sunnuntaina, tammikuuta 28, 2007

Exporting Fundamentalist Religion to the Middle East, (or How long have we been attacking Iran, anyway?)

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Nice quote, T.J. Who’s going to argue with that? Though people across the Western world might have different interpretations of that line, everyone from Dick Cheney to Michael Moore would claim to believe it. In fact, criticism from both ends of the political spectrum is usually aimed at those who have somehow failed to preserve these "unalienable Rights".
Two proponents of Western Humanism

For example, one of Bush’s purported reasons for invading Iraq was to “liberate” the Iraqi people. Saddam Hussein committed crimes against humanity and therefore needed to be ousted from power. Whether or not you believe that this was the actual reason for invading Iraq, the point is that an appeal was made to “human rights” and “liberty” as justification for, well, nearly anything.

Then you’ve got the other side. Bush is criticized, and rightly so, for violating basic the human rights of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Both sides—left and right—are throwing around “human rights,” and “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as justifications for their arguments for or against a particular policy or action. And in both cases, I believe, the use of these terms is genuine. What differs between left and right is often the means used to achieve these rather abstract goals. Thus, the interpretation of these ideals is often questioned, but rarely do any “Westerners” ask themselves why they believe so uncritically in these particular notions.

What do we believe? Arguably, we believe in what journalist William Pfaff calls “Western secular humanism.” Pfaff is referring to things that the Western world generally takes for granted: individualism (in both its positive and negative senses), an attachment to various kinds of freedom, a democratic form of government, etc. These notions are inextricably related to human rights; they rely on the same fundamental principles. There’s also a general belief in progress: we are improving and increasing the length and facility of human life.

Let’s go back to T.J. for a moment and take a look at the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence. Originally, Jefferson wanted to use the phrase, “we hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable.” There’s a bit of a religious tinge there. Yet T.J. was no Bible-beater. His views on religion were not easily defined, neither atheist, nor aligned with a particular Christian denomination. (Late in life, he wrote in a letter to Ezra Stiles, "I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know.")

So here’s a question (one that Pfaff has raised often during his impressive career): is our “western secular humanism” simply a form of religion, even fundamentalist religion? It has certainly been noted that “civic religion” has taken the place of traditional religion in many Western countries. But there’s a missionary component to our beliefs, too: we believe that all countries must convert to democracy and make a commitment to technological and material progress. How that happens is subject to turbulent debate. Do we invade Iraq and forcibly construct a democracy? Or do we hope that it will happen on its own through inclusion in the world community?

Yet, in a sense, the debates we have amongst ourselves do not address the real issue at hand, which is how the imposition of such beliefs has affected the large portions of the world that do not share this world-view. Pfaff’s writings include a plethora of examples, but given the Bush administration’s focus on Iran, let’s look at that particular example:

After World War II, the Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, tried forcibly and violently to impose the Western worldview on a peasant people whose understanding of the world and of themselves had derived for many centuries from a different religion, Islam. (Incidentally, the military coup that established a "democratic" government in 1953 was backed with the full support of the CIA). The psychological effect this had on many Third world nations is difficult to appreciate in an era of hyper-fast communication in which we feel connected to individuals, via the media and the Internet, on the other side of the globe.

In illustration, I’ll quote part of an email sent to me by a friend: “Imagine what sort of impact would it have on the typical American if creatures landed from outer space and told us that our way of life is backward and that we must change as quickly as possible. What if the invaders had a clearly superior technology and powerful weapons to threaten us with or to use in imposing their ways on us? Beyond imagining the terrible psychological and 'spiritual' consequences of such a scenario, we should try to imagine just how many of us would readily embrace the invaders' worldview and program, even if at some level we were able to view it as 'superior' (the technology, etc.)."

Aliens attacking us with superior technology. They think democracy is backwards.

According to Pfaff, “Modern Western civilization is the product of its own history. It is what it is because of its past. Nobody imposed foreign ideas on the West; it assimilated what it chose.” In other words, democracy and human rights seem to be the natural, even inevitable results of progress to those born into “modern,” Western societies, precisely because these ideas have evolved along with the rest of our culture, our art, our religions and our political organization.

I cannot claim to be immune to the beliefs of “Western secular humanism”; I am a child of my times and my environment. But I do wonder what effects thre will be for us, collectively, as human beings, as the result of these treasured values.

lauantaina, tammikuuta 27, 2007

Iraqi Democracy, Full Speed Ahead.
(Oh wait! We forgot about the schools...)

Democracy is a tricky thing. If you live in one, you generally hope that you have some intelligent folks living alongside you, because if you don’t, you’re going to be subject to some laws that you may think are quite stupid. But you can’t really complain about it, because that’s the way it works.

Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that Aristotle called democracy the “perversion of constitutional government” and suggested that it benefits only individuals, never the common good.

We’ve had about 800 years to get used to the idea, if you count the
Magna Carta as an “official” step towards the “rule of the people”—but it took some doing, some evolving, some trial and error, a few dozen wars, and a few tyrants. If you are of the opinion that we should give the “Western” world the benefit of the doubt, you can say that we’ve been trying hard to work out the kinks, to address issues like blacks and women voting.

We’ve also had the advantage of some smart people: Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, Rousseau, The Federalist, Tocqueville…. These people were not only smart, but educated.
Alex Hamilton. A fellow who wrote about democracy.

Hobbes. An important political theorist.

Another guy named Hobbes. Less optimistic than the first.

One thing people do generally agree on is that in order for a democracy to work, people have to know what they’re talking about. “My gut tells me what to do,” is not a “democracy-friendly” kind of statement.

Hence the importance of education and having educated people in a functional democracy. People have to know what’s going on and they have to be able to discuss it with the other folks around so that each person’s individual ideas get refined and then inform a common decision. In a real democracy, you may not be happy with the result of the decision, but at least you have the comfort of knowing that your opinion was taken into account. And who knows, maybe you were wrong.

So what happens if you try to set up a democracy somewhere without much education? Let’s take an imaginary plane trip to…Iraq.

A rough recent history:

Pre-1980: Iraq has arguably the best education system in the Middle East, universal primary school enrolment, and very high female literacy rates. It has a top-notch university system and a thriving intellectual community.

1980-1988: Iraq-Iran War; Iraq gets its infrastructure bombed to smithereens. (Note: under the heading “infrastructure,” add the subheading, “schools.”)

1990-1991: Gulf War; Iraq gets bombed to smithereens. Again.

1991-2003: United Nations-imposed sanctions; A blasted Iraq gets cut off from the rest of the world. A quarter of a million women and children die of malnutrition. Children leave school to help their families eat. Literacy rates drop from nearly total literacy to less than 60%.

1991-present: Middle class immigration; There’s no food, no water, no employment, no school. You’re a teacher? A scientist? A journalist? You have a ticket out of hell. You go elsewhere.

2003-present: Iraq War, take II: Iraq gets bombed to smithereens. For the third time. Civil war breaks out and tensions harboured since the beginning of last century come out in atavistic clashes and violent chaos.

So who is left to rule Iraq? Well, half the population is under 18. That knocks out a few candidates (though these folks, who have known nothing but war, malnutrition, an absence of education, and the knowledge that the western world is responsible for the mess that it their collective life, will be ruling Iraq in the next 2-3 decades—have we seen the last of trouble from Iraq? Let’s wait until today’s 10 year-olds get in power.)

The rest of the population has been stripped of its administrators, managers, businessmen, scientists, journalists…etc. No one has had access to quality education since around 1980. Kids going to school face the threat of kidnapping, violence, and bombings. The schools, overcrowded, rarely have water or sanitation.
A school in Iraq.

That means that anyone under about 45 years old isn’t educated. That means that there are no teachers. That means that schools are blown to smithereens. Who's going to be making decisions soon?
Future Iraqi leaders in training.

Good luck on this democracy project, George and Dick, I wish you Godspeed.

(For more fun stats about the state of Iraqi society, check out
"Children in Iraq tell of hardships getting to school".

sunnuntaina, tammikuuta 21, 2007

Arachnology 102: More Spiders On Drugs

So, that spoof was based on a set of real experiments performed in the sixties by the Swiss reseacher Peter Witt. Below are some photographs of the actual webs, taken from the Proceedings of the Athanasious Kircher Society website:

A drug-free, "normal" web:

A spider on hashish:
A spider on mescaline:

A spider on caffeine:

And a spider on LSD:

There was no "crack-cocaine" spider.

Quite frankly, the results of these experiments are making me wonder whether I've got it all backwards, drinking four cups of coffee a day and staying away from the rest of it. I can't tell whether the LSD web is "minimalist" (i.e., lacking threads) or if the lighting just obscures the finer threads. It seems somewhat less "inspired" than I might have imagined.
Arachnology 101

In an attempt to maintain the high educational and puerile standards of Lady Bonds' Sunday Picnic during a time of heavy examinations, Lady Bonds leaves her gentle readers with the following short clip.

She promises to return soon with an inspired, social responsible post.

"The Story of Spiders"

torstaina, tammikuuta 18, 2007

Ode to an Open Sewer in the Basement

a guest post by the illustrious Duchess

"It was brought to the Duchess' attention early Wednesday morning that her basement floor was covered in water. Upon gathering up her many skirts and descending into the bowels of her estate, the Duchess discovered that lo! 'Twas a veritable inundation of rank liquid, burbling up from a recess in the floor into which excess water is intended to DESCEND, NOT issue forth!

Multiple telephone conferences with the Landlady and the Landlady's plumber, "Merge" (yes, Merge) ensued.

The Landlady subsequently presented herself at the Duchess' chambers, around 7:00 in the evening. She accompanied the Duchess down to the lagoon in the basement, and hark! all the water had vanished!

In its place, there remained various bits of grime and suspicious-looking sediment.

As well as a medium-sized, rather plump and robust Turd.

Now, under normal circumstances, the presence of this Turd would have provided empirical evidence of one seemingly indisputable fact: that the previously mentioned Flood-Waters had issued from a Blocked or otherwise Impeded Sewer Pipe.

But herein lieth the mystery:

There exists a small metal grate over the drainage hole in the basement floor. Said plate doth have cavities through which water may pass, but said cavities are most indubitably too close together for a Rotund and Radiant Turd such as the one found Glistening on the floor next to the grate to issue forth whilst remaining Whole and Magnificent in its Roundness.

So the mystery groweth: From whence dost issue yon Turd?

Landlady and Duchess alike fell mute with wonderment.

"How could it be!" exclaimed the Duchess.

"From what rectum might it plunge to such depths?" intrigued the Landlady.

An awed silence descended upon the two fair maidens, punctuated only by the guttural noises of the Landlady's toy pug dog, Brioche, strangling itself whilst straining against its Leash in an attempt to Reach and Devour the Delectable Turd.

Finally a hushed voice cut the silence:

"Perhaps," said the Duchess in Low and Reverent tones, "Perhaps we have witnessed a Miracle!"

The Landlady nodded with the sobriety appropriate to such an Occasion.

"Perhaps," concurred the Landlady. "Or perhaps..." she mused quietly, "Perhaps you've been Visited."


"Yes. Visited. By Mr. Hanky The Christmas Poo!"


At 10:23 AM on the morning of Thursday, 18 January, the Sewage Surgeon calleth at the Duchess' door.

Upon descending into the Lower Regions, Duchess makes a most Riveting Discoverie:

Despite her best contraceptive efforts during the night, the Turd hast beene Fruiteful, and Vigorously Multiplied... All over the floor.

Whatever its Origins, the following must therefore be concluded: that in following the prescriptions of Genesis 1:28, this Fecal Emanation has shown itself to be something Special.

It is Holy Shit.

(The Surgeon has been fittingly Anointed before receiving authorization to snake the drainage pipe.)"

tiistaina, tammikuuta 16, 2007

Lady Bonds shall resume her normal posting habits shortly. Comments welcome.

"You don't become a philosophy student to breathe in the fresh air."

--Former Secret Agent

lauantaina, tammikuuta 13, 2007

Today’s Thought #1: How cool is Zen Wizard?
Coming to the rescue from thousands of miles away, Zen Wizard has provided Lady Bonds with her very own, custom made avatar, as impersonal and having as little to do with Lady Bonds’ actual personality as any avatar possibly could. And is aesthetically pleasing. Zen wins the “Lady Bonds’ Favourite of the Day” Award, and is henceforth her personal hero.
(Gratuitous link to Zen’s site for promotion.)

Today’s Thought #2
and the corresponding Fun Video come from the lovely state of Oklahoma. The first question we are asked to ponder is, “What is the most serious challenge educators in the United States today?”

I’ll give you some hints. It’s not literacy. It’s not “math and science.” It’s not pedagogy. And it’s not reaching the standards set by the All Children Left Behind Act…no, no. Of course not, folks! It’s the threat of another kid coming to school and blowing your kid’s brains out.

So let’s suppose you were a lawmaker. Would you focus your energies on:
A) Banning guns;
B) Giving your seven-year-old an AK-47 and hoping that his/her hand-eye coordination and aim has been sufficiently developed by his/her video games;
C) Developing an elaborate recycling program in which old textbooks are given to elementary school children and used as hand-held shields against potential gunmen.

Ignoring Option A as hopelessly naïve and ineffectual and Option B as being difficult to sell Congress, let’s take a closer look at Option C. In fact, this is precisely what recent candidate for Superintendent of Oklahoma State Schools, Bill Crozier, did. Furthermore, Mr. Crozier videotaped an "experiment" in which he and his buddies blew up old textbooks to see which ones withstand shots from an AK-47 and two pistols.

Why bother with something as silly as “gun control” when we can EMPOWER our children to defend THEMSELVES?

torstaina, tammikuuta 11, 2007

Inspired by, and partly in response to, an exchange on the lovely a’s blog, today’s first thought comes from Bertrand Russell, from his short essay, "On Induction": “A horse which has been often driven along a certain road resists the attempt to drive him in a different direction. Domestic animals expect food when they see the person who usually feeds them. We know that all these rather crude expectations of uniformity are liable to be misleading. The man who has fed the chicken every day throughout its life at last wrings its neck instead, showing that more refined views as to the uniformity of nature would have been useful to the chicken.”

It is perhaps, true as well that more refined views would be useful to farmers, as well:

Farm Worker Attacked by Herd of Pigs

maanantaina, tammikuuta 08, 2007

New Year, Warm Memories, and a Lingering Question

Sometimes being stranded in the cultural wasteland that is central Paris, Lady Bonds feels nostalgic for the Olden Days. In such times, it warms Lady Bonds’ heart to read articles describing the highlights of North American spiritual and intellectual development:
Bob Marley Rises From Grave To Free Frat Boys From Bonds Of Oppression

The Onion

Bob Marley Rises From Grave To Free Frat Boys From Bonds Of Oppression

WILLIAMSBURG, VA-The reggae legend returned Monday to give a voice to the rich white frata mon.

On an utterly unrelated topic, Lady Bonds wonder just how many Rastafarians actually know what Haile Selassie did during his divine and peaceful reign. Thoughts, anyone? Torture and Death, anyone?

lauantaina, tammikuuta 06, 2007

Another Thought.
Today’s Thoughts and Questions

Thought : I hate Heathrow airport.

Question : Why do British pubs close at 11?

Question: If diarrhoea of the pen means constipation of the mind, does constipation of the pen mean diarrhoea of the mind?

Thought : I should pick an avatar, shouldn’t I? (Wait, that was a question.) Federal Judge Richard Posner has an avatar that looks just like him, and he hangs out on Second Life, giving lectures to other avatars. I’d like to have an avatar that looks just like Richard Posner, too. Maybe a little bit different, so we wouldn’t get confused.

Question: Which Historical Lunatic were you?
I'm Charles the Mad. Sclooop.
Which Historical Lunatic Are You?
From the fecund loins of Rum and Monkey.