Monday, February 11, 2013

Hope clouds observation--for the Right and Left alike

Man-caused global warming, if acknowledged fully, would severely crimp the short-term profits of many very large corporations--along with the lifestyle of the average American.

So it doesn't exist. Not for those corporations and right-wing Americans at least.

Evolution, if acknowledged fully, would mean that important scriptural works like the Bible and the Q'uran must be taken figuratively, not literally.

So it doesn't exist--not for fundamentalists at least. And that's a majority of Americans.

The overpopulation crisis, if acknowledged fully, would lead to all nations adopting China's One Child policy, providing every form of birth control to everyone with no questions asked--including abortion--as well as leading to a poorer lifestyle for everyone in graying rich country populations, as well as leading to a disproportionate need to reduce nonwhite populations on the whole, for exigent reasons. 

So it doesn't exist--not for doctrinaire right wingers, due to the abortion aspect and the lifestyle crimp aspect--and not for doctrinaire left wingers, due to the nonwhite aspect leaving one open to accusations of racism.

President Obama's intelligence and discipline have been obvious and repeatedly demonstrated for decades. But he's a black man. And black men are not intelligent--not if you're an angry old white man of the Southern persuasion.

So the President's intelligence doesn't exist. Remember all the right wing japes about him only being clever when he had a teleprompter? Not to mention all the other nonsense they've said about his smarts. 

Race makes racism possible. But racism is wrong. So race doesn't exist. At least not if you're a doctrinaire leftist. 

I was thinking about that last one yesterday when the NY Times published a longish essay by a philosophy professor about how race is a "social construct" yada yada.

Hundreds comments mostly agreed with the good professor, blathering endlessly about how there's no such thing as race.

Here's my comment, which you can see in the thread near the end:

The Republican Party's hostility to both science and scientific thought is so blatant and widespread that's it's easy to overlook the ways in which doctrinaire Leftists show the same character defect.

What I glean from this article and most of the comments is how easy it is to get a Liberal Arts college degree without learning even the rudiments of science. Instead we see smug academic parochialism.

Race is a feature of every kind of living organism, not just people. It's the first step towards speciation--the way in which evolution leads to a different species, genus, family, order, class, and even phylum. The human species started out as a race of proto-hominid that evolved into a separate species--ours--which then spread out and started to subdivide, in the same way that other species of organisms do--through geographical and/or ecological isolation, with differing evolutionary pressures on each isolated gene pool. 

Only two kinds of people deny that human beings are living creatures that evolved like other living creatures: religious fundamentalists and liberals--strange bedfellows indeed.

You can't deny that there are human races unless you also deny that there are different races of, say, corn, or cats, or malaria. Yet no one in this thread has talked about our species in the context of the rest of Earth's biosphere.

A Liberal Arts BA needs to include far better grounding in science and critical thinking in general.


I added some details about just what "race" means scientifically as a response to another comment in the thread:

 The evolution of one species of living organism into two or more starts with gene pools of that species becoming geographically and/or ecologically isolated (eating different kinds of foods, for example), leading to that species developing into different races, as any introductory biology course would teach.

Thus Orientals and Caucasians differentiated from common stock in western Asia roughly 50,000 years ago, when the former moved east and the latter, west. Orientals had to evolve adaptations to the harsh winters of the central Asian steppes, including the epicanthic fold, while Caucasians had to evolve lighter skin so they could still synthesize Vitamin D under the cloudy skies of western Europe.

Racial differentiation usually continues to the point where individuals from the isolated groups can no longer produce fertile offspring when they try to interbreed. This process is called speciation.

For example, horses and donkeys--different species of the same genus--can reproduce but the offspring (mules/hinnies) are not fertile. In time, in the natural environment, their descendants would no longer be able to produce any offspring at all--as is now the case with their more distant cousins the tapirs and rhinoceroses.

How anyone with a college education might imagine that homo sapiens is exempt from these evolutionary processes, to which all other living organisms are subject, is beyond me.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Drones: war criminals or winged justice?

The problem with drones is that using them to kill people not on the battlefield per se doesn't fit neatly into our existing categories of "war" and "police work."

This may seem like a new problem, but it isn't. It's a problem that reappears every time the rules of the game(s) change.

Take the American Revolution. The Brits thought we were war criminals because we didn't always meet them on the field of battle--where their highly disciplined Redcoats could make up for the slow firing pattern of the flintlock musket by arranging to have one row firing while the next row was reloading, and the like.

So instead our soldiers would sometimes not meet them on the "field of battle" where the Redcoats had an advantage, but instead stow snipers in the trees along the routes back to the barracks or tents or whatever, and shoot them in the back as they passed by.

And many Southerners thought General Sherman was a war criminal because he attacked the South's ability to feed & otherwise supply its troops--in the process put many Southern civilians in starvation conditions.

To which accusation Sherman famously replied "War is hell." In the judgment of history, Sherman did the nation a favor because he cut off the South's army at the knees, shortening the war. And thus he even did the South a favor.

And the recent effort to grant women the ability to serve in combat featured the argument that women were already serving in combat--just not getting credit or advancement for it--because what and where is the battlefield today?

The "battlefield" is everywhere and everywhen anyone or any group waging war on our country and its people is preparing to attack us or actually attacking us.

War is no longer just between nation-states. With the Islamofascist movement, our enemy can be anywhere, with no fixed capitol to defend, no land to defend, which, if lost, means the enemy is defeated. 9/11 was planned in Hamburg Germany operationally, and in Afghanistan strategically, and carried out by Saudis for the most part.

Now when that planning is taking place in another country that controls all its territory, has diplomatic relations with us, and is board with our efforts to combat terrorists, then police work is usually the best way to nab them. That was the case with Germany--less so with Saudi Arabia for what should be obvious reasons.

However, Afghanistan was another case. The Taliban controlling it were no friends of us but they were just hosting the Islamofascists who attacked us--who, when defeated, just moved their base of operations elsewhere.

Then what? Our enemies are operating in countries that are either completely hostile to us or which are not in control of the territories where our Islamofascist enemies are operating.

That leaves us with three choices, basically:
1. Invade, in force, countries that aren't at war with us but in whose territory groups at war with America are operating.
2. Concentrate solely on defensive measures within our own territory and rely on other countries' police forces within their territory.
3. Carry out military incursions by special forces, drones and the like.

There's one other option: withdraw completely from all territory that Islamofascists want us out of, and/or convert en masse to Salafist Islam. I won't comment on this option further.

The people who call drone-based assassinations "war crimes" divide between those on the Left, who obviously want Option 2, and those on the Right, who divide between NeoCons who want Option 1 and Isolationists (like Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul) who seem to waffle between Options 2 & 3 (though for many their real position appear to be simply opposing anything Obama does, even if he's doing exactly what their guy was doing just a few years ago).

The flaw in Option 2 is that Pakistan's police force mostly hates our guts and will do nothing to help us--in fact they'll mostly help our enemies; Iran's police force is actively helping terrorists who want to attack us and our allies; Somalia's police force doesn't control a lot of Somalia, and ditto for Yemen, and ditto for the Texas-sized north of Mali, and so forth.

So in the case of the places where Islamofascists who have declared war on us are mostly headquartered and operating training camps, Option 2 restricts us to police work within our borders. I doubt many Americans find that acceptable.

Nor do many Americans support going to a full war footing, with a draft and rationing and the whole WWII thing, which is what it would take to invade all the wild places where our enemies are--Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq and more, simultaneously (since otherwise they'd just go where we aren't).

The notion that the Islamofascist declaration of war on America--on every single American citizen and every bit of our territory and assets--is exactly the same as a criminal gang planning a bank robbery--is ludicrous.

The problem isn't the drones, but the simple-mindedness of ideologists who think "war" still means what it meant during WWII (which it didn't even then, in fact). Not just simple-mindedness, but also the tendency of lawyers to think everything is a legal issue, as in "to a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

We are in a war not of our choosing, with an amorphous, shifting, many-headed enemy that is supported by a number of countries but is not those countries, and which can't be defeated via military invasion of any one or two or three or four of those countries.

It's a war of shadows. Our drones operate out of sight. Our special forces work in the night. They sometimes kill civilians because civilians are ALWAYS killed in wars--the wonder is that we kill so few civilians, and so many fewer civilians then if we were carpet-bombing the areas in question, and so many fewer than when we started out with drones some years ago.

Sometimes drone pilots will loiter over an enemy force for hours, waiting until they can get a clear shot with no civilians nearby. Many drones fly slowly and quietly at pretty high altitudes, with much longer dwell time airborne than manned craft can sustain.

And of course unlike the Islamofascist enemies, we don't target civilians as they do--and they murder vastly greater numbers of civilians that we do in drone strikes and special forces operations. But every time a drone strikes, the enemy publishes grisly photographs of dead babies on the Net, which they claim we killed instead of them. Sometimes--most times--they're lying, but Arab Joe Lunchboxes have zero training in critical thinking and mostly have been indoctrinated from birth to hate us.

So drones and special forces incursions in areas where police forces won't or can't collaborate with us are the least bad of our options.

Don't let anyone deny this without describing what they think we should do instead. I submit that most of what they propose is patently silly--and anachronistic as well.

Calling drone strikes "war crimes" is the same as the Revolutionary Era Brits calling us war criminals for shooting their soldiers--and those red and white uniforms were a great aid for targeting--from concealed positions by sharpshooters.

Nothing the folks whining about "war crimes" have to propose would even start to be effective, showing that they live in a world bounded by their limited imaginations.

The "war crime" would be our nation's government not acting to protect us--protect us from people who are not at war with our armed forces--they're at war with every single one of us.

Gun control advocates don't always stick to the high ground

At Connecticut state legislature hearings over the Newtown massacre, MSNBC presented--and the gun control world accepted--the proposal that gun nuts had been heckling a grieving father.

Wrong. MSNBC lied through editing the video--the grieving father had asked a rhetorical question during his testimony, demanding to know whether anyone could justify assault weapons being in private hands, then saying no one had an answer to his question--upon which several gun rights advocates in the crowd shouted out 2nd Amendment-type answers.

MSNBC edited out the relevant parts showing that the father had kind of set up the gun rights advocates by presenting what was obviously a rhetorical question, then acting as if he's asked a real question. And the MSNBC editors knew better.

Now at the same hearings a Sandy Hook father made an impassioned defense of gun rights that the RWM (Right Wing Media) ballyhooed. Then it turned out that more artful editing--this time from the other side--had concealed the fact that he wasn't a grieving father of a Sandy Hook Elementary murdered child at all--he was the father of a child who attended another school altogether.

This father hadn't pulled a fast one--he never claimed to be the father of a Sandy Hook victim--but the RWM did in promoting his gun rights rant as if he was.

We're never going to succeed in opposing the gun makers and their enthusiastic pawns if we stoop to their level. It gives them ammunition (so to speak) and lets them justify their own underhandedness.

When guns are registered, we'll know where outlaws' guns came from

The NRA now opposes even doing background checks on gun buyers--any gun buyers.

It gives a bunch of reasons for this, which you can see described here.

They boil down to hassle, slippery slope, and crooks won't bother.

The hassle argument is contemptible.

The slippery slope argument is, as are all slippery slope arguments, an attempt to argue against a different proposal than the one being proposed. It's like arguing against issuing parking tickets for parking in red zones because they could lead to the death penalty.

The "crooks won't bother" argument is a baldfaced lie. People with criminal records were stopped trying to buy guns from gun stores 1.7 million times in recent years--by background checks.

What the background checks don't stop is straw buyers, and even though that's illegal, you have to prove that the straw buyer knew the real buyer wasn't entitled--and that would require requiring a background check for every gun sale (including supposed "gifts").

Nearly every gun used in a crime was purchased legally originally. So we need to focus on the people who move a gun from the legal world to the illegal one--and nail them. Universal background checks are key to stopping the movement of guns from legal to illegal ownership.

And the NRA's opposition is yet another piece of evidence to the idea that the NRA represents the gun makers, not legitimate gun owners--and that the NRA works for gun maker profits without regard to whoever gets the guns.

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