Monthly Archives: September 2006

A Clarification, But Not a Retreat

I’ve been looking up a few more things, but I haven’t read the actual bill itself (which I suppose I should do). It appears as if the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus applies to aliens, and not citizens. I’m still not fully convinced that there isn’t any weaselly language in there that makes it possible for Bush and Rumsfeld to declare a citizen an enemy combatant. After all, the bill lets Bush define torture, but allows him to keep all the techniques secret. It’s not encouraging at the very least.

Although I’ve introduced that, do not view this as a retreat of any sort. The republic is still in grave danger when the executive branch can whisk away legal residents in America and detain them indefinitely.

Don’t let the term alien mislead you. These are your neighbors. These are your friends.

Don’t think it won’t happen?

Let me take you off on a tangent. Read this from the Washington Post, Why I’m Banned in the USA, by Tariq Ramadan. He’s not a terrorist nor has he aided the terrorists. Yet, the professor’s visa was denied. His offence?

The letter from the U.S. Embassy informed me that my visa application had been denied, and it put an end to the rumors that had circulated since my original visa was revoked. After a lengthy investigation, the State Department cited no evidence of suspicious relationships, no meetings with terrorists, no encouraging or advocacy of terrorism. Instead, the department cited my donation of $940 to two humanitarian organizations (a French group and its Swiss chapter) serving the Palestinian people. I should note that the investigation did not reveal these contributions. As the department acknowledges, I had brought this information to their attention myself, two years earlier, when I had reapplied for a visa.

In its letter, the U.S. Embassy claims that I “reasonably should have known” that the charities in question provided money to Hamas. But my donations were made between December 1998 and July 2002, and the United States did not blacklist the charities until 2003. How should I reasonably have known of their activities before the U.S. government itself knew? I donated to these organizations for the same reason that countless Europeans — and Americans, for that matter — donate to Palestinian causes: not to help fund terrorism, but because I wanted to provide humanitarian aid to people who desperately need it. Yet after two years of investigation, this was the only explanation offered for the denial of my visa. I still find it hard to believe.

But he has criticized some of the Bush administration’s policies, and Mr. Ramadan is becoming “increasingly convinced that the Bush administration has barred [him] for a much simpler reason: It doesn’t care for [his] political views.”

So, what does this have to do with what I said before? If indeed Mr. Ramadan’s views are being repressed, how long does it take before the views of legal residents are repressed based on bogus charges of having donated to a charity that “aids terror”?

Or let’s say that this was an error… Then, how do we know that other errors will not be committed in the name of defending the homeland. Can people be jailed for donating to a charity?

No, of course not, you will say. But then why should Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush be given discretion? They can lock them up indefinitely such that you won’t know whether or not this person is held on a bogus claim because the writ of habeas corpus has been suspended. The Bush Administration doesn’t need a reason to detain legal residents.

Furthermore, mistakes will happen. And a mistake only gives incentive to hold someone indefinitely. Why? To cover-up mistakes. No one will know you’ve made a mistake if the person is languishing in jail and never given a fair trial.

Given Bush’s previous ability to admit to mistakes… I’m not optimistic.

Doublespeak, Abdication of Duty, and the Final Lines of Defense

Chilling words from President Bush, in his recent press conference with Karzai: “But I will comment on this — that we’re on the offense against an enemy that wants to do us harm. And we must have the tools necessary to protect our country. On the one hand, if al Qaeda or al Qaeda affiliates are calling somebody in the country, we need to know why. And so Congress needs to pass that piece of legislation. If somebody has got information about a potential attack, we need to be able to ask that person some questions. And so Congress has got to pass that piece of legislation.” [emphasis mine]

The words I chose to emphasize represent a very egregious case of doublespeak. It purposely glosses over very important things. Firstly, he doesn’t even say “coercive interrogation” or said that he has “to update our methods of interrogating terrorist detainees” (as the I found out the Traditional Values Coalition said). He doesn’t even allude to physically and psychologically abusing prisoners of war. Stripping someone naked and spraying him with cold water in a cold room in order to induce hypothermia becomes merely asking a person some questions. We’ve gone beyond euphemism into purposeful denial.

But it gets worse. Let’s examine this new detainee bill. According to a Washington Post article, Detainee Measure to Have Fewer Restrictions, the bill will allow anyone who “has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States” to be detained indefinitely, including legal aliens and citizens. Now, anyone can be detained indefinitely, without being able to challenge their detention in court, at the President’s discretion. The writ of habeas corpus, “a writ issued in order to bring somebody who has been detained into court, usually for a decision on whether the detention is lawful” (according to Encarta), has been suspended. Furthermore, the president can not only detain anyone, but he can do this anywhere. If you don’t find this strange, you do not understand what it means to live in a democratic republic.

This precious right, the writ of habeas corpus, extends back hundreds of years. Anyone who is a true conservative cannot say that this right which has stood the test of time, for nearly a millenium, should be suspended in the face of the current terrorist threat. The blanket statement “9/11 changed everything” is fundamentally opposed to the Burkean conception of conservatism. It cannot change everything. It cannot change our long tradition of human rights. It cannot change our Constitution.

It’s right here in Article 1, Section 9: “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.”

Of course, I’ve glossed over the actions of Lincoln during the Civil War and FDR during WWII, but surely you can see the difference between their actions and Bush’s? We have entered an undefined, forever-war against terror. There is no time when these rights can be returned to the citizens. Where is the invasion? Where is the rebellion?

Congress swore to uphold the Constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” They are supposed to uphold our rights. They are supposed to serve as a check against the excesses of the executive. In my estimation, Congress has abdicated its duty. They’ve given the executive discretion to detain anyone, anywhere, without having to give a reason.

Congress has failed the American people.

Luckily, we have three branches of government. We have the extremely undemocratic institution of the Supreme Court, which will hopefully strike down this law. It was created to protect us from the passions of the majority. If this line of defense fails, we may have the states to depend on. And if that fails…

”Whensoever therefore the legislative shall transgress this fundamental rule of society; and either by ambition, fear, folly, or corruption, endeavour to grasp themselves, or put into the hands of any other, an absolute power over the lives, liberties, and estates of the people; by this breach of trust they forfeit the power the people had put into their hands for quite contrary ends, and it devolves to the people, who have a right to resume their original liberty, and, by the establishment of a new legislative, (such as they shall think fit) provide for their own safety and security, which is the end for which they are in society.” — John Locke, Second Treatise.

Lest you think I advocate overthrow of the government, I give you this, which is also from John Locke: “Great mistakes in the ruling part, many wrong and inconvenient laws, and all the slips of human frailty, will be born by the people without mutiny or murmur. But if a long train of abuses, prevarications, and artifices, all tending the same way, make the design visible to the people, and they cannot but feel what they lie under, and see whither they are going; it is not to be wondered, that they should then rouse themselves, and endeavour to put the rule into such hands which may secure to them the ends for which government was at first erected…”

For now, this is a great mistake in the ruling part, and we must fight to have the mistake rectified. Hopefully, it will never get to this point, but if they start knocking on doors and legal residents and citizens begin disappearing in good numbers, then we must invoke our final line of defense. For now, we have only taken the first steps on a long march towards tyranny. We must pray that our other lines of defense do not fail.

Project Runway 4

Interesting… so 4 make it to the final episode of Project Runway.

That kind of throws off my prediction for the final 3, doesn’t it? Oh well, at least all 3 people I picked (Michael, Jeffrey, and Laura) made it. And, I really liked Uli. So, I didn’t have to really be proven wrong to see Uli go.

Iran : Now :: China : 1950s-1960s?

Some food for thought: For Iran, A Policy Of Patience, by Fareed Zakaria.

Always keep in mind our history. Zakaria reminds us that China was very aggressive during the 50s and 60s, but we did not need to preemptively invade.

Iran is aggressive, yes, but I’m not sure if the situation is exactly analogous. I’m unconvinced that the US faces an existential threat, but Israel? Was China preaching an apocalyptic message, as Iranian President Ahmadinejad is?

Still, I’m convinced that the best way to “win” is to outmanuever Iran diplomatically, instead of continuing on this course of bullying and intimidation, which obviously isn’t getting us anywhere, and instead of sounding the drumbeats of war. We still have time before Iran develops a nuclear weapon.

Not all diplomatic avenues are appeasement. If we let Iran develop nuclear energy, but closely monitor what they’re doing, it will be a small victory. It will allow us to get our tentacles in Iran… maybe even some human intelligence. Maybe if we have scientists working with their scientists, some of their scientists may spy for us? I still believe that this is the best course of action.

I think the history lesson from Zakaria is good to keep this situation in perspective.

Disjointed Thoughts on Christianity

This is really long. Read at your own peril.

I don’t know when I became a Christian. There wasn’t a set date. There was no drastic flash of divine inspiration or some sign.

I was an atheist ever since I hit puberty. The concept of God never made any sense to me. I went through 4 years of Catholic high school and nothing they said ever changed my mind. I never felt anything whenever we had Mass.

In fact, the concept of God still doesn’t make sense to me, but in a different way than before. When I was an atheist, I just had no idea how anyone could believe in God. There was no proof at all, in my estimation. My current conception of God is some type of being that is incomprehensible and one which humans cannot define. Thus, if you can’t define God, you can’t very well prove his existence. You can’t measure God since he’s incomprehensible. I don’t know if God is omnipotent or omniscient or omnibenevolent. More importantly, I think that I can’t know. Got that? Let’s move on…

Since April of last year, I’ve been trying to find some unifying theory of life, that would encompass all facets of life. I was trying to find the meaning of life, I guess. I came across some interesting things.

At one point, I found out what faith meant. I had never ever understood the concept of faith before. It never made any sense. I only found out through repeated introspection. When I pushed further in rejecting all my beliefs, I found no foundation. I found no reason to choose good over evil. Still, I chose good. I struggled and struggled. But why? Why? Why should I chose good? I kept trying to find reasons but there were no reasons, in my mind. And then I came upon the concept of faith. To choose good just to choose good. No reason.

Of course, discovering the concept of faith didn’t turn me into a Christian. It didn’t make me believe in God. However, in retrospect, it put me in a mindset where I could move myself away from the belief that everyone who was religious was, to some extent, nuts. I mean, I respected them, but I just found them irrational.

For my Bible as Lit class, I read Ecclesiastes. Being in Catholic school, I’ve taken religion classes, and I’ve read the Bible. None of it really enthralled me at first. I read the Gospels, but I didn’t really care what they said. I heard about Jesus and thought he was cool and all, but he was always just a man, not the Son of God. I liked some of his message (as explained by various teachers, including a hippie liberal), but I never decided that I would walk his path.

Ecclesiastes was different. From the beginning, I was hooked. Here was a man who had the same problems I did. How fucking crazy that thousands of years ago, this man wrote exactly what I thought… “Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?” Yes, what do we gain? It’s all pointless, isn’t it? (Sorry that everything isn’t in chronological order. This doesn’t map with my earlier discovery of faith. This happened beforehand, but I’ve always struggled with existential crises.)

You would think at this point I would have some lightbulb go off in my head and that’s when I converted, but nope. The Bible isn’t the book that converted me to Christianity. In fact, I was kinda pissed off when I read the end of Ecclesiastes. I’d read Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus and felt like Ecclesiastes had taken a cheap leap of faith at some point. I didn’t see that logic.

If you really want to know the book contributed greatly to my conversion, it was The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I was reading a whole bunch of non-fiction at the time. I have no clue why the hell I read this book.

It convinced me of the imperative to love everything, which I felt was part of Jesus’s message. At the same time, I had come to understand what faith was. I had also come to some of my own conclusions about how to live. I also had been studying existentialism. I began synthesizing these thoughts in my notebook.

I talked with my friend online at one point. He emphasized a philosophy of balance. I vehemently opposed it at the time. I felt an imperative to ground myself in this world. To choose good. (Or whatever, the thoughts become muddy from my recalling them.) Anyway, at some point he asks if I’m Christian now, and I say that I don’t know. Yet, it seemed like I wanted to follow the philosophies of Jesus Christ at that point.

This story isn’t complete, is it? After all, you don’t know how I came to believe in God. Well, I guess I should be perfectly honest. I don’t really know either. What’s more, I’m in a state of perpetual doubt. At this point in my life, I sometimes severely wonder if I believe in God or not. I don’t have an unshaking faith.

What I have are inklings.

At one point, I broke down and asked for a sign. I was like, damn it, I want to know. Please, I am insignificant and weak. You know the way I think. I need some type of evidence.

I never received a sign.

I did receive a few questions.

Of course, if I put these few experiences down that I’ve had, I know that the old atheist me would think I’m nuts. But you have to look at the sum totality of my experience.

My dog survived surgery when I was sure he was going to die. He’s still alive now. I don’t see that as proof at all of any existence of a higher being, but I did sometimes wonder if it was a sign. Strangely enough, I never wondered while this whole thing was going on. I never prayed, asking for my dog to live. I figured he had lived a good long life already. In fact, I thought the surgery would be a massive waste of money. So, he lived, and it wasn’t until a long time afterwards that I wondered if this was the sign I was asking for.

Then, I had this experience meeting a random stranger on BART. I thought that perhaps there was some higher force at work. But I didn’t see this as my sign. I still don’t have my proof.

I don’t think I’ll ever get a “sign” as how I originally thought it. I don’t think I’ll ever have proof. And I don’t think I deserve any kind of proof. I won’t say “that’s not the way God works” because I think it’s incredible hubris to claim that one knows how God does or does not operate. So, since I don’t really know what God is supposed to be, it’s hard to believe in something I can’t understand. I don’t think: “I believe in God.” I think: “I believe in God?”

Before all this happened, I have other important experiences that must be shared. The first experience involves a river. I didn’t convey it all in the entry, but I think this was a time where I felt connected to some type of unity. There’s no other way to explain it. If not that time, I’m sure I’ve felt it other times. Like one time when I looked in the mirror, just glanced at my own eyes while reflecting on life, and then I felt this incredible feeling, a connection of the past, present, and future. Other times it’s been a feeling of being connected to the entire universe. I guess they’re what one may call peak experiences. If you’ve ever read Emerson’s transparent eye poem, it’s exactly like that.

I read a book called… hm, the title escapes me at the moment… but it was a science book. It talked about peak experiences and how they’re felt when people pray or when someone is in deep meditation. There are different levels of unity that people feel at different times. The book did not take the stance that these were all just brain states and thus false. Could we be connecting to something higher? Do our brains enable us to connect to something higher?

You can now see that my question/belief is not grounded only in two small non-signs and a commitment to some of the teachings of Jesus. There’s something deeper that I’ve felt. Was it God? Who knows? I sure don’t know if those different experiences are connected in any fashion, but I’ve just put it out there so you can see where I’m coming from.

This is very long, and I’ve still a lot more to share. There’s one other peak experience that I had that was very different from the others. Whenever you have one of these experiences, you feel like you’ve accessed Truth. It shapes you. This peak experience wasn’t about unity. It was during Halloween Two. I felt as if all of life was insignificant, but it was a marvelous happy feeling. I was reveling in the naturally illogical nature of the universe.

Thus, now you can see some of the basis of my two contradictory truths. I am a Christian who believes that the universe is ultimately meaningless. I believe that nothing matters, but I still have an imperative to love everything in that universe. And now, I’m at the point where I believe that I can fully embrace both beliefs. I don’t have to abandon one or the other. I don’t have to find balance between them.

As you can tell, I’m already not a traditional Christian, but I have another belief that really sets me apart from other Christians. Actually, it’s not a belief. It’s the lack of a belief. I still don’t believe in heaven or hell. I suppose that also means I don’t believe in an afterlife. I suppose that also means I don’t believe in an everlasting soul. Or if there is some type of soul, it disperses, just as your body decomposes when it dies. Your constituent elements return to the universe.

Part of it goes back to the experience where I saw the connection of the past, present, and future. It wasn’t just that. I don’t know how else to put it, but I saw heaven on Earth. I saw what we have as the best we will ever have.

Part of it goes to my beliefs about Jesus. I just don’t understand how the Jesus I know would create a hell. Isn’t there an all-forgiving element? Of course, I know the traditional Christian riposte: You have free will and thus choose not to go to heaven; God doesn’t send anyone to hell. Still, it seems a cop-out.

Also, if there was a heaven and hell, it wouldn’t make sense to believe that there’s no reason to choose good over evil. That’s not a very good reason since it gets things backwards, but you can see why I would have a reluctance to believe in heaven or hell.

At heart, I’m still a skeptic. At least with Christianity in general, I have all those thoughts and experiences aforementioned. With heaven and hell, I have absolutely no evidence or introspective beliefs that would make me change my mind. I’m sorry, but my conception of Christianity doesn’t allow for hell to exist.

It’s untraditional, but I’m sure I’m not alone. Not that there is anyone who matches my exact set of beliefs, but people who agree with certain elements. I haven’t met anyone who was unsure of when they became a Christian, but I’m sure there are people who didn’t have one set conversion experience. I know there are Christian philosophers who agree that “Nothing matters.” I know there are Christians who don’t believe in heaven or hell. Actually, my politics professor said George Washington quietly lacked a belief in the afterlife. I know there are Christians who don’t have unshaking, unwavering faith; they sometimes have doubts. And maybe there are people out there who may agree in totality with my beliefs.

Nevertheless, here I am, putting them out there, unafraid to share my beliefs with the world at large. They may change as they have changed before, but this is a snapshot of what I believe right now. Some may disagree vehemently with my current views of Christianity, but it would be folly to shout at me, “You are not a Christian!” Better that I am in the fold and have a chance to perhaps come to your side, than to push me back into the realm of atheism. Yet, I already explained earlier why I was unafraid. Not all Christians are born-again evangelicals. If you tell me that I am in no way Christian, I know that you are telling many others that they are not Christian either.

it’s easy to forget

It’s easy to forget that this weblog is up on the internets and potentially anyone could stumble upon it. Even though it’s usually just a few people reading it, so I don’t really care what I put, I wonder if I should start caring and start being a little more careful with what I say and how I say it.

Or perhaps I should throw caution to the wind and say what I really think…

Then again, sometimes it’s hard to tell what I think. I sometimes use this weblog for thinking aloud and now I’m wondering if this is the appropriate place to do so.

Anyway, post on religion after TV time. I need to unwind. Enjoy the Chalkboard Manifesto in the post below.

Grappling with big questions

Here’s a link to Lloyd: the enemy in our midst.

I’m just linking right now because I don’t really have answers yet. I’m beginning to wonder if the Republican Party can be salvaged. (Fiscal conservatives will know what I’m talking about. Burkean conservatives will know what I’m talking about.)

I’m also wondering if big tectonic shifts are to come in party make-up. Immigration produces strange bedfellows… it’s a big issue and could be potentially disruptive. The labor unions have steadily been losing power. How long can the Dems count on them? New ethnic groups will be holding more sway. Latinos, Asian-Americans… I’m sure there are many other things I’m missing, but I’m just throwing my thoughts out right now, instead of in a more substantial entry that I thought I was planning for a later date.

I’m not saying that there’s going to be some grand third party coming into play. That’s highly unlikely. But it’s also highly unlikely that the status quo will hold over the course of my lifetime. (I’m only 19.) Political parties are coalitions of factions with competing interests. Some factions lose power. Some factions gain power. Sometimes a political figure can be polarizing. Like how there were Whigs who were really Democrats, but they just hated Andrew Jackson’s guts. (Do I have my history right?) You can’t expect a coalition to really be stable when the environment is so dynamic. Something’s gotta give sooner or later.

Thus, there is no question that there will be changes. The questions are: To what extent? (Will the changes be small?) And: How soon?

And if this happens: On which side of the divide will I fall? Should I actively try to trigger this “Realignment”?

Ah yes, and I missed one question: Who? Who will be on which side?

I’m going to take a break tomorrow from all this and do something I was planning a while back: Write about religion. I think it will help put me on the path to answering these new questions.

Induced Hypothermia

Check out this I excerpted from a supposedly humorous weblog entry, Secret CIA interrogation techniques revealed!:

The Grauniad blows the lid off the mother:

Details emerged yesterday about the seven interrogation techniques the CIA is seeking to be allowed to apply to terror suspects… The techniques sought by the CIA are: induced hypothermia; forcing suspects to stand for prolonged periods; sleep deprivation; a technique called “the attention grab” where a suspect’s shirt is forcefully seized; the “attention slap” or open hand slapping that hurts but does not lead to physical damage; the “belly slap”; and sound and light manipulation.

All you want to do is blow up some infidels for Allah, but these pigs won’t let you sit down or take a nap or put on a sweater. If the blasphemers are feeling particularly American, they might even wrinkle your outfit. Or give you a pinkbelly! AAAAIIIEEEEEEEE!!!

[emphasis mine]

Oh yeah, hypothermia… ha ha ha ha, what a great laugh.

Yes, inducing hypothermia is akin to not letting someone put on a sweater. We Americans don’t torture, it’s only coercive interrogation.

(Hm, now I think I got an idea for satire of my own…)

[Just to be clear, I am being completely sarcastic when I say that hypothermia is funny.]

The Most Dangerous

The most dangerous man is he who is unjust but has deceived everyone into thinking that he is just.

“Anyone who is caught should be thought inept, for the extreme of injustice is to be believed to be just without being just. And our completely unjust person must be given complete injustice; nothing may be subtracted from it. We must allow that, while doing the greatest injustice, he has nonetheless provided himself with the greatest reputation for justice. If he happens to make a slip, he must be able to put it right. If any of his unjust activities should be discovered, he must be able to speak persuasively or to use force. And if force is needed, he must have the help of courage and strength and of the substantial wealth and friends with which he has provided himself.” — Glaucon in Plato’s Republic.

It’s not torture. It’s “coercive interrogation.”

It’s doublespeak.

The lesson that I want you to take away is that injustice is nearly always perpetrated behind the mask of justice. (Injustice for injustice’s sake is easily countered.)

Look behind the words.

Look behind Bush’s rhetoric about freedom and look at his actions in Iraq.

I know I’m not being a good Republican, but I can’t help it. I must look at the situation objectively.

Of course, he hasn’t convinced everyone, but I do not think that all who oppose him oppose him for good reasons. The strange thing is I think that Bush has deceived himself into thinking he is just.

Our greatest weapon is our American ideology — of freedom, justice, and self-determination.

The most dangerous ones are those who loudly proclaim that they are doing things in the name of freedom, and convince everyone that this is so, yet actively work to undermine that freedom.

[Sorry to be all vague and not talk about things in concrete terms, but this is my personal weblog and I have the right to experiment.]

The Surreal Debate on Torture

Are there any other Republicans out there who find this debate about torture surreal? I haven’t listened to talk radio since I got back to JHU, but I’m sure the right-wing is furious at how the Left and Powell and McCain and more are “terrorist-sympathizers.” I just can’t imagine how we got to the point where my party would endorse torture. But I will fight, for the soul of the nation, and the soul of my party.

I tend to see the world in less shades of gray than many other people. I’m not so naive to see the world in black and white, but now you know a little more about my worldview. Torture is wrong. We don’t torture child-rapists and serial killers. We shouldn’t torture this other brand of killer, especially not if they’re US citizens or residents.

I’m just surprised that the group that tends to see things more black and white — that at times actively criticizes those who don’t see things in black and white — can only see shades of gray when it comes to torture. Like I said, it’s surreal.

At this time, I think the pragmatic front is the best to fight on. Convince people that torture will not prevent another 9/11, their fear will disappear, and then they won’t let it cloud their moral judgment. However, I will also be making a moral argument in the coming days.

I’m behind schedule on the College Republicans web site. I wonder what they’ll think if I finally get the blog up and running, and I start it off criticizing torture… Would they attempt to run me out?

The Moment I’ve Been Waiting For (Plus, A Pragmatic Argument Against Torture)

Finally, Congress starts to grow a spine, with a some Senators standing up to the Bush administration’s underhanded attempts to make torture the law of the land.

I’ve been waiting a while for Congress to deal a good defeat to the executive branch.

Not that I wanted Bush in particular to be slapped, just to see the executive branch have its power curbed.

And this couldn’t be a better issue.

We’re fighting a multiple-front war. Certain people get enraged that we’re losing the propaganda war, but then they endorse torture. Even the most heinous serial killers, rapists, and the like, are subject to the 8th amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual” punishment.

I know terrorists are disgusting people, but we must prove that we are better than them. We don’t need to endorse torture to stop another 9/11. Because that goes right into the recruiting handbooks of al-Qaeda. Torturing an innocent Muslim moderate (and if you think everyone in Guantanamo is guilty, then you’re vastly mistaken) is a great propaganda tool for al-Qaeda. It makes it harder to win the War on Terror.

The so-called ticking time bomb scenario is a joke. It only happens in the movies. The terrorists are maniacs. They don’t care about blowing themselves up. Do you honestly think in the ticking time bomb scenario, they will crack before the bomb blows up? Isn’t it easy for them to give you the wrong information? By the time you check, the bomb has already gone off somewhere else.

The advocates of torture paint a false dilemma. Either we torture, or 9/11 will happen again. It’s not so.

We can make it vastly harder for terrorists to succeed without resorting to torture. Doesn’t it make sense to secure leftover nuclear material before it gets into enemy hands instead of torturing someone who already set a bomb? Because that guy probably won’t tell you where the bomb is.

Analyze the trade-offs. We need other countries’ cooperation in order to find terrorists. The more we abandon our moral principles, the more we lose the propaganda front in the war, the less those countries cooperate with us. We need those countries to cooperate with us in securing nuclear materials. Thus, it becomes more likely that we will be attacked again.

Analyze the trade-offs. If you give the president discretion on who to torture and who to not torture, how do you know when his high-level detainees aren’t so high-level? Well, you can’t, since it’s a secret. What happens when a different president is in office and he starts shipping off American citizens for secret interrogations on charges of “terror”? Don’t think it can happen? Law enforcement agencies are already using the Patriot Act for things unrelated to terror. You don’t think once you give the executive branch the leeway to torture, it won’t be used on non-terrorists? The slope is more slippery than you think.

Analyze the trade-offs. In fact, a lot of times, torture doesn’t work at all. You get a lot of wrong information. The time we spend analyzing those false leads could be spent better elsewhere. We miss opportunities to nab real terrorists. The nation becomes less safe.

Moreover, some of this information we already got without torturing anyone. From the Slate article Tainted Fruit, “There is already evidence that President Bush either exaggerated or misspoke with respect to that torture evidence. He claimed that harsh interrogation of one of the CIA’s detainees led to the identification and capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in part by revealing that his nickname was ‘Mukhtar.’ But according to intelligence officials, the government paid an informant $25 million for the tip that led to Mohammed’s arrest, and the CIA knew Mohammed’s nickname even before 9/11.”

The threats to our own freedom and our moral standing in the world are not worth the trade-off for a highly unlikely hypothetical ticking time-bomb scenario. I’d rather take real, concrete steps towards security.

The Best Thing about being half-Asian

I remembered when I was 12-13 or so, just in the beginning stages of puberty. I totally wanted facial hair because it seemed so grown-up. Shaving seemed like a marvelous rite of passage, or something.

Now, that I’m older, I realize that shaving is a hassle and… well, it sucks big time.

Luckily, I have some Asian genes in me, so I am not very hairy. Some hair on the chin. Some hair on the upper lip. Some hair between the chin and lower lip. No hair on the cheek. Or actually, at one point in time, I had one hair on my cheek. I thought it was an eyelash or something, and then I realized it was attached to my cheek. It was freakin’ hilarious.

The hair that does grow doesn’t grow very fast. I can go days without shaving. It’s fantastic, but it would’ve made me sad when I was little.

Facebook’s assault on grammar

So, I was checking out news-feed and I was surprised to see this (my apology to Tony for letting everyone now stalk him via proxy): “Tony Quintana updated their profile. They changed their profile picture.”

Since when has Tony become two people?? Then, I looked at Tony’s profile and saw he had not listed his gender. So, Facebook is now using “they” as a third person singular pronoun? “Their” is singular?

No! Bad Facebook. Bad!

Every move is still a killing move

Sometimes, it’s important to re-focus. As of late, I’ve lost my sense of purpose. I’ve no goals.

I’ve set my eyes on a big prize, but I haven’t thought any steps through yet.

How can one become a great sword-fighter without any practice?

I must practice life as if it were a skill I had to hone.

I must re-focus.

I’ve been adrift.

I must set achievable goals.

I must do more than dream.

I must define my grandiose visions.

I must keep my eyes on my goals.

I cannot grow complacent. Complacency is my biggest enemy.

I’ve been living my life defensively.

I need to go on the attack.

I must be aggressive.

I must find passion.

I must be tenacious.

Do not lose track of your purpose.

However, you must focus on the “how” more than the goal.

Go. Go. Go.

Do not falter.

Every move is a killing move.

Everything I couldn’t say yesterday

Having been shaped almost exclusively by the geopolitical events that have occurred in the past five years, it almost seems heretical to ask these things, but throughout my philosophical quest, I got into the habit of questioning beliefs that felt near and dear… Did 9/11 really change everything? Did 9/11 really require a paradigm shift in the way we dealt with the world?

Were we justified in invading Afghanistan? Would a preemptive attack on Afghanistan been justified, prior to 9/11?

Just how big a threat are the various Islamic radicals?

Does the Middle East need democracy? How should we spread democracy? Should America be more patient?

It would’ve been impossible for me to ask these questions yesterday. I thought I felt okay, but on that day, I realized that there was still a big gaping wound. 9/11 still hurts. There is nothing that I love more than my country, and to see it attacked…. I want to say that it feels like someone punched me in the gut, but it goes deeper than that… as if someone was able to wound my soul. 5 years later, I can’t help it. It still hurts.

It was fascinating going through the links Lloyd provided from the kids who were only in 3rd and 4th grade when it happened. It seems like ages ago to them. They couldn’t even fully comprehend what was going on. (And I noticed at least two of them remembering carpet. I don’t know what that means.) To me, 9/11 wasn’t ages ago. First of all, 5 years doesn’t seem as long a period of time as it used to. (It happens when you get older.) Secondly, it still feels like yesterday when it happened. Well, perhaps not yesterday. More like a month ago. It’s like when you stare at a bright light and it leaves an after-image when you close your eyes. That day burns brightly compared to everything else.

There were so many things I wanted to write about yesterday, but I refrained from writing. Yesterday wasn’t about me. For me, every 9/11 will always be about them. The dead.

There were people outside on the street waving peace signs. I suddenly became very angry, even though I recognized that it was probably irrational to be that way. To me, it felt like they were disrespecting the 3000 people who died on that day. I thought, “We tried peace in ’93. They came back 8 years later and knocked the towers down.” That oversimplifies the issue, in retrospect, but I still can’t shake the feeling that these people want to bury their heads in the sand. Yesterday, I was 100% sure Afghanistan was justified because 3000 people died and we helped disrupt al-Qaeda such that killing another 3000 would be extremely, extremely difficult. I felt like they didn’t care about bringing the killers to justice. I thought, “This day is about them, not you or your stupid political agenda. Shut up.” All this just from seeing them on the street. I was completely flustered for many hours afterward. Like I said, it wasn’t 100% rational, but it’s impossible for me to act rationally on the anniversary of September 11.

Every year, I mark the day with one word: Remember. It contains everything I want to say. It’s many things at once to me. It’s a solemn reminder to remember the tragic events. It’s a note of defiance, a warning to the terrorists that we will never forget and we will bring you to justice. It’s a wake-up call: America, don’t let this happen again. I’m not sure how one word can mean that much to me. Perhaps it’s because it takes me back to that day and all the emotions I had at the time. Perhaps it’s not the word. Perhaps it’s just the act of remembering. Just the pure, unadulterated act of remembering. For me, to add commentary would be to taint the memory.

And so, on that day, I will always continue to only put that one word. 9/11 will forever be dedicated to the act of remembering for me, until the day when Islamofascism has been utterly defeated.

Project Runway Picks

After Allison went out, I made my picks for top 3: Michael, Jeffrey, and Laura. I think Laura’s outfits are boring, but it looks like there’s been nothing but praise for them so far. I really enjoy Uli, but she hasn’t been getting much screen time and that makes me think she won’t make it. My instincts were only confirmed when the judges suddenly criticized her the week before last. The producers have a say, I think, and so, I picked the top 3 that would probably produce the most drama.

However, I missed last week’s episode, and my prospects for seeing this week’s are dim. (Fuck you, Calculus III.) Someone tell me if I’ve already fucked up my picks. This initially made me reluctant to make a post, but I’m just putting this out there now so I can either look like an idiot or a genius before the end of the show, before this becomes a postdiction instead of a prediction. I will be glad to be proven wrong on Uli, though.

They Don’t Just Want to Kill Each Other

For some reason, I feel like there might be this impression that the sectarian violence was inevitable in Iraq. That these people have always fought each other and always will. With that frame of mind, one may think that their only goal is to kill each other, since that’s what they’ve always done. That if civil war exists in Iraq, the only objective of the Shiites and the Sunnis is to spill the blood of the other. That the objective is merely to fight.

We must think further than this.

The name al-Sadr keeps popping up in the news. His Shiite militias commit murder after murder. And I find myself constantly lamenting, “Why didn’t we kill him when we had the chance?” We did have that chance in the beginning of the war. I’ll refresh myself on the exact history later when I can find it.

If you think all al-Sadr wants is to kill people, you’re mistaken. Even Osama bin Laden has his dreams of an Islamic caliphate.

Now, the question is what kind of influence does al-Sadr wish to wield? Would he try to destroy the nascent democratic government in Iraq?

I can only propose a guess based on a knowledge of human nature and its lust for power: Yes.

The other question, though, is: What kind of influence does Iran wield over al-Sadr? Can Iran conquer Iraq via proxy (namely, al-Sadr)? It’s not so far-fetched when you consider what has happened with Hezbollah and Lebanon.

And of course, I have one more question: What should the US do about al-Sadr? Even if you don’t follow my paranoid line of questioning, al-Sadr’s militia poses a threat to Iraq’s government. A government needs to have a monopoly of force.

Meditation on Contradictory Truths

It’s been nearly 9 months since I brought to you the latest breakthrough I had in my search for a coherent account of reality. I’ve still been searching, and today, I reveal to you my latest revelations about life.

Since my last breakthrough, I’ve kept pushing and pushing. I thought deeper and deeper. At some point, the quest for knowledge, I realized, had become a quest to unlearn everything I knew. I kept throwing away assumption after assumption. Finally, stripped of all knowledge, I was left with only two fundamental truths. 1) Nothing matters. 2) Love everything. Of course, it’s not as if these were new discoveries, it’s just that everything else seemed to stem from these truths. The first, “nothing matters,” comes from my more cynical, skeptical mind. In this view, everything is meaningless and has no purpose. I came upon this truth when I kept asking myself, “Why? Why? Why?” With every answer, I tried to dig deeper. At the bottom of the hole I dug, I found nothingness. I found no reason to choose good over evil. I found no purpose to life. My second fundamental truth was a command that came from my (still) newfound Christianity: Love everything.

These seem to answer the two basic questions that I set out to answer: What does it mean to be human? how should I live? Yet, my answers were contradictory. How can you love everything if you believe that the universe is meaningless? I tried to take a leap, to pick one or the other, but I couldn’t. In my mind, there was no reason to choose good over evil, yet my choice was for good. (Let alone the fact that I couldn’t explain what was good or what was evil.) How could I explain this contradictory state? I tried to explain it pragmatically — that good was the best way to live life, but that seemed wrong. It didn’t take into account the complexities of life. Sometimes, you can gain from evil.

For months, I tried in vain to reconcile these two truths. I toyed with an idea of the “love absurd.” I’d write feverishly in what I thought were moments of epiphany, but nothing ever stuck. Last December, I finally came upon viewing the world as a giant game of improve and the philosophy of “forgetting the audience,” but that still felt too descriptive. It wasn’t the Middle Way I sought. In fact, I felt a Middle Way would be a betrayal of my principles, my truths. That’s why I’m didn’t lean toward Buddhism after all my thinking. I didn’t want to equivocate in my command to love everything.

Finally, I am stumbling upon a possible path toward reconciling the two contradictory principles: Don’t. It’s not that I’m going to ignore the contradictions; I’m going to embrace them. The struggle is the greatest thing about life. It is the Sisyphean cry of the existentialist, “I will not be defeated. I will live anyway,” combined with the Christian sense of purpose. The answer of “How to live” is to pursue contradictory goals at the same time.

Of course, this probably makes more sense to me than it does to you. I can only explain my proto-thoughts by analogy. My breakthrough came during my study of government. Modern democracies are comprised of two contradictory goals: To provide freedom to the people and to give government the necessary strength to act. It pits chaos versus order.

A completely ordered life is to live under totalitarianism. To me, this is surrendering completely to my second truth and forgetting to step back. A completely chaotic life is to live in a violent state of nature. To me, this is surrending to my first truth and acting however I want because nothing matters.

Democracy could be construed as a Middle Way. It’s often portrayed as a delicate balancing act. I disagree strongly with this characterizing. It’s not a balancing act; it’s a struggle. It is a messy, constant struggle. Just like my struggle with the meaningless universe. With a democracy, you fight to create law, to define situations, but to not define all situations.

I will live my life similarly. But then I ask myself, is it possible to do such a thing? Does it make sense to be a living contradiction? Yes, I can.

I now appeal to another analogy. Is light a particle or a wave? Kind of one, kind of the other, kind of both. It’s bizarre. The human mind works the same way. If light can be two things at once, then perhaps I can as well?

And so, I begin to think that to live life is to constantly struggle between contradictory fundamental truths (perhaps not necessarily the two I’m thinking of now). There is no final reconciliation. There is no transcendent truth above them. There is no delicate balance. There is only the struggle.

I realize: Hope and futility can coexist.

Of course, the analogies are imperfect. I haven’t even bothered to explain why I think “Love everything” should be a fundamental truth. I have holes all over the place, I bet. Are my fundamental truths even the correct ones? Still, I think I’ve stumbled upon my main contradiction: Hope and futility. And I’ve realized that although they are in contradiction, they can still coexist. The key is not transcendence or balance, but struggle. To live my life simultaneously believing in, and acting upon, both.

A Response to Lloyd and the Facebook Fracas (that somehow morphs into something else)

Lloyd wrote this today:

If only a fraction of the energy and indignation that tens of thousands of college students are now expending on the Facebook fracas be applied elsewhere… to, say, indignation and action over the de facto torture policy of the Bush Administration… then maybe things will get…

…never mind. It’ll never happen. ;p


It’s quite easy to voice your indignation when all you have to do is click “Join this group.” I expended just about as much energy as it takes to turn the TV on. If we applied the same energy elsewhere, well, we’d get just about as much done as we have now.

If we could change Bush’s policy by getting thousands of people to click a button, it could happen… maybe, but keep this in mind: We weren’t going to march on facebook. We weren’t going to hold our ground. If Mark Zuckerberg had held his ground for a month (or perhaps two weeks!), Generation Y would’ve acquiesced quite easily. Bush is a million times more obstinate.

As someone from the inside of this “revolution,” I can say that it was no revolution. We were merely consumers extremely who clicked a button to say that we were dissatisfied with a product, stirred up by a few trouble-makers who took an extremely short amount of time to invent a group.

I think it’d be easier to first get all the people who voted for American Idol to vote for a president. ;P

But do delve even further into the psychology of this generation, it was rather interesting how this was a decentralized phenomenon. Sure, there was one guy who wrote a spiel for the Facebook group, but it easily could have been another person from any of the other Facebook groups against News-feed. It easily could’ve been someone else. To put it in plain English: This outcry had no leader.

If Gen Y is really going to get anything done, it needs leaders. Yet, our current choice of role models is lacking. Celebrities? An incompetent president? The morally bankrupt former president? The stilted former vice president? The current vice president who shot someone in the face?

Can we really say that without Abraham Lincoln, the Union would’ve been as great? Can we really say that without Martin Luther King, the civil rights movement would’ve gone as far?

With political discourse poisoned by hacks like Coulter, who can we look to for inspiration? Who can we look to for wisdom?

I’m not saying that the leader is the end-all, be-all. That would be anti-democratic to say that all we need is a great leader, but it sure helps to have a good leader — to have a catalyst for action by the masses.

Like I said earlier, if Zuckerberg had held out for a month, he surely would’ve been victorious. We need people in positions of power to make a difference. Luckily, democracy provides the means to put these people in power.

Yet, the adolescent hearts and minds of this generation were forged in the fires of 9/11. All those who are in college right now, who are on facebook, they are the ones whose lives are shaped by that one day. Perhaps with the world in disarray right now, we can look back on that one day to find courage and integrity in the midst of a previously unimagined act of despicable evil. Even then, there was hope, so too now, there may be hope.

Of course, I’ve gone a long way from Facebook, but I felt it would be wrong to have stopped writing. All I can say is that I will do my small part and maybe one day become a leader, as I hope to be. I can tell Lloyd that he has a right to be cranky now. On the surface, we look like misfits, but with the right catalyst, something great may still yet happen. Although it looks like courage and integrity are in short supply, we have a powerful example in our past of what these values mean. I just hope it’s enough.

To bring this full circle, I must say that no, this Facebook fracas isn’t a sign of things to come. We expended very little effort to bring this about, and I’ll say it one more time, that if Zuckerberg had held out longer, we would’ve given up quite easily. This isn’t a victory by any means. Zuckerberg was very understanding. We didn’t fight anything. There was an outcry, but there was no battle. Thus, by logical extension, there was no victory. I will disagree vehemently with anyone who says differently. This was no demonstration of will or action. There was no test of our wills. There is no inspiration in this event. If we expended the same energy elsewhere, we’d get stomped down, just like we would’ve rolled over had this (non-)battle gone on longer.

Want to be famous?

Say that the government planned 9/11. Pretend that you were on one of the flights that crashed into the WTC. Say that the government forced you to change your identity, and now you’re coming out. Say that there are more of you.

Better do it quick. It’s going to happen sooner or later.

EDIT: Or rather, I bet it’s happened already. However, it’s all about timing. With the 5 year anniversary of 9/11 coming up, now is the perfect time. We’ve had just enough distance and we have just enough kooks who will lap up everything you say. With the coming media anniversary circus, you will be able to make the rounds. Maybe you can contact the guy who said Rove was going to be indicted in the Plame case.

Why Rumsfeld Won’t Be Replaced By a Democrat Anytime Soon

I was thinking that if Bush wanted to be a uniter, not a divider, and wanted to change the situation in Iraq, he could fire Rumsfeld and hire a Democrat in his place. Highly unlikely, I know. But if you have any hope, here’s where I demolish that hope.

Scenario: Rumsfeld, suddenly, retires due to “health reasons.” In a surprise move to establish unity, Bush names a high-profile Democrat to the post of Secretary of Defense. The American public sees a little progress in Iraq. New Secretary of Defense gets the credit, not Bush, or Republican Party by extension. Secretary of Defense becomes next president.

Scenario Two: Rumsfeld, suddenly, retires due to “health reasons.” In a surprise move to establish unity, Bush names a high-profile Democrat to the post of Secretary of Defense. The situation in Iraq worsens. The political career of the Secretary of Defense is over.

Bush can’t replace Rumsfeld with a Democrat since if it helps the situation in Iraq, he’s helping Democrats win the presidency and look real good on security. Even if he tried, a Democrat probably wouldn’t want the job since they mostly see Iraq as a quagmire and impossible to improve. Ideology aside, it is very difficult to turn the situation in Iraq around, and if you don’t, your political career is over.

Why it might be good for the nation and the war on terror for Bush to replace Rumsfeld… I’ll leave you to figure that out. But you might as well not try since it’s never going to happen.

I know it’s an odd argument to make. Who’s out there saying Bush should replace Rumsfeld with a Democrat? Well, for one, I’m just wondering aloud that it might be cool if it happened. Secondly, I think I saw on Sullivan something about him thinking that Lieberman was pushing himself for Secretary of Defense?

Also, what if Bush replaced Rumsfeld with anyone? I think even a lot of Republicans want to distance themselves from Bush when it comes to the War in Iraq. Seriously, who the hell in Washington would want Rumsfeld’s job?

Miscellaneous News

Item 1:

I was holding off on cheering for this until it was official, and now it is: Court Names Calderon Mexico’s President-Elect. Unfortunately, the losing candidate, Obrador, plans on defying the courts ruling. That’s the hard left, for ya. We take our peaceful transfers of power for granted here in America. It wasn’t always the normal state of affairs. In fact, when it first happened (when Jefferson replaced Adams), it was quite radical. Now, I’m not saying that Obrador will resort to violence, but we’ve already heard the *wink wink nudge nudge* earlier. That’s the far left, for ya. Pretending to be the champion of the people, but really only the champion of chaos.

Item 2:

The New York Times just figured out what I figured out a long time ago, and what many right-wing folks have figured out a long time ago. Immigration is going to be a big issue in this election. Article: “In Bellwether District, G.O.P. Runs on Immigration.”

This line was great: “In fact, many Republicans, on the defensive here and around the country over the war in Iraq, say they are finding that a hard-line immigration stance resonates not just with conservatives, who have been disheartened on other fronts this year, but also with a wide swath of voters in districts where control of the House could be decided.” Because I thought this was obvious a while ago. With the “in fact” it seems like this is a shocking revelation.

Whatevs. Slow news day, I guess. Then again, I think there was something in the article about political hacks a few weeks ago thinking this wasn’t an issue anymore? They should try listening to talk radio sometime. Not that they represent mainstream mainstream America, but these are the people who are probably going to vote for Republicans during midterm elections.

Item 3:

Bush finally names a replacement for Mineta, the old secretary of transportation: Mary Peters. Mineta created the disastrously incompetent Transportation Security Administration (TSA — an acronym I’m very familiar with, but some people don’t pay as much attention to flying as I do). I was glad to read a while back that he was gone. I’m hoping his replacement will be better. So far, it sounds like she’s a good manager. But her specialty is in highways. I think the outlook is dim on transportation security being drastically reformed for the better.

To the East

Last year when I left, I had a completely different feeling than now. I was simultaneously in a state of happiness and a state of sadness. I felt like an era was ending. Like things would never be the same.

Now, I feel differently. I realize life doesn’t have simple little chapters that you open and shut. Things are more entangled. I’m still friends with my companions from high school.

So when I finish college, I won’t suddenly embark on a new life. It’ll be the old life entangled with a new life. Just like what’s happening now. But geography is catching up to me. I can’t just visit back and forth easily. It leads to a more schizophrenic existence. What happens when I’m done with college? Where will I live?

To be perfectly honest, I’m not happy at all about going back. I’m dreading it. Before I was just anxious about flying (well, not flying, just going through security at the airport) and frustrated that no one sympathized with my anxiety. Now, it’s full-blown anxiety about leaving. What’s annoying is that there’s no transition period. It’s just — boom! — suddenly I’m on the other side of the country.

I feel as if I should have mixed feelings. Like, I should be looking forward to going back somewhat. Yet, I’ve recently found myself once again second-guessing my decision not to transfer. I just can’t bring myself to be optimistic.

That’s all I have to say for now. I’ll see all of you on the other side. Updates may be non-existent for a day or two (or three?). I know I don’t like to say that I’m going to make an entry on something in the near future because it usually never materializes, but I’d like to further examine the term “Islamofascism.”