bookbanner
CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Thursday, September 30, 2010

OPEN SESAME

“Pick up a sesame seed but lose sight of a watermelon.”
-Chinese Proverb

Everyone has heard of sesame seeds. We see them on breads and with Chinese food. They taste pretty good, and if you roast them, and some people cook with highly aromatic sesame oil. Some of us older folks sang along with a jingle for McDonald's as kids about sesame seed buns for the Big Mac.

But, to paraphrase the late Mitch Hedberg, what the heck is a sesame?

Sesames are flowering plants that grow up to six feet tall. They produce yellow, tubular flowers somewhat like a foxglove although some are blue or purple. Sesame seems to originate along the south of Asia, Middle East, and into Africa, and often feature in cooking in those areas. When the sesame flower dries up it forms a pod which bursts when ready, spraying seeds about its local area (this is thought to be the origin of the "open sesame" line in 1001 Arabian Nights).

The bulk of sesame seed production is in Asia and Africa, with India, China, Myanmar, Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda and Nigeria the primary growing nations. Although America has a small sesame crop in Texas, it is not a significant producer of the seeds.

The earliest mention of sesame seeds in cooking is from Assyria over 3,000 years ago. According to Assyrian legend, when the gods met to create the world, they drank wine made from sesame seeds. In Hindu legends and beliefs, tales are told in which sesame seeds represent a symbol of immortality and the God Maha Vishnu's consort Maha Sri Devi herself representing the properties of the sesame seed, as such it is considered as the most auspicious oil next to Ghee used in Hindu rituals and prayers.

One of my favorite treats used to be those honey and sesame seed bars you can buy most anywhere. Crunchy, sweet, and roasted flavor all at once. The local Winco had them for dirt cheap in the bulk section.

So next time you see the humble sesame seed you have some idea what they come from. Look, I was curious ok?

MORE WOMEN IN SCIENCE OR ELSE!

“a woman’s choice of less time at the office and more time at home with family is not considered an opportunity but a societal problem calling for a government solution”

George Will has a recent column up on gender politics. He has a few stats in it that might be interesting to readers:
  • Women live five years longer than men.
  • Female unemployment rate is significantly lower than men.
  • Women receive more high-school diplomas, B.A. and M.A. degrees, and now Ph.D.s.
  • Women were 49.7 percent of the workforce in August.
  • Young, unmarried, and childless urban women earn 8 percent more than similarly situated males.
The Democrat's response to this information? A bill that allows people to sue for being paid less than others in their job. 29 new offices to help women do better in America. A promise by the Obama administration "to litigate, regulate, and legislate the nation’s universities until women obtain half of all academic degrees in science and technology and hold half the faculty positions in those areas," according to National Journal.

George Will explains their push:
Although women receive more B.A.s, M.A.s, and Ph.D.s than men in biology and biomedical sciences, not enough women want what the administration wants them to want. There are fewer women choosing to enter many science and engineering programs than the administration wishes, and it assumes that the reason is discrimination against women. To which Furchtgott-Roth replies: Anti-women discrimination even at women’s colleges?

At Bryn Mawr, 4 percent of 2010 graduates majored in chemistry, 2 percent in computer science. At Smith, half of 1 percent were physics majors; 1.4 percent majored in computer science. In 2009 at Barnard, one third of 1 percent majored in physics and astronomy.
Who is this Diane Furchtgott-Roth Will quotes? He describes her as a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and former chief economist at the Department of Labor and author of How Obama's Gender Policies Undermine America. She points out that the Obama administration thinks that the only reason women could possibly not be taking careers in certain areas as much as men is that someone is stopping them from doing so.

Mind you there's no actual evidence of this, but you have to remember leftist Lawrence Summers who was thrown out of his position as President of Harvard for suggesting mildly that in addition to other factors people consider the possibility that women just might not be as interested in some fields as men. That cannot be considered, women are not just equal to men under law but equivalent to men, that they are differently shaped but identical if not superior.

Anything men can do, women can do better and the only reason this doesn't play out in life is the brutal, oppressive phallocracy which discriminates against women and forces them to wear uncomfortable clothing designed by gay men.

Even NASA is getting into the act. Having already stated that the space exploration agency's goal is now to make Muslims feel better about themselves when it comes to science, they are looking into how to make women get into sciences more. George Will writes:
...it is not surprising that it has big ideas about how every university should have gender-parity apparatchiks to meet “weekly with the university president, provost, vice president, and deans,” the agency says, and fan out through the institution’s departments, labs, and other learning centers to determine whether “environments” are conducive to women.
What happens to the quality of science and education when you do this? The same thing that's happened to every other field in which social engineering and gender quotas have driven policy rather than the task at hand. Lower quality, poorer outcomes, and weakened standards.

Never fear though. When that happens, another government program will be put in place to fix the damage the previous one caused. And on and on. Unless we put a stop to it now.

THE CHAIN OF ACTIVISM

"ecologically sound, economically feasible and socially just."

Not too long ago I wrote about how science is being presented less as an objective observation of facts and phenomena and more as an authority on behavior and action. In the place of scientists making statements about what they've learned, we're getting statements from scientists about how we must behave based on what they've learned.

The American did an interesting study of how science is referred to in the the news media and they produced this graph:

graph
This is based on a Lexis/Nexis search of news stories mentioning science, showing how authoritative statements of command from science are becoming increasingly more common. Just twenty years ago such statements were virtually nonexistent. Today, they are more and more common each year.

Part of this is sloppy, ignorant reporting, but that's not exactly new. Reporters were sloppy and lazy and ignorant of science in 1990 too, but they didn't use phrases like "science commands" and "science tells us we must" so often. Something changed, and that change has resulted in science going from telling what is to what ought.

Mark Tapscott at the Examiner provides a clue to what is happening:
In 2002, for example, the Pew Charitable Trust flew a group of elite scientists and reporters from the New York Times, the Economist, Time, U.S. News & World Report, and other prestigious publications to the island of Bonaire in the Caribbean for five days of fun in the sun.

Once there, they could "loll on the island's fine beaches, sip cocktails at the Tipsy Seagull and perhaps marvel at the flamingoes for which Bonaire is famous," Grimes wrote.

But there was an agenda for the gathering, too. Among the attending scientists was Daniel Pauly, author of "Aquacalypse Now: The End of Fish," and head of a fisheries center at the University of British Columbia that received $15 million from Pew.

Following the Bonaire junket, Tom Hayden (no relation to the radical activist formerly married to Jane Fonda) of U.S. News & World Report, wrote a cover story in the magazine, "Fished Out," that strongly supported the idea that commercial fishing is destroying the oceans' fish populations.
Nancy Gaines at the Glouchester Times has been digging into how this triangle works. Activists work with journalists to hone and direct their thoughts on a topic, and train them to work with scientists to get the statements and results they're looking for.

Tom Hayden was the main force behind Hollywood's clueless lefty activist surge starting in the 70s. He had actors and actresses over for parties and lectured them on leftist causes, giving the celebs a sense of meaning and purpose beyond making money and being pretty. This spread through Hollywood until you can't swing a cat without scratching five leftist mouthpieces.

They don't really know what they're talking about and they certainly don't live the lifestyle they demand others do, but that was never the point. The point was to cultivate a group of celebrities to promote leftist causes and sway others to follow them, not to create real and effective change.

This chain of green activists through culture goes higher than you'd think. Jane Lubchenko is President Obama's Ocean Czar for lack of a better term. She's one of the advisers for President Obama on oceanic matters, and she's one of the scientists Hayden cited in his article.

Scientists have a responsibility to stand up and say "look, our work is observational and experimental, we cannot tell anyone what they ought to do based on that. All we do is find things out, what you do with that is up to others."

The problem is, like most people its seductive and flattering to have journalists buttering up to you, making you famous, and using your words in mass publication. It leads to awards, better jobs, and grants for your work. Congress might call on you for testimony, CNN might interview you, some starlet might notice you and want to spend passionate nights on a beach in Aruba with you.

For the environmentalist left, having a study suggesting that something bad might happen isn't enough. That doesn't convince people, it doesn't win hearts and minds. As Dr Schneider said in Discover magazine in the 90s:
On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. To do that we need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, means getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.
Simple, bare statements of fact may be scientific and ethical, but they don't accomplish the goal, so they have to be jazzed up, sexed up to get the public's attention. And science moves from observation to command.

There's an activist machine out there which is step by step working through the popular culture and media to influence minds and shift politics in America toward the left. It works through the media and entertainment, and people are frankly getting tired of reading leftist press releases as news and having clumsy, preachy leftist cant delivered as movies and television shows.

So it isn't surprising that apparently fewer and fewer people actually trust the news. Confidence in legacy media sources is dropping across the board according to poll after poll, as people find their information from other places not so heavily corrupted by activists.

PICTURE OF THE DAY


Yes, that's a girl at a party wearing a dress which appears to be made up of Magic The Gathering cards. It's a geek's dream girl.

Quote of the Day

"We have no more right to consume happiness without producing it than to consume wealth without producing it."
-George Bernard Shaw

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

CONS

"Don't interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties."
-Abraham Lincoln

"The United States Constitution has proved itself the most marvelously elastic compilation of rules of government ever written."
-Franklin D. Roosevelt
I grew up on a fifty acre rented farm just south of Salem, Oregon. It had an eighth mile gravel drive to a road that until the last few years was also gravel. There were soaring, lofty pines and huge oaks, and one particularly gigantic cottonwood - by far the largest I've ever seen - by a spring. I used to run and play in the fields and forests, by the trickling streams and dark forested glens. There was a beehive high in one tree I could hear every year, an ancient hobo campsite with bottles and debris from almost a hundred years ago, and plenty for a young creative mind to take advantage of on summer days. And in the nights, I slept upstairs in a real log cabin - perhaps one of the first on that street - slightly expanded with a few more rooms.

After we moved, the owners of that land sold to developers and nothing remains but the skeletal landscape of my childhood home. The trees were all cut down, even the monster cottonwood and the 90 foot tall twin Douglas Fir out front of the house. Gone were the owls and the deer and the foxes and the rabbits. Gone were the blackberry vines and apple trees, gone was everything but my memory. To be honest, just going by that area makes me sick to my stomach. When it comes to childhood memories I think most of us are preservationists - we'd rather they never changed and were always just how we remember them.

Of course that never happens, even if they were somehow frozen in time, they'd be different when we went back, if in no other way than scale. You can't ever keep things just how you remember them, and in a way that's good. If I'd had the money, I would have bought that land and handled things a bit differently. But the owners had the right to do what they did, and they sold for a rather substantial sum and developers ripped it all down to build more houses for other people. And people need somewhere to live. Some place in that new housing I hope the spirit of those childhood delights still whispers to young people and gives them happiness as well.

Memories aren't the only thing that people can become preservationists about. Environmentalists are usually preservationists as well; they see the natural world about them (or, usually on television) and decide that's how it should stay in perpetuity. If a species becomes endangered or is wiped out in an area, they work to replace that creature in that habitat, even to the point of altering the habitat so that it is more supportive of the missing species. Gray wolves, for instance, were nearly wiped out of parts of the United States, and great efforts have been made to reintroduce these creatures to their former habitats.

Certain areas are beginning to change, such as wetlands drying out or glaciers melting, and for the preservationist, this is seen as disaster. Everything needs to stay the way it was when they first heard about the area or first saw it. This viewpoint wants mankind to be banned from wilderness areas, so that it may not be sullied by the touch of humans. The principle of nature constantly changing and dare I say it evolving seems to cease when it comes to the environment for this kind of person: if it was one way recently, it should always be that way even if we have to artificially manipulate the area to maintain it.

Some believe that conservatives are this sort of person; cultural and social preservationists who want the United States to return to a mythical golden age in the recent past, a time when things were deemed better and we all should go back to them. It isn't hard to see where this stereotype started. When conservatives talk about culture, law, and society, it usually is in terms of returning to a time or an ideal when these things were different. Often, conservatives point to things which have changed and decry them as a failure or a mistake. That can lead the casual observer (or thinker) to believe that conservatives just want things to go back to how they used to be.

To be fair, that's actually true in some instances. For example, conservatives would prefer rolling back the size and scope of the US government to former times, and conservatives would like to see the entertainment community treat the US as a force for liberty and justice in the world rather than corruption, death, and betrayal. And to be certain, some people who consider themselves conservatives do dream of a golden age from their youth when they didn't have to lock their doors and people didn't dress so weird.

Yet, it is not out of a desire to preserve a certain time period or return to it that drives these conservative ideals. That wish to return to past times is a symptom of conservatism, not its core. Or, to put it another way, conservatives want to return to past concepts not out of a love of the past but out of a certain ideology from which those past events and ideas naturally resulted.

Take the idea of small government. Conservatives are not adherents of small government out of any affection for tiny things or weak federal office. The size is not actually the primary concern, instead conservatives are interested in constitutional government - legal and ethical government within the boundaries the founding fathers envisioned.

THE CONSTITUTION
“The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government - lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.”
-Patrick Henry
To understand this, you have to understand some basic concepts about the United States Constitution. The constitution, unlike any government structure before it, was written specifically and deliberately to limit the federal government. Instead of government being given all power with specific limitations in the document (such as, for example, the Magna Carta), the US Constitution presumed the federal government had no power save that which the document permitted them.

This is made more clear when you read the 9th and 10th amendments:
9. The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

10. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
All power in the United States was presumed and designed to be in the hands of the people and the states, which was then in limited form and within specific boundaries granted to the representatives elected by these people in the federal government. The founding fathers made this concept abundantly clear in both the federalist and anti-federalist papers, documents written by the ones who drafted and finished the constitution while arguing about its nature and construction. James Madison, who was the primary writer of the constitution said: "The Constitution of the United States was created by the people of the United States composing the respective states, who alone had the right.”

Thomas Jefferson also emphasized this point: "The Constitution of most of our states (and of the United States) assert that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves; that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed and that they are entitled to freedom of person, freedom of religion, freedom of property, and freedom of press." Jefferson was also eager to point out the limitations on power by those elected officials: "In matters of Power, let no more be heard of confidence in men, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution."

It was always presumed by the founding fathers, whatever their differences, that the one true threat to liberty was the power assumed by governing officials. They viewed the federal government as a rapacious, ever-hungering source of lust for power which could only be restrained by the people's right to bear arms and a strict obedience to the constitution. Thomas Jefferson pointed out that over time this liberty would be infringed upon by clever lawyers and elected officials who would use every trick to squeeze more power for themselves by reinterpreting the document.

His solution? Place the constitution in its context: "On every question of construction [of the Constitution] let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed." James Madison agreed, saying "Do not separate text from historical background. If you do, you will have perverted and subverted the Constitution, which can only end in a distorted, bastardized form of illegitimate government."

This government would be small, limited, and in many cases quite weak. James Madison envisioned a federal government that was weaker than the states: “The number of individuals employed under the Constitution of the United States will be much smaller than the number employed under the particular states. There will consequently be less of personal influence on the side of the former than of the latter.”

And today, we see quite the opposite. Instead of a weak, limited federal government, we see a nearly all-powerful, all-encompassing federal government. Instead of a federal government limited by an iron clad constitution, we see a government which tells restaurants what size they must print the nutritional details of their food and what sort of toilet, shower head, and light bulb free citizens of the states may purchase and install in their homes.

Conservatives want to recapture the spirit and intent of the founding fathers, which is a smaller, more limited government. They wish this not because small is better, but because limited means greater freedom among the people and is what the nation was founded on, grew with, and became great based upon. Conservatives see limits in government and its expansion, limits which the federal government has long since surpassed at the hands of men like Roosevelt, Johnson, Nixon, Bush, and Obama.

Progressives, by contrast, see no limits - indeed, this is one of the defining characteristics of "progressivism." It can see no limits, because that is the very nature of progress, it is eternal and continuous. We must, according to the progressive, progress and evolve beyond what the founding fathers had envisioned for this nation. A small, limited government was fine for their time but we've progressed beyond that and must have ever more government and ever less liberty for individual citizens; and always for our own good.

Conservatives do not want to preserve a certain snapshot in time, for we see the bad with the good. In the past, streets were safer and people tended to be more polite in public, but women were considered childish and unable to function without a man's strong leading hand. Minorities were considered human but not exactly equal, even in progressive parts of the country such as the west. Christianity was so presumed as the dominant religion that any other faith was sometimes attacked, prevented full liberty, or even shunned. The good conservatives want to maintain from the past always presumes that bad must be avoided and ended as well.

That's where the leadership of conservatism comes from. Progressives have had their day, and the results are obvious to see. Some of it has been good, such as an end to the institutionalized racism and oppression of women which the past once saw. Much of it has been bad, such as coddling of criminals, degradation of educational quality, culture, and public ethics. Conservatives see this and declare a need to reject the mainstream dominant culture, to reject the establishment left in politics, culture, education, entertainment, and society.

The time has come for a cultural revolution which takes the good which has been abandoned in the past - family, liberty, and more - and move into the future with the great advances what little momentum from the past remained to propel us into the 21st century. And for conservatives, the very core of that is ideological; an allegiance to the ideals the founding fathers called for. Ideals of equality in justice, liberty, and opportunity which can only come about through virtue, limited government, and a respect for others through tolerance and unity.

Conservatives aren't preservationists because we believe in moving forward by returning to the principles abandoned by the "progressive." Indeed, we believe that we cannot move forward without those basic principles acting as a solid foundation for liberty and justice for all. Rejecting the politics of division so carefully honed by the left over the last century, conservatives want a return to constitutional principles of liberty which will bring us prosperity, advancement, and expansion which created the United States we see today, but are starting to lose because of the decay of leftist ideology.

Leftists want to preserve their ideology, not move forward into the future with liberty, but instead to place ever greater limits on your freedom and mine based on their ideas of morality and "social justice" which is little more than envy and class strife given a noble sounding label. Conservatives want to move past the concepts of racial divide into a time when how dark your skin is matters as much as what color your eyes are. Conservatives want to move forward, and the potential of a conservative nation framed by the US Constitution and the principles of liberty and virtue the founding fathers embraced is nearly limitless.

*This was written for Constitution Day for RightNetwork but to my knowledge never got picked up. They're still getting organized so things aren't running as smoothly yet as they soon will, I hope.

HOBBIT STRIKES

"My personal opinion is that this is a grab for power."

Strange doings continue on the Hobbit scene. Efforts to get the film started are still having problems as now the Screen Actors Guild is pressuring New Zealand actors to join the local actors group NZ Actors Equity. Josh Dickey at The Wrap reports:
Members were advised in an alert sent over the weekend "not to accept work on this non-union production" of the MGM blockbuster-to-be, which is still awaiting the official greenlight from financially troubled MGM before shooting -- tentatively scheduled for next year -- can begin.

Guilds involved include SAG, AFTRA and several international unions. The New Zealand unit of an Australian union had made attempts to organize the film, according to the alert.
Basically SAG wants to shut down The Hobbit until everyone joins their club (or at least the NZ equivalent). Peter Jackson, the producer, is understandably dismayed at this effort, but its interesting to watch this pro-union guy start to figure out the problem here. Here's a few excerpts from his response:
Behind the claims of exploiting actors who are cast in the “non-Union” Hobbitproduction, and claims that various high-profile stars will refuse to take part in the films, there are clear agendas at work. As usual with these agendas, they are based on money and power.
...
Personally speaking, I’m not anti-Union in the slightest. I’m a very proud and loyal member of three Hollywood Unions – the Directors Guild, the Producers Guild and the Writers Guild. I support the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).
...
For the Hobbit, Warner Brothers have agreed to create a separate pot of profit participation, which will be divided up amongst non-SAG actors who are cast in the film.
...
There will always be differing opinions when it comes down to work and conditions, but I have always attempted to treat my actors and crew with fairness and respect. We have created a very favourable profit sharing pool for the non-Union actors on The Hobbit — and now the Union is targeting us, despite the fact that we have always respected SAG conditions and residuals.
...
But it sure feels like we are being attacked simply because we are a big fat juicy target – not for any wrong doing. We haven’t even been greenlit yet! It feels as if we have a large Aussie cousin kicking sand in our eyes … or to put it another way, opportunists exploiting our film for their own political gain.
Basically he's noticing that the union isn't particularly interested in the actors or their situation at all, just that they are after the power and money that having members brings.

Now, Jackson tries to spin this all as some vast Australian power play (?) in order to avoid blaming unions for anything, but the story is pretty easy to read between the lines. Variety is now reporting that New Line, Warner Brothers, and MGM are hitting back at SAG's power play here. Dave McNary reports:
The studios issued the statement Monday night, a day after "Hobbit" exec producer Peter Jackson blasted the unions over the boycott.

And they also said that they were considering moving the production from New Zealand to avoid a potential disruption.
Personally, I'm a bit uncomfortable with the entire Hobbit project to begin with. The Lord of the Rings was visually stunning but was very uneven from a fan's perspective and the idea of making two Hobbit movies with the second being almost totally invented out of Peter Jackson's imagination based on stuff that was said to have happened between the movies is a matter of some concern, to say the least.

This movie has been delayed by one thing after another and its costing millions without even having a script or shot a single frame of film yet.

TOP GEAR USA

Around the world there are several versions of Top Gear, inspired by the hit BBC series about cars and motoring. Germany, Australia, and Russia all have their Top Gear versions and now the US finally has one. You'd think America would have come up with this concept first, being the place cars were perfected and home of the television series, but the English found the right mix of ideas first and its been a huge hit.

The new series is going to be on the History Channel (?) and starts this fall. The hosts will be Adam Ferra, Tanner Foust, and Rutledge Wood.

Adam Ferrara is a stand up comedian who has also done a lot of TV work such as Rescue Me, Law and Order, and Caroline in the City, as well as a few movies such as Paul Blart, Mall Cop.

Tanner Foust is a stunt driver and former racer, primarily rally, drift, and ice racing. He won a gold metal in the X Games for rally racing and did stunt work for movies such as The Bourne Ultimatum, Iron Man 2 and The Fast and the Furious. Tanner is the only holdout from the previous effort to start up an American Top Gear. He also hosts Speed channels Supercars Exposed.

Rutledge Wood has done a lot of work for NASCAR and the Speed channel, and does NASCAR analysis. He also stars on NASCAR Smarts with Kyle Petty.

So far there's only been one trailer put out for it but I can see a lot of potential for a show like Top Gear in America, particularly if they take advantage of the nation's roads rather than, say, England. Here's the trailer, so you can see what its about:


Personally I fear that they will be too directly derivative of the British show, with a Stig and so on. The US version should be uniquely American, not a Brit knockoff. The moonshine run challenge seems nicely American, but the "test track, challenge, say outrageous things while you drive" is the British schtick and they really would be better served finding their own voice. Unfortunately, I think Top Gear is a franchise type deal and they can't really vary too much from the script.

ART AROUND THE NET

I've mentioned a few times here that I do some freelance art, and while I haven't actually sold a piece for a while now I still keep working on my own materials. Presently I'm working on a book of monsters for my fantasy role playing setting, the book is pretty well finished except the art which is a fairly large project because there are so many creatures. Just in case people are curious what kind of art I do, here's a few samples.


DemonStorm Ape
Ambush SpiderWolfen
The bestiary art tends to be much simpler than some of my other work because it is illustrative and meant to show what the creatures are like rather than be a stand alone piece of art. Here's some more detailed and significant art I've done in the past as well:




Companion Wolves
Meteor Strike
Ancestor WarningDragon Rocket
Mars CliffsBraves in Space
Battering Ram SpellErasure Spell

So now you have some idea of the kind of art I do when I'm not writing. All this art is copyright Christopher Taylor and Kestrel Arts, but this being the internet, feel free to steal and reuse it all you want. Just if you put it in anything that makes money send me a piece. To end with I'll leave you with a piece I'm especially fond of:

Knights Planar

Quote of the Day

"There is nothing so absurd but some philosopher has said it."
-Cicero

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

THOSE TRAFFIC CAMERAS

"It's now obvious that unless the legislature reins in this Big Brother, taxation-through-citation scam, the people are gonna do it for them"

Traffic Cameras are a consistent source of income for cities that use them. While its true that Arizona was losing money on theirs (they set up speed cameras around the state then sent out tickets, but because they didn't have the manpower to follow up on the tickets, the tickets lapsed and the fines were never collected), usually they result in hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars a year in earnings.

For example, in Sydney Australia, cameras are earning as much as $1.7 million a year. At A1 Eleksley southbound in England, southeast of Manchester, a speeding camera there has earned almost $2 million over four years.

The math is pretty simple, as shown in this story by Dee Riggs in the Wenatchee World:
Based on a fine of $124 per ticket, and factoring in the $14,400 it costs to run the cameras, the city could earn $62,604 off red-light infractions in July. Mayor Dennis Johnson noted, however, that some of those tickets could be challenged or left unpaid and go to collection.
Cities are earning more money from these devices, and that's useful in a time of recession and reduced tax revenues. And if they have to adjust the yellow light timing to get more tickets, well so be it. And now, Governor Schwarzenegger of California is pushing to have the red light cameras issue speeding tickets, too.

As someone noted in the Daily Mail story above "For these cameras to be raking in all that money year after year shows that the cameras don't work, because if they did there wouldn't be anybody speeding." That's an interesting point, but then we don't know what they'd be earning if no one knew they were present. And as I previously noted in a WATN wrapup there's some evidence that these cameras do not actually make traffic any safer.

And there's plenty of evidence that traffic cameras are faulty to begin with. The Newspaper.com has stories from around the world in which cameras and the courts are making errors and misusing the data to gain revenues. Recently the voters of Washington State decided they wanted to try a ballot referendum on the cameras, to put the issue to voters: do you want these things in place? The government of Washington ruled that this wasn't a topic that voters could decide.

The Washington State Supreme Court ruled against that, noting that this was an issue voters are given the power to decide on in the Washington State constitution. Traffic camera companies are putting big money into the state to try to stop this vote because its almost certain the voters will decide they aren't interested in them being legal in the state.

My problem isn't necessarily with the cameras themselves, but with how they are used, why they are in place, what these municipalities are doing with them to make more money, and how cops are mysteriously immune to their tickets in some places. I think if we know anything right now, we know that we can't trust our government to have more power.

ELECTION FRAUD 2010 UPATE

"Desperate times, desperate measures, you know the drill"

Warehouse
Its time for a national election again, and that means the voter fraud stories start rolling out to be ignored or downplayed by the big media and the federal government to do next to nothing about it. Since Democrats are facing a horrific bloodbath in November, you can guess that all the fringe extremist groups are going to pull out all the stops to help them as much as possible.

First on the table is testimony (pdf file) by Christopher Coates, US Department of Justice official, former chief of the Voting Section and former ACLU lawyer. The primary thrust of this testimony was about the Black Panthers voter intimidation case in 2008, but also in it was this bit of information which Verum Serum highlighted:
In June 2009, the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) issued its bi-annual report concerning which states appeared not to be complying with Section 8′s list maintenance requirements. The report identified eight states that appeared to be the worst in terms of their non-compliance with the list maintenance requirements of Section 8 [of the Voting Rights Act]. These were states that reported that no voters had been removed from any of their voters’ list in the last two years. Obviously this is a good indication that something is not right with the list maintenance practice in that state. As Chief of the Voting Section, I assigned attorneys to work on this matter, and in September 2009, I forwarded a memorandum to the CRD Front Office asking for approval to go forward with Section 8 list maintenance investigations in these states.
Eight states are in violation of federal voting laws by failing to clear fake registrations, duplicate registrations, and deceased voters from their rolls. Coates requested his department look into this.
During the time that I was Chief, no approval was given to this project, and my understanding that approval has never been given for that Section 8 list maintenance project to date. That means that we have entered the 2010 election cycle with eight states appearing to be in major noncompliance with the list maintenance requirements of Section 8 of the NVRA, and yet the Voting Section which has the responsibility to enforce that law has yet to take any action. From these circumstances I believe that Ms. Fernandez’s statement to the Voting Section in November 2009 not, in effect, initiate Section 8 list maintenance enforcement activities has been complied with.
Those eight states are still in violation of the law, and are carrying people who are dead, duplicated, or fraudulent, among other categories. When he brought this to his superiors in the Obama administration he was told that "the Obama Administration was not interested in that type of issue." He also noted this significant bit of information:
A number of the jurisdictions that have bloated registration lists are where there are sizable minority populations and are Democratic strongholds.
J Christian Adams as I noted a few weeks ago, has notified 16 states in violation of voting laws of his intent to file suit if they do not clean up their voting rolls, and the Obama administration knows about these violations... but doesn't care. Why? Well they have their unstated reasons but its hard to avoid the appearance that they want these areas to remain fraudulent to help their party.

Hans von Spakovsky (also a former Justice Department Voting Rights division worker) writes at National Review Online:
...the Obama administration had dismissed without explanation a lawsuit filed against Missouri Democratic secretary of state Robin Carnahan during the Bush administration over her failure to comply with this provision of the NVRA. This happened only a month after Carnahan announced she was running for the Senate. Besides the obvious political motivations, I know from sources inside the Civil Rights Division that the Obama political appointees have no intention of enforcing this provision.
There's a clear pattern here: violating voting laws is not a problem if it helps the Democrats. That may not be the Obama administration's intent but it sure looks that way. von Spakovsky also points out that there are several states (he lists South Dakota, Mississippi, Texas, Kentucky, and Indiana and notes that there are others) which have more people registered to vote than are eligible.

To take one more specific example, consider Houston, Texas. In this city, a citizen's group found evidence of rampant voter fraud. Ed Barnes writes for Fox News:
“What we saw shocked us,” she said. “There was no one checking IDs, judges would vote for people that asked for help. It was fraud, and we watched like deer in the headlights.”

Their shared experience, she says, created “True the Vote,” a citizen-based grassroots organization that began collecting publicly available voting data to prove that what they saw in their day at the polls was, indeed, happening -- and that it was happening everywhere.
So they started to look around and see what other fraud was out there. What they found astounded them:
“The first thing we started to do was look at houses with more than six voters in them" Engelbrecht said, because those houses were the most likely to have fraudulent registrations attached to them. "Most voting districts had 1,800 if they were Republican and 2,400 of these houses if they were Democratic . . .

"But we came across one with 24,000, and that was where we started looking."

It was Houston's poorest and predominantly black district, which has led some to accuse the group of targeting poor black areas. But Engelbrecht rejects that, saying, "It had nothing to do with politics. It was just the numbers.”
...
“Vacant lots had several voters registered on them. An eight-bed halfway house had more than 40 voters registered at its address,” Engelbrecht said. “We then decided to look at who was registering the voters."

Their work paid off. Two weeks ago the Harris County voter registrar took their work and the findings of his own investigation and handed them over to both the Texas secretary of state’s office and the Harris County district attorney.
Who was behind this? It turns out that the majority were the work of an organization called Houston Votes, run by (drum roll please)... Sean Caddle, former SEIU worker. 1,793 of the 25,000 registrations Houston Votes submitted appeared to be valid. Keep SEIU in mind, they seem to be replacing ACORN as "most corrupt leftist group."

BlogHouston looked more closely at Texans Together, which runs Houston Votes, and found out some interesting things:
So, too, is the composition of the board of Texans Together: James Aldrete (Dem consultant based in Austin), Christopher Ashby (appointed by Bill Clinton to an ambassadorship, donor to Dems), Ann Del Llano (lobbyist, consultant, and activist for Progressive change), John Donisi (aide to former Governor Ann Richards, Dem supporter), Cris Feldman (Dem Party attorney who pursued action against Tom DeLay), Rita Lucido (Progressive/Dem donor, onetime board member of Planned Parenthood), Keir Murray (Dem consultant), Andres Pereira (self-described "longtime Democratic activist"), Keith Wade (Dem consultant).
Technically this is a nonpartisan group as all nonprofits are supposed to be but the results of their work and the obvious hard left Democrat composition of its membership speaks volumes.

Oh it gets worse. The day after the findings were announced, a fire destroyed almost all of Harris County's voting machines. So now, the Houston government has six weeks to create a whole new voting system and in the mad rush and process to get it done, no investigation can look into that process and the system can be set up to protect people involved.

Texas Democrats have fought continuously to prevent any step such as requiring photo ID to vote, and want the Obama Justice Department to step in and monitor the election this November. This is the department run by Eric Holder who thought the Black Panther case should be dismissed.

This sort of thing has happened all over the country the last decade or two as the result of Democrat "vote drives" to register as many people as possible, regardless if they exist or not. The response of the left tends to follow a pattern: well if they don't vote, how does that affect the election? How is it voter fraud if they don't vote, huh? Huh?

Putting aside the obvious examples of Washington State in 2004 and Minnesota in 2008 where extra ballots to help the Democrat kept being found in trunks and under bridges, it is still voter fraud to register false people. It's a violation of federal voting laws, it is electoral fraud. And if you think those people don't vote, ask Christine Gregoire or Al Franken.

Lastly we have this little tidbit from New Jersey from the Associated Press:
Atlantic City Councilman Marty Small and the others told a judge on Monday they knew they risked long prison sentences if they're convicted.

Prosecutors said "autograph parties" were held in which absentee ballots were steamed open and replaced or destroyed.
Get that? They're accused of steaming open absentee ballots and replacing them with their own version of ballots. Not that corruption in New Jersey is exactly unprecedented but how much of this is going on that we haven't heard about?

The last time I heard about this level of corruption by a government official was when Tom Daschel was involved with Native American tribes who were filling out ballots (for Democrats).

SONGS I LIKE: City Of New Orleans (Steve Goodman)

Good morning America how are you?
Don't you know me I'm your native son

City of New Orleans
"City of New Orleans" is a song about a train. For some reason I tend to like songs about trains, and riding on them, for that matter. Trains are in my blood; my grandfathers on both sides worked on the Union Pacific. Several different singers have covered this song, with the most famous being Arlo Guthrie's 1972 recording.

It is a song about riding a long distance train and the impact it has on America, the activities on the train, and how central it was to culture and society at one time. Goodman played it for Guthrie who then put it on his album. I've heard a version of this that ends with a sad note; the trains are dying out in America, mentioning that the "City of New Orleans" will be soon gone.

Even the trains I took in the early 90s are gone with their wide, comfortable seats and large cabins. Now the passenger trains are smaller, less comfortable, with airplane seats you can't really sleep in and less style. The ride is a bit smoother and quieter, but it just isn't the same. And around the world, commuter trains only continue to run because they are subsidized by governments. Amtrak in America has to give way to freight trains (which still make a profit) because they run on the same tracks; the trains are never on time and take an awful long time to get to their destination.

Its sad because of how immensely important trains were to the formation of the country. Lincoln's dream of a train connecting both coasts as born in him because of a chance encounter with an engineer named Theodore Judah who laid out the line through the Sierra Nevada mountains. Without that connection and with how very long it took to get people and goods across the vast plains at the time, it is not inconceivable that east and west America could have eventually become two countries. With the train what once took weeks took days, at a fraction the cost.

For a different perspective on the rail barons and the history of the transcontinental railroad, I strongly encourage reading the Stephen Ambrose (the guy who wrote Band of Brothers) book
Nothing Like It In The World. As long as we have songs like "City Of New Orleans," we'll have the memories of what trains once were but I fear their era has passed forever.

Riding on the City of New Orleans,
Illinois Central Monday morning rail
Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders,
Three conductors and twenty-five sacks of mail.
All along the southbound odyssey
The train pulls out at Kankakee
Rolls along past houses, farms and fields.
Passin' trains that have no names,
Freight yards full of old black men
And the graveyards of the rusted automobiles.

CHORUS:
Good morning America how are you?
Don't you know me I'm your native son,
I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans,
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.

Dealin' card games with the old men in the club car.
Penny a point ain't no one keepin' score.
Pass the paper bag that holds the bottle
Feel the wheels rumblin' 'neath the floor.
And the sons of pullman porters
And the sons of engineers
Ride their father's magic carpets made of steel.
Mothers with their babes asleep,
Are rockin' to the gentle beat
And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel.

CHORUS

Nighttime on The City of New Orleans,
Changing cars in Memphis, Tennessee.
Half way home, we'll be there by morning
Through the Mississippi darkness
Rolling down to the sea.
And all the towns and people seem
To fade into a bad dream
And the steel rails still ain't heard the news.
The conductor sings his song again,
The passengers will please refrain
This train's got the disappearing railroad blues.

Good night, America, how are you?
Don't you know me I'm your native son,
I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans,
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.



This is part of the Songs I Like series.

Quote of the Day

“We need to fundamentally restructure our economy and re-establish popular control over the private corporations.”
-AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka

Monday, September 27, 2010

INJUSTICE IN AMERICA

"Not fair!"
-Paris Hilton

When Justice is depicted in art, it typically takes the shape of a lady holding scales and a sword to represent the balance of evidence and the power of the state over criminals. Her eyes are blindfolded to represent her inability to see the people involved, only hear and understand the case.

This last bit is one of the most critical features of justice: a ruling and court can only be just if they do not care about the appearance, status, gender, relative wealth or other characteristics of the accuser or the accused. Justice does not care about who is involved, only the facts of the case.

Sentencing, however, takes another turn. This is where justice peeks, to see who the person is, what their life has been, why they did what they did, and what the results of the sentencing will be. Here, judges and juries are typically given some flexibility to use their discretion and hopefully wisdom to determine an appropriate punishment for someone who is found guilty of the crime in question, as they should be. A housewife who, in an affectionate teasing manner, shoved her husband who then fell down stairs and died should not be sentenced the same way as a serial killer who was finally caught butchering his ninth school girl victim.

However, there are times when justice peeks a bit too much. Take the case of Paris Hilton, who when caught with .8 grams of cocaine. At first she claimed it wasn't her purse the bag fell out of, then she claimed she thought the cocaine was gum (it was in tablet form). Now, given as vapid as Ms Hilton appears to be, that last bit sounds somewhat plausible, but its irrelevant. She was caught with the drug and found guilty. Her sentence? $2000 fine and 100 hours of community service, plus a year probation and mandatory drug counseling.

Or consider Lindsay Lohan. Ms Lohan has a long criminal record involving drugs, alcohol and other crimes. After several years of repeated criminal convictions and violations of parole, Lohan was found to have tested positive for cocaine again. Her sentence for this third parole violation? 90 days in jail and 90 days of rehab time. After serving 14 days in prison, she was released and entered the rehabilitation center. Upon completing just 23 days of rehab time, she left the center.

Now she's tested positive for cocaine again. The average jail time for cocaine possession in the US is 31 months, but these two girls combined for all their repeat offenses with the drugs have spent less than a tenth that in prison. Why? It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that it is because they are famous and rich. Consider the case of poor unknown man James V. Taylor (no relation) who, when arrested with an amount of crack cocaine so small the police said it was impossible to weigh, was given 15 years in prison.

I don't know anything about Mr Taylor's life or contributions to society, but I can't imagine them being any less than Paris Hilton, whose entire life has been one of parties, modeling, lousy movies, sex tapes, and products other people created in her name. Lindsay Lohan has been a bit more active, making more movies, singing, and modeling, but she still doesn't contribute much to civilization or culture.

Can anyone really make a convincing and rational argument that these women are so vital to American society and contribute so greatly to their communities that they should be treated more lightly when it comes time to sentence them for repeated offenses? How is justice served by this disparity between the famous and the unknown? Is being famous truly such a meaningful trait that justice should shrug at their crimes?

If anything I'd argue that their sentences should be even stricter in order to greater discourage their behavior. Yet as we saw with O.J. Simpson, if you're rich and famous enough, you can get away with nearly anything, especially if the jury is foolish enough and the prosecutors incompetent enough. Justice cannot be truly served if there's a special class of people - like the nobility in olden days of the monarchies - who are treated better by the courts simply because of their status.

If we are ever as a nation to regain the principles of equal justice for all, we must stop treating some as better than others, and step back to consider not their high profile and connections or money, but their situation and the circumstances of their crime for sentencing. No celebrity is worth more than an average American, that's the very core of our concept behind equality and justice for all.
*This originally was posted at the Washington Examiner Opinion Zone.

Quote of the Day

"Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the peoples' liberty's teeth."
-George Washington

Friday, September 24, 2010

NOT WORD AROUND THE NET

I don't have a Word Around The Net wrapup this week as I'm at the coast and this is being posted by time delay via a nifty Blogger feature. So instead, I'll just give you a few lists.

Here's some TV shows I think you will enjoy if you aren't watching them already:

Holmes on Holmes
Undercover Boss
Burn Notice
White Collar
The Glades
NCIS
Good Eats
Justified

Web Comics you might want to give a try:

Day by Day
Being Five
Girl Genius
Wondermark
Doghouse Diaries

If you like Star Wars you should catch these as well:

Darths & Droids
Blue Milk Special

And finally I want to put in another plug for my book Snowberry's Veil. A friend who read the book gave it this review on Amazon.com:
"It's just a little escort mission...what could go wrong?"

Erkenbrand is a King's Ranger, tasked with protecting those on the fringes of the kingdom, where the King's law does reach, but sometimes more slowly than is effective. Woods, wilds, animals and trailblazing are his specialty; dealing with people, not so much--so to find himself growing fond of the fair Thealea takes him a bit by surprise. Things are just starting to get interesting in that foreign arena when fearsome Beastmen interrupt Erkenbrand's scouting one day.


Separated from the caravan and injured, can Erkenbrand make it back to finish the escort job? Suddenly without a guide, will the caravan come to some Awful End, or will the fates smile upon everyone in the end? And just who is Snowberry?


Buy Snowberry's Veil to find out!


--If you're looking for World Spanning Epic Fantasy, this ain't it. A small tale about a few people, told simply yet eloquently...it may be a new genre, I'll call it MicroFantasy. Give it a shot.
I think you'll like it, even if you don't care for fantasy.

And that's not the Word Around the Net, September 24, 2010

Thursday, September 23, 2010

THOSE CRAZY SOCIAL CONSERVATIVES

"The thing that really bothers me about how Tea Party conservative women get treated is the way their general social views about society are extrapolated by the media to represent their legislative agenda."
-Eric

Social Conservatism has a bit of a bad name these days. While the Tea Party movement has a lot of momentum and consists of a great number of social conservatives, the primary driving force is concerns over taxes and spending by the federal government. Social issues like abortion, gay "marriage," and general morality tend not to get a lot of attention, and even are considered bad for the movement if brought up. Some fiscal conservatives blame events like the emergency session of congress called by Representative DeLay to address the Terri Schiavo story for the ascendancy of Democrats to power.

While I think there's no reasonable evidence for such a theory, it is true that social conservatism tends to make independents a bit nervous and leftists terrified. Consider the treatment of social conservatives in the press such as Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell. Angel is called extreme and O'Donnell is portrayed as some kind of lunatic for their positions on social issues. O'Donnell, for example, considers masturbation a sin and that looking at porn is like cheating on your spouse. Sharron Angle thinks mothers should stay home with their kids and thinks teachers ought to be able to speak openly about "the creator."

These viewpoints are being repeatedly hyped as extreme, radical, and crazy by the left, and the media is more than willing to follow up on this viewpoint:
In the bright light of Wednesday morning, Christine O’Donnell, whose Republican primary victory upended the calculus for future control of the United State Senate, became quickly known to Americans as the woman who once made dire warnings about the negative impact of masturbation."
-Jennifer Steinhauer and Jim Rutenberg, New York Times

Breaking: Christine O'Donnell has had sex
The GOP's Delaware embarrassment wasn't always so chaste, as she revealed in 2004
-Alex Pareene, Salon

"she favors an approach that's even more extreme than the Republicans we got in Washington."
-President Obama

"Extreme Sharron Angle: Why She's No Good for Nevada"
-Daily Kos
As I wrote about a few days ago (and got Eric's comment inspired this post) this is part of the "nuts and sluts" attack on female GOP candidates:
"She's nuts. And by the way, pssst, she may be a slut."
That is the mode of attack Democrats use against conservative women. Sarah Palin is the prime example, as she routinely is called crazy and is sexualized by the left (to the silence of liberal feminist groups).
Why this approach? Well part of it is simply politics; the Democratic Party thinks that it can convince moderate voters to stay away from these women and vote for their extreme left opponents: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his "pet" Christopher Coons. But there's another angle to this as well, one that some libertarians and those who call themselves fiscal conservatives seem to hold.

For the left at least, there's no overarching ethical structure to determine or encourage right and wrong in society. If people are to be directed toward or prevented from various actions and attitudes the law is the primary tool on the left. So when a social conservative says they are opposed to both parents working, then the left assumes that means "...and therefore I'm going to pass a law banning it." The idea that this can be a personal viewpoint without any necessary legal force behind it is alien to this viewpoint.

The truth is social conservatives hold many positions and ideals which they have no intention of pushing for government action on. For example, Christine O'Donnell thinks masturbating to porn is adultery if you're married, a position I happen to agree with. The average leftist would, in her position, try to get laws passed to enforce this viewpoint, but for most social conservatives, that's a personal position and idea which they would like to encourage others to follow and believe, but not by force of law.

Other positions, such as abortion, are thought to be so significant and important that the laws need to be changed. These are areas in which the impact of the action in question is actually critical to society and human life (abortion in particular) to the social conservative. And still other positions are simply a case of wanting to hold the line: you shall not pass this point. Gay "marriage" is one such case. The desire is not for new laws in this case, but for the laws to not be changed, for things to not be pushed any further by the left.

And in the end, personal positions on various topics might be considered shockingly old fashioned or reprehensible by the left - and many in the press - but that does not necessarily mean most of America agrees with that viewpoint. While beltway insiders and Berkley professors might think Sharron Angel is an extremist for wanting to shut down the Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Arts, I think most people in America would be less dismayed, and many would nod in agreement.

In a way, the reaction to and coverage of these women says a lot more about the press and the left than it does the nation at large and they might be in for a big surprise this November when the people come to have their say.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

THAT D LOGO

I haven't written about the new Democratic Party logo yet because, frankly, words elude me. I find myself unable to even put into words how pathetic this thing is. Especially when combined with the 2 day build up to the logo release I can't help but think of a phrase kids grossly overuse but which in this case seems to fit: EPIC FAIL.

I guess its supposed to be like a brand, the Circle-D logo? Maybe they're trying to connect Obama's creepy icon with the party more directly? Is it a copyright symbol with one letter off? I don't know.

In lieu of any substantive comment, I'm just going to offer you a few alternatives to the pathetic logo which other, more talented and witty folks have come up with. Such as this one from Ace of Spades HQ:
D MinusHere's a few from the twisted mind of Stoaty Weasel:

Dunce
Durrr

Death Star
Deer in the headlights
Slash D
And finally, a commenter at S. Weasel's place offers this demotivator:

Toilet D

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

UNDERSTANDING ISLAM

"Death to the unbeliever!"

Day By Day
There's an aspect of Islam which I'm seeing brought up a lot more as people learn more about the religion. Having read the Koran and studied Islam for years now, I believe I've got a good handle on the religion and can help clarify the issue.

There are some who claim Islam is not a religion at all. Their logic is based on the fact that Islam is, in fact, a full world system, a way of living every aspect of life. The Koran and Hadith (and Sharia law rulings) cover more than belief and morality, but also politics, relationships, health, art, philosophy, construction, child rearing, law, and all other parts of life.

What they're trying to say is true in a way, Islam cannot be reduced to religion. It is a system of absolute, unquestionable rules on how you should live and think and believe in every single part of life. Islam has rules for everything, down to the most obscure details; Islam tells you what hand to wipe yourself with and how to do so, after you defecate.

It is incorrect to say that Islam is not a religion, but it is absolutely true that Islam is not merely a religion. That isn't to say that all Muslims agree with the totality of what's been taught by Muslim scholars and Sharia law experts over the centuries. Muslims in America tend to limit their faith more than those in Saudi Arabia, for instance. And there are four major (and many other smaller) branches of Islam: Shiite, Sunni, Wahabbist, and Ismaeli, each of which has variations on what they believe and how. So it is difficult to generalize, but the overall picture as given to the world by Muhammad is consistent: this is more than just personal faith. All religions follow this pattern: a basic core with lots of variations, yet you can draw basic conclusions about the faith from that core.

Now, for most Muslims in the world, especially those living in Islamic nations, church and state are not distinct, they are one. The church is the state, and vice versa. What the church rules is official law. What the government does is church business. That means if Islamic rule comes to a nation, there is no such thing as religious tolerance or diversity, and there is no separation of church and state. And that's just how many Muslims want it. Its safer, easier, and more predictable. You don't have to think, just obey. You don't have to worry, just obey. Everything is decided for you and every act has a rule and a law to follow. Simple, comfortable, safe. Its just not free.

OTHER FAITHS
Now, consider: Judaism had just such a system back five thousand years or so ago when Moses brought the law down from mount Sinai in the Arabian Peninsula. Every aspect of life was again prescribed by law, from what you could eat to how you dealt with death. The country was run by the priests in a theocracy, with the voice of God coming directly through prophets and the Urim and Thummim in the high priest's bejeweled breastplate, or so the Old Testament (or, Torah and Tanakh, as you will) teaches.

And consider again: Christianity, as the Protestant Reformation taught, is not simply an internal part of what you believe and behave, but influences and informs every single aspect of life. You aren't a Christian and something, you are a Christian, period. If you're a Christian bootmaker, you make boots for God's glory and in His service according to principles laid out in the Bible. if you are a Christian lawmaker you make laws to God's glory in the same way, judging based on what you believe about life and morality in scripture. Christianity isn't simply a faith, it is a life-changing whole worldview that impacts every single thing you do.

Is that really so different than Islam, and how does that affect how we view Muslims? And is Islam so incompatible with American values as some assert?

Is being a Muslim no different than these other faiths, which have meshed well with western culture and democracy? Or does Christianity and Judaism fit well with modern democracy because they were such a fundamental part of its foundation?

The primary thing to remember about Judaism and Christianity, in distinction from Islam, is that both faiths have a strong tradition and religious basis for question, debate, and discussion. While the Roman Catholic church for over a millennia tried to restrict that to a small group of specialists, both faiths have always encouraged argument and study. Judaism is notorious for these kinds of debates, and in fact the Talmud consists of exactly that: arguments by Rabbis over the years. The Christian Bible specifically calls for believers to question, argue, study, and compare scripture to greater understand the truth.

Islam prohibits this. You are not to study the Koran, you are to read it, memorize it, and obey it. Islam means submission, being a Muslim means one who submits and struggles. You do not argue with what you're told, you do not compare scripture with scripture and debate meaning, you do not study and try to know more deeply what has been taught, you are to read, memorize, and obey. There are special scholars who study the Koran and Hadith more deeply, but they do not study and interpret, they find the answers in what has already been written. If there is no answer, then a Sharia judge or an Imam makes an official proclamation, which becomes part of Muslim scripture.

This distinction is very important to understand because it makes a significant difference in how these three religions impact life and behavior. Christians are told to live their lives in light of what they know and believe, following some basic rules of love and obedience to God, but most of life is up to their best interpretation and judgment. Christianity is about principles and ideals which are then applied to specific situations; there are few rules, which makes the life very challenging at times. Christians have to face each new event or decision and try to come up with the best they can which will best glorify God and honor Jesus Christ as they understand scripture. That's why the study and debate and discussion are encouraged. Its a lot easier to live by rules; Christianity just doesn't give that many.

Judaism is similar in the sense that Jews have a simple set of rules to live by (the 10 commandments, mostly) and a need to judge life based on that.

THE OLD LAWS
But wait, what about the Torah, what about all those laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy? Indeed, there were incredibly detailed and extensive rules and laws given in those books. Yet a closer look and better understanding of what was written there in historical context helps clarify matters. There are three types of laws in those books: Ceremonial, Judicial, and Moral.

Ceremonial law dealt with cleanliness, sacrifice, and the various aspects of doing things to be pure and set apart (holy) before God. They were designed to make the Hebrews distinct from their neighbors, remind them of their need to be pure and sinless, and to look forward to a day when the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ would one day come (modern Jews obviously don't believe that last part). These laws were specific to the temple sacrifice system and the nation of Israel in terms of being distinct and reminding them to be set apart.

Judicial laws were matters like the cities of refuge, how to choose leaders, how many elders were in each area, how to settle legal disputes, and in general the mechanism of running a country. These were the laws of the theocracy as we understand laws today, like speed limits and anti-trust legislation; rules. Being a people who were generations who grew up in slavery under an absolute dictator in Egypt, they needed a total system of government to know even how to behave as a country and continue united instead of breaking up into bands under strong men.

Moral law is the part people usually associate with the old testament. These were the laws about what you ought not to do based on God's will, rather than what you cannot do without facing legal sanction. This is the ten commandments, the laws on personal behavior and responsibility to God. It was violations of these laws which required the ceremonial laws and sacrifices, it was the failure to do so which required the judicial rules and regulations.

Knowing how this work helps understand why only part of these laws have survived over the centuries for both Jews and Christians. Jews tend to cling to more of them, as they do not believe that the old testament laws were fulfilled in Jesus Christ and a new covenant began with him which has different rules, but both believe that the judicial and ceremonial laws do not have the weight and significance of the moral laws.

To be sure there are a lot of variations in Judaism (Orthodox, Hasidic, Reformed, etc), and some follow the old testament rules more closely than others but the general thrust is that most of those old rules have been replaced or simplified over the years or until the temple is rebuilt, at the very least.

Thus, when you look at Islam in distinction from Christianity and Judaism, you can see that the system of religion as state is different and has much greater impact in Islam. Islam is much like Israel was back when Joshua was conquering the promised land: these laws cover all aspects of life. However, unlike the Jews, Islam does not teach these laws are only for them as a chosen people but for everyone, everywhere, at all times.

COEXISTENCE
Some Muslims have adapted a system of religion much more like Christianity or Judaism. They believe that while Islam is absolute law for them, it is not for others, and that is between those people and Allah. Such Muslims have found a way to coexist with the rest of the people around them by adapting their faith to abandon strict application of Sharia and other Muslim law. These kind of Muslims are all around us in America, they are the bulk of Muslims in places like Yugoslavia. Such a Muslim can be a good friend and citizen in any country.

And to be sure, Christians and Jews draw a line at which they will not go any further or will not agree with the culture around them. Christians tend to believe abortion and gay "marriage" is absolutely prohibited by scripture and cannot accept this. Jews tend to be more relaxed in this area, but have other places they will not cross the line. At times, that brings them into conflict with their culture; Christians and Jews defied Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union to their own cost and lives, they continue to do so in places like China, Burma, and North Korea.

Yet in general, Jews and Christians get along better with western culture than Muslims. Part of that may have to do with the fact that Jews are incredibly adaptable and both faiths heavily influenced western civilization for two thousand years. The philosophies and worldviews of most of the greatest thinkers and builders of western civilization were all influenced by Christianity and Judaism (the Judeo-Christian tradition), even if those thinkers were atheist. Presumptions of absolute morality, responsibility to something other than one's self, ideas about human worth and liberty all were strongly influenced by the Judeo-Christian worldview. Going into this in depth would make this essay twenty times longer, so I'll leave that to others, but suffice it to say that the presumption of Christianity and its ideals was so much a part of western culture that it was like the water fish swim in and impossible for the thinkers to avoid.

Thus, it is reasonable to say that Christians and Jews would find such a civilization easier to function in and more comfortable to fit into, as their ideals were so foundational to its creation - and indeed explains much of why modern abandonment of these ideals in "progressivism" is so uncomfortable and difficult for Christians to accept. However, that isn't the whole answer. Greeks built the struggling first, flawed concepts of democracy long before Christianity even arose. They did so with some Jewish influence, but largely apart from even that religion. Rome went on to build one of the mightiest and advanced civilizations on earth almost devoid of Jewish and Christian influence (until later in its history). The principles of liberty and democracy grew out of general ideas distinct from these religions, even if they were greatly honed and more sophisticated in later thinkers such as Rousseau, Locke, Montesquieu and others.

The truth is, Islam is so inflexibly complete in its worldview, that even more adaptable Muslims who have modified their faith find it difficult to fit in to western culture at any epoch. Like very conservative Hasidic Jews whose long sideburns and distinctive lifestyle make them stand out awkwardly in public, Muslims have the same sort of confrontation with a culture which is largely alien to them. The concepts of human worth (very diminished in the Koran), equality (absolutely rejected in the Koran), democracy (rejected), and basic rights (rejected) are all ideals which do not flow naturally from Muslim faith.

OMINOUS RUMBLINGS
And that is where the real concern arises. For those who wish an overturn of western culture and the rising of a worldwide Islamic "republic," these basic principles have to go. For the radical Islam growing in numbers and voice in Europe, particularly places like France and Holland, the concepts of western civilization are at odds with what they believe and wish to see implemented. For them, equality leads to corruption, democracy leads to the unlearned commanding law, and liberty leads to sin. It is "un-Muslim" to have a civilization based on anything but submission to Allah and his prophet.

For these Muslims, the west has to die, and the Middle East has to rise. The basic principles of western civilization are not just mistaken or need modification, but are a sinful abomination which is the very cause of the problems in the west.

And while Christians would love to see a world which Christianity dominates because each person has been saved and follows Christ, and while Jews would love to see everyone become a Jew and thus follow the Torah, these Muslims want everyone to either become Muslim... or be crushed by the boot of oppression or death. You must submit, even if you do not believe. Christianity learned to abandon that idea in the Protestant Reformation, and Judaism has never been about reaching out to save the world, simply about Jews and their faith with God. When I say I want everyone to be saved and follow Christ, that doesn't mean I want them to be forced to or use any coercion or power to require them, it means I want them to change from within on their own part, not be compelled. Islam has no such option, not technically and properly in their scriptures.

Islam is about conquest, about expansion, and about submission. The whole world must submit to Allah and abandon everything except Sharia law and the teachings of Muhammad. There can be no compromise ultimately, although you can see it for a time while Islam takes greater control. There can be no adaptation or blending, only Islam. And until all of Islam can become more like the Muslims who can live with others in another civilization, that threat will only continue to grow as the numbers and zeal of radical Muslims grow.

And in the end, even the more moderate, calm, and adaptive Muslims would tend to embrace and appreciate absolute Muslim control of all nations. It isn't that they would fight for this or necessarily prefer that for their country. Its that it wouldn't particularly harm them and would probably bring them great benefit, so they aren't likely to fight hard against it, either. And that is the heart of the concern for many in the west: that we are facing a fight against people we'd rather just get along with and have with us as free, prosperous, and comfortable as we are.

For those who think every Muslim is out to hack your head off and force your women into a shapeless sack, that's not exactly true. For those who think Islam gets along well with everyone and can be a wonderful part of America's future, that's not exactly true, either. The truth is much harder to face and will take the Muslims themselves to sort out.