Friday, September 22, 2006

McCain Blinked II

So we "formally" leave Geneva alone, but grant the executive branch complete discretion in determining what "cruel" means; and the language of the bill certainly can be construed to allow waterboarding, hypothermia, sleep deprivation, stress positions, and long-time standing. It even allows for a person to be beaten, cut, or near-drowned. It's important to note that McCain does not believe that this is the case. He believes that the definition of "cruel" here would bar such "alternative methods". But we know from bitter experience that in any ambiguity, this administration has opted for the more draconian interpretation. So therefore all of these techniques, described in detail in Solzheniytsen's "Gulag Archipelago," potentially remain available to this president under this proposal. Barring further clarifications confirming McCain's belief that this bill bars these "alternative methods", I see no legal barrier in this bill to his continuing to authorize them in the future.

Andrew Sullivan 9/22/2006

Andrew has been McCain's greatest backer. He is clearly upset. As am I. This is a political tragedy.

I have nowhere near the number of readers, but you are are politically diverse. Here is an issue where I am not gay nor socialist: I am Catholic. Can you imagine ANY circumstance in which Jesus of Nazerath would water-board somebody?

Boring Blogs




Note that I am apolitical on this. Daily Kos, Andrew Sullivan and the Corner remain interesting.

Those above are boring as shit: they compromise inside flags to insiders. Who needs mere indices?


I have never posted on this topic before.

Creation vs. Evolution? If it is as simple as that, then I come down on the side of creation. After all, I am a Catholic, and Catholics believe in a perfect Creator God outside the Universe who created all things, and who willed that at the end it be comedy rather than a tragedy.

I am no biologist. I remember looking at some cells under a microscope in biology at Ardrossan Academy in 1977.

I am a historian. I do know that it is impossible to be a good historian in methodological terms, whatever one believes, if one constantly assumes that God intervenes in history. This does not mean that God does not intervene in history, but that bad history writing results if the writer is willing to use divine intervention as as "cause." If such assumptions were allowed in academic history any writer could interpret any event as evidence/counter-evidence of God's will.

In the same way, as far as I see it, no biologist can allow any notion of divine intervention into the methodology of science. Evolutionary theory (always open to amendment, like all successful scientific theories) cannot allow any notion of divine intervention without fatally undermining the approach.

But, just as I do not object to a suggestion that, in some actual cases, God may have intervened in history, I do not object to the suggestion that God may have directed evolution. I would not pretend in any way to understand such intervention (why should God have intervened to save France in the fifteenth century but not intervene in Darfur? Why is God so wasteful when it comes to living species?).

I do assert that neither historians nor biologists ought invoke God. God-talk makes for bad history and bad biology. That does not mean God-talk makes for bad morality.

Although, as we have seen, God-talk does not necessarily make for good-living either.

An Examined Life: Bill Donohue Gets it Right

An Examined Life: Bill Donohue Gets it Right


Gambians are voting for their president with a unique marble system.
Voters enter a booth and pop a clear glass marble into one of three drums representing the candidates, instead of a putting a ballot paper into a box.

As the marble falls into the drum, it hits a bell so officials can tell if anyone votes more than once.

BBC 9/22/2006

pse·phol·o·gy (sē-fŏl'ə-jē) n.
The study of political elections.
[Greek psēphos, pebble, ballot (from the ancient Greeks' use of pebbles for voting)] Psephology

Blaster, RIP

Derek 'Blaster' Bates, who has died aged 83, was a demolition expert and "Wall of Death" stunt rider who later forged a career as a raconteur of risqué, politically incorrect and side-splitting scatalogical stories.

Daily Telegraph 9/21/2006


The US military had initially claimed a dramatic drop in the Iraqi death toll for August, but the estimate was revised sharply upwards after it revealed that it had inexplicably left out figures for people killed by bombs, mortars, rockets and other mass attacks.

The Guardian 9/22/2006

McCain Blinked

New York Times 9/22/2006
Slate 9/22/2006
I withdraw previous comments.

Update: Andrew Sullivan (at last) 9/22/2006 seems to agree. It's an upsetting day.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Defending the Pope II

There has been a real turn in the press, which intially defended the pope, to one which has used the occasion of what has turned out to be a real papal gaffe to attack the pope in general (even Andrew Sullivan 9/20/2006, for whom I have the highest respect).

As a "liberal Catholic" I have all the same annoyance at this pope as the rest, but it still strikes me that this is just not fair.

1. The idea that Benedict XIV (let's all agree to drop Ratzinger - we always use Pontifical names, just like we always use royal names, whatever friends used) was signalling something is ludicrous. The pope has more ways to signal something than any other person apart from the US President. His weekly addresses from St. Peter's are repeated pro forma by the press throughout the world. If he wanted to begin an onslaught against Islam he would have done it there.

2. The pope in previous guise was a serious theologian. As Ratzinger he was one of the most important periti (advisors) at the Second Vatican Council, and in later years remained on good terms with those such and Hans Kung and Yves Congar who never lost the liberal label. I guess that this speech, although a key into his thought in some respects, was exactly what it appeared to be: a college presentation to Catholic intellectuals who hold to an ideal of Hellenic rationality in an era where Post-Modern thought has made such ideas old-fashioned.

3. The pope did right to apologize, not because he was wrong, but because his opponents were idiots who do not deserve to be empowered.

A Heretical Question

Would it be better if Iraq were still under Saddam Hussain?

    70,000 Iraqis would still be alive, maybe more. And many thousands would have now lost limbs.

    2,600 American troops would still be alive, and thousands more would have limbs, eyes, and sanity.

    There would be no incipient Iranian dominance in the region.

    The US would not face charges of torture.

    There would be no Shi'ite death squads in Baghdad.

Just Say No

I just walked out a of a job interview at **** Car Sales. (What a comedown, eh?)

The company wanted me to sign a notarized affadavit that they could investigate my "personal habits, including but not limited to credit, driver, criminal, and employment and other records." It would be insane for me or any person to sign it. With it they could presumably look at telephone, credit card, medical and whatever records they wanted, because they would have an affadavit from me allowing them.

Do people really sign these things?

If so, why do they think they live in a free country.

Meanwhile, I face penury, but some things are just impossible.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Manuel II Paleologus

This account of Manuel II was post on the Byzans-l listserv by John Melville Johns from the De Imperatoribus Romanis web site.

Manuel's writings have been preserved for posterity in spite of the conquest and destruction of Constantinople. Of particular interest is his attitude toward Islam. After his enthronement in March 1391 Manuel II still had to perform military service for the sultan in Asia Minor from June 1391 to January 1392 as a vassal of the Turks. As part of it he not only had had (in late 1390) to support the sultan against various Turkish emirates, but as an especial humiliation he had to aid his mortal enemy with the conquest of Philadelphia, the last Byzantine hold-out in Asia Minor, but now in May 1391 he was summoned again to Anatolia and took part in a campaign on the Black Sea coast until Mid-January1392. The emperor, who on the coins still bore the title King and Autokrator, was as a vassal of course subject to the sultan's orders on campaign -- the sultan who amused himself at banquets, while the emperor discussed Islam with the Kadi. From October to December of 1391 the emperor enjoyed the hospitality of the Muderris (=Kadi) at Ankara. A Muslim born to Christian parents acted as interpreter between the emperor and the Kadi. The result of these conversations was the "Twenty-six Dialogues with a Persian," dedicated to his brother Theodore I. By 1399 the work had received its final editing. Presumably the emperor took notes at the time of the conversations. Apart from the emperor's writings there is no independent proof that the conversations ever took place. They must represent a mixture of fact and fiction. At the end the Kadi declared himelf ready to come to Constantinople and continue the conversation with Manuel.

With this work, which must have been composed between the end of the campaign and the break with Bayazit (1392-94), Manuel made an important contribution to the knowledge of Islam on the part of the Christians.

The emperor relied for his sources on the Apology of Christianity against Islam by his maternal grandfather, John VI Cantacuzenus. That in turn rested on the "Confutatio Alchorani" by the Dominican friar Ricoldo of Montecroce (died 1320), which Demetrius Kydones had translated into Greek. Grandfather and grandson thus remained entirely within the framework of traditional Byzantine anti-Islamic polemics. It is noteworthy that the emperor does not use the concept of Sarakenoi (Saracens), customary in Byzantine terminology.

What Was Wrong with Manuel II Paleologus' Comments

Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached".

This is the statement by Manuel II Paleologus, quoted by Pope Benedict XVI. Comment has focused on whether the pope meant to insult Islam, etc.

But it is perhaps worth pointing out that as they stands, Manuel II's comments are wrong.


  • He was wrong to say that anything new brought to the world by Muhammad was evil. In the context of Muhammad's time, one could claim, among other things, that his words on community peace, orphans, women, human equality etc. were great goods.
  • For Islam as a culture, the art, literature, music, and aesthetic can count as goods (among others).

    Did Islam not spread by war?
  • Islamdom did in parts spread by war. But this is not true everywhere -
    for example Indonesia.
  • Early Islam seems to have actively deterred conversion by subject peoples. Obviously, as Islamic cultures developed, this changed and converts were accepted. But if conversions were routinely forced, there would not be Christians throughout the Muslim world today, nor would India be overwhelmingly Hindu.

  • Christianity, of course, was born in a very different world. It spread throughout the Roman empire without violence (although early Christian thought as represented in apocalyptic literature was remarkably violent).
  • Once the Roman elite converted, at several points Christianity was spread through conquest: think of Charlemagne vs. the Saxons.
  • Perhaps more to the point, countless "country conversion" narratives (England, Norway, Rus, etc.) describe how a king was converted. The enforced conversion of the ruled population seems to have been rather more thorough in many places than in Islam.