Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael and Al

While never a huge Michael Jackson fan, I certainly knew the boy had talent. And my personal remembrance is actually a meta-fandom sort of thing. All of us nerd-boys owe Michael a huge debt of gratitude: without MJ, there was no Weird Al Yankovic. Oh, to be sure, Weird Al would have been around, and done his thing, and still been brilliant, without Michael. It's just that no one would have ever heard of him.

Jackson's fame was so outsized that a goofy, geeky, parody artist could become a really big star in his own right, just riffing off the king. The kind of adoration showered on him and other pop "gods" was always a bit irrational and hysterical (hell, I love the Beatles as much as anybody, but those screamers were downright scary), but clearly these talented folks tap into something primal and glorious in the human spirit.

Good on you, Michael. After a short and tragically troubled life, may you be at peace.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Potential

The letter of Jourdon Anderson to his former master prods me to write down the thoughts on potential that have bumped around in my brain for many years. I, like Ta-Nehisi Coates who provided the link, was so astonished by the letter that I found it slightly suspicious at first. Just too amazingly brilliant and subtle to be authored by some anonymous person lost in the sands of history. Of potential ghost writers, Mark Twain was the first to come to mind, but I could easily imagine this being written by Frederick Douglass, or Lincoln, or William Lloyd Garrison, or... But, of course it is genuine, and it is a stark reminder of something I already knew, but do not hold in my mind every day (but probably should).

Great swaths of human brilliance have always been, and still are, lost to us and our posterity by the scourges of poverty, oppression, disease, famine, and war. Is is not certain that somewhere a brilliant poet just died of malaria in the Sahel? Or that a great mathematician lived his or her whole life eking out a bare subsistence on a Chinese farm 500 years ago? Or that an astonishing musical prodigy died from a tooth infection in the Amazon last century?

How many of these people have lived and died, unnoticed and unrealized? How many Einsteins, Douglasses, Lincolns, Euclids, Baryshnikovs, Darwins, Beethovens, Leonardos, and Michelangelos have toiled away their lives in obscurity, scratching and clawing each day for their very survival?

On the one hand, the question is obviously rhetorical, an exercise, essentially, in metaphysical speculation. But in another sense, I think not. We know that, in fact, desperate poverty has been the default state for the great mass of humanity, for almost all of our history. It is only within the last few hundred years that our knowledge, our science, technology, and, crucially, our social and economic institutions, have combined to begin to change this, to alter that default state and to produce the mere possibility for people to achieve their potential. So, I would say the question can actually be answered, not with precision, but nevertheless with accuracy:

How many? Almost all of them.

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Letter to a Christian Friend

The argument for gay marriage belongs, mostly, in the realm of equality before the law. But in the interest of dialog, I have also recently argued about matters of faith with someone from the "other side." This is taken, with some very light editing, from a private correspondence with a Christian friend who does not support gay marriage. Having spent some significant time on it, I'd like to think it might make a few points of general interest. I have not edited it for grammar, as I typically do an "official" blog post, please excuse any sloppy grammar...

So, I am pretty sure I have alluded to this previously, but I will lay it out here in more explicit detail. I happen to agree that the question of moral imperatives and absolutes is the real question that might challenge an atheist or skeptic. There are certainly other reasons that many people are religious, but I cannot give much consideration to them. My desire to feel comfort, or to be reassured, or to feel that I have some eternal existence beyond this physical body, are all things that can sympathize and empathize with as a person with feelings, but none of those hold up as any sort of reason to actually believe anything. Any sort of faith based on that strikes me as nothing more than wishful thinking. As much as I might like to believe for those reasons, I cannot given them any real weight. I also wish I was stronger and smarter and didn't have so much gray hair, but oh well...

No, but the question of morals does hit home. Now, quite frankly, that too, could, in principle, just be more wishful thinking. It is most certainly possible, from a logical, empirical standpoint, that we are just on our own, morally speaking as well. Might makes right, or whatever you want to do goes... But it doesn't have to be so, in a Godless universe. Quite simply, I say God is "an" answer to the metaphysical question, but not necessarily "the" answer.

I have proposed that the basic moral laws can simply "be," just as the physical laws of the universe can simply "be." If someone else (you, perhaps) wants to say that God made them, or perhaps that God IS them, it is both impossible and undesirable for me to quarrel with you. This is a "lawgiver God," and I am explicitly indicating both moral law and physical law, and I have no problem with this conception. I imagine we're cool so far, yes?

Then, I expect, we get not so cool rather immediately after this. Terms, please: yes, in spite of my apparent "agnostic" concession in the above regard, I nevertheless would use the term "atheist" because my understanding of the "theistic" God is that the concept goes well beyond the "lawgiver God" that I designate above. A God that actively intervenes in the world, takes note of individual behavior, passes judgment on us, helps or fails to help us (or even when he's not answering our prayers, it is all according to some inscrutable "plan")??? I think this is all extremely unlikely. In my view, this is all NOT merely abstract metaphysical reasoning, I think the notion of an activist, interventionist, and benevolent God is actually subject to empirical analysis, and that that conception of God does not survive the encounter with facts in very good shape.

But let me not make the general case here. This has been my own preamble to an assault on the specific notions about sexual "sin." Is it really your contention that the creator of the universe concerns him/herself with how and with whom we rub body parts together? Apparently so, and the rather obvious proximate source for this belief appears to be these ancient texts, purporting to represent God's revelation to humanity. Really? That's where you're going to hang your hat!? You've already acknowledged, then, how you have no scriptural basis for condemning polygamy. How about stoning as punishment for adultery or fornication? How about slavery, explicitly endorsed in Leviticus? How about the genocide of the Israelites against the Canaanites?

OK, on those last two, I'm slipping back into the general case, but I think they remain rather difficult questions, to say the least... back to the main. Why, WHY would God make these rules!!?? Even more to the point, why would he make them, and then turn around and make people who, profoundly and deeply in their very nature, passionately want to break them!!?? I really think this God, if he existed, would be a real sick bastard. Having heard both directly and indirectly the stories of a good many gay people, almost all the stories I have heard indicate that there were signs from a VERY early age. And this is no surprise to me. Although I knew nothing of sex until much later, I do know that by 5 or 6 years old, I was interested in girls. And I was not just modeling adult behavior (although it was partly that, no doubt). I mean I was intrinsically fascinated by girls and women in some way that my fellow boys simply did not interest me. And as I have said, the stories of gay people I have heard are just the same, only it was the same and not the opposite sex that caught their eye in this way. If you think God made people (and I don't, but you do), then God made gay people. He made them, and then told them they could not act on their deepest sexual desires. While I guess I feel fortunate to not have been given that particular curse, I would have to call Him a bastard for cursing so many in this way.

The only rational basis for these proscriptions that I know of (and I use "rational" a bit loosely, here) is the purely teleological theory of sexual desire: God made sex in order to ensure the propagation of the species, and any other sexual expression is therefore a perversion of His design. Whew. Uh-oh. Guess I am cursed after all. Everything I have ever done in this regard, which was not specifically intended to at least theoretically produce a baby, was ALSO a perversion, right? Which was your point, in saying that we are all sinners... Well then, here is where I will call you on a different inconsistency then, why pick one perversion and single it out for moral (or legal) distinction? Either non-sanctioned sexual practices (anything other than married vaginal intercourse, apparently) are a "big deal" kind of sin, or a "little deal" kind of sin. If it's no big deal, then let the gays alone, let them do what they will, just as many of us do. If it IS a "big deal" kind of sin, then let's get right on in there and make sure all us heteros aren't doing any non-reproductive rubbing...

And consider, yes, the animals. In particular the dolphins and the bonobos, who are both observed to engage in non-reproductive, same-sex pairings. I think, in this instance (as with myriad other instances, in fact all instances I know of), evolution makes a whole lot more sense than some sort of divine design. Our brains evolved to enable all sorts of complex, social behaviors, which, in the aggregate, have enormous payoffs in survival and success. Sex has become, in part, one of those many forms of complex, social behavior, and it has, in many contexts at least, been divorced from its direct link to reproduction. A byproduct of our big, creative, adaptive brains. Not, I argue vehemently, a sick joke by a cruel God.

I will close out with more high-level theological musings. Do I assault your Christianity, per se? Well, I don't know, you may feel that I have, and perhaps it's true. But I really, truly do NOT object to the "lawgiver God." Not at all. But what I believe we should strive for, in talking about those laws, is to look for the deep structure laws, the ones that get at the core principles of what it means to be moral. I think worrying about where people put their genitals is WAY off track. It's there (in the Bible) because the people who wrote that book were quite concerned about it, for reasons that are not always clear (though I have my theories), but have nothing to do, in my view, with the will of a benevolent God.

I would take a cue from Jesus, in fact. He swept away all the arcane, Old Testament Jewish proscriptions about food in single sentence (I paraphrase from memory): "A man is not made unclean by what goes into his mouth, but by what comes out."

I would take his phrasing and suggest a reformulation for this context: A man or woman should not be judged by the places they put their sexual organs, but by the love that flows from their heart.


Sincerely, and with much regard,
Ronald

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Torturers

Goddamn fuckers.

Yes, I am culpable too. If you are an American, or one of our "allies" who facilitated this, then you are culpable, too. I should have done more. I didn't know exactly what to do. I did squeak my little pipsqueak voice out into the uncaring void. I did contribute to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. I didn't do enough. I have let the petty distractions of life stand in the way of a moral duty. I am sorry.

I mention and link to some of my stuff on torture below, not because I want "credit" for anything, but because I don't feel like repeating myself. Again.

Yes, prosecute them. Nothing less is really acceptable. If our chickenshit system won't do it because of political cravenness, maybe some of them might forget themselves and go to Europe, or Canada, or somewhere else, where maybe they'd get snatched up and held to account there. A boy can dream, anyway.

Goddamn fuckers.


(If you are someone who believes that the torture that happened under Bush can be defended, this is a rare opportunity to say whatever you want to me without response. I will not respond to or engage with any arguments of that sort, at this point.)

Some of my old stuff, if you care...

12/31/05 - Outlaw Administration My very first blog post ever. Summary: the Bush administration was an outlaw administration, and not in the cool Waylon and Willie sense, but in the need-to-go-to-jail sense. Torture is featured.

1/24/06 - Outlaw Outsourcing. Summary: No smoking guns, at that time, to directly link Rumsfeld, Cheney, & Bush to Abu Ghraib, but not really necessary. Aside from the semantic games they loved to play about waterboarding and such, it had just been documented how we used dictatorial or authoritarian governments nominally "aligned" with us to torture on our behalf.

12/30/06 - One Year On, and the Outlaw Administration Rolls On... An anniversary piece, of sorts, for my blog. Summary: Includes a handy recap of some of the known facts about our torture practices, including legal documentation of the torture of Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen.

1/27/07 - Thatcher on "gitmo." Summary: Margaret Thatcher shamefully and dishonestly compared her treatment of certain IRA prisoners--which, whether you liked her decisions or not, were conducted according to the rule of law--with the Bush administration's practices at Guantanamo Bay, where Bush asserted unchecked executive power beyond the rule of law (and was eventually overruled). An excerpt (not quite on the main topic of the post):
...as for "rendition," i.e. the outsourcing of torture to unscrupulous foreign governments, one would hope such a practice would be considered despicable in its own right, but the fact that completely innocent people have been tortured at our behest should shame even the most hard-core Bush defender. Should, but apparently doesn't. Disgusting. It shames me as an American, even though I didn't vote for Bush.
I had a "mini-series" on waterboarding, and the confirmation hearings for Mukasey as attorney general, in November 2007. Here, here, and here.

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Why the Teabaggers Really Were Full of It (and I Don't Mean Tea)

**Special note to any of my GOP-minded friends that might happen by here. I do, in fact, call some of your partisans "twits" and "pinheads" below. But I am sure I didn't mean you, and I do stand by my characterizations of those who did and said the specific things discussed.**

In the midst of a good, friendly debate over at the DinkZone blog, my bud Heath (tongue-in-cheek) said he hoped I "had fun teabagging" on Wednesday. While far too much has already been made of this whole dismal spectacle, I feel the need to take a moment to distance myself from this particular "protest." If you told me, in abstract terms, about some people who legitimately believed that our government was excessive in size, and who decided to take April 15 as a day to stage a peaceful, respectful, and principled demonstration in favor of reducing said wasteful government, then, yes, I would confess that it sounds like something I might endorse, or hell, in which I might even participate.

Of course, the "tea parties" that took place on Wednesday were nothing of the sort. Yes, the twin facts that various entities and individuals within the GOP establishment, including Fox News, organized and promoted it heavily, even while Fox simultaneously hyped the parties as "spontaneous citizen protests" would have been funny, had it not been so insulting to our collective intelligence. But beyond that, the blatant hypocrisy of so many of the twits that showed up at these events was truly hard to stomach. After sitting by and watching 8 years of astounding fiscal irresponsibility and the biggest expansion of federal spending since at least LBJ, now is the time to get outraged at excessive government spending!?!? Anybody who really meant a damn word of their "I believe in small government" speechifying, would have to admit that the Bush administration has trounced all others in recent memory in expanding spending, executive power, and secrecy. To pick this moment, and this (still very new) administration as your target is ridiculously and transparently partisan and oxymoronic (or perhaps just moronic), even if the provenance of this "movement" had not already made that clear.

Please don't associate me with any of these pinheads. All of this was really enough to put yours truly, a genuine believer in limited government, off his lunch. Nearly as much as feeling obligated to finally go look up "teabagging" at the Urban Dictionary. Now there is something I really did not need to know.

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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Nerd = Gay

Yeah, yeah, I know. Any meatheads who literally said this back in the day would say, "See! I told ya, Poindexter!" But most of them don't read very much. No, I don't actually mean that nerds are gay. At least, not all of us are. (I do, in fact, have a number of close friends with the honorable distinction of being both.) It's just that I recently began noticing what I believe are some interesting parallels in the nerd experience and the gay experience.

*Disclaimer Paragraph*
This is most certainly not an attempt to show strict equivalence, or to argue that nerds have it "as bad" as gay people growing up, or in society, etc. First, "who suffers more" is just another form of pissing contest, and I try to avoid those. (Unless it's "who's the biggest nerd in the room/state/solar system," in which case, beware!) Second, gay people definitely have had it harder. Nerd behavior has never been religiously or legally condemned, as far as I know, unless you count belief in evolution, or the Copernican solar system. Third, my gay nerd friends win this battle hands down! And oh, yes, is it OK if everyone would just read "gay and lesbian" everywhere that I write "gay"? If not, I guess I can come back and use find/replace.
*End Disclaimer Paragraph*

I base this on comparisons of my (necessarily limited) second-hand understanding of the gay experience to my extensive, first-hand experience of nerdhood. You understand at a fairly young age that something is different about you, but you can't quite define it. There follows a significant awkward period usually involving some degree of social isolation and stigma, including derision and, occasionally, threatened or actual violence. Unless you are well-closeted and successful at "passing"!

Yes, I do believe there is some sort of nerd equivalent of the "closet," although it may seem oxymoronic at first--what is a "nerd" if not a set of public behaviors!? I would hold that nerdiness is actually a frame of mind and part of identity, and doesn't necessarily require public display, or even acting on the impulse in private, much like being gay. I think it is a very rare occurrence, much rarer than closeted gay people, but some nerds are socially gifted enough to recognize and suppress their tendencies in public and get away with "normal," or even "popular." (A close inspection of our new President might be revealing. I have my suspicions.)

Then, of course, there are the "flamers." These are the people that are so obvious that everyone knows from an early age. Indeed, the rest of the world usually recognizes the young flaming nerd at least a little before they know it themselves, or at least before they admit it to themselves. (**Ronald coughs nervously, adjusts glasses, pulls at collar in the style of Rodney Dangerfield.**)

Young nerds in the typical school milieu do typically find at least one or two kindred spirits and form their own little circle. This is like gay people in some small conservative, rural place. Quietly and carefully, they generally seem to find one another, and form a tiny community. Sometimes they do not, perhaps, and such a person may feel that they are the only one in the world. But then they see Star Trek on TV, and they know others must be out there...

From this perspective, I would say that arriving at NCSSM in the fall of 1983 was, for me, the nerd equivalent of moving from a tiny, conservative southern or midwestern town to, say, San Francisco's Castro, or Greenwich Village, or Midtown Atlanta. Holy cow! There are really others like you, a whole, real, vibrant community, where you can act like yourself in public without getting mocked or beaten up by some dim-witted thick neck. This is also not to say that everyone there was a nerd, just as not everyone is gay in the aforementioned locales. There were, in fact, athletically and/or socially gifted people who were as popular there as they always are, but we nerds were numerous enough to stand on our own, and with our own measure of pride.

The final parallel strikes me in the realm of broader public acceptance and social change. Nerds and gay people are as old as humanity itself, we have always been here, just not always acknowledged and/or accepted on our own terms. Just as we most certainly would have had much less great art, music, drama, architecture, and many other things without gay people, we also know that when the Pharaoh commanded his great tomb to be constructed, or the President said we were going to the moon, it was the nerds who made it happen. (I am most impressed that the ancient Egyptian nerds were able to do their calculations without the benefit of glasses! They must have computed in large glyphs.)

The integral of snake-over-eye-over-water from foot to owl, d-feather is equal to the square root of Anubis
But I believe that in my lifetime, and especially the last 30 years or so, we have seen great strides in acceptance all around. Look at the difference between Jack on "Three's Company" (not even actually gay, just pretending in an offensively stereotypical way) and Will from "Will and Grace," as cool and likable a character as you are ever going to see. And of course we could go on. As for the nerds, we have seen the coming of the PC and the "Internets," which have put us front and center in the technological and social revolutions of our time. Yes, nerds were always there making sure the lights came on or the engine started when you turned the switch, but the computer has put us right in everyone's face, literally! When the richest man around is a flaming nerd, and someone like Steve Jobs comes off as super cool, you know the world has changed.

Finally, another very personal note. I was recently given a chance to view ancient footage of yours truly, getting his geek on at the very zenith of spazziness. It was a bit of a shock, indeed. Arms flailing in wild gesticulations, eyes bugging, I was quite the piece of work, and I suppose I still am. I fully understand why girls would, say, cross to the other side of the hall, and why guys would laugh and mock (actual violence not excused). But if you observe the picture with care, you will see something else that matters--my friends laughing. And if making your friends laugh isn't good enough reason to be a spaz, then I guess nothing is.

Peace out, ya'll. Or, if you prefer, live long and prosper.

Dorkus Q. Ubernerd & friends, 1985

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Christmas Trees and Kandy Keynes

So, in the interest of "getting it" and not being labeled as some wild-eyed extremist, let's consider the theoretical, and perhaps empirical, case for government "stimulus." (Am I alone in wishing that Beavis and Butthead would make a brief reappearance to snicker idiotically at the phrase "stimulus package"?) Hopefully, I can get my economist friend to offer a critique, if I am missing something fundamental.

The true essence of Keynesian stimulus theory is psychological. The free market critique of Keynes seems so straightforward as to be unassailable, as long as pure rational market actors are assumed. That is, neither the government nor the private sector can magically create wealth. It is, as always, a marriage of capital and labor to produce something of value. And if the government is allocating capital, then it is inevitably displacing something else that could be done in the private sector, i.e. opportunity cost. A quick sanity check on this: the money must come from somewhere! So the government must either tax it, borrow it, or print it. Either taxing or borrowing removes the money from private hands, and printing it is the ultimate illusion (no new stuff, just more money to buy it with--inflation). So, in a classic, rational market, government stimulus could be compared to scooping water from the deep end of the pool and pouring it into the shallow end.

But the reason Keynes could be right would be that, in the midst of a severe downturn, a crisis of confidence can cause those with capital to basically withdraw from rational investing. That is, there are bound to be good opportunities somewhere (there always are, there have to be, it's just a matter of finding them) it's just that in this moment of crisis, investors have no faith in anything and want to sit on their cash. So, enter the government. Said fearful investors, unwilling to bet on anything else, are nonetheless willing to lend to the government, i.e. buy treasury bonds. By being the borrower and spender of last resort, government gets the money moving again.

Keynes in a nutshell: psychological! Unless you really do believe that government, on average, as a matter of principle, actually does a better job at allocating resources than the private sector. And if you do believe that, then I think maybe the "S" word does apply... though I won't utter it, seeing as how mercilessly McCain (for whom I did not vote) was mocked.

And so, further, it does not really matter, from this point of view, whether the money is particularly well-spent or not. Yes, other things being equal, it is better for government to spend wisely rather than unwisely, but if what you want is stimulus, and if Keynes is right, just show me the money! Enjoy the Christmas tree of a bill that we have! Let us hope our children don't regret having to pay for it...

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas, or Even Xmas!

This article, "No Reason for the Season: The joy of celebrating a godless Christmas" almost exactly sums up how I feel about the season. While I am squarely in the secular camp nowadays, I still care for the holiday, and believe there is no shame in it. My non-religious, family-and-friends-oriented version is just as valid, and does not interfere or conflict with anyone else's celebration. It was probably my grandmother, more than anyone else, whose love of Christmas translated into my own. It is our first Christmas without her. She will be dearly missed.

For the faithful, and for those who do not believe, for those I will get to see this next week or so, and for those I do not: Merry Christmas, one and all!

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Monday, February 11, 2008

European "Tolerance" and "Pluralism"

Christopher Hitchens is spot on with his latest biting critique of the sorry state of European liberalism, by which I mean "classical liberalism" or the Enlightenment idea that human rights are universal and non-negotiable. It is difficult for me to express the contempt I have for this particular notion of "tolerance" and "pluralism."

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Gentlemen, Start Your Waterboards!

Just to keep track, and wrap up my commentary on Mukasey and torture: all four of the Democratic senators who are running for president skipped the vote on Mukasey's confirmation. (That is, Clinton, Obama, Biden, and Dodd.)

As strongly as I feel about this issue, I probably have to say that I would consider a vote to confirm a disqualification. As it is, I would say they all get big black marks next to their names for general weaselly lack of courage and/or conviction.

McCain also skipped the vote!(?) If someone forced me to vote for one of the "major" Republicans, I would probably hold my nose and pick McCain (but I'm sure glad no on can force me!). So, philosophically, does McCain get a pass on this? On the one hand, I could see forgiving him a lot on the issue of torture, if someone can earn a "pass" I would guess he qualifies. On the other hand, if anyone should know better, then that's him as well... Anyway, it's his unequivocal denunciation of torture that has distinguished him from the other Republicans, as far as I'm concerned. That's why I would choose him, if forced.

In short, none of the senators who are running for president actually voted on Mukasey's confirmation. Now that's courage!

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Thatcher, the IRA, Gitmo, and Torture: Not the Same

An article by Peter Cuthbertson at TCSDaily discussing Margaret Thatcher's legacy, and whether Hillary Clinton can (or should, or really intends to) claim it, makes a decent point or two, but also engages in some fairly deplorable rhetorical sleight-of-hand, as does Thatcher herself, apparently. While I have mellowed a little on Ronald Reagan, I still don't think much of him, and it is at least in part because, as I have argued here before, he wasn't really a small government conservative. All talk and no walk. (Or two be more precise, he actually enlarged government, so it's really backwards walk.) Thatcher, on the other hand, actually did take on and reduce some of the sclerotic welfare state she inherited (and was widely reviled by the left for it, even more so than Reagan), and I believe probably does deserve some credit for rejuvenating the British economy. More significantly, I have come around to the view that the staunch moral stance that both leaders took against totalitarian communism was, in fact, both important and the right thing to do, and they are to be commended for it. I think they were, indeed, vindicated by history, although mainly because of Reagan and Gorbachev's historic Reykjavik summit and subsequent treaties, not because "they won" the cold war. (I think the continued pressure at the very end of the Soviet Empire helped push it over the cliff, but it was clearly the inherent flaws in its system, combined with the 40-something years of the Cold War, that really did it in, of course.)

But Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Cuthbertson really go beyond the pale when trying to equate Thatcher's strong anti-terrorism stance against the IRA with the current "war on terror." Cuthbertson admires Thatcher's strong stance against leniency or special treatment of IRA terrorists, and rightly so. But then, we fast forward to modern times and, as Cuthbertson writes:
In prosecuting the war on terror, she would make little time for those whose chief cause is to prevent the rendition of terrorist suspects or improve conditions in Guantanamo Bay. Instead, her response to court rulings favorable to terrorists has been the exhortation that "Conservatives everywhere must go on the counter-offensive against the New Left human rights brigade."
Well, gosh, I guess maybe the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo and rendition of suspects to foreign governments really is just the same as Britain's treatment of IRA bombers… Except… something is tickling at the back of my mind, some nagging little detail… what was that? Oh yeah, now I remember-it's called the rule of law.

The IRA prisoners, with whom Thatcher refused to negotiate or show clemency, or to capitulate to when some (in)famously went on hunger strike, were all convicted criminals. They had been duly tried, convicted, and sentenced in accordance with the laws of the United Kingdom. They were also incarcerated in actual prisons under humane conditions, in accordance with the law and modern standards of criminal justice. On the other hand, the Guantanamo detainees have persisted in a legal nether-world, their status invisible, and their jailers unaccountable to anyone outside of the direct chain of command back to the White House. Yes, of course all freedom- and life-loving people want terrorists locked up or dead, but how do we know they're terrorists? Because Dick Cheney says so? Why have most of the Guantanamo detainees been quietly released since the administration was told (by the Supreme Court, not some "liberal" human rights groups) that it had to actually take steps to prove that the detainees are actually guilty? The questions answer themselves. And as for "rendition," i.e. the outsourcing of torture to unscrupulous foreign governments, one would hope such a practice would be considered despicable in its own right, but the fact that completely innocent people have been tortured at our behest should shame even the most hard-core Bush defender. Should, but apparently doesn't. Disgusting. It shames me as an American, even though I didn't vote for Bush.

It seems like those who support this illegal behavior must be taking the old saw "break some eggs to make an omelet" to heart. While this expression apparently did not originate with Stalin, it is widely attributed to him, and rightly so, I'd say. I reject the hyperbolic rhetorical overreach of saying that Bush is "just as bad" as bin Laden, or the more general version that the U.S. is "just as bad" as the terrorists. I also don't have any particular problem with Bush's (in)famous use of the term "evildoers." But I do think that when we torture, solicit torture, and trash our proud heritage of freedom AND the rule of law--truly the envy of the world, or at least it used to be--by disregarding the Constitution, then at some point that "evildoers" finger does begin to turn back at us.

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