Monday, May 31, 2004

Memorial Day

Rather than using my own poor words to describe Memorial Day, I'll direct you to the speech that Bush delivered at the opening of the World War II memorial dedication on Saturday. An excerpt:
In the history books, the Second World War can appear as a series of crises and conflicts, following an inevitable course -- from Pearl Harbor to the Coast of Normandy to the deck of the Missouri. Yet, on the day the war began, and on many hard days that followed, the outcome was far from certain.

There was a time, in the years before the war, when many earnest and educated people believed that democracy was finished. Men who considered themselves learned and civilized came to believe that free institutions must give way to the severe doctrines and stern discipline of a regimented society. Ideas first whispered in the secret councils of a remote empire, or shouted in the beer halls of Munich, became mass movements. And those movements became armies. And those armies moved mercilessly forward -- until the world saw Hitler strutting in Paris, and U.S. Navy ships burning in their own port. Across the world, from a hiding place in Holland to prison camps of Luzon, the captives awaited their liberators.

Those liberators would come, but the enterprise would require the commitment and effort of our entire nation. As World War II began, after a decade of economic depression, the United States was not a rich country. Far from being a great power, we had only the 17th largest army in the world. To fight and win on two fronts, Americans had to work and save and ration and sacrifice as never before. War production plants operated shifts around the clock. Across the country, families planted victory gardens -- 20 million of them, producing 40 percent of the nation's vegetables in backyards and on rooftops. Two out of every three citizens put money into war bonds. As Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby said, "This was a people's war, and everyone was in it."
On this Memorial Day weekend, the graves will be visited, and decorated with flowers and flags. Men whose step has slowed are thinking of boys they knew when they were boys together. And women who watched the train leave, and the years pass, can still see the handsome face of their young sweetheart. America will not forget them, either.

At this place, at this Memorial, we acknowledge a debt of long-standing to an entire generation of Americans: those who died; those who fought and worked and grieved and went on. They saved our country, and thereby saved the liberty of mankind. And now I ask every man and woman who saw and lived World War II -- every member of that generation -- to please rise as you are able, and receive the thanks of our great nation.

May God bless you. (Applause.)

Cultural Literacy

Joe Carter at The Evangelical Outpost has begun a project to update the Dictionary of Cultural References. I've submitted a few things under the Internet and Computer Games already. Go ahead and make your contribution.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Weekend trip

I visited a couple of cousins of mine in Pennsylvania this weekend. It was fun to see them again--it had been years. My cousin Mark showed me a project he's been working on, cataloguing all 3000+ US counties, collecting demographic data (ethnicity, wealth, household data) and voting results. He's worked out a election projection based on demographics which predicts that the election may depend on Ohio. I'm not so sure about his conclusions--I think 9/11 may have changed the equation, but it was an impressive piece of work, and I've offered to share it on my blog. He's interested, but it remains to be seen whether we can distill it down to information easily shared on a blog. If we were really patient, we could do a by county map, like the famous one from the last election, but I don't think we have the patience.

Bible Translations

I've noticed a bit of discussion on other blogs about the best Bible translations. In particular, Letters from Babylon and Parablemania have discussed their favorite translations. While I think getting a good translation of the Bible is helpful, I'm not sure it's sufficient. I have two Bibles I tend to use.

One is the NIV, which I find easy to read and understand, despite complaints about it being a dynamic equivalence--not a word-for-word translation, but one which converts idiom and language into our way of speaking. Now while dynamic equivalence involves some interpretation, so does a formal equivalence translation, which follows the original language more closely. Any translation requires finding an equivalent word, but no word in English contains the exact same history, nuance, and cultural context of the Greek word. Consider John 1:1, and the use of the word logos. In English, it's translated as Word, while in Greek it could mean word... or message, or purpose. In Stoic philosophy, it was used to signify the driving power and reason behind the Universe, and it would have been recognizable as such instantly by the Greek readers of John's Gospel. Idiom is also very tricky. Consider Matthew 12:40: "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." The phrase "three days and three nights" has drawn much interpretation as people tried to reconcile it with the one day and two nights Jesus actually spent in the tomb. It would be helpful to know that ancient peoples reckoned inclusively (saying that Sunday is three days after Friday, because they would include Friday in the count), or that x days and x nights was a common idiom, referring not to whole days and nights but to the day-night cycle, which we would simply call days. These are famous problems which even dynamic equivalence doesn't try to solve. While I think a dynamic equivalence does infer some interpretation, I also think that it can, when done properly, convey more of the original meaning to modern readers than a formal equivalence translation.

The other Bible I use is an interlinear one. It has one very literal translation, and the original Greek and Hebrew. The very literal translation is hard to read and follow, but it's useful, especially when coupled with the original language and some knowledge of that language. (I may be rusty, but I still remember some Ancient Greek.) Which brings me to my question: Why don't more Christians study the original languages? I don't expect every Christian to attend seminary, but there are many Christians in college who could easily take a semester or two of Greek and/or Hebrew. I'm curious why they don't.

Update: Cleared things up a bit.

Partisan Prayer

I try to avoid partisan prayers. While I'll pray for political figures, I'm very reluctant to pray against them. I also don't like praying that one party or another will win the election. While I think that God is in control, well, I think He is in control, and He knows what He's doing, while I have very little idea what I'm doing when I talk about or pray about politics. So I think God will bring about His will, and I'll occasionally pray that politicians be more in tune with His will, or that this thing or that thing will be done by our government, but I don't pray about who will win elections.

During the 2000 election showdown I did pray for a quick resolution. While I prefered Bush over Gore, in 2000 I thought that Gore would do a decent job governing even if I disagreed with the majority of his policies. So when I prayed, I may have let slip that I'd really like to see Bush win, but I trusted God to choose the right candidate. After 9/11 I thanked God for doing so, because I felt Bush dealt with the situation better than Al Gore would have. Earlier this week I fervently and effusively thanked God for doing so, offering up my heartfelt thanks that Gore did not win. If you don't know what I'm talking about, try visiting here or here. Now I'm praying that Gore gets help, and that he is never allowed near the reins of power again. Meanwhile, if any of the Florida voters who voted for Bush in 2000 are in the Rochester area, let me know. I'd like to thank you for saving us from disaster.

Whence Sluggy?

You may be wondering why I stopped the archive review. While it was fun, it consumed an inordinate amount of time. Plus, I was out-of-town and without net access for a good bit of Memorial Day weekend. I figured the end of the Sci-fi Adventure was a good place to stop. I may pick it up again eventually, but consider it on permanent hiatus unless there is a real demand for it.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Americans killed by Middle-Eastern Terrorism

I spent an inordinate amount of time working on this. This chart shows the five-year rolling average of Americans killed by Middle-Eastern Terrorism:

This data was taken from this webpage, maintained by the the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. The page's objective is to show that US citizens are victims of Middle Eastern terrorism as well, so they don't distinguish between Americans being specifically targetted, and Americans who are killed in attacks on Israeli and other targets. I wasn't too concerned with the distinction either, since what I was curious about was this statement in a post by Doc Rampage:
Cliff pointed out in a comment that the expected deaths from terrorists each year in the US is about 300. This is roughly the same as the number of people killed by lightening. Cliff suggests (I infer from his irony) that we are spending too much time, money, and energy in combating what is statistically a minor problem. he problem is... Well, the problem is that his logic makes a weird sort of sense. Like Cliff, I'm an engineer and I detest inefficiency. Especially inefficiency for emotional, anti-rational reasons.

Being the experimentalist that I am, I'm always leery of snapshot statistics, and I'm more interested in trends. For something like terrorism, where attacks come at irregular intervals and the number of deaths per attack depends on a number of factors, I prefer to smooth out the data, in this case using a rolling average. I'll have to think about the best ways to analyze the data: large attacks cause spikes, yet you can't ignore the large attacks. One thing I noticed, though, is that throughout the nineties, there was a rise both in the number and effectiveness of attacks. This follows a drop off at the end of the eighties.

New Post: What was originally an update to this post, a plot of attacks rather than deaths, has been moved to a new post here.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Sluggy Freelance October 20-27, 1997: Home again

This is a continuation of the Sluggy Archive Review. It's a chance for you to become familiar with Sluggy Freelance by going through the archives one week each day. You can start here.

Week 9: Home again

If you're wondering, you should read the comic first, then read my comments.

Torg and Riff are on their own against the alien. On the bright side, they now have big guns and a plan. On the dark side, they're using the guns to blow up random stuff and it's a really bad plan. But when they find the way home, it all works out in the end. Well, except for the fact that the alien is loose to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting population... Hey, look, there's Zoe!

Things I noticed:

1. Monday's comic is beautiful. I'm not sure the guys can tell the difference between their lives and a first person shooter. Considering how crazy their lives are, this may be a good thing.

2. Tuesday: Torg as bait. I intend to take his advice if I'm ever in that situation.

3. Thursday: "We have to open the portal now!" "I have to eat you guys!"

4. Friday: "Could I just throw a shoe at it?" In the next comic, you can see the shoe in the alien's hand.

5. I wasn't sure the guys would make it home. Heck, we've had nearly as many comics in the alternate dimension as the real world. How do we know the "real world" wasn't just the set up.

6. Zoe is reintroduced in Sunday's comic. Bet you thought she was just a temp for a week. Turns out she's the neighbor. This comic also establishes time--it's been about a month since they left, the same amount of time as has passed in real days. It's not always easy to tell with comics. Pete makes an effort to have the holidays line up, but other than that, it can take a month to cover the events of a single day in comic time.

7. So not only is the alien loose in our world, advanced weapons are now in the hands of Torg and Riff. They're not exactly the folks I'd pick to bequeath advanced technology to, see Monday's strip.

8. Sunday's comic also has my favorite line for the week: "Oh yeah, the girl from the park! I didn't recognize you conscious, upright, and unmangled!"

Please do not post spoilers, or speculation that looks like a spoiler, in the comments of this post. This has been cross-posted in the Sluggy Freelance forum for all your spoiler needs.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Peace in the Sudan?

Captain Ed points out another Bush foreign policy success. No doubt the Democrats will be explaining why it's really a disaster... From the Telegraph:
A peace deal to end Africa's longest civil war was finally signed last night. The fighting in Sudan, which has raged intermittently for nearly 50 years, has claimed two million lives.

Decades of recrimination were put aside as the two factions inched towards agreement on how to share power in a new transitional government, as well as on the future of three contested regions - the final hurdles in over a year of tortuous negotiations hosted by the Kenyan government.

The conclusion of the fraught negotiations - in which the two sides have come under intense pressure from the United States - hands President George W Bush a rare foreign-policy boost in a Muslim country.

If Bush has too many more of these "rare" foreign-policy successes in Muslim countries (Libya, Iraq, reform movements in Iran and Syria gaining steam, and a statement of principle from the Arab League to move toward democracy), in a hundread years people are going to be wondering what all those references about unrest in the Middle East in the late 20th, early 21st centuries were about.

Doc Rampage should be happy.

Update: I read the article more carefully. It appears that this deal doesn't cover the conflict in the Darfur region, which was what the Doc was concerned about. I'm hoping that bringing resolution to the main conflict in Sudan will calm things down in Darfur.

Sluggy Freelance Archive Review October 13-19, 1997: The Alien

This is a continuation of the Sluggy Archive Review. It's a chance for you to become familiar with Sluggy Freelance by going through the archives one week each day. You can start here.

Week 8: The Alien

If you're wondering, you should read the comic first, then read my comments.

Now the Alien parody is in full swing. If it were Star Trek, then only the extras would die, but here, they're all extras. You do the math.

Favorite parts:

1. Tuesday: "Wow! It knows to go after the extras first!" "All aliens do."

2. As usual, in a dangerous situation, Riff takes charge. Torg makes jokes.

3. Saturday: "On my way, and thank God for dandruff shampoo!"

4. Sunday: "By the way, I'm not going to turn around so you can get the satisfaction of seeing me gasp in fear before sucking my brains out." "Fine, I'll just find someone who will!

5. Also Sunday: "What is this? A sci-fi thriller or a goofy buddy movie?" Gulp! "The defense rests."

Please do not post spoilers, or speculation that looks like a spoiler, in the comments of this post. This has been cross-posted in the Sluggy Freelance forum for all your spoiler needs.

Papers published

A long, long time ago, I mentioned that there were a couple of papers of mine in the process of being published. Well, they're out now. They've actually been out for a while, I've just been negligent. Now that I have them, here are the full references:

dc measurements of macroscopic quantum levels in a superconducting qubit structure with a time-ordered meter
D. S. Crankshaw, K. Segall, D. Nakada, T. P. Orlando, L. S. Levitov, S. Lloyd, S. O. Valenzuela, N. Markovic, M. Tinkham, and K. K. Berggren
Phys. Rev. B 69, 144518 (2004)

Energy Relaxation Time between Macroscopic Quantum Levels in a Superconducting Persistent-Current Qubit
Yang Yu, D. Nakada, Janice C. Lee, Bhuwan Singh, D. S. Crankshaw, T. P. Orlando, Karl K. Berggren, and William D. Oliver
Phys. Rev. Lett. 92, 117904 (2004)

They're available online, if you have a subscription. Or you could look them up in a local university library. Or you could just e-mail me and I could send you a copy if you really wanted it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004


I'm not pro-choice, and I'm glad to see that some pro-choice folks have a better understanding of the pro-life movement than those organizations (such as NARAL) who see themselves as the defenders of abortion rights, who label any restriction as an assault on women, and say that those who argue for such are would-be oppressors.

Sluggy Freelance Archive Review October 6-12, 1997: Engineers

This is a continuation of the Sluggy Archive Review. It's a chance for you to become familiar with Sluggy Freelance by going through the archives one week each day. You can start here.

Week 7: Engineers

So, now that Riff and Torg are the engineering crew, they're on their way to the dimensional rifts that will take them home. It's not clear how well Riff understands the technology (even a technological wizard would need some time to leap forward a few hundred years in technology), but Torg doesn't have a clue. Still, they can fake it fairly well. Unfortunately, they get sidetracked, and the Star Trek (with a little Star Wars) parody makes a head-on collision with Aliens. Some things I noticed:

1. So this Confederation dumps toxic waste into random dimensions? That's not very nice.

2. First Officer Brenas. The less said, the better.

3. I like the technobabble: "Gamma-Gozer rays" and "Stabalizorama" from Riff, and "Chocolate Doh-doh waves" from Torg.

4. Torg and Riff make inappropriate use of the ship's resources. How very like them!

5. "Space station 9-Bab-5" Obviously a hash of Deep Space 9 (a great show, IMO) and Babylon 5.

6. Saturday's is great: "Keep forgetting we're the engineers." "Beats being expendable."

7. And on Sunday, Star Trek meets Aliens. Apparently they aren't so tough in zero-G. My favorite exchange: "Have you tried communicating with them, Chief Riff?" "But Sir, they are ugly and really weird looking!" "Very well, continue firing." Star Trek meets Aliens indeed.

Please do not post spoilers, or speculation that looks like a spoiler, in the comments of this post. This has been cross-posted in the Sluggy Freelance forum for all your spoiler needs.

Great Minds...

Old Post: I complained about the term "homicide bombing" below.

James Taranto at WSJ's Best of the Web also has problems with Fox's use of the term "homicide bomber." He also has a lot more information on how the term came about.


I haven't decided how I feel about the investigation of Chalabi yet. I don't think the CPA raided him because he was problematic to the UN. Or because he was an attention-getting embarassment. He may be both. I guess I just believe better of the CPA, and the Bush administration, than some people. I think that Chalabi is sincerely suspected of wrongdoing and is being investigated. From what I read, the evidence against him was too strong to ignore. I don't know whether he's actually guilty of wrongdoing, but I guess that's what the investigation is meant to uncover. Rich Lowry has a rather detailed post on him in The Corner, which also shows a lot of ambiguity.

Slow Posting

Posting has been fairly slow for the last few days, with just the Sluggy Archive Review going up every day. There are a few reasons for that. The first is that I was working hard on A Phoenix in Darkness. I tend to work harder as the end comes into sight, so I've finished the second revision on Part 3 and revised all of Part 4 in just a few days. I've also been going to bed earlier so that I could get up earlier for work reasons, so that's kept me from doing any late night blogging (and also limited what I can get done every night, so I've had to prioritize). Finally, nothing's caught my attention and really demanded that I write. Sometimes I hear about something and I just can't help myself. It's hard to predict what will do that, but it's often when I see factual errors left unaddressed, or have a theory that I feel a need to share. It hasn't happened recently, however, and although I have thoughts on some of the things in the news recently, I haven't felt the need to comment, so I haven't prioritized the time to do so.

Second Revision Progress

I'm now 80% of the way through the second revision of A Phoenix in Darkness, meaning that I've finished the revision of Part 4. Part 4 is the longest section, accounting for 22% of the story, and it contains a lot of action. I'd be done by next weekend, but I'm going on a short trip then, so I'm not certain. We'll see.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Sluggy Freelance Archive Review September 29-October 5, 1997: The Dimensional Flux Agitator

This is a continuation of the Sluggy Archive Review. It's a chance for you to become familiar with Sluggy Freelance by going through the archives one week each day. You can start here.

Week 6: The Dimensional Flux Agitator

The guys are still trying to get rid of Bun-bun. In their efforts, they accidentally zap themselves to another universe.

1. This is the first indication that Riff is something of an inventor. "Something of an inventor" in the sense that he can create a device which proves the many-worlds quantum theory.

2. For the record, there are only a few many-worlds adherents in the physics community. There are a few, I'll grant, but most just tune them out, considering the many-worlds hypothesis implausible, unproveable, and unnecessary.

3. Random reality pathways?

4. "Let me check my notes." Words to strike dread into the heart.

5. This is actually the introduction of sci-fi into the Sluggy universe. Of course, we already know that the supernatural exists there, from the first week if we take Satan in the computer seriously, and certainly the third.

6. The borg need to be more careful whom they assimilate. Torg and Riff throw the whole collective off, so that the borg end up kicking them out.

7. I loved Sunday's strip. There's plenty to love: "No problem, careful is our middle name." "No, you have no honor!" And the nod to Star Wars. "Trusting and compassionate?" "Gullible. I lied on our resumes and got us jobs on the ship."

8. To be honest, I spent most of the Sci-Fi adventure wishing they would just hurry up and get home. That and wondering whether Pete had decided to change the entire premise of the strip six weeks into it. I wanted to know whether Zoe would become a regular.

Please do not post spoilers, or speculation that looks like a spoiler, in the comments of this post. This has been cross-posted in the Sluggy Freelance forum for all your spoiler needs.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Sluggy Freelance Archives September 22-28, 1997: Zoe

This is a continuation of the Sluggy Archive Review. It's a chance for you to become familiar with Sluggy Freelance by going through the archives one week each day. You can start here.

Week 5: Zoe

Pete finally gets around to introducing some women to his strip, starting with Zoe, some hot girl, and the suicide-bikini-frisbee girls. Zoe's really the only one who has any characterization in this strip, or even a name given to her. Her role this week is to suffer. Things to notice:

1. She's wearing a Ranma 1/2 T-shirt. When I first read the archives, I knew nothing about Ranma 1/2. If I had, I might have made something of the shirt. I'd at least think that Zoe read manga.

2. Torg and Riff come across as real jerks this week.

3. Zoe meets Bun-bun. Her response to Bun-bun is the same as most people's, and Bun-bun's reaction to her is the same as for most people.

4. Torg also comes across as rather gullible in Saturday's strip. Overall, I thought that was the funniest strip this week.

5. Sunday's strip shows that it's been a very bad day for Zoe.

Please do not post spoilers, or speculation that looks like a spoiler, in the comments of this post. This has been cross-posted in the Sluggy Freelance forum for all your spoiler needs.

Week in Review

As usual, this post is timestamped to put it at 12:01 am on Sunday, even though it was written around 7 pm. I don't consider the timestamp too important on this post. It covers my significant posts for this week.

Sarin used in attack in Iraq, or Terrorists have WMDs! -- I try to get across the idea that the use of a Sarin shell in Iraq is a very bad thing.

Christian Carnival XVIII -- I host the Christian Carnival. See what other Christian bloggers are saying.

Sluggy Freelance Archive Review Week 1: August 25-31, 1997 -- I've started a review of Sluggy Freelance. It's a great way to experience Sluggy if you've never read it before.

Angel Series Finale -- My thoughts on the series finale of Angel.

Opposing the Iraq War -- My thoughts on what good reasons for opposing the Iraq War are. I was originally rather ambivalent towards the whole enterprise.

Third Revision Progress -- A quick summary of how A Phoenix in Darkness is going.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Weekly Webcomic Update

Okay, so it's a bit late... this Sunday's Sluggy had me distracted. Still, I timestamped it where it belonged.

Sluggy Freelance -- And it's a successful mission on "Pig Sty for the Gay Guy." And things take a really cool turn as the Dimension of Lame Bun-bun shows up. Is it the final showdown between Torg and the Dimension of Pain? And yes, Pain and Lame are two different dimensions.

Day by Day -- John Kerry gets mocked (twice), but mostly it's a lot of Damon this week.

It's Walky! -- And the fight between SEMME and the Britjas rages on, only the Britjas have brainwashed quite a few SEMME agents.

College Roomies from Hell!!! (I added some exclamation points. I was negligent leaving them off, as "The three exclamation points stand for quality!) -- Mike infiltrates the party, where he has a very nasty flashback. Unfortunatley, there weren't as many updates this week as I would have hoped.

General Protection Fault -- And the false Craig is revealed, to everyone except Sharon.

Schlock Mercenary -- The alien CSI has discovered that Schlock is innocent. Cool.

Sluggy Freelance Archive Review Week 4: September 15-21, 1997

All right, I'm running late today, but I changed the timestamp by a few minutes to make sure it didn't leak into Sunday.

This is a continuation of the Sluggy Archive Review. It's a chance for you to become familiar with Sluggy Freelance by going through the archives one week each day. You can start here.

Demon Summoning Week

Not having much luck summoning demons through the Internet, Riff intends to do it the old-fashioned way, with a tome of ancient evil. Torg, of course, goes along with it. Things I noticed:

1. Torg and Riff, best friends that they are, always seem to go along with each others' plans, no matter how crazy, dangerous, and outright stupid they are.

2. Where do you think the Book of E-ville came from in the first place?

3. You'd figure that Bun-bun would be more into summoning evil.

4. I particularly like Tuesday's comic, "What?! It's only okay if Bill Gates does it [summons evil to plunge the world into chaos and darkness]?"

5. It's the first mention of telemarketers on Wednesday.

6. The unpronounceable spell word is neat.

7. The "About the Author" blurb on Saturday is a nice touch.

8. Only Riff and Torg would play with the forces of darkness for such frivolous purposes.

Please do not post spoilers, or speculation that looks like a spoiler, in the comments of this post. This has been cross-posted in the Sluggy Freelance forum for all your spoiler needs.

Third Revision Progress

"Third revision? I thought you weren't done with the second revision yet."

Well, yes and no. While I'm less than 70% done with the second revision, A Phoenix in Darkness is written in five parts (as I've mentioned earlier), each of which is 5500-7000 words long. By contrast, "A Stranger in the Library" is just under 6000 words long (which, not coincidentally, is the word limit for short story submissions for most print magazines). So I've finished the second revision on the first three of those parts, and I'm now on the fourth--which is on track to be done this weekend. I sent the first part to my "editors" (family members and friends whom I trust to read the story and comment on it) a couple of weeks ago, and they've finally gotten back to me with their comments. I'll soon send the second part to them, and I'm hoping that they'll be working on the third part by the time I finish the second revision. At that point, it's on to the third revision, which takes their comments into account and makes corrections. So far the most important comment I've received is that the there's not enough background in the first part, and too much reader knowledge is taken for granted. This is one of those things that's easy for me to miss: having written quite a bit of material in this world, I sometimes forget that not everyone has read it. This is bad news for me, since it's going to require some extensive additions to the first part, but good news for the readers, since the first part gets longer. Once I've made those additions, I'll polish and spell-check (I don't spell-check until the end, because spell-checking is a pain and not very useful while I'm still doing significant rewrites), then post the first part. And yes, I plan to do that before I'm done with the third revision for all the parts. If things go smoothly, a new part will be posted every two weeks. I expect I will start in two or three weeks.

Next Christian Carnival

The next Christian Carnival will be hosted at Parablemania. If you'd like to participate, send an e-mail to Jeremy Pierce ( with the following information by 8 PM on Tuesday night:

Name of your Blog
Blog URL
Title of your Post
Post URL
Description of your Post

Opposing the war in Iraq

Old Post: I give a spirited defense of the war in Iraq here, during my first week blogging. But that's only part of the story.

Believe it or not, I was not always for the Iraq war. Back in January of 2003, I was very skeptical about the whole enterprise. The main reason was because Bush had made WMDs the centerpoint of his argument, and I wasn't certain of his evidence. Yes, this sounds very snide coming now after we haven't found the WMDs we expected (although we've certainly found some). At the time, my doubts came from being an experimentalist. As an experimentalist, when not taking data, I was analyzing it. This involves a lot of looking at meaningless data points and trying to figure out what they mean, looking for patterns that indicate some phenomenon. I always figured it was similar to what analysts at intelligence agencies do. Separating the signal from the noise is hard enough, even harder for intelligence agencies than experimentalists, but even when you're sure of the facts, it's not always obvious what they mean. When analyzing data, it's very easy to see what you expect to see, even when it's not really there. And thus, before the Iraq war, I was skeptical, since the evidence the Bush administration presented, while weighty, wasn't conclusive, and I had no way of knowing how well they had separated the signal from the noise in the first place (by noise I mean things that simply weren't true, while by signal I mean facts that you may or may not know how to interpret). It bothered me that there was no smoking gun, even with all the intelligence efforts and the weapon inspections.

I guess I wasn't really anti-war, however. Every time I got into a debate with my friends about it, I found myself on the pro-war side. Usually this was because they used the weakest anti-war arguments available, "It's all about the oil!" and "What about international law?" and "Saddam was never a threat!" and "Bush is just trying to avenge the family honor!" All of these were patently false, and war-skeptic that I was, I had to at least disabuse them of these arguments. If they were going to oppose the war, they should use good reasons. Here are the reasons why I thought the war might be a bad idea:

1. The US did not have the will to pursue a successful war against Iraq. Of course, at the time, I did not expect Saddam's government to collapse in three weeks, but this has been somewhat borne out in the opposition to the continuing efforts in the media and the Democratic party, and how the loss of less than a 1000 soldiers is considered unacceptable casualties.

2. The Arab street. Don't laugh! I thought it possible the war in Iraq would spread to other nations. Fortunately, it didn't. My views on the Arab nations and their reactions were wrong, but given what I was reading in the news media, can you blame me?

3. Saddam's threat was overblown. I'm still not sure where I stand on this one, but given our more recent knowledge about his terrorist connections and his weapons program, I'm thinking he was more dangerous than I thought at the time.

4. International law. This was by far the weakest. As I said in my previous post on why I support the war, the international law case is open and shut. Saddam agreed to the terms of a ceasefire, he didn't keep it, therefore the war continued. The question is, with whom did Saddam agree to a ceasefire? The US? Then sure, we can declare the thing voided now that he's broken it and attack. However, if it was with the whole coalition of nations that forced him out of Kuwait, then who could declare it void? The US? The UN Security Council? Would all the nations that took part have to agree? I thought one could make a case for it being the Security Council, but I thought it a pretty weak case.

Now, as I said, I was a skeptic. I balanced the reasons for opposing it against the reasons for supporting it and I didn't know for certain where I stood. Once the war started, I went to full-support. Now that it was underway, we had to see it through, not only for our national prestige and honor (which may just seem to be nice sounding words, but these things are important when it comes to dealing with other nations, friendly and unfriendly), but for the sake of the Iraqis--I remembered what happened after the first Gulf War. It was around this time when I realized that the news media was giving me only parts of the story, talking about how badly we were doing when any fool could look at a map and see that we'd made astounding progress. So I started looking for alternative news sources. I found on MSNBC invaluable for his ability to locate these other sources, which led me to Instapundit (Glenn's other blog), which introduced me to blogs in general. Once I started reading them, I also came to a better understanding of the war and the arguments for and against, which made it easier for me to decide where I stood.

So confession is good for the soul, eh? I'm not sure I meet Dean Esmay's definition of the biggest patriots, but I'll admit his post was part of the inspiration to write this. The other part was that for a long time I've been wanting to make the analogy between experimentalists and intelligence analysts when considering the case for Saddam's WMDs.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Sluggy Freelance Archive Review Week 3: September 8-14, 1997

This is a continuation of the Sluggy Archive Review. It's a chance for you to become familiar with Sluggy Freelance by going through the archives one week each day. You can start here.

Teddy Weddy

Since the guys can't beat Bun-bun, and they can't appease him, they need some other way to get rid of him. Like another "cute" talking animal who can replace him violently. Some thoughts:

1. I liked the Monday comic the best. Yeah, trust Bun-bun to sucessfully play the race card. Cute talking animals can get away with anything.

2. Teddy Weddy ain't exactly cute, but he talks, and he looks like a match for the bunny.

3. "Ka-click." That bunny has a switchblade! And he knows how to use it.

4. PETA's back. This almost makes it worth it.

5. So what is the lop-technique?

Please do not post spoilers, or speculation that looks like a spoiler, in the comments of this post. This has been cross-posted in the Sluggy Freelance forum for all your spoiler needs.

Second Revision Progress

It took a while, but I'm now 58% through A Phoenix in Darkness. Technical difficulties contributed significantly to the delay, but not as much as my personal life. In the end, I'm only a week behind schedule if I can get through an entire section this weekend (well within the realm of possibility).

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Sluggy Freelance Archive Review Week 2: September 1-7, 1997

I've been known to recommend webcomics on this blog. The thing about webcomics is, because the entire archive is online, they tend to be serial, referring to past events and building on old storylines. For that reason, it's best to start from the beginning, but also kind of intimidating to read through six years of webcomics at once. For that reason, I've started the Sluggy Freelance Archive Review. We'll go through the Sluggy Freelance Archives in week-sized chunks. It'll take a while, but this should serve as a good introduction to one of the mainstays of Internet webcomics.

Along Came a Bunny

Now that the guys have a cute talking animal, they want to get rid of him. Unfortunately, Bun-bun fights back, and the pet store won't take returns unless they're broken. A few things to notice:

1. Monday's strip is a classic, the first where we see that not only is Bun-bun rude, he's violent, and he's more than capable of pummeling a nerd-boy ten times his size.

2. He's mischievous. In the sense that he can get you killed and/or fired. Also, it looks like talking animals are not the rule in the Sluggyverse.

3. Riff is doing an animation render. One might think he was a computer artist. What's he rendering, anyway?

4. Riff has no problem murdering cute talking animals. Of course, he has met Bun-bun.

5. While Bun-bun is usually quite intelligent, sometimes his rabbit instincts take over and he does something really stupid.

6. PETA member gets beaten up by the cute talking animal. This is how I knew I liked Pete.

7. What is it with Bun-bun and Baywatch? Why would a rabbit like human women?

Please do not post spoilers, or speculation that looks like spoilers, in the comments of this post. I've cross-posted this on the Sluggy Freelance Forums for all your spoiler needs.

Angel Series Finale

I did watch the Angel series finale last night. I've always liked Angel better than Buffy, the character as well as the series. He was just more interesting and tragic. I also liked the fact that Joss Whedon did a better job of keeping the power-level reasonable in Angel. In the last few seasons of Buffy, Buffy, and especially Willow, had become too powerful, so that it was hard to find challenges for them any longer. In the last season of Angel, the principals had a lot of power, but it was more due to the organization than the characters themselves, and the organization couldn't be trusted.

That leads me to what I found most disappointing about the finale: the manner of Wesley's death. Going into the finale, I thought the chances of Wesley's survival were pretty slim; he's been borderline suicidal since Winnifred's death. Wesley had become one of my favorite characters, growing significantly from the wimp we first encountered on Buffy, and the one thing that I liked the most about him was how smart he was. He had a realistic view of his own abilities, knew where he was weak and where he was strong, and he was able to take on his opponents by finding their weaknesses and exploiting them. While Wesley knew a good bit about magic, he was never shown to be truly powerful in the way that Willow was. Thus, I found the concept of him fighting an uberpowerful sorcerer with magic out-of-character. I kept waiting for him to pull some trick, or at least a pistol (not a switchblade!). (Another reason I liked him was that he used guns. Dramatic as it is, it's unrealistic that in this day and age manually staking vampires is still considered the best way to kill them. Sure, ordinary bullets won't do it, but why hasn't anyone in Whedon's universe thought of this.) Perhaps it was a reflection of his borderline suicidal psyche, but I wouldn't expect him to throw his life away at the cost of the mission. Nor am I convinced that his plan all along was to die in Illyria's arms so she would kill the sorcerer.

I'm also not a huge fan of the cliffhanger ending. Farscape was the worst; this one was at least fun, if infuriatingly inconclusive. But if the rest of them died in the fight at the end, at least they went down appropriately, which is more than I can say for Wesley.

WMDs in the hands of terrorists is bad!

Instapundit points to this article by Collin Levey, which says the same thing I've been saying, that the discovery of this sarin shell is a big deal and it's not good news for any American:
It hadn't been but a few hours since the news broke when former U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix grabbed a microphone somewhere to huff that the discovery meant nothing. Others briskly offered that the shell was more likely the bounty of a scavenger hunt by yahoos who didn't even know what they had.

Fair enough to be sure: At this point, none of us knows. But even forgetting the potency of one drop of liquid sarin, when did the prospect of the accidental use of loose WMDs become reassuring?

Fingers have been chewed to the quick around the world at this same prospect for years. Anyone old enough to drink has probably watched at least one show fretting over the whereabouts of vast stockpiles from the former Soviet Union. Given that Iraq's history of using sarin gas during the Iran-Iraq war and against the Iraqi Kurds is well-documented (Saddam Hussein listed some 800 tons in his possession at one point), a twinge of concern wouldn't be inappropriate.
Sure, every tiddlywink of Iraq news these days will be absorbed into the political machinery of an election campaign in overdrive.

But like the memo informing the Bush administration that Osama bin Laden was maybe possibly thinking about using planes to ill effect, the discovery of a potential weapon of mass terror in Iraq is a warning we could regret missing in hindsight.

It's also a reminder of why we chose this battle in the first place.

Come on, CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, et cetera! I don't particularly care how you spin it as a failure for the Bush administration (I know you can), but you are failing your duty to keep Americans informed. If you can daily terrorize Americans about the dangers of botox injections, fast food, and second-hand smoke, you can at the least get them a little bit concerned about the fact that there are WMDs in the hands of terrorists!


Want to know what the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy is up to? Kate at Small Dead Animals confesses all.

That reminds me, I need to renew my VRWC membership. Maybe I can get one of those fancy new membership cards.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Sluggy Freelance Archive Review Week 1: August 25-31, 1997

I've been known to recommend webcomics on this blog. The thing about webcomics is, because the entire archive is online, they tend to be serial, referring to past events and building on old storylines. For that reason, it's best to start from the beginning, but also kind of intimidating to read through six years of webcomics at once. For that reason, I've started the Sluggy Freelance Archive Review. We'll go through the Sluggy Freelance Archives in week-sized chunks. It'll take a while, but this should serve as a good introduction to one of the mainstays of Internet webcomics.

The First Week

Here is where we first meet Torg and Riff. We notice right away that they're a very self aware bunch, as Torg is addressing the audience in the first comic (Fourth wall, what fourth wall?). Riff, meanwhile, is engaged in a very unconventional use of the Internet: demon summoning. By the time we're done with the good versus evil deathmatch on Riff's hard drive, we meet the strip's cute talking animal, with attitude.

My gut reaction to this week was "eh?" Sluggy always was one of those things that grew on me, like a fungus. Computer mayhem is just too common a theme in webcomics for me to be impressed by this.

Please do not post spoilers, or speculation that looks like a spoiler, in the comments of this post. This has been cross-posted in the Sluggy Freelance forum for all your spoiler needs.

Christian Carnival XVIII

Welcome to this week's Christian Carnival. I've carefully read all these posts before putting them up, and I found them all to be good. This doesn't necessarily mean I agree with all of them (or even any of them), but it does mean that they're all worth reading. I believe I got everybody's submission, but as I was shuffling through two e-mail accounts, it's possible I missed some. If you sent me an e-mail but don't see your post, just e-mail me again at the address in the sidebar. I've grouped the posts by topics, although I had no particular strategy for choosing topics aside from what suggested itself from what people wrote.


Bob at Mr. Standfast shares a Prayer Request for a friend.

Mr. Standfast's request inspired Rebecca Writes to share a "A Few Thoughts on Prayer," including the importance of telling other people you are praying for them.

Bryan at Spare Change argues that our prayers need to be more like instant messages than snail mail. If you have no idea what this means, you should read his post "Instant Messaging."


Darren at Nicene Theology has a post called "The One-upmanship of Evil," describing how an appropriate response to Nick Berg's violence requires us to overcome evil with good.

La Shawn Barber looks at the war with a Christian perspective in "Onward Christian Soldiers."

Theism and Naturalism

Jeremy Pierce at Parablemania writes about miracles, naturalism, and God's will in "God's Will and Naturalism."

John Zimmer from Letters from Babylon has the latest post on whether naturalism is a necessary assumption in science, "Methodological Naturalism and the Proper Scope of Science, Revisited."


Intolerant Elle talks about how teaching spiritual Greeks is different from instructing spiritual Jews in "Thai Greeks."

Douglas Bass at Belief Seeking Understanding tries to understand "A Verse Many People Don't Get...", specifically John 14:12, which says: "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father."

Warren at View from the Pew thinks the Southern Baptists Convention's decision to encourage its members to abandon public schools is a mistake. "Why yield ground to the Enemy?" he argues in "Christians and Public Education."

The Church

Karen Marie Knapp at From the Anchor Hold says that Catholics should not be asking "What's the least I can do to be saved?" but "What more can I do?" in her post "Maximal Catholic Living: Spiritual Fitness Program for Beginners and the Out-of-Shape." There's good advice here for us non-Catholics as well.

Hal Paxton at The Great Separation considers a tough pro-life question in "Mother, who Refused a Medically Advised Abortion, Dies."

Samantha Pierce at Uncle Sam's Cabin takes issue with those who say women shouldn't speak at all in church, in her post "Women Should be Silent in Churches."

Thoughts and Feelings

The verb (aka Jeff) at Kingdom Come has posted "On Sensuality." Sensuality is not synonymous with sexuality, and neither is inherently evil.

Marla Swoffer of Proverbial Wife has some ideas about why both thinking and feeling are incomplete ways of experiencing the world in "Subjective Objections".

Dawn Xiana Moon has a post about community and suburbia called "Language Falters."

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Understanding the Left

Doc Rampage has a long but fascinating post entitled "talking past each other." (Doc doesn't capitalize his post titles. No, I don't get it either.) Here's an excerpt:
The difference in a nut shell: the left believes that the measure of a society is how well it produces good people. The right thinks that the measure of a society is how well it controls bad people. To the left, if a society has bad people that need to be controlled, then it is a failure already. To the right, society has little impact on how good a person is, it can only control their more harmful actions.

I think Doc is largely correct. There's one thing I don't think he addressed fully:
This view of the left is also what compels them to piousness on issues of conflict. If someone is violent, it is because someone failed to adjust the perpetrator's inputs properly. So conservatives act to control the worst elements of human nature and leftists sniff, "Well, just don't have such elements." They always seem to think that if we would only be nicer to criminals, crime would vanish. There is the implicit suggestion that if you would only be nicer to criminals, crime would vanish. When the left asked after 9/11, "Why do they hate us?" it was clear from their answers that what they really meant was "Why do they hate you?", meaning conservatives, capitalists, and Christians -- the three C's of Evil or C3oE. And what they mean is that the C3oE is not on board with the effort to reprogram all those nasty violent people into bucolic Europhiles.

If you want to know what the Islamofascists hate most about America, it isn't the Christians. It's the liberals. When they look at America, what disgusts them? The sexual propaganda of our entertainment, for one. The secularism, for another. Glorification of homosexuality, abortion, the dissolution of marriage, post-modernism, the denunciation of religion... If they ever succeed in turning America into a Muslim country, we Christians will suffer, certainly. The liberals will be lucky to survive.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Christian Carnival

The Christian Carnival goes up on Wednesday. You have until 8 pm EST Tuesday night to make a submission. E-mail me (e-mail's in the sidebar) the following information:

Title of your Blog
URL of your Blog
Title of your post
URL linking to that post
Description of the Post

I've received nine submissions thus far. There's still plenty of room.

Sarin used in attack in Iraq, or Terrorists have WMDs!

To the surprise of no one but the liberals, there's been another attempt to use chemical weapons against the US and its allies. (The first attempt was the foiled plot in Jordan.)

Once again, where's the panic? I realize that the liberals are in full denial mode, and either conservatives are just calmer, or that's just wishful thinking and they're too busy gloating. Still, while I'm not usually given to panic and there's still the possibility that this will be a false alarm, someone needs to sound the alarm, false or not:

Terrorists have WMDs.

We went to Iraq hoping to prevent it. We're hoping against hope we can contain North Korea and curb Iran and intimidate Syria all to keep this from happening. It's too late, though:

Terrorists have WMDs.

We knew it might have already happened. We knew they were working on it, but we were hoping they wouldn't be able to develop them, that their plans to acquire them would fail. We hoped and prayed they didn't have them. But they do:

Terrorists have WMDs.

Liberals, go ahead and spin it as a terrible failure of the Bush doctrine. Conservatives, point out that Bush was right all along and that we have to be even more aggressive. Just don't bury it or minimize it or say that there's nothing we can do. Like it or not, the nightmare scenario has happened. The world hasn't ended, and I'm not ready to go buy a gas mask, but can we please drop the arguments over whether we should have gone to war in the first place? While the way we question prisoners is still a legitimate question, let's not pretend that we don't desperately need the information they have. Debate how ethical it is to apply extreme interrogation techniques, but at least acknowledge that we're trying to save thousands of lives by doing so. The mistreatment of Ba'athist prisoners, the horrible murders of civilian contractors, none of these matter as much as one thing:

Terrorists have WMDs.

Update: Stupid quotation marks! The links were broken, but they're fixed now.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Explosions Expedite Change!

By now everyone has done a "Straight Eye for the Gay Guy" parody, but I thought Riff's take on home remodeling worth noting.

Week in Review

Well, this is two days late, and I didn't even write one for the previous week. Still, let's review, shall we?

Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: A Primer -- I try to explain the difference in this first post on the topic. Since both these terms are pretty vague, there's some disagreement. I'm not done with this topic, by the way.

Abu Ghraib -- I wade into the Abu Ghraib debate.

Fallujah Update -- A few thoughts on the progress in the Fallujah situation.

Prisoner Interrogation -- I ask more questions than I answer when I discuss how far you can go questioning prisoners when lives are at risk and there are no legal impediments.

Homicide Bombers -- Sometimes the conservative media irritates me too.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Weekly Webcomic Update

We're on time this week, maybe even a few hours early.

Sluggy Freelance -- It looks like they aren't hitmen afterall, but freelance bums. Now it's time for a "Queer Eye" parody.

Day by Day -- There's plenty of discussion about Abu Ghraib, plus the disparity between the coverage of Abu Ghraib and Nick Berg's murder.

It's Walky! -- It's Walky to the rescue, with a little help from Melonpool.

College Roomies from Hell! -- Dave loses hope, Mike changes clothes, and Roger meets some mythological creatures. There's a good chance the guys will be together for the big finale.

General Protection Fault -- Fooker's back! Now if only he and Sharon would stop missing one another.

Schlock Mercenary -- Schlock talks to his lawyer. If only he didn't think Schlock was guilty.

Update: I bumped this post to put it at the very end of the week.

Homicide Bombers

All right, time for one of my pet peeves. Since I complain often enough about the mainstream (i.e., liberal) media, I ought to toss a complaint in the direction of Fox News. And this is it. I think their use of the term "homicide bomber" rather than "suicide bomber" is, well I was going to say silly, but that seems wrong for such a grim subject matter. I know that it comes from something President Bush said, saying that suicide bombers are really homicide bombers. When he said it, it was a rhetorical device denying suicide bombers the matyrdom they tried to claim. The fact that Fox uses the term for all suicide bombers annoys me. Suicide bombing is accurate and specific. They are detonating bombs which kill themselves in the process. Homicide bombing is, while not exactly inaccurate, not very specific. Any terrorist using bombs is trying to kill people, but the term homicide bomber doesn't really tell me whether the method the bomber was using would have killed himself as well. Or rather, it does, but only because I already know "homicide bomber" really means "suicide bomber." I know Fox wants to be different, but did they really have to adopt the term "homicide bomber"? I'd be happier if they called the "insurgents" terrorists, which would be more accurate.

Update: A bit of rewriting for clarity. Nothing substantive.

New Post: I'm not the only one who thinks this way. More above.

Blogging Cartoonist

Howard Tayler, the artist behind Schlock Mercenary, has started a Live Journal blog. Welcome to the blogosphere, Mr. Tayler. Now if we could only convince Pete Abrams to start blogging. Come on, Pete, everybody's doing it. No, it's not just an intricate plot to get me another Instalanche.

In other news, Mr. Tayler likes Cox and Forkum's politics. I suspected he was a political conservative.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Rumsfeld uses my analogy

It looks like Rumsfeld is using my analogy:
On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (search) did suggest that Iraqi troops might be on their own sooner than they would like. He said Iraqi forces are being trained, and the process is similar to teaching a child to ride a bicycle.

"They might wobble and fall, in which case you pick them up, dust them off, put them back up. But if you don't take your finger off, you're going to end up with a 40-year-old that can't ride a bike," he said.

(From Fox News)

Here's what I said:
I think our primary reason for waiting [before moving on Fallujah] has been to give us a chance to bring in the Iraqis. Remember, the handover is on June 30th. By then, the Iraqis will have to be able to handle their own problems. Oh, we'll still be there, and we'll still be hunting down terrorists and Ba'athists (assuming there's a difference), but the more the Iraqis do for themselves, the better. They'll look less like US puppets, they'll develop their own sense of mission and pride, and in many ways, they can be more effective in this job than we can. By bringing them in now, while the US is still in control, we're teaching them how to handle the problems they'll deal with later. It's like having the training wheels of American support as they learn to ride the bike of self-rule... Okay, I'll stop now before this metaphor becomes like one of Dave Barry's.

I guess we Donalds think alike. I better not mention this to the other Donald, as he doesn't particularly like Rumsfeld.

Story Progress

I've almost caught up to where I should have been last weekend, but I've run into a problem. I need to do some research for technical accuracy. That may put me a bit behind.

Prisoner Interrogation

Captain Ed links to a New York Times article describing how the CIA was authorized to use harsh interrogation techniques:
The Central Intelligence Agency has used coercive interrogation methods against a select group of high-level leaders and operatives of Al Qaeda that have produced growing concerns inside the agency about abuses, according to current and former counterterrorism officials.

At least one agency employee has been disciplined for threatening a detainee with a gun during questioning, they said.

In the case of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a high-level detainee who is believed to have helped plan the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, C.I.A. interrogators used graduated levels of force, including a technique known as "water boarding," in which a prisoner is strapped down, forcibly pushed under water and made to believe he might drown.

These techniques were authorized by a set of secret rules for the interrogation of high-level Qaeda prisoners, none known to be housed in Iraq, that were endorsed by the Justice Department and the C.I.A. The rules were among the first adopted by the Bush administration after the Sept. 11 attacks for handling detainees and may have helped establish a new understanding throughout the government that officials would have greater freedom to deal harshly with detainees.

The last statement seems unlikely. If the rules were secret, how could they generate a "new understanding" for people who knew nothing about them?

Still, there's an important question which arises here: What are the limits to how you interrogate terrorists? These are not US citizens, protected by our Constitutional rights, nor are they POWs, since it would take an extensive re-writing of the Geneva Convention to classify them as such. So there are no legal limitations, just moral ones. What moral duty do you have to preserve the dignity and well-being of one human being when the cost of doing so may be the death of hundreds or thousands of others? Interrogation is used in criminal investigations as well, but the rules governing it are much stronger in that case. Clearly, you need to be able to do more than politely ask questions. So we need to allow at least intimidating body language and raised voices. How about warm or cold rooms? Sleep deprivation? Humiliation? Restraints? Long periods of solitary confinement? Physical threats? Physical abuse? Where's the line here? In the case of Abu Ghraib, everyone agrees that the soldiers crossed the line. In the circumstances described in the article above, it looks like threatening with a gun is over the line, but waterboarding is not (although it sure sounds like it should be).

At an initial glance, the ideal solution would be one not requiring these sort of techniques. It'd be much better if we could give the prisoners some drug which would make them answer questions, truthfully. I doubt there is such a drug (Sodium Pentathol's effect is to lower inhibitions, which doesn't guarantee truthfulness), but if there were, would its use be problematic? I don't see why it would be in questioning terrorists. What about criminal suspects? Surely it would be, since the Fifth Amendment denies the government the ability to coerce citizens to testify against themselves. What about a terrorist who is also a US citizen? Even if there are thousands of lives at risk, are we unable to use the drug? Could a suspect waive this right and take the drug in an attempt to prove his innocence?

Clearly, I'm asking more questions than I'm answering here. Any thoughts?

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Nicholas Berg

The brutal beheading of Nicholas Berg was supposedly in retaliation for the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. The fact that the terrorists blamed the Abu Ghraib atrocities for Nick Berg's beheading tells us more about the media-savviness of the terrorists than their motivation. Nicholas Berg was kidnapped two weeks before the scandal broke. The circumstances were odd, as you'll notice if you read the first article. He clearly wasn't kidnapped because of the prisoner abuse. He may have been taken because he was more vulnerable, since he wasn't attached to the military or the CPA. There may have been some other reason. Once he was taken, his odds of survival were slim.

The Situation in Iraq, Part n

There's a very good post at the Belmont Club about the situation in Iraq. It looks like we're winning. It's been slow--I expected it to be over much more quickly, but the commanders have acted with subtlety rather than brute force, which is slower, and frustrating to those of us who can't see what's happening, but the result looks to be better than I expected.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Accepting Christian Carnival Submissions

I'll be hosting the next Christian Carnival. Here's the information from the e-mail Nick Queen sent to people:
This coming Wednesday is the next Christian Carnival, and will be hosted at Back of the Envelope.

If you have a blog, this will be a great way to get read, and possibly pick up readers in the process, or highlight your favorite post from the past week.

To enter is simple. First your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are political (or otherwise) in nature from a Christian point of view. Then do the following:

email Donald at

Provide the following:

Title of your Blog
URL of your Blog
Title of your post
URL linking to that post
Description of the Post

Cut off date is Tuesday by 8 PM EST.

You can also send the e-mail to my alum address listed in the sidebar. It'll get to me either way.

Fallujah Update

Old Post: My last post on Fallujah was here.

Hugh Hewitt has posted a letter from a Marine in Fallujah which gives some insight into the strategy there:
We are approaching a very significant phase in Fallujah. Very soon, we will execute the first "joint patrol" into the city. The concept is that Marines and elements of the new Iraqi force will enter the town together. To suggest that the cessation of hostilities is fragile is an understatement. The environment is very fluid and one day things look better but the next we gather intelligence that suggests we are making a mistake. The leadership has gone way out on a limb here making a tremendous gamble that the course of action decided on will bring some degree of stability to this area.

Of course, in order to allow the Fallujans a chance to stabilize themselves, we must eat a little crow. We know that people are running around the city proclaiming that the Marines were defeated and the insurgents stopped us. To our dismay, this has even been picked up by our own media. Again, I can barely stand to read it. However, we fully realize that the only way the Iraqis will take control of their own destiny is to regain some of their long lost self image/national pride. They were crushed by Saddam brutally for 35 years, the last 12 of which, the US also had its way with them. They saw us cut right through the worlds 4th largest military in 1991 and then enforce no fly zones along with limited offensive actions against them with impunity for the next 12 years. Finally, we destroyed a regime and occupied their country in less than 3 weeks last year.

Regardless of whether or not the Iraqis hated Saddam, all of these elements above resulted in a tremendous amount of shame in this culture. Later, when we captured Saddam and put pictures and stories in the media of him surrendering like a lamb and sticking his tongue out for doctors, that was further humiliation. Until they start to feel some pride in themselves as a nation, we cannot expect them to want to vest themselves in its future. If that means we have to stand by and let them strut, that is what we will do. It is very hard to swallow as there is not a Marine here who does not know in his heart that we could have taken the entire city down if we were allowed. The whole environment requires discipline and confidence.

This is pretty much in line with what I was thinking: the idea is to put the Iraqis in charge of their own security. A lot of bloggers think the administration has gone soft on Fallujah. While I think putting the Iraqis in charge is the right idea, I'm worried that looking weak could make things worse for us, even if it's better for Iraq. However, as I've said before, I hope the commanders in the field know what they are doing.

New Christian Carnival Online

The Christian Carnival is up at Spare Change. Included are posts at Parablemania and View from the Pew concerning the Evangelical and Fundamentalist debate. I do intend to get back into this, probably by the end of the week.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Nanotechnology misconceptions

John Zimmer at Letters from Babylon has some interesting thoughts on nanotechnology and how it's viewed in the media. If that post doesn't deserve an Instalanche, I don't know what does. As an inorganic materials chemist, Zimmer's more qualified to talk about the subject than most bloggers, including myself. (I may do quantum computation, but most of it's mesoscopic quantum systems.)

Abu Ghraib

I haven't commented on this yet, mostly because there doesn't seem to be much to say. The behavior of the accused soldiers was reprehensible; they should be punished to the full extent of the law, which I think will become increasingly difficult with all the publicity. Which brings me to my main point: can we move on? This story ceased to be front page news a week ago, and yet everytime I take a look at Rochester's paper (The Democrat and Chronicle), there it is as the top article. Today's article is "Bush Shown New Torture Pics," although I may have the phrasing wrong (the actual headline is not online). There may be an important story there somewhere, but there must be other news going on in the world. It clearly wasn't important enough to warrant front page treatment on the website, where the lead article is about the Lilac Festival. I don't want to hear any more about the ins and outs of the investigation than I wanted to know about the details of the OJ trial or the Rodney King beating trial. I may have been curious, but in each case I think justice would have been better served had the media not decided it was part of the jury.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Story Progress

In case you're wondering about the story progress, it's going slowly. I got next to nothing done this weekend for obvious reasons. Call it 41%. I'll try to make it up during the week, but I can't make any promises.


It turns out Dean Esmay is an INTJ according to the Myers-Briggs test. I was rated that way too the last time I took the test, which must have been eight or nine years ago, which means I'm Introverted, iNtuitive, Thinking, and Judging. Although I'm always a little bit skeptical of tests that ask you questions about yourself and then tell you things about yourself, especially those that are hard to answer objectively and easy to answer in such a way that you'll get the result you expect, I do think Myers-Briggs is more or less accurate. I'd be a little bit hesitant to make major decisions based on it, so I haven't read the books telling you how to choose a career or a spouse based on your Myers-Briggs personality type.

Yes, I'm posting again.

You probably already noticed due to my previous post.

One of the more macabre things I noticed is that a lot of Google searches for information on my friend's death are leading people here. These are probably MIT people, as he was well known on the MIT campus and MIT students certainly know how to use Google. I do mention him in some old posts, but I don't know any more about his death than anyone else yet. I probably won't post it on this blog when I do find out.

Don't expect too much from me right away, but I'm sure I'll be posting something every day, even if I don't feel like jumping back into the long, intensive Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism posts.

Sunday, May 09, 2004


There's a nice article on anti-anti-communism in Reason:
More broadly, people like Schrecker can’t or won’t understand that their culture of denial is what created McCarthyism. It was the palpable indifference of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations toward Communist penetration of the American government that finally triggered the backlash led by HUAC [House Unamerican Activities Committee] and McCarthy. McCarthy’s accusation that Roosevelt ushered in "20 years of treason" is an absurd exaggeration. But if Roosevelt didn’t deserve to be executed as a spy, he most certainly ought to have been horsewhipped for his cavalier dismissal of Whittaker Chambers’ accusations. As early as 1939, Chambers warned Roosevelt about Alger Hiss and named at least 12 other U.S. officials who would later be proved Soviet spies. Roosevelt airily told his aides that Chambers could "go fuck himself." The spies kept passing secrets to Moscow for another nine years, until HUAC began making noises about the case. Chambers’ warning was only one of several by regretful spies during that period that first Roosevelt and then Truman ignored. Truman was so lackadaisical that the military code breakers working on the Venona Project kept it secret from him for fear word would leak back to the Soviets.

Fifty years later, the pattern is repeating itself. The character assassinations and lies of the die-hard defenders of American communism have given rise to a movement to rehabilitate McCarthy and other bully-boy anti-communists of the 1940s and ’50s. Some efforts of this movement, such as George Washington University historian Arthur Herman’s Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America’s Most Hated Senator, are relatively judicious attempts to correct some of the exaggerations about McCarthy -- for instance, the widely repeated but totally erroneous claim that he never correctly identified a single Communist. Others, such as conservative attack-blonde Ann Coulter’s Treason, attempt a radical makeover. McCarthy (who accused everybody from Harry Truman to George Marshall of secret Soviet sympathies) was actually too charitable, Coulter argues; he was too tenderhearted to say, as she does, that all liberals -- everybody from Lyndon Johnson to Tom Daschle -- are traitors at heart. "Whenever the nation is under attack, from within or without, liberals side with the enemy," Coulter writes. "This is their essence."

That’s idiotic, to be sure, but no more so than American University historian Anna Kasten Nelson’s argument that Venona isn’t important because there are all kinds of good reasons a perfectly innocent person might be secretly passing microfilm to a KGB agent. (No, she doesn’t list any of them.) "It is time to move on," she wrote recently, instead of "rehashing old debates" (because, you know, historians get bored with old stuff). Then there’s the psychobabble contention of Bard College’s Joel Kovel that J. Edgar Hoover hunted spies not because foreign espionage is against the law but because he had some previously undiscovered Freudian condition in which anti-communism "might be interchangeably a womb or anus." Writing stuff like that amounts to handing the Coulters of the world a loaded gun and daring them to pull the trigger. As somebody once said: Have you no sense of decency, Sir?

Communism killed 93 million people. I have little patience for its apologists.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Weekly Webcomic Update

This is, unsurprisingly, a few days late. I'll move it to the proper point in the archives later.

Sluggy Freelance -- Torg and Riff get a new job--as hitmen?!

Day by Day -- Kerry, Bush, and Bill O'Reilly all get spots in this week's Day by Day.

It's Walky! -- Sarah catches up with Walky and Joyce to warn them about the attack.

College Roomies from Hell! -- The sub sinks, as does the Mad Doc, and Dave meets an angel.

General Protection Fault -- Sharon goes on her trip to France with her good friend, Craig. Unfortunately, there's a spy looking to infiltrate the conference.

Schlock Mercenary -- So they've collected the forensic evidence. Someone needs to tell the cops to keep the lawyer drones away from Schlock.

Update: I've now moved this to its correct place in the archives.

Friday, May 07, 2004

I need some time...

I just received word that a friend of mine from MIT has died. I've just begun trying to process it. I trust you'll understand if I don't post anything for a while.

Are we done yet?

You've probably noticed my major theme for this past week: I've been talking almost exclusively about the difference between evangelicalism and fundamentalism. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, I've been pretty busy at work, so I haven't had that much time for blogging. Second, the evangelicalism and fundamentalism posts take a lot of time to compose, so most of my blogging time has been spent writing those. Finally, since my initial post was linked to by Glenn Reynolds, I figured I should milk it for all it's worth respond to some of the comments that have come up. Doc Rampage's post in particular made me realize that I needed to explain the inerrancy of scripture and being born again in more detail. It looks like I still have two more posts to write: one explaining what it means to be born again, and one which summarizes the blogosphere response and my response to the response. I should be done with this subject by the end of the week, and be back to my normal posting schedule.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: The Inerrancy of Scripture

Old Post: I promised I would discuss the inerrancy of the Bible in a post below.

The Intervarsity statement of faith I quoted earlier says that one of its founding principles is the belief in
The unique divine inspiration, entire trustworthiness, and authority of the Bible.

This is a very strong statement about the Bible and its authority, but it is very careful not to say that the Bible is inerrant. I remember that this was an important point during the discussion of whether this statement of faith should be adopted by MIT's Graduate Christian Fellowship. The basic fundamentalist understanding of the Bible is that if it is not a word-for-word dictation from God to the human writers, God at the least vouches for every word. Some evangelicals would agree, but many of them would not go that far. They believe the Bible is what it claims to be, and that God's inspiration made sure of that. Some books of the Bible claim to be direct dictation from God: the prophets, Revelation, and parts of the Pentateuch, for example. On these parts, evangelicals and fundamentalists would be in agreement. The Gospels, however, are a different matter. They claim to be eyewitness accounts (or in the case of Luke, a thoroughly researched history) of the life of Jesus. Thus, when there's disagreement between the gospels, such as the differences between the Resurrection accounts, an evangelical can just say that these differences are no greater than any difference in eyewitness accounts of such an eventful and hectic morning (as Lee Strobel argues in The Case for Christ). The fundamentalist must reconcile these differences, because he believes that any difference would be God contradicting himself.

All fundamentalists hold to sola scriptura, and I’d guess that most evangelicals do, but not all. Sola scriptura is the belief that the Bible alone is the supreme authority for Christian believers, and that all other authority derives from it. On the other hand, the Catholic Church places the highest authority not on the Bible, but on apostolic succession, the idea being that Jesus chose his apostles to be leaders in the Church and gave them authority, who then gave authority to their successors, and so on, through today, where the Pope is the direct heir of that succession. Some other churches also believe in Apostolic succession, such as the Orthodox and Anglican churches, although they don't believe the Pope is the direct heir. As I understand it, the authority granted by apostolic succession weakens the further removed the successor is from Jesus: thus Jesus's own words have absolute authority, the writings of Jesus's apostles have the next greatest authority, then the early church fathers, becoming weaker and weaker throughout the years. Those churches view the Bible’s authority as deriving from apostolic succession, as the Old Testament is vetted by Jesus and the apostles (in Jesus's day, there was disagreement about which parts of the Old Testament were truly authoritative: the Christian church has more or less decided which books had authority according to what Jesus and his apostles said about them, although there are some complications), the New Testament is written by those first apostles, and later codified by others in the early apostolic succession. Therefore, even in the tradition of apostolic succession, the Bible has greater authority than any other writing, but the authority of the apostles is its source.

As I said, evangelicals place great emphasis on the authority of the Bible, although not all of them claim it is inerrant. And while most of them believe that the Bible is the source of all Christian authority, the movement also includes those who believe that the authority of the Bible derives from apostolic succession. All evangelicals believe that the Bible directly applies to their lives, and put great emphasis on studying the Bible and putting it into practice.

Update: Jeremy Pierce of Parablemania has a lot of good comments. Some of them are about details I glossed over in this post, read his comments to find out which. Two of the things he said are pretty important:
I wonder if your explanation on gospel accounts is a dodge. Are there errors in some of the accounts? If so, then even evangelicals are hard pressed to agree. This is perhaps one of the places where some people want to call themselves evangelicals when I'm not sure I want to give them the name. Do they deny the infallibility of the Bible? Perhaps not, but if the gospel accounts are merely reports of what some people remembered, and it turns out that their memory was faulty, it's not an attitude toward scripture that I would consider consistent with evangelicalism.

Jeremy makes a good point, and this is the reason I tend to be more on the inerrancy side of things. Those who claim scripture is authoritative but not inerrant have two points in their favor. The first is that even if the differences in the gospels are errors due to faulty memories, the agreement between them is great enough that no essential Christian doctrines are in question, and are all attested to by multiple witnesses. This isn't a reason to believe it to be the case, but rather a reason that believing it doesn't necessarily put you outside of orthodox Christian thought. The second, and I think more convincing point, is that the gospels don't claim to be divine revelations, or more specifically, the divinity they're revealing is Jesus himself and their accounts of him. Again and again in Acts and the Letters, the apostles use their eyewitness status in their preaching, and the gospels are the eyewitness accounts with some commentary, the amount of which varies from gospel to gospel. I believe that the commentary there is (John has the most) is given the same authority as the Letters, written by those with a special relationship with and knowledge of God, granted authority to be His witnesses.

Evangelicals who believe this don't use their uncertainty to argue against doctrine so much as to reconcile the differences in the accounts. Those who do use this belief to question essential doctrine, such as the Jesus seminar ("Jesus never would have taught his disciples the Lord's prayer!") fall outside my definition of evangelical. Of course, it could be that this belief is more on the left edge of evangelicalism than I realized. Remember, I've lived in Boston for the last seven years.

Jeremy also says he's "never heard of this gradual dilution of authority view before." My "as I understand it" disclaimer probably wasn't strong enough. My knowledge of Catholicism comes mainly from my conversations with Catholics, many self-described evangelicals, rather than personal study of Catholic doctrine. They may have been more atypical of Catholics than I thought, or I may not have understood them very well. I'm fairly certain they held the Bible to be a higher authority than the Church fathers, with less authority being granted to more recent writings. The "dilution" may have been more how I viewed that understanding than they did. They probably would deny there was any conflict between the writings, but I think they would view the Bible as more foundational.


Dean Esmay is working on a novel and wants to know whether it's better to seek out an agent or to just send it to a publisher. Having looked into it myself (my magnum opus is at 90,000 words--take that, Dean!), I can tell him that according to every source I've checked, it's much, much, much better to seek out an agent. For practical advice about writing and getting published, I recommend Stephen King's On Writing or Richard Cohen's The Writer's Mind.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Christian Carnival XVI

Parablemania is hosting the latest Christian Carnival. Check out what Christians around the blogosphere are discussing.

Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: More details

Old Post: This post addresses some of the comments to my previous post.

In case you're curious, I grew up in Southern Baptist churches. Since my family moved around a lot, I went to quite a few of them. Not all Southern Baptists are fundamentalists, but a lot of them are. At one time I would have called myself a fundamentalist, but now I call myself an evangelical. My doctrinal beliefs have changed some, but I still agree with most Southern Baptist doctrine. The main difference is that I no longer think that what makes someone a faithful Christian is the doctrine they believe in. As long as they agree with the minimal evangelical foundational beliefs, I believe that their faithfulness is demonstrated by how they love God and how they love others. It is not for me to judge whether someone is a good Christian or not, although there is a place for correction when someone is clearly going astray, but it is the responsibility of every believer to encourage every other believer to faithfully follow Christ. I no longer think this means trying to convince them to agree with my doctrines.

In my previous post I pointed out that the thing that separated evangelicals from orthodox mainstream Christianity was the emphasis on evangelism: hence the name evangelical. I should probably have pointed out as well that there is a strong emphasis on the Bible as the word of God, an emphasis that is not shared in all orthodox denominations. Evangelicals believe in studying the Bible, both individually and in small group Bible study, believing it to be the way God most directly communicates with his people today. This emphasis is the reason evangelicalism is stronger in Protestant churches than Catholic churches. Catholic doctrine views the Bible differently, and while they aren't opposed to studying the Bible, they don't usually encourage it in the same way Protestants do. That doesn't mean that there are no Catholic evangelicals, but it is a stronger movement in the Protestant church. (And yes, this may get angry responses, but I'm merely explaining it as well as I understand it from my discussions with Catholic evangelicals.)

In the comments, Jim M says:
I guess the most succinct way of saying the whole thing is that Evangelicals consider Fundamentalists as part of their movement, Fundamentalists do not include most Evangelicals in theirs

My personal experience has probably colored my views, but I think this is not entirely accurate. One of the important differences is that evangelicalism is a uniting movement, trying to find the common Christian heritage among various denominations. For that reason, while fundamentalism's doctrine is not too distant from what a lot of evangelicals believe, its reluctance to accept differing beliefs puts them outside of the evangelical movement.

superfly says:
Another difference is in the prohibition of some activities by fundamentalist. Most fundmentalist are opposed to any drinking of alcohol, but most evagelicals are not opposed to all alcohol use. There are also differences within the groups about charasmatic gifting. There may be some surveys to back this up.

There is some of this among fundamentalist churches. From my personal experience, fundamentalists aren't quite so legalistic as non-fundamentalists seem to believe.

I also see that Doc Rampage has commented on my post. I'll discuss some of the blogosphere responses in a later post.

Update: Having had a chance to read Doc Rampage's post, I see why he's upset. In my response, I'll talk a bit about sola scriptura and why I think it's not a common denominator among evangelicals. (For one, quite a few denominations have doctrine that would be incompatible with evangelicalism if it were.) The "born again" reference will require some discussion as well. While I believe that being born again is necessary, describing how we gain a relationship with Christ, I am no longer convinced that being born again has the rather narrow definition that I learned growing up.

In addition, I should clarify some of what I said in this post. Being a Christian requires a relationship with Christ, an adoption into the family of God, being born again. What gaining this looks like is something I plan to discuss later. When I say that doctrine does not matter, I need to be careful, since, obviously, certain doctrines do matter. Clearly you cannot be an evangelical Christian and believe that Jesus is not the Son of God, or believe that the Resurrection never happened. The eight point statement of faith I quoted summarizes what the most important beliefs are, including the importance of the Bible, which informs the remainder of our beliefs. (Certainly, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses do not fit the definition of evangelical Christian.) However, evangelicals look around at the various denominations of Christianity and see faithful Christians in all of them. (They might be rarer in some denominations than others.) Then they look at the differences in doctrines, and wonder whether they're as important as they were thought to be when all these denominations split off from one another because of their doctrinal differences.

New Post: I discuss why evangelicals don't consider the inerrancy of scripture to be central to their faith above.