Losing the Enlightenment

Victor Davis Hanson has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Losing the Enlightenment. The question is who is responsible for losing the values of the enlightenment:

But our newest foes of Reason are not the enraged Athenian democrats who tried and executed Socrates. And they are not the Christian zealots of the medieval church who persecuted philosophers of heliocentricity. Nor are they Nazis who burned books and turned Western science against its own to murder millions en masse.

No, the culprits are now more often us.

From there, an essay which started with promise goes bad. When he says the culprits are us, he ultimately turns it into the typical attack on Democrats seen at the Wall Street Journal, complete with their usual attacks based upon misquotations rather than addressing the real views of the other side.

Yes, we are in danger of losing the values of the enlightenment, and this is pertinent to fighting Islamic extremism as Hanson argues. The difference is that in singling out Islamic extremism as the enemy, Hanson ignores the lack of values coming from the Republicans supported by the Wall Street Journal. This includes the loss of journalistic integrity seen in his article as he uses the typical misquotations to attack Democrats. More importantly, this includes the opposition to separation of Church and State promoted by Republicans as they try to use the powers of the state to enforce the religious views of one segment of society upon all. The enemy of the enlightenment is both Islamic extremism and Christian extremism.

Other values which developed out of the enlightenment have also been threatened by the Republicans such as limitations on the power of government. The healthy skepticism of authority encouraged by the founding fathers is referred to as treason and hatred of America by fanatics of the right. The checks and balances on the different branches of government were seriously damaged during the past several years as Republicans worked to increase power in the executive branch.

The enlightenment brought an era of scientific discovery in place of finding information by religious revelation. Today it is the Republicans who wage a war on science which includes working to prevent the teaching of basic biology in the class room under the guise of intelligent design. Other fields such as geology, for contradicting the biblical age of the universe, and cosmology are also under attack. Research into life saving technology such as embryonic stem cell research is being restricted, and Republicans fight to deny women the basic right to control their own bodies. Even the dangers of global warming are ignored because this doesn’t fit into their economic priories.

Hanson notes that “By past definitions of relative power, al-Qaeda and its epigones were weak and could not defeat the West militarily” but he misunderstands how al Qaeda threatens to win. When we ignore the principles upon which this nation was founded, give up our civil liberties out of fear, attack those who question the government, and resort to torture we become more like al Qaeda and less like products of the enlightenment.

Thomas Friedman Offers Ten Months or Ten Years for Iraq

Thomas Friedman offers two possible scenarios for Iraq considering the current realities, which are even worse than being in a civil war:

Iraq has entered a stage beyond civil war — it’s gone from breaking apart to breaking down. This is not the Arab Yugoslavia anymore. It’s Hobbes’s jungle.

Given this, we need to face our real choices in Iraq, which are: 10 months or 10 years. Either we just get out of Iraq in a phased withdrawal over 10 months, and try to stabilize it some other way, or we accept the fact that the only way it will not be a failed state is if we start over and rebuild it from the ground up, which would take 10 years. This would require reinvading Iraq, with at least 150,000 more troops, crushing the Sunni and Shiite militias, controlling borders, and building Iraq’s institutions and political culture from scratch.

Anyone who tells you that we can just train a few more Iraqi troops and police officers and then slip out in two or three years is either lying or a fool. The minute we would leave, Iraq would collapse. There is nothing we can do by the end of the Bush presidency that would produce a self-sustaining stable Iraq — and “self-sustaining” is the key metric.

Friedman had previously applied the “Pottery Barn rule” to Iraq which warns that, “You break it, you own it.” He no longer believes this applies:

But my Pottery Barn rule was wrong, because Iraq was already pretty broken before we got there — broken, it seems, by 1,000 years of Arab-Muslim authoritarianism, three brutal decades of Sunni Baathist rule, and a crippling decade of U.N. sanctions. It was held together only by Saddam’s iron fist. Had we properly occupied the country, and begun political therapy, it is possible an American iron fist could have held Iraq together long enough to put it on a new course. But instead we created a vacuum by not deploying enough troops.

That vacuum was filled by murderous Sunni Baathists and Al Qaeda types, who butchered Iraqi Shiites until they finally wouldn’t take it any longer and started butchering back, which brought us to where we are today. The Sunni Muslim world should hang its head in shame for the barbarism it has tolerated and tacitly supported by the Sunnis of Iraq, whose violence, from the start, has had only one goal: America must fail in its effort to bring progressive politics or democracy to this region. America must fail — no matter how many Iraqis have to be killed, America must fail.

Libertarian Elected to New Hampshire Legislature

The Boston Globe reports that a libertarian has been elected to the New Hampshire legislature:

He embraced libertarianism in his late teens and early 20s after reading Ayn Rand and the science fiction writer Robert Heinlein , from whom, he said, he learned the value of individual responsibility. Among Winters’s principal political concerns is individual privacy. He does not carry a cell-phone, and he prefers not to use credit cards or ATM machines because, he said, they create a map of a person’s movements.

“I am not willing to have my life turned into a bunch of 0’s and 1’s,” he said.

A key plank of his campaign was opposition to the federal Real ID Act, which mandates that states impose stricter identification requirements for driver’s licenses, a move that some say could lead to institution of a national ID card. Winter says he decided to run when the Republican-controlled state Senate last year rejected legislation that would have exempted the state from some of the law’s requirements.

Another interesting aspect of the story is that he ran as a Democrat:

Democrats say they are pleased to have Winters in their fold, which next session will count 271 members in the House. They note, though, that he has promised to toe the party line.

“Joel is a unique Democrat,” said Mike Brunelle , a newly elected House member and vice chairman of the Manchester Democrats. “But he is a Democrat.”

I have a feeling the local Democrats might be disappointed if they expect him to “toe the party line” on all issues. It should be interesting.

The Speed of the Blogosphere

Is this a science experiment, or just a clever attempt at blog whoring? Regardless, Acephalous wants all bloggers to link to this post. If you have a blog and break this chain, nothing will happen to you but you might as well play along.

Bush Blames al Qaeda for Violence in Iraq

George Bush (pictured above showing his response when the country was really under attack from al Qaeda) continues to blame everybody else for his failed policy in Iraq. Today he blames al Qaeda for the deterioration of Iraq into a Civil War (although he also denies this reality).

The major cause of terrorism in Iraq is not al Qaeda but Iraqi opposition to the invasion. While the war has helped al Qaeda by increasing their recruitment, studies from both the Saudis and Israeli’s “have found that the vast majority of these foreign fighters are not former terrorists and became radicalized by the war itself.”

To the degree that al Qaeda is to blame, it is the war which has accelerated the problem. A recent National Intelligence Estimate found that “the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.” This was followed by a UN report which “said the Iraq war provided al Qaeda with a training centre and recruits, reinforcing a U.S. intelligence study blaming the conflict for a surge in Islamic extremism.”

A recent Downing Street Memo revealed that even the British are “accepting the argument that Britain’s military action in Iraq and Afghanistan has served as a recruiting sergeant for Islamist terrorist groups.”

Women Talk More Than Men

Here’s a study which many will say does not come as a surprise, women talk three times as much as men:

It is something one half of the population has long suspected – and the other half always vocally denied. Women really do talk more than men.

In fact, women talk almost three times as much as men, with the average woman chalking up 20,000 words in a day – 13,000 more than the average man.

Women also speak more quickly, devote more brainpower to chit-chat – and actually get a buzz out of hearing their own voices, a new book suggests.

The book – written by a female psychiatrist – says that inherent differences between the male and female brain explain why women are naturally more talkative than men.

In The Female Mind, Dr Luan Brizendine says women devote more brain cells to talking than men.

And, if that wasn’t enough, the simple act of talking triggers a flood of brain chemicals which give women a rush similar to that felt by heroin addicts when they get a high.

Posted in Science. 8 Comments »

Bush Twins Asked to Leave Argentina Following Drunk and Nude Antics

After days of stories of drunk partying coming out of Argentina, including allegations that the Bush twins have been running nude in the halls of their hotel, US australianviagra.com embassy officials have “strongly suggested” that they leave the country.

Obviously the twins will fit in much better back in the United States, where the top news is that Britney Spears is now upstaging Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan in flashing her private parts without panties, along with showing a need for increased support above the waist. From various reports, Paris sounds jealous, and Lindsay was mad enough to hit Paris.

With fun like that awaiting them at home, I’m surprised the Bush twins aren’t rushing back, at least to make sure that their nude Argentina videos make the internet before the rumored Jessica Simpson sex tapes make it on line.

Whenever you question how it is that the American voters reelected George Bush in 2004 despite all the evidence of his failures, keep in mind that this post, and not all that political stuff you read, is all the average American voter is really thinking about.

Chopra Finds Proof of God in Yellow Flowers

The fifth installment of Deepak Chopra’s latest assault on reason is out at Huffington Post. The best thing I can say is at least this looks like the end of this series. Considering the level of irrationality here, I am at least glad that PZ Myers has spared me the need to respond by beating me in posting on this nonsense. He summarizes Chopra’s argument, to the degree that this irrational rambling can be summarized by saying, “Because I can imagine a flower, I have disproven atheism.” While Chopra doesn’t make any meaningful arguments about the existence of God, if I read much more from him I’m likely to start questioning the existence of yellow flowers.

Myers notes this after Chopra’s claim that his his recent writing “covers the basic and I think most convincing refutation of the anti-God argument.” I’m surprised that Myers also didn’t jump on Chopra for his subsequent claim that “It doesn’t prove God by any means, much less does it degrade science.” Considering the degree to which Chopra has attacked established science thoroughout his writing there is ample ground for further comment, but this has also been many times in the past.

Victory in Suburbia

Back in the days when the Democrats were a minority party lacking any politcal clout (i.e. last month) I often warned that if they ever hoped to become a national party again Democrats would need to improve their support among the affluent. In a society which is fairly affluent, despite too many being left behind, a party which is seen to represent only the interests of the have-nots is doomed to failure. Most voters are either reasonably well off or have hopes of future success and affluence, and have little interest in a party which ignores their interests. Before the election I noted many hopes for success, including increased Democratic support in the suburbs and among groups such as the Starbucks Republicans and South Park Republicans. USA Today notes the increased success for Democrats in the suburbs:

Democrats made large gains in suburbia in this month’s elections, pushing Republican turf to the outer edges of major population centers in a trend that could signal trouble for the GOP, an analysis shows.

Democrats carried nearly 60% of the U.S. House vote in inner suburbs in the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas, up from about 53% in 2002, according to the analysis by the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech.

They received nearly 55% of the vote in the next ring of “mature” 20- and 30-year-old suburbs, with 45% going to Republicans and third-party candidates. In 2002, the last midterm election, Democrats received 50% of the vote there.

“Republicans are getting pushed to the fringes of the metropolis,” said sociologist Robert Lang, director of the institute. “They simply have to be more competitive in more suburbs,” he said, to win statewide and presidential races.

There are many reasons for this victory. The article notes that, “Democratic pollster Geoffrey Garin said Republican appeal is waning in the inner suburbs, due in part to socially conservative positions, while Democrats are getting better at reaching suburban voters.” Social issues were a major factor, but the change in the perception of Democrats on economic matters is also important. Democratic leaders such as Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean have stressed their desire for fiscal conservativism and to avoid big government programs perceived as far left. The 2006 elections were largely a repudiation of Republican policies, with victory coming from a coalition of both those who support traditional Democratic goals and those who might not but see Democrats as the only alternative to years of Republican failures. To keep their new majority coalition, especially with the old New Deal coalition long gone, Democrats must continue to consider the views of suburbanites, including small businessmen and professionals.

Addendum: I should also point out that any argument, including the one I made above, can be taken to absurd extremes. This was seen in Thomas Edsall’s recent op-ed in the New York Times. While he is right to a degree in warning Democrats against governing from the old left, it appears that by the time you ignore all the constituencies that Edsall discards there’s not much remaining. The trick isn’t to discard old constituencies but to find ways to promote the shared goals of many groups. There are dangers for continuing to stand for out-dated ideas, but there is also a danger in not standing for anything.

Kerry and McCain Lead Their Parties Among 2008 Candidates

The Next Prez analyzed blog posts among the candidates from each party, and found that Kerry and McCain were out in front. This is hardly predictive of who will win, but surveys of who is getting the most blog buzz may be as meaningful as the public opinion polls which are primarily a measure of name recognition and mainstream media hype. Remember before the 2004 primaries when Joe Lieberman led early and Howard Dean led in most later in 2003 and early 2004.

Among Democrats, John Kerry led with 43,056 blog posts. Hillary Clinton was second with 11,508 and Obama was third with 8,594. John McCain led Republicans, followed by Rudy Giulani and Mitt Romney.