was planning on using some cockamamie calculation�provided by a mistaken midlevel OMB employee�to justify nearly $700 billion in tax cuts. Furious and nearly shaking with disbelief, O�Neill tried to head it off but was informed that since the document had already been leaked to the media by the White House political staff, it was too late to correct it. How in the world, he wondered, could Rove and company �decide to do things like this and no even consult with the people in government who know what�s true or not? Who was in charge here? This is complete bull****.��

I honestly believe that the President himself is simply weak. He isn't involved in these ideological decisions, nor in their iplementation. He's the pretty face put up with divine or warrior imagery for the cameras. The real root of the problem is Cheney. Case in point...


infinite spending -> balanced budgets?

The State of the Union speech reminded me of the Radio Scripts, yet again:

``How can you have money,'' demanded Ford, ``if none of you actually produces anything? It doesn't grow on trees you know.''

``If you would allow me to continue ...''

Ford nodded dejectedly.

``Thank you. Since we decided a few weeks ago to adopt the leaf as legal tender, we have, of course, all become immensely rich.''

Ford stared in disbelief at the crowd who were murmuring appreciatively at this and greedily fingering the wads of leaves with which their track suits were stuffed.

``But we have also,'' continued the Management Consultant, ``run into a small inflation problem on account of the high level of leaf availability, which means that, I gather, the current going rate has something like three deciduous forests buying one ship's peanut.''

Murmurs of alarm came from the crowd. The Management Consultant waved them down.

``So in order to obviate this problem,'' he continued, ``and effectively revaluate the leaf, we are about to embark on a massive defoliation campaign, and ... er, burn down all the forests. I think you'll all agree that's a sensible move under the circumstances.''

Well, it certainly seems sensible to me. Compared to Bush's fiscal policies, at any rate.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum complements the fictional example well with color charts. The bottom line is that Bush stated in the State of the Union:

In two weeks, I will send you a budget that funds the war, protects the homeland, and meets important domestic needs, while limiting the growth in discretionary spending to less than 4 percent....By doing so, we can cut the deficit in half over the next five years.

But by taking Bush's own proposed policies into account, the actual result is to inflate the deficit to $500 billion by 2009. Bush knows this. Therefore, those 15 words in bold are a bold-faced lie.


(draft) Declaration of American Muslim Principles

1. America, as the sole nation on earth where religious freedom is guaranteed to all, is the greatest Islamic country on the face of the Earth.

2. It is the duty of an American muslim to be a law-abiding citizen, to work hard and with integrity, and to be an asset to their community both inside and outside the masjid.

3. Shari'a is a divine code to live by, and trancends Man's Law. Trying to mandate the practice of Shari'a by using Law is against Islam, as per Qur'an ayat 2:256: There is no compulsion in religion.

4. The American muslim will not allow non-muslims to define the faith. Our core concepts such as hijab and jihad shoudl be routinely embraced and deliberately used in dialouge with non-muslims. We do not accept the value judgement of any non-muslim upon our religious practices.

5. The American muslim is bound to excercize Al Aql al Insaan (the Reason of Man) in interpreting Islam. The American muslim is free to be a conservative or liberal, and owes no allegiance to any political party or leader.

comments welcome...


Ismail Royer pleads guilty

Unbelievable. the sheer idiocy :

A key member of an alleged Virginia jihad network pleaded guilty to federal weapons and explosives charges today, denying that he intended to harm Americans but acknowledging that he and his co-defendants had sought to fight on behalf of Muslim causes abroad.

Randall Todd Royer, 30, of Falls Church, entered his surprise plea in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. He faces at least 20 years in prison when he is sentenced April 9. Another of the 11 men originally charged in the case, Ibrahim Ahmed al-Hamdi, 26, of Alexandria, pleaded guilty to similar charges and faces at least 15 years in prison.
His lawyer, John Nassikas, said Royer admits that an object of the conspiracy was to fight against India in violation of U.S. law. But he denied the contention of prosecutors, and at least one other defendant, that the men may have taken up arms against the United States or American soldiers.

"Mr. Royer has never had any desire or intent to hurt Americans or American soldiers at any time," he said.

I confess that I thought te paintball excuse was valid. I never imagined that Royer would be idiot enough to actually want to travel to Kashmir and fight there. The sheer idiocy of this boggles the mind, especially given the remarkable lucid warning against victimhood that Royer penned which I found so compelling:

Since victims are all the rage nowadays, it's hard to blame Muslims in America for having a tendency to whine as well. It's easy to understand why, because it's a fact that Muslims have been mistreated in this country to some degree--I myself recently tussled with some neo-Nazis in rural Ohio who had a problem with my wife's face veil. It's also understandable that Muslims would adopt the vocabulary of the left, since liberals have been Muslims' main allies.
Finally, though many of the Muslims who have internalized the language of the left and lecture piously about human rights when it comes to how they themselves (read: Palestinians) are treated, they don't seem quite so moved at the deaths of Jewish children targeted by Muslims who ignore Islamic rules of engagement. This inconsistency doesn't go unnoticed, and gives the appearance (ahem) of a double standard. (Can't wait to see the hate mail on this one--I'll deal with the issue then.) This of course applies to "Israelis" as well, who derive political benefit from the killing of their civilians but will slaughter Arabs at the drop of a hat.

Imagining that Kashmir is a "muslim cause" worth taking up actual arms for - and intending to fight against India - is as absurd an embrace of muslim victimhood as any Jewish settler's persecution complex. Royer also had written excellent rebuttals to Daniel Pipes, but the validity of his arguments will forever be eclipsed.

Still, Royer's body of writing remains thought-provoking and especially relevant to the community of American muslims. Here is his author archive at the group blog A True Word, and here is another link of archived writings off his now-defunct blog.

baser instincts

another reason why I hate the GOP - the party's tactics are about stereotype, prejudice, and fear, rather than any actual principled position on the issues. Case in point - the immoral grassroots methods of the Bush-Cheney '04 relection campaign, such as playing to anti-Semitic stereotypes among teh Christian right:

On Dec. 18, for instance, [campaign manager] Mehlman sought to rouse his troops with a message titled, "Foreign liberal cash used to defeat President Bush!" What followed was an extremely unflattering photograph of a grimacing, hook-nosed George Soros (one of the most significant contributors to the unofficial Democratic voter-mobilization organizations that have arisen in the wake of McCain-Feingold) and a message bemoaning the "billionaire liberals and the flood of foreign money that they're encouraging." Mehlman called on "450,000 AMERICAN grassroots contributors" to counter the sinister attempt by Soros -- a native of Hungary but a naturalized American citizen who has lived in the United States since 1956 -- to provide the Democrats with money from an immigrant. The ad comes close to resurrecting the classic anti-Semitic stereotype of the Jewish cosmopolitan financier undermining a Christian republic.

Not to mention voter-intimidation tactics targeting blacks and hispanics:

The battleground on which they tested their latest tactics was the Philadelphia mayor's race, where the campaign of the Republican challenger, Sam Katz, grew extremely nervous at the success the Democrats had had at registering minority voters. The Republican response was an attempt to scare black and Hispanic voters away from the polls -- not a new trick in the Republican playbook by any means, but one that the DNC had better be studying and preparing to confront this November.

To begin, according to Democratic consultant Tom Lindenfeld, who ran the counter-intimidation program for the campaign of Democrat John Street, the Republicans assembled a fleet of 300 cars driven by men with clipboards bearing insignias or decals resembling those of such federal agencies as Drug Enforcement Agency and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Thus arrayed, says Lindenfeld, these pseudo-cops spent election day cruising Philadelphia's African American neighborhoods and asking prospective voters to show them some identification -- an age-old method of voter intimidation. "What occurred in Philadelphia was much more expansive and expensive than anything I'd seen before, and I'd seen a lot," says Lindenfeld, who ran similar programs for the campaigns of Harvey Gantt in North Carolina and other prominent Democrats. In a post-election poll of 1,000 black voters, 7 percent of them said they had encountered these efforts (this being Philadelphia, there were allegations of violence and intimidation against Street supporters as well). Lindenfeld employed 800 people to confront the GOP's faux-agents at polling places.

Lindenfeld's operatives found Republican volunteers from as far away as Missouri, and attorneys from the District of Columbia were discouraging Philadelphia voters from exercising their franchise. That doesn't make the effort an official activity of the RNC, of course. But it does mean that a broad network of Republicans are still honing their techniques for manipulating an election.


You're Captain Archer! You're always in control of situations and are very adventurous. You're a leader, but you're also laid back and willing to listen to what others have to say. You look a great deal like a scientist from 1999 named Dr. Sam Beckett.
Take the Enterprise Quiz!
Brought to you by redanubis.

the (cynical) Libertarian case for Dean

Radley Balko, libertarian blogger, makes a case for Dean, arguing that doing so would be the best motivator for the GOP to do "the right thing" :

1. Republicans are most principled when someone they despise holds power. ... President Clinton fought for significant increases in the size and scope of the Department of Education. The Republicans wouldn�t allow it. President Clinton asked for significant campaign finance reform. It died in the Congress. President Clinton wanted an overhaul in the health care system, particularly a prescription drug benefit for seniors. He never got it.

In the three years President Clinton has been out of office, the Republican Congress has passed all three of those ideas into law. It�s pretty clear now that the GOP of the 1990s acted not out of principle, but out of spite. ... They simply didn�t want to give President Clinton any political victories. In contrast, the Congress has been so kind to President Bush, he may become the first American president since James Buchanan (search) to go an entire term without using the veto.

2. Divided government gets less done (always a good thing in Washington). The Cato Institute�s William Niskanen points out that in the last 50 years, the only two periods of extended fiscal restraint from the federal government came during the Eisenhower and Clinton administrations, both under divided government. The two eras when government expanded were the Kennedy/Johnson administration, and the current administration, both under united government. Note that party affiliation really doesn�t factor into the equation. A government that can�t pass laws can�t spend money. It can�t raise taxes. It can�t create new federal agencies or benefits.

3. Republicans are more principled when they�re not in power. Remember the Contract With America? (search) It was introduced in 1993. At that time, Republicans were in the minority, and had been, for the most part, for decades. The Contract With America proposed a radical downsizing of the federal government, including eliminating entire Cabinet departments. It was born of a �nothing left to lose� mentality. It was bold, brash and refreshingly principled. Of course, as soon as the Republicans won, largely because of the Contract, they promptly abandoned its most controversial provisions. They feared offending mainstream voters. They now had something to lose � their power.

What Balko misses in his analysis is the fact that the GOP is less about conservative ideals and more about power for its own sake. The GOP is not a party of fiscal conservatism, or any kind of conservatism - the GOP has become the Corporatist party. It's a machine-style politics with three Big Bosses - Tom Delay, Karl Rove, and Dick Cheney. This ideological triumvirate maintains smooth machine operation with strict enforcement of party loyalty at all costs.

Balko thinks that electing Dean will motivate the GOP to do the right thing out of spite, but forgets that the infrastructure of the corporatist hold over the party has solidified during the Bush Administration. It's doubtful that the GOP can ever find it's way back from the hinterlands of ideology that it has sold itself to. And we haven't even mentioned the Religious Right...

I welcome the argument, however, because in making it Balko superficially acknowledges what Dwight Meredith has documented in extensive detail. The economy AND the lives of ordinary Americans improve under Democratic rule, relative ot the GOP.


The Bush Administration puts ideology above debate when charting policy

The O'Neill revelations have put the Bush Administration in an offensive, rather than defensive posture. The Administration has rushed to conduct an investigation on the grounds that O'Neill's revelations may have been "sensitive" (note: that is NOt the same thing as "classified"). The Administration did not hesitate to grant such access to documents to Bob Woodward, of course, nor did they rush to conduct an investigation on the Valerie Plame affair (which did actual harm to our national security and is a truly criminal matter). Nick Confessore makes much the same point in TAPPED and frankly it's a devastatingly cogent argument.

To get a sense of the principled disagreement, I read Dan Darling's analyses of the issue, but I think he is making an error in equating the regular contingency plans drawn up by State and DoD with the specific policy objective of deposing Saddam as soon as the Bush team entered office. This is a significant distinction.

The relevant part of O'Neills expose are where he describes how he took his foreign policy and economic concerns to VP Cheney and was dismissed. O'Neill found that there was no policy debate as you wold normally expect. There was simply a-priori defined policy objectives, and the facts were chosen (cherry-picked) to justify that objective.

The bottom line is that ideology, not rational analysis of all available facts, is what drives the policy engine of the Bush Administration. And there is an ongoing culling of the ranks of anyone who does not step into line.


casualties increased 29% since Saddam's capture

Headline of Yahoo story: Attacks down 22% since Saddam's capture

Excerpt from story:

The average number of daily attacks fell to 18 in the four weeks since Dec. 14, when the coalition announced that Saddam had been captured the day before. In the four weeks before Saddam was found, attacks averaged 23 a day.

During the same periods, U.S. combat injuries dropped only slightly, from 233 in the four weeks before Saddam's capture to 224 in the four weeks after. And the attacks remain deadly: 22 troops killed from Nov. 16 through Dec. 13 and 31 in the comparable period Dec. 14- Jan. 10. But the figures for deaths do not include the 17 U.S. soldiers who died Nov. 15 when two helicopters crashed in the city of Mosul.

So the number of attacks has dropped, but the number of troops killed has increased. Conclusion: attacks, while fewer, are more deadly. Apropos to Glenn's comment, I don't think anyone should try to make a "big deal" about the worsening safety situation for our troops,because it's frankly ghoulish. I want the number of attacks AND the number of casualties to decrease.

I make no apologies for jihad

\Po*lem"ic\, n. 1. One who writes in support of one opinion, doctrine, or system, in opposition to another; Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, � 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc.

To Tacitus: maybe because he isn't muslim?

A serious discussion of what jihad means has to start with the Qur'an, and end with the actual practices of the worldwide population of 1 billion muslims. I've already discussed it in a Qur'anic context. And as for the actual practice, I assure any doubters that they'd notice 1 billion people engaging in armed warfare against non-Muslims by virtue of their being non-Muslims. Perhaps Lewis' definitions of "minority" and "majority" differ from mine.

I'm also pleased at how Tac's jihad against the word jihad gives me an excuse to actually practice it! :)


and we know how the administration punishes disloyalty...

The former Treasure Secretary, Paul O'Neill, has a new book out where he sheds a lot of light on the insular and clique-dominated nature of political decision-making in the White House. Atrios has more info on this.

Dan asks:

I think that a lot of this is sour grapes and does beg the question that if he knew all of this and felt so strongly, why didn't he air all this stuff prior to the actual war, when it could have arguably done some good as far as bringing this information to light?

To be honest, had O'Neill publicly disagreed with the Administration while still a part of it, he would have been rightfully dismissed as disloyal. An Administration pursuing bad poloicy is not teh same as a corporation pursuing dishonest finances - the "whistleblower" analogy does not apply.

If you are in the administration, your job is to present your policy diferences to the executive and then shut up. Period.

O'Neill is now a public figure and can reveal whatever he wants, as a private citizen. But doing so while in the administration would have been shockingly unprofessional.


Blogger employment casualty

Diana Moon just got laid off - and her bosses invoked blogging as one excuse, though other people in her department were far worse offenders. She refuses to put up a paypal button, but if you have a PayPal account you can send anyone with a valid email address some cash. Help her out if you have some to spare. Her email is prairie_moon at earthlink dot net.

Bush Halo sighting

There's a deliberate propaganda campaign to use subliminal Christ imagery to depict Bush in the media. Here's the latest example. I've archived it with my other examples - ere they are (please send me links if you find more):

There are other examples of photographic propaganda, such as Mount Rushmore and of course the infamous flight suit.


Political space

my earlier instincts seem to be correct. The Bush Mars Plan is envisioned as... a plan for jobs![1]

The sources said Bush aides also view the initiative as a huge jobs program, and one that will stimulate business in the many parts of the country where space and military contractors are located.

"This is a boon for business and a boon for Texas," one official said, referring to the state where Bush was governor and the location of the Johnson Space Center, which is the home of mission control and the nerve center for human space flight.

The decision was controversial within the White House, with some aides arguing that it would make more sense to focus immediately on Mars, since humans have already landed on the moon and a Mars mission would build cleanly on the success of Spirit, the U.S. rover that landed safely on Mars last weekend. Bush himself settled the divisions, according to the sources, working from options that had been narrowed down by his senior adviser, Karl Rove.

One presidential adviser, who asked not to be identified, said, after discussing the initiative with administration officials, that the idea is "crazy" and mocked it as the "mission to Pluto."

It costs a lot of money and we don't have money," the official said. "This is destructive of any sort of budget restraint." The official added that the initiative makes any rhetoric by Bush about fiscal restraint "look like a feint."

Sort of the inverse of JFK's famous twin dictums of "ask not what your country can do for you" and his famous Rice University moon speech:

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

Bush's space announcement was positively pedestrian in comparison. Not to mention that it's Rove who's doing the narrowing of policy options - clearly the Mars talk is being driven by the political engine, not the policy one. There's more evidence of this (via Kos) when you compare the attitude of the Administration today with that from December 4, 2003 (ie, one month ago):

Despite widespread speculation that a major presidential announcement on space is at hand, White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters Thursday that President Bush has no plans to make any policy announcement about the U.S. space program �in the near future.�

Can the successful landing of the Spirit rover have anything to do with the Administration's renewed interest in Mars? And possibly the impending Democratic contests in Iowa and New Hampshire?

So, the plan is to create massive spending programs, lavish corporate welfare for the Home Star State and enrich the federal bureaucracy. And get to the Moon and Mars as an afterthought to the re-election campaign.

Conservative bloggers have doubts, too. Tacitus doesn't disappoint for fiscally conservative alarm at the plan. Drezner also is disturbed by the Rovian influence. Simberg is all about the private sector.

[1]Maybe Rove has been reading Steve's blog...

No to Mars

Bush wants us to go to Mars. I think it's a terrible idea. And I'd be the first to volunteer if given the chance.

I am extremely pro-manned space travel, but in order to be successful, it has to be done right. There has to be a reason to go - so that we know what to do when we get there. As Rand Simberg noted, we need a vision, not a destination - and Bush has failed to deliver.

First: in the wake of Columbia, it's reasonable to demand an answer to the question: Why should NASA be trusted with a Mars shot? Can NASA achieve the balance between safety and quality? Keep in mind that the last time NASA came up with a manned mission plan, in response to President George Bush's call for Mars exploration in 1989, it was a $450 billion monster that dubbed "The Death Star" (That's ~5 Iraq invasions and reconstructions for those of you keeping score).

What we really need to do, in the wake of the Columbia disaster, is re-think the very purpose of our manned space infrastructure. This means asking common sense questions about our needs. For example, what purpose does the Space Shuttle serve? Is it to ferry astronauts to the Space Station and back? We are currently doing the same job using Soyuz technology, upon which the Chinese Shenzhou 5 is based (with modernization improvements). Shenzou performed flawlessly, and NASA has indicated that they are leaning towards a capsule derivative of Apollo as well.

Do we need the Shuttle to lift cargo into orbit? The same task is achieved by Atlas and Delta rockets. Even the aging Titan is still being used on occassion. We don't need manned flight for simple heavy lifting.

We also need to ask the basic question of why are we going to Mars? For symbolism? We don't have a Cold War to fight against a symbolic enemy anymore, against whom the US flag planted on the soil of Mars could be used as a propaganda victory.

If we are going to Mars for science, then we need a lot more unmanned missions first (keep in mind that of all the missions launched by Russia, the US, and Europe, only three missions have succeeded in safely landing a functional probe). The reason is that given the enormous expense and risk of sending a human to Mars, we cannot waste the precious human work-hours on teh surface when we succeed. The basic science needs to be done ahead of time so that our astronauts are not doing manual labor and drudgery, they can focus on the true science. We need to establish a baseline of data so we know what our manned mission's goals will be.

And the mechanics of HOW we get to Mars need to be thought out very carefully. We need to make a commitment to research that facilitates the goal, and I don't see that commitment in NASA's funding. Why did funding get cut for the TransHAB crew module? It would have been an ideal crew compartment for the long transit: an inflatable three-story cylinder where the drinking water doubles as a radiation shield. It could have been tested on the Space Station first. But it's gone.

Also, where's the funding for basic research on extracting water from the soil? oxygen from the crust? There's so much basic science research that needs to be done if any Mars colony is going to be self-sustaining for even a short period of time.

It's not clear that Bush has even considered any of these issues. In fact, it's far more likely that it's another political ploy to portray himself as the Vision president. But looking at the Administration's own record of statements about Mars, it's not hard to discerns the true motives of this policy proposal. The most incriminating piece of evidence from the UPI story though is this little buried blurb:

Sources said Bush will direct NASA to scale back or scrap all existing programs that do not support the new effort.

This betrays a profound ignorance on what NASA's purpose is for, and makes it hard to believe that there's any serious policy intent here at all.


The Palestinian Peace Directory

Richard Silverstein has compiled a list of links and information to Palestinian peace groups, called the Palestinian Peace Directory (with assistance from Jonathan and the Middle East Information Center). He writes about the need for such a list:

This list began in the most inauspicious way possible. I sometimes post my Israel-Palestine blog entries at the Middle East Information Center's discussion group. There are some group members who are right wing Jewish verbal thugs with nothing better to do than spew their vile insults at those who represent a more dovish view of the conflict. After posting my directory to Israeli and American-Jewish groups dedicated to Israeli-Palestinian peace (Mideast Peace Activism: Online Resources), one of these asked me rhetorically: "It's all well and good for you Jewish peaceniks, but where are the Palestinian peaceniks??" The disingenuous point was that since there are no Palestinian interlocutors interested in peace, that my own views were discredited as well.

While I never give their comments any credence, I did feel it would be worthwhile to explore the world of Palestinian peace groups in order to prove that there IS an interlocutor with whom it is worthwhile to engage in serious debate about issues of war and peace.

This is a much-needed resource and I am going to permalink it from my sidebar. My only complaint is that a similar if not greater need exists for such a directory on the Israeli side.

UPDATE: ask and ye shall receive - Richard provides a link to the corresponding American and Jewish Peace Directory.

not everyone has the right to take offense

NO rational person could possible conclude that Hillary Clinton has no respect for Gandhiji-saheb from her lame attempt at humor while paying tribute to the father of Indian independence.:

The New York Democrat made the remark at a fund-raiser Saturday. During an event here for Senate candidate Nancy Farmer, Clinton introduced a quote from Gandhi by saying, "He ran a gas station down in St. Louis."

After laughter from many in the crowd of at least 200 subsided, the former first lady continued, "No, Mahatma Gandhi was a great leader of the 20th century." In a nod to Farmer's underdog status against Republican Sen. Kit Bond, Clinton quoted the Indian independence leader as saying: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

(emphasis mine. It applies to Howard Dean's campaign, BTW) But if there are any irrational people out there, you better be of Indian/Pakistani descent before you take up arms. It's ME and my fellow subcontinentals who are the butt of the gas station and Quickie Mart stereotype. Go find your own outrage to manufacture.

On a completely unrelated note, why doesn't Gandhi ever get mentioned in Pakistan? I mean, yay Jinna and everything, but is there any recognition of Gandhi's role? (I'm displaying the gross ignorance of Pakistan that results when your last visit was six years ago)[1]. Zack? Zachary?

as for the rabid Clinton-haters, who cares what they think? They'd take offense at Hillary praising Reagan or insulting Hitler.

[1] Though I bet "Down with the USA!" is still spray-painted on Teen Talwar in Clifton :)


thoughts on Dean and tax plans

The Kool Aid tastes better and better. I have come around to thinking that Dean's position on the Bush tax cut (repeal all of it) is actually defensible, and I don't want him to back down. Let me explain my thinking.

The basic argument that Dean makes is that there was no middle-class tax cut. The best analogy I've heard is that Bush put $200 in your front pocket and took $500 out your back pocket. The entire point of the BushTax.com site is to document how the fiscal policies of the Administration have exacerbated the budget crises of the states, leading to more expenses - which the supposed Bush refund was intended to distact from.

Note also that the main champions of leaving the Bush tax plan in place for the middle class (Kerry and Lieberman) are falling into a rhetorical trap of ceding the debate (which Clark is guilty of doing on foreign policy). But Dean inverts the "it's your money" argument - staying true to the liberal notion that givernment services can act as a great engine of opportunity for the lower classes. Note that it is Republican fiscal ideology that supports the demise of upward mobility. The ideological assault upon the New Deal has begun - starting with symbolic measures, but the real agenda is to "starve the beast." Note that while social programs get starved out of existence, largesse is showered upon the corporate interests - further underlining their deliberate fiscal agenda of corporate welfare. Horatio Alger is not just dying, he is being systematically murdered.

When Democrats become Bush Lite, they are abdicating their responsibility to defend the policies and ideologies that define liberalism itself - the idea that success should accrue from hard work and equal opportunity, to any American regardless of lineage or caste. Is it any wonder that Al Gore signed onto the Dean campaign? This really is about the People vs the Powerful.

Is Dean going to step up to the plate? Arguing that there was no tax cut is only the first step. He has to follow through on the swing - and the recent hints about a payroll tax cut are exactly what the Doctor should order.

The Clark tax plan is good, but it isn't a visionary one. Dean has been talking about repealing the entire tax cut for months now, and we have not been very happy about it, but if you take Dean's position on the Bush tax cuts along with a proposed payroll tax cut, and sell them together in the context of defending against the corporate-welfare-driven ideology of the Administration, suddenly you have a much more potent argument. Clark's approach doesn't defend our values in the same manner as would such a combination. Let's see what the Doctor proposes...


blog recommendations?

I'm looking for some blog recommendations. I'll be checking out the Koufax Best Blog nominees over at Wampum, but was curious as to what blogs any of you might recommend. Suggestions?


the living Imam

David Ross, in the context of discussing Shi'a beliefs, writes:

Other Shi'a, including the Ismailis, believe that the last Imam died, and that modern-day Shi'a must instead live by the canonical Imams' precepts. Another possible solution, held by no-one I know of, is that the Imam's line has lasted to this day - but that the rightful heir to 'Ali is a mystery.

Actually, David is mistaken, the Ismailis do indeed believe that the line of Imams has continued unbroken. It is an article of faith that the line can never be broken. The Aga Khanis (or Nizaris) believe in fact that the Aga Khan is that living Imam, descendant of Ali AS. The Bohras, my community, believe that the 21st Imam went into occlusion and continued his line. At the time of occlusion, at the close of the Fatimid dynasty, religious authority was transferred to the office of Dai ul-Mutlaq of which there have been 52 officeholders since, the current Dai being Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS). It is an article of faith that the hidden Imam - a blood line descendant of the 21st Imam - remains the embodiment of spiritual authority but the Dai excercises that authority on his behalf.

Again, I refer any interested readers to the book Mullahs on the Mainframe (review) for more information on the Bohra community, the office of the Dai ul Mutlaq, and the beliefs of the Fatimi Ismaili Shi'a.

fact-checking: a case study

Dwight Meredith fact-checks Jane Galt - with class, respect, and dignity. That's par for the course for the liberal blogsphere.


light rail in Houston

Charles notes that today is the day the light rail line debuts here in Houston. It's also the inauguration day of Mayor Bill White, so it's a big day of pomp around here. If only Chipotle was open for lunch I'd have an excuse to go and check it out!

I am forced to admit that the trains are spiffy-looking. I'm still not convinced that they have any value in terms of commuter congestion. However, the Dryden stop and the Texas Medical Center stops would both be convenient if there was reliable bus service to the dowtown transit center from where I live (down the Gulf Freeway in Dickinson/League City). Here's what these trains need to become useful for commuters:

1. They must run from very early in the morning to very late at night. I think they have this covered, the Chron had a mention that they'd run from 4:30am to 1:00am. Train frequencies should never be longer than 5 minutes at peak times, 20 minutes at off-peak.

2. There must be direct/non-stop bus service to the downtown transit center from every Park N' Ride in town, at frequencies of every 30 minutes during peak times, one hour for off-peak. The bus needs to run at least as early as 5:00 AM and as late as 8:00 PM.

Both of these are neccessary, neither is sufficient alone for this 300 million-dollar boondoggle to have any usefulness. But if they are both achieved... well. I might become a fan.

being hated for your beliefs

I don't buy into the assertion that in order to fully understand being hated for your religious beliefs, you need to have personally experienced such hatred. But it certainly helps. via MEMRI, here's what Saudi Wahabists think of Shi'a:

The Muslims should be careful, because the Shi'a do not hesitate to cooperate with the Crusaders and the Jewish enemies [of] the Sunna. The Shi'a believe that the threat of the Sunna and their heresy is greater than the threat posed by the Jews and the Christians. Whoever follows history knows that the Shi'a assisted the enemies of the nation who stabbed her in the back. It suffices that the Shi'a defiled the sanctity of Allah's house and stole the Black Stone [the Ka'ba] for twenty years,[2]before it was brought back to its place. Those who are familiar with the beliefs of the Shi'a can hardly fathom the depth of their evil and hatred. Beware [of] them, Oh Muslims.

We also caution against those who advocate befriending the Shi'a. Such [an] approach can only cause further harm to the nation. To get close to the Shi'a is more dangerous than getting close to the Jews, because the animosity of the Jews is well known, while the Shi'a pretend [to be friendly] and deceive the nation�""How can we approach those who believe that we should curse the followers of the Prophet Muhammad and accuse them of heresy? They, who curse the Prophet's wives and accuse [the Prophet's wife] 'Aisha of prostitution?... If you advocate getting closer to people with such beliefs, then getting closer to Christians is not as bad� [N]ot everyone who maintains that he is Muslim is indeed a Muslim, if his deeds completely nullify Islam �

(the theologian inside me would argue that no one person's deeds can "nullify" Islam, only another's perception of it.)

This is not simply theoretical hatred. It has been acted upon throughout history, directed against Shi'a living in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and many other countries - including India, where my community was horribly persecuted by the ruler Aurangzeb. Neither is it a purely historical hatred. In Najaf, Iraq, the Tomb of Ali AS itself was bombed in an attack which succeeded in assassinating Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim, a moderate Ithna-Ashari Shi'a cleric who had advocated cooperation with the US occupying forces.

Lastly, this is not a hatred that I know of solely through Google News. In 1999, I visited Yemen on a religious trip, to pay respects and do pilgrimage to the tombs of past Duat ul-Mutlaqin of the Bohra community. Our community is a sub-sect of the Shi'a Fatimi Ismaili branch of Islam, and our melding of deeply-orthodox belief with full embrace of modernism is well-described in the
excellent ethnography, Mullahs on the Mainframe, by Jonah Blank of the University of Chicago Press.

al-Hutaib mubarakOur home base in Yemen was the mountain stronghold of Hutaib, built by the 3rd Dai Syedna Hatim ibn Muhyiddin al-Hamidi (AQ) in the 12th century. It is a breathtaking achievement, clinging to side of a massive rock, with Syedna Hatim's AQ small mosque perched at the very peak, which accessible only via narrow stone stairs hewn into rock.

From here we took trips by aging Landcruiser all around Yemen, visiting the tombs of past Dai ul-Mutlaqin and other sites of interest to our community's long history in Yemen prior to the movement of the seat of the Dawat to India. One such tomb was that of Syedna Ibrahim ibn al-Husain (AQ), a Dai of the 14th century. The tomb was located in the middle of a small Wahabi village, above a rocky plain whose traversal seriously challenged the limits of Toyota shock absorbers.

When our small group arrived in the village, a small crowd gathered, keeping a distance but displaying a markedly unwelcoming demeanour. Our driver refused to accompany us towards the tomb, insisting on remaining with the car, so we had to walk through the scowling faces alone. When we reached the tomb, several of the young men of the village ran inside ahead of us.

The tomb was slightly raised relative to the surrounding buildings. I was shocked to realize that the villagers had cut a second door into the building, with additional stairs hewn up to the floor level - right through the grave site itself. They had defiled the tomb so that to enter the structure, you tread directly over the resting place. Barely concealing our anger, we entered through the original door, determined to go in, say our duas, prostrate in brief prayer, and leave as quickly as possible.

Inside, however, stood the young men, one armed with a nasty-looking rock. He made it clear in no uncertain terms (and despite the language barrier) that if we bent to our knees to prostrate, they would attack us. We were a small group of a half-dozen pilgrims surrounded by an entire village - but it was still enough to make me almost blind with rage. I could have snapped this fanatic in two, given his relative undernourished size. But even if we survived a confrontation, there would have been serious repercussions for the other pilgrims who were arriving later that day and the rest of the week. We were forced to grudgingly retreat, humiliated and seething with frustration at having our simple desire to express our devotion thwarted.

On the way out of the building, I deliberately dropped something I was holding right near the gravesite and then knelt to pick it up. In so doing I sneaked a hurried pseudo-prostration into my action. It escaped the notice of the rock-wielding fanatic and was, in retrospect, a foolish thing to have done. We encountered no resistance as we made our way back to our useless driver and vehicle, and began the long and bruising drive back to Hutaib.

I can't think of a single incidence which put me so starkly with the face of raw religious intolerance. It affected me profoundly, having stripped away my sheltered sense of invulnerability and leaving me shaking with impotent rage. It was a lesson in reality that I did not want to learn. But I've learned it well enough to know the difference between rational victimization-complex hate and pure religious fervor-driven blind hate.