Friday, October 27, 2006

California Girls

I recently made a business-related trip to San Diego, CA, where I stayed at the Paradise Point Resort. Herewith a few observations:

1. San Diego girls are flirty.

Okay, maybe that's not fair. It may be that nice beaches and warm sunshine make So. Cal. women more open and relaxed. But, full disclosure: most of the women I had occasion to interact with were on the staff of the resort, so my sample was hardly representative. In all probability, these women have been selected for and/or trained to exhibit those qualities that make guests feel welcome.

How these women, all of whom were young and beautiful, succeed at this so well is difficult to pinpoint, but I think mainly in comes down to eye-contact. More full disclosure: I tend, fairly reliably, to creep out women just by showing up. (I've never figured out exactly why this is so, but it nonetheless has always been true. My devoted wife has told me that her friends have admitted as much.) In the day-to-day life of an engineering instructor, most of the women I interact with are service-industry workers (waitresses, cashiers, etc.) and my (few) female students; in other words, people who are pretty much obligated to be polite. And so they are polite. But I observe that they nonetheless limit direct eye-contact with me to the minimum amount necessary to conduct the required transaction. The more attractive the female, the more this appears to be the case. I suspect that many if not most men would experience this interaction very differently. And, in fact, I have had male friends whom I have watched interact with attractive women, and who clearly enjoy much better eye-contact and overall social response. Or so I hope, for their sakes. But in my case, this is what I see.

So imagine my surprise at spending two days in a world where the women actually smiled at me and looked me in the eye! And not just in a way that said, "Yup, there's a customer," but in a way that said, "there's a fellow human being into whose day I can bring good cheer."

Why can't all women be like that?

Of course, I know the answer: attractive women, by necessity, become adept at non-verbally discouraging unwanted attention from men (or at least from this one). Smiles and eye-contact might give men "the wrong idea." This is legitimate, though unfortunate, fear. Indeed, had I not been happily married, I might have received my first "San Diego smile" and thought: "hey, maybe I could, you know, start a conversation with this girl." Well, maybe not me. But maybe some alternative version of me that didn't become a traumatized omega-male chickensh1t in the presence of beautiful women.

I am not a frequent customer at high-end resorts; however, I do remember making this observation once before, about ten years ago. I went with three male friends for dinner in the Penrose Room at The Broadmoor Hotel. The Penrose Room is arguably the finest (and most expensive) restaurant in the city: a coat-and-tie-expected kind of place. Anyway, while we were waiting to be seated, a lovely young lady came out to take our coats and drink orders. Her name (I remember it to this day) was Jule. I surrendered my coat and ordered an Irish Coffee. (We would consume $600 worth of alcohol before the evening was over.) Anyway, in the course of this transaction, I saw it: eye-contact! The look! I have to admit, it's impact (I was still single back then) was pretty powerful. I toyed with the idea of, you know, starting a conversation, but Jule seemed so obviously out of my league, and the Penrose Room not really an accurate representation of my actual means, that I punted the opportunity. Probably just as well. I didn't realize at the time that high-end staff are trained to create this effect, and I would almost certainly have embarrassed myself.

Anyway, back to San Diego:

2. Paradise Point is expensive.

Paradise Point is on an island connected to the surrounding area by bridges. Since I didn't have a rental car, we were semi-captive, and so the resort felt free to rape us over extras. Vending machine coke: $2.25. Two pieces of french toast: $9.95. Internet service: $10/day. Access to fitness room: $15/day.

But the staff made it all worth it.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Wit and Wisdom of Laura Ingalls Wilder

"Well, son, you think about it," said Father. "I want you should make up your own mind. With Paddock [the wheelwright offering an apprenticeship to Almonzo], you'd have an easy life, in some ways. You wouldn't be out in all kinds of weather. Cold winter nights, you could lie snug, in bed and not worry about young stock freezing. Rain or shine, wind or snow, you'd be under shelter. You'd be shut up, inside walls. Likely you'd always have plenty to eat and wear and money in the bank."

"James!" Mother said.

"That's the truth, and we must be fair about it," Father answered. "But there's the other side, too, Almanzo. You'd have to depend on other folks, son, in town. Everything you got, you'd get from other folks.

"A farmer depends on himself, and the land and the weather. If you're a farmer, you raise what you eat, you raise what you wear, and you keep warm with wood out of your own timber. You work hard, but you work as you please, and no man can tell you to go or come. You'll be free and independent, son, on a farm."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Christians in Iraq

A solid (but depressing) article by Doug Bandow in The American Conservative on the deteriorating religious freedom of Christians in Iraq. To sum up: we invaded Iraq to find WMD that weren't there and create a democracy that can't be sustained, while at the same time freeing up Muslims to target Iraqi Christians for kidnapping, extortion, and murder.

All granted. And yet:

1. The article leads off with the proposition that American evangelicals ignored their duty to Iraqi Christians in their (in general) support for the Iraqi invasion. But isn't The American Conservative the magazine that complains about how American Jews supposedly put the interests of their co-religionists (or co-ethnics) in Israel above the interests of the nation in which they actually hold citizenship? So isn't it a trifle hypocritical for it to object when American Christians don't let similiar considerations distort their calculation of American interests? And the primary American interest was that Saddam had WMD! Why, exactly, should any American let his solicitude for Iraqi Christians (alas, not exactly conspicuous in opposition to Baathist butchery) paralyze his resolve?

2. While the quotes of various evangelical leaders provided by Mr. Bandow are no doubt accurate, they are a trifle out of context. Falwell, Dobson, et. al. were not debating TAC when they spoke these words. Indeed, TAC,, Steve Sailer, and other conservative voices of caution were barely visible in the national discussion. Who was visible? Michael freakin' Moore! Plus various left-wing organizations transparently motivated by hatred of America. Plus various Democrat politicians engaging in naked political calculations. Let's be honest: opposition like this made supporting Bush abudantly easy. This is the context.

3. Please keep in mind that war supporters fully expected that life in a post-Saddam Iraq whouldbe characterized by democracy, tolerance, and all things good. Granted, this expectation looks daft in hindsight, and overly optimistic in foresight given what we knew about Islam. But Liberal Universalism is a daftness shared by All Right-Thinking People, including especially American evangelicals. And if anyone had asked them about Iraqi Christians, evangelicals no doubt would have replied that they would also be better off.

Bandow's characterization of Kurdistan surprised me. People who have visited Kurdistan, to whom I have spoken, have reported that both Assyrian Christians and foreign missionaries operate with a high degree of freedom and security, largely a function of the Kurds own national identity, which generally is a-religious. "Ask a Kurd if he is Shia or Sunni, and he will reply, 'Neither; I'm Kurdish.'" If this is true, the best hope for Christian religious freedom in Iraq lies in an autonomous Kurdistan region. Which seems (as of this writing) to be the direction we are going.

Better yet, how about a "prisoner exchange": let's trade every Muslim in America for all the Christians in Iraq. What? No one wants to go live in Iraq? Then let's hold the lives of American Muslims hostage to the lives of Iraqi Christians. We can trade them off, one at a time. An eye for an eye. Until both of us run out.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Dennis Dale on Imperialism

From Dennis Dale:
Rove and Bush have long benefited by the sense of unrelenting cultural siege felt by those who have no place in the Democrats' hierarchy of grievance, those on whom it is always open season: traditionalist white Christians. People generally too immersed in the day to day business of work and family (that is to say, perpetuating the life of the nation) to be expected to invest the necessary time to unravel the ever increasing layers of Fox News bullshit disguising the true nature of current foreign policy. They trusted their leaders; that is, the ones who weren’t telling them they were hopeless troglodytes consigned to historical obscurity because they have misgivings about the post haste dismantling of any and all moral tradition.

Bush addressed their most exigent concerns, not with substance certainly, but with words. Then again, where else were they to go? The Democratic Party has abandoned them to the predations of corporate power and globalization with as much enthusiasm as the Republicans and, when it isn’t ignoring them completely, portrays them as the bogeyman with which they stir up the fears of their rubes. And all the while, the global designs of imperial conquest abroad and cultural dissolution at home proceed unheeded.

Well said. But the rest of the post tediously pretends that Bush launched a program of imperial expansion ex nihlo. Such ignores that Bush entered office on campaign promises to curb the military deployments of the Clinton administration. And then, September 11. The imperative to go after Islamic terrorists and their sponsors took us into Afghanistan, and the [mistaken] belief that Saddam was actively pursuing WMD in violation of the terms of the 1991 cease-fire took us into Iraq. Now, if Mr. Dale wants to characterize our "nation building" efforts in Iraq as "imperialism," I would point out that this is a novel definition of imperialism as it has been historically practiced. But, okay, whatever. It's a definition, so who cares? But surely Mr. Dale has the decency to admit that Bush, more than anyone, wants the popularly elected government of Iraq to assume responsibility for its own internal security and otherwise govern as humanely and rationally as possible?

Which of course, it cannot do, for "humane" and "rational" are not means equal to the end sought. Bush's project for Iraq is animated by the same Liberal Universalism that constrains the entire debate on the Iraq war and our foreign policy toward the Muslim Middle East in general. Which is why our failure there is inevitably described as a failure of "planning," and "competence," and, in the case of the left, "Bush lied," "Bush is evil," "Bush is an imperialist," "Bush is enriching Haliburton," "Bush didn't have the U.N.," and all manner of either outright misrepresentations of the facts or irrelevencies.

Mr. Dale, I gather, is skeptical of Liberal Universalism as a matter of first principles. He shouldn't need to resort to this kind of thing, and it is a shame that he does.

Update: Damn! Chris Roach already said all this, and better.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"Across Europe, Worries on Islam Spread to Center"

. . . in NYT, via Modern Tribalist. Quote of note:
But many Europeans — even those who generally support immigration — have begun talking more bluntly about cultural differences, specifically about Muslims’ deep religious beliefs and social values, which are far more conservative than those of most Europeans on issues like women’s rights and homosexuality.

So strong is the fear that Dutch values of tolerance are under siege that the government last winter introduced a primer on those values for prospective newcomers to Dutch life: a DVD briefly showing topless women and two men kissing. The film does not explicitly mention Muslims, but its target audience is as clear as its message: embrace our culture or leave.

I despair. I have no vested interest in European decadence. Nor do I think that Muslims pose much of a threat to it. Muslims have been buggering boys since at least the fall of Constantinople. As for women's rights, the veil and the violence against Muslim women in Europe has little to do with any serious reading of the Koran and everything to do with, in general, preserving group identity and preventing assimiliation to the host culture and, in particular, keeping Muslim women from being "stolen" by higher-status European men.

No, I suspect that, once the colonization of Europe achieves critical mass, the primary target for extirpation will be Christianity and the freedom to speak and write honestly about Islam. Since the European intelligencia largely shares Islam's hostility to Christianity, and is otherwise indifferent to freedom of speech in the abstract, they will make unreliable long-term allies in the resistance to Muslim aggression.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Pinker vs. Lakoff

Here are some observations on Arabs by someone who lived there.

Chris Rock on "How not to get beat up by the police."

Razib brings us a review by Steven Pinker of George Lakoff's Whose Freedom? and Lakoff's response. I haven't read the book, and Lakoff claims that Pinker misrepresents his views (as Lakoff probably misrepresents Pinker's views), but the direct quotes Pinker makes of Lakoff are damning.

There are a lot of assertions made on behalf of "cognitive neuroscience" that are probably untestable, and in any case beyond my full comprehension, but I will happily pick the low-hanging fruit that Lakoff leaves me:
In Whose Freedom? I discuss the difference between freedom from and freedom to (p. 30). Then, throughout the book, I show that both the progressive and conservative versions of freedom use both freedom from and freedom to. For example, progressives focus on freedom from want and fear, and well as from government spying on citizens and interfering with family medical decisions, and also freedom of access to opportunity and fulfillment in life (e.g., education and health care). Conservatives are concerned with freedom from government interference in the market (e.g., via regulation) and they are concerned with freedom to use their property any way they want. In short, the old Isaiah Berlin claims about the distinction do not hold up.
I thought when I read it that Pinker's distillation of the difference between "positive rights" (i.e. the claims we make on the resources of others), and "negative rights" (i.e. the claim that our own resources should be free from the coercion of other people) into "freedom from" and "freedom to" was weak, and Lakoff demonstrates this by applying them in ways Pinker (and, I assume, Isaiah Berlin) did not intend. But that is a weakness in labeling, not in the underlying concept.

Lakoff's examples of Progressive invocation of "freedom from" are tendentious (may not government spy on non-citizens?) and, in the case of "family medical decisions," completely disingenuous. "Family medical decisions" is Lakoff-code-talk for, primarily, abortion, but also for euthanizing the sick and elderly. My point here is not to argue for or against either; I only point out that the only reason conservatives wade into this debate is because we recognize that these "family medical decisions" involve the fate of actual people (e.g. unborn children) who, quite possibly, have a "negative right" to be free from being murdered by other people. Now I will stipulate for the present that Lakoff and the left are sincere in their solicitude for the "right of the woman" to "control her own body" and be free from the demands of the unborn on its resources. I will acknowledge that resolving these competing claims require us to delve deeper into moral and natural philosophy. But I will insist that such resolution requires more than glib invocations of "privacy."

In any case, Lakoff's invocation of "family medical decisions" is in bad faith. If a Christian Science family wanted to deny an appendectomy to their child on religious grounds, I sincerely doubt that Lakoff would find his own formula very persuasive.
In another case, Chapter 7 of Whose Freedom? discusses direct versus systemic causation. On the first page of the chapter, I say, "It is surely not the case that conservatives are simpleminded and cannot think in terms of complex systems. Indeed, conservative strategists consistently outdo progressive strategists when I comes to long term overall strategic initiatives." Pinker's version: "It takes considerable ignorance, indeed chutzpah, to boast that only a progressive such as himself can understand the difference between systemic and direct causation." The opposite of what I say.
So, Lakoff is "conceding" that conservatives are politically adept at winning elections. That does not address the substance of conservative policy analysis regarding crime and welfare, nor even concede that conservatives have looked at these issue in a systemic way, beyond "compassion" at an anecdotal level.

Come to think of it, Lakoff barely addresses the substance of Pinker's critique of Lakoff's policy prescriptions at a philosophical or empirical level. He instead is satisfied to, jargon aside, engage in "marketing major postmodernism" (hat tip to Steve Sailer) and insist that the only problem for progressives is that they need to sell their policies better. That may or may not work, but at the end of the day, the progressive worldview is bankrupt, and the electorate seems to know it.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Battlestar Galactica

I watched the opening episode of season three, Battlestar Galactica on the Sci-Fi channel on Friday. A few thoughts:

Seasons one and two were, in my opinion, the best dramatic series available on basic cable. They are therefore a hard act for the series to follow, even for itself. The opening episode of season three was solid, but not as outstanding as I had hoped.

The writers pushed the alleged parallels between the occupations of Iraq and New Caprica pretty hard − too hard. Since the Colonists are given the role of the peace-loving Iraqis who were minding their own business when the Cylons/Americans showed up to occupy them and maintain a puppet government, the contemporary parallels heavily detracted from the show’s merits. For one thing, overt politics can be the death of any artistic effort, even a television series. For another, a lot was left out. Where, in Battlestar Galactica, do we find something analogous to the following:

  • Saddam Hussein;
  • Saddam’s chemical warfare against the Kurds and Shiites;
  • Saddam’s torture chambers, “rape rooms,” and children’s jails;
  • Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait;
  • The terms of the 1991 ceasefire and subsequent U.N. resolutions demanding Iraq cease production of WMD.;
  • First-ever free elections in Iraq;
  • Iranian and Syrian efforts to destabilize Iraq.;
  • Islam

  • Did I miss anything? So, in fact, reality of Iraq is much more complicated than television’s New Caprica.

    But I will allow this: the show does make some parallels that are entirely valid. The Cylons show up on New Caprica with a vision of how to establish peace between themselves and the Colonists, much as we had a vision of how “Iraqi democracy would transform the Middle East.” The Cylon vision is a little vague, but seems to involve putting humans and Cylons together and forcing them to live in peace − or else. Like us, the Cylons are confronted with an insurgency representing a tiny fraction of the population. Like us, they are forced to balance a desire to win the hearts and minds of the occupied with the means necessary to combat the insurgency.

    So what do they/we do?

    There are perfectly good reasons to conduct a counterinsurgency: preserving an empire; protecting settlements; protecting client governments; etc. But to the extent the goal of the counterinsurgency is to make people love you or to transform people to be like you, then the counterinsurgency is on a fool’s errand.

    Update: Galactica Blog articulates the moral inversion of the Colonists' undertaking suicide bombing:
    The suicide bombings going on in the Middle East actually makes a perverse sense in the logic of fundamentalist Islamics, because they take advantage of the moral abiguity of the west. Insurgents can be put down with hardline tactics. Saddam Hussein kept his country orderly because he had secret police and executions of dissidents. I don't know why the human resistence think that Cylons would be sensitive to these issues. The Cylons just killed twenty billion humans. Based on the past behavior of the Cylons, the obvious conclusion is that pissing off the Cylons seems more likely to result in the destruction of everyone on the planet rather than any sort of victory. Maybe the Cylons have some strange mysterious "plan" which makes them extremely reluctant to destroy the planet, but Tigh and the resistance can't possibly know about that.
    I would add here that as Friday's episode develops, Tigh does develop a reason for continuing the campaign: it distracts the Cylons from the Adama's imminent rescue mission. But this was not his original justification. Indeed, he didn't have a justification other than, in his word, "payback." Now, reprisals have their place, but they are extremely risky when the only thing stopping your enemy from annihilating you is his own self-restraint.

    Tuesday, October 03, 2006

    Link Love 6

    Interesting post over at Parapundit: what is the utility of the term "Islamofascism?"

    I have, or used to have, a predisposition to libertarianism, but the "graphic novel" The Probability Broach must be the siliest thing I have ever seen. In a nutshell, a police detective is cast from a dystopian version of our world (where guns, cigarettes, and private cars are banned, and even the FCC has black helicopters) into a parallel universe where there is no government, the police are private contractors, and everyone lives in peaceful, prosperous, and high-tech harmony. The officer meets the alternative version of himself, who, oddly enough, turns out to be a full-blooded Ute Indian. (I'm not sure how this works.) When the officer remarks on this in surprise, his Ute alternate replies, "Does it matter?" Well, duh! In a world where race doesn't matter, the random probability of anyone being a full-blooded anything rapidly approaches zero! But this is only the most obvious problem. "If men were Angels, we would have no need of government," The Federalist wrote. But we aren't angels, so in a truly, full-monty libertarian world, the strong would prey on the weak.

    I saw the movie Jarhead for the first time on DVD this week. A good movie: it's depiction of military life, and specifically its grunt's-eye portrayal of Gulf War I, rang true. Yes, the writer put words in soldiers' mouths that seemed highly unlikely ("It's all about oil!" "The U.S. gave Saddam his weapons!"), but these are small quibbles.

    One scene in particular struck me with its poignancy: the war is over, and the soliders are riding a bus in what appears to be an improptu victory parade. A middle-aged man, clearly a Vietnam verteran and wearing the frayed remains of a fatigue jacket, boards the bus to shake hands with the Marines, congratulating and thanking them for a job well done. "You fought it clean!" he says, tears of gratitude streaming down his face for the men who had redeemed his honor and the honor of his service.

    What a crybaby.

    Seriously, on reflection, I decided that the Marines were unsuited for counterinsurgency work. It isn't just that their mission is too serve as amphibious shock troops. It's that, when the time comes to, say, mark your perimeter with the severed heads of your enemies, you can't really rely on men whose sense of honor is wrapped up in how clean the fight was.

    In contrast, consider the HBO series Rome. Whatever the moral shortcomings--and they are legion--of imperial Rome, these men knew what it took to run an empire.