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Week of 15 November 2010

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Monday, 15 November 2010
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08:06 - There's been some discussion over on the forums about how best to prosecute our war against islam. Captain Ron Morse posted the following, which is worth your time to read. Ron has more sense than all of our politicians combined. (Incidentally, although Ron refers to my "apocalyptic view", I should point out that I've never advocated killing all muslims. That'd be something like 1.5 billion people, which is obviously impractical. What I have advocated, and continue to advocate, is killing them 1,000 or 10,000 to 1, which I define as a proportionate response. On 12 September, I suggested to Bush that he nuke Mecca as a warning shot. I meant that literally. Both that he should nuke Mecca, and that he should make it clear that this action was literally only a warning shot.)

I'm sorry it took so long to get this up, but the weekend got busy and I promised a serious answer. I have to be honest that as I got into this I realized I really don’t have the time to do this the way it ought to be done. So, instead I'll offer an overview of how I would approach the problem, but it won’t be comprehensive as the subject deserves. 

You won’t be surprised to see that we are already doing many of these things and much of what I advocate is simply a matter of degree or scope rather than some radical new thing we’ve never done before. 

And finally, I make no claim of originality.  I read too much, but I’m not scholarly enough to remember who writes what so I can’t do the proper citations and credits.  So, if you think I’m ripping off someone else’s ideas you’re probably right and I’ll admit it up front, but I won’t require footnotes from you if you won’t require them from me.

I don’t share Robert’s apocalyptic view.  I do not believe the road to our salvation runs through killing all the little bastards, although some of that is clearly going to be necessary and where it is we should pursue that with alacrity and zeal.  We’re good at it and it doesn’t hurt our enemy to know that first hand.  Still, as I see it, the journey to victory is on the infinitely less expensive (but still pricey) path toward preempting Islam in the minds of its believers. Or at least in the ones that are paying the cost of the jihad to kill us. We need to start with those and can go back and get the others later.  We have to give them a better path to Paradise than slavishly adhering to the incoherent rants of a psychotic thug who died centuries ago.

We can do this using the same tools and techniques we use on ourselves every day when facing choices over diet cola or where and what to eat.  Sure, reaching some parts of the great unwashed Ummah won’t be cheap or easy, but we don’t have to reach all of it and the ones we do need to reach already have TV and broadband for the most part. 

I know it works. We did it to the Commies and they were a far harder nut to crack if for no other reason than their prophet wasn’t a self-abusing psychotic sociopathic pedophile and bullying thief who has been dead for 1,300 years. And the commies used the same techniques on us, delivered in a slightly different manner, through their sponsorship of the Deconstructionist movement in the universities of the West back in the ‘60s and ‘70s.  And, we look back with fondness at our own Reformation. Without it, we would be in the same dank, dark theocratic hole that pretty much wiped out a 3,000 year accumulation of knowledge about nature and the nature of man that Islam is mired in today. We’re still paying for our dark ages and I weep over what that lost millennium cost us. We’re lucky, though. Bringing reformation to Islam won’t have to depend on the movable type printing press and about 200 years of gestation. We have the internet, satellite TV and Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus (a subversive character if ever there was one). And Wal*Mart and McDonalds and all the other accoutrements that make the west so desirable in the eyes of the have-nots. We’ve got the greener grass on the other side of the road, even if it’s mostly concrete. We should exploit it. 

We have to get realistic about the nature of the problem. I assume everyone here has some familiarity with western history and at least a passing acquaintance with the great works of western literature and understands how the social contract between the individual and the state in our civilization evolved. “…we hold these truths to be self-evident…” and all that if you’re American, or Locke and Rousseau if you’re not.  The cornerstones of our civilization all derive from the traditions described in that literature that places the rights of the individual above the state and makes the bonds of a religion a personal rather than a collective obligation.

Contrast this with the Muslim world view. Under Islam, there is no state except the Ummah, the community of believers, and outside of some administrative and coordinating functions there is no government beyond the immutable word of Allah.

Muslims regard the text of the Koran as the official and immutable word of God itself. There are some other books about Mohammed’s life and teachings that Muslims also consider to be holy books (the Hadith), but the Koran itself comes directly from Allah to you, via the angel Gabriel who dictated it personally to Mohammed in bits and pieces over a period of about thirty years. It took a couple of generations after Mohammed died before the Koran was actually committed to paper. Mohammed was illiterate and apparently didn’t trust the scribes of the day (presumably because most of them were Jews) and there’s evidence in the historical record that when they finally did get around to writing it down they didn’t get quite all of it and some of what they got may not be quite right. But, it is forbidden to talk of such things so they don’t. Nor is there's evidence Allah ever  bothered to do a copy edit of the final version. Alas.

I strongly urge you to set aside time to read the Koran. Parts of it are quite poetic. Vast parts simply are not congruent with our tender Western sensibilities and won’t make sense. That’s not a big deal to me as most of the Book of Revelations in the Christian bible, for example, is just as opaque. In any case, it will very quickly become apparent that there’s not much that Allah had to say back then that’s even remotely compatible with our version of Western civilization and hasn’t been since about our 16th century. 

Robert Spencer’s Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran is a useful reference if you would rather avoid the heavy lifting involved in actually reading the Koran, although I think you’ll be rewarded if you spend some time with the real thing. Spencer’s book is a political polemic so you have to be careful about accepting what he says at face value, but as a comprehensive list of “S*#t the Koran says” it’s hard to beat. Spencer is particularly sensitive to the criticism that detractors of the Koran just take the juicy bits and present them outside of the context of peace and love that is the Koran, i.e., that Spencer and his ilk are intentionally misrepresenting the words of Allah for their own nefarious political purposes.  Mr. Pot, meet Ms. Kettle. Spencer addresses this criticism head on and points out, in great detail, where the apologists for Islam themselves simply ignore vast acres of the Koran in their defense of the indefensible. The book is illuminating -- unless you’ve already read the real thing in which case it is merely clarifying and codifying.  CAIR hates his guts, and that’s as good a recommendation I can find.  Plus, as he says, if you don’t believe him, look it up yourself.  And, you can. It’s all in the book.

We need to understand the Koran if we are to understand the conflict between Islam and the West.  They’re not mad at us because of Hollywood movies or George Bush or because we let our women drive cars or leave the house wearing what amounts to underwear.  They’re not even all that mad at us for the Crusades. After all, they won that one, sort of. At least for a while. Nor are they mad at us for all the other reasons you commonly hear from Muslim apologists interviewed on NPR or NBC.

As you will see when you read the Koran they are mad at us because Allah commands it. As good Muslims who are fully submissive to the will of Allah they have no choice. They are mad at us because we are not Muslim and Allah instructs that because we do not submit to Islam by choice we reject it by force. We are infidel and there can be no appeasement with the infidel. Further, the Koran is quite clear about stating you can’t be Muslim if you don’t believe this. 

One of the things that work against the West is that we’re fighting what amounts to a religious crusade at the same time we’ve “evolved” to the point where most of us simply don’t take religions very seriously. It’s not that we go around trying to provoke God, it’s just that we don’t give a shit and neither, as we keep telling ourselves, does God. I’ve heard this described as creeping apostasy or the tendency for secular humanists to invent God in their own image.  At any rate, outside of the small number of genuine crazies hard at work in the remotest corners of the deep sub-basements of society, we don’t get worked up about religion anymore.  I doubt Norman Vincent Peale could get a network TV slot these days and it wouldn’t matter if he could (outside of the curiosity that he’s dead. That might get him a few Neilson points).  In the world today (apologies to Garner Ted Armstrong) lack of religious zeal as a not capital offense. Unless you’re Muslim.
So, the first thing we need to do is understand the problem in our terms and not what our enemies tell us it is.  We have to stop letting them define the battlefield. How? That’s the easiest thing. Read the Koran and then put that fancy education your parents paid for (one way or the other) to work. Mission accomplished.

The second thing we need to do is related to the first. We need to get over the idea that we can appease our way into peaceful co-existence with the followers of Allah.  Allah does not permit such things. It says so in the book. Unless, that is, you peacefully agree to become Muslim. If peace at any price is your daily mantra you’ve got your out except you have to replace saying mantras with five-a-day prayer sessions. For the rest of us there’s nothing in the canon of western philosophy of which I’m aware that calls for the compromise of fundamental values in the interest of simply avoiding a fight. Just the opposite, in fact. See any of the interesting parts of our own history.  Sure, we may give a bit on the edges when the differences aren’t fundamental, but giving away the entire enchilada is not something we do easily or well.

Third.  We have about half learned this one.  If we get kicked, we should kick back ten times and we should not be squeamish about doing it. War is a terrible and grotesque abomination of all we hold holy (can I say that?), but it is what it is and if you’re going to do it you need to do it completely. The decision to apply force should be judicious and measured, but once you make that decision we should be as psychologically vicious as we can make it. And under no circumstance should our own people be unnecessarily endangered by their own rules of engagement because we are more concerned about what the enemy thinks than we are about our own people. Arabs, in particular, simply don’t understand why we do this and regard it as a sign of great weakness. They are grateful for the many tactical opportunities it presents. 

Fourth.  The guys living in holes in the ground and directly engaging our guys in Afghanistan don’t have a lot to lose. They’re pretty much doing what comes naturally (and historically) to any outsider who wanders by. We should continue to kill them by the truckload as long as they keep shooting at us, of course, but as the Russians and British found out before us it’s not the road to quick, easy or cheap victory. On the other hand, the people that enable the Jihadi are living comfortably in Pakistan, Iran and on the Arabian Peninsula (and in Zurich, Geneva and Paris). These are the people who have a lot to lose, but they aren’t feeling any of the shrapnel. And we ought to change that. It’s as legal and appropriate to attack the means of waging war as it is engaging combatants on the battlefield and we should be going after those guys with the same zeal.

That's not something we can undertake lightly and we can reasonably expect that expanding our operations in that manner will lead to a certain amount of dislocation of the status quo back home. Think oil embargo and that kind of thing and it will be painful for us. Well, war is hell and we’re at war. All of us, not just the boys and girls in uniform. Getting psychologically vicious is really important here because sometimes you need to deter your friends as well as your enemies. Still, this is not new territory. We’ve had to do it before and the threat we face this time is no less existential that the one we faced in the great wars of the 20th century.  We will survive. 

Fifth.  Where we are engaged in armed conflict we need to be serious about taking care of our friends. For some reason I don’t fully understand we’ve decided we can do war and diplomacy in the same space and at the same time. I don’t think they study physics at the State Department. An unintended consequence of this has been the unfortunate tendency to abandon friends in pursuit of diplomacy with our enemies. I’m thinking of the Iranian Kurds and Lebanese Marronites in the Middle East and most of the government of South Vietnam circa 1975. There have been others who ended up paying terrible prices for the crime of cooperating with the Americans and that has to stop. Our perfidy in Iraq created a situation that took another three years to put back in the box (mostly) and the people who used to be our friends no longer trust us.

Sixth. All of the above is holding action.  Here’s how we really win the thing. When you read the Koran you will quickly realize there’s no way Islam can sustain itself except through coercive force, willful deception and suppression of open communications with outsiders.  And that’s just what Muslims have to do among themselves.  It’s a tremendous strategic weakness and we can exploit it. Our war with Islam is one of ideas. We need to bring all of our idea-sharing technology and communications resources to bear on exploiting Islam’s internal contradictions and its disconnection from 21st century reality.  Somebody jokingly suggested we carpet bomb them with satellite TV receivers, but there is no reason we should not do just that or provide simpler technology that carries our message to less developed areas (iPods to the Somalis?  Sure. Send ‘em with solar chargers. I should start a campaign). 

We own the internet, we own space. We have the technology to easily own the undersea fiber runs we don't already control. Just in the way of example of what we could be doing and what (as far as I know) we are not, why is STRATCOM’s new cyberwar command not dropping popups onto every web browser in every predominately Muslim domain asking their users hard questions about Islam and the modern world?  Or injecting little notes lovingly crafted by the best Psychologists we can buy to foment doubt and cynicism into random documents and web pages?  Why isn’t Al Jezeera carrying programs dealing with the rights of women and homosexuals and prisoners and snail darters and why aren’t we “helping” them with that?  Or why isn’t Al Jezeera carrying programs discussing why Al Jezeera isn’t carrying programs that discuss the rights of women and homosexuals or snail darters? 

We have this vast advertising industry that spends billions on research into new ways to get people to change their minds about diet colas. Is there not something there that would be valuable in a war against Islam? They're for hire, you know.  We already pay them to convince our own children to enlist in our military services, so why not put them to work on convincing Muslims to join real life.

And you get the idea.

It took the forces of deconstructionism (largely funded by the KGB) less than 40 years to effectively neuter most of the great institutions that represented Western Civilization at the end of World War II. If we were serious, how long do you think it would take to do the same thing to fundamentalist Islam?  Years, of course, but it would still be faster than trying to shoot our way to victory.
I personally believe that the West has a better idea than Allah has and there’s sufficient empirical evidence to support that argument. On average, we’ve got a better deal in terms of quality of life and general human experience than the average Muslim.  We defeat Islam simply by forcing good Muslims around the world to confront the obvious contradictions they currently avoid by suppressing them in the name of faith.  We can do to Islam what we did to the commies and this time we have better technology at our disposal and more options on how to use it. We can deliver the word of Oprah to the world of Allah. Oprah will do the rest.


Tuesday, 16 November 2010
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07:44 - I'm surprised it took this long. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church returned from one of their "God Hates Fags" protests at a military funeral and found that their tires had been slashed. When they drove into town on two flat tires to have them replaced, they learned that no business in town was willing to sell tires to them.

I'm of two minds about this. I would not have slashed their tires, much though I despise WBC and everything they stand for. If I'd seen someone slashing their tires, I would have simply turned and walked away rather than trying to stop them or reporting them to the police. In fact, if I witnessed someone walk up to WBC members and shoot them dead, I'd just look away and do my best to forget what the shooter looked like. WBC has brought such things on themselves, and far be it from me to interfere with the righteous wrath of their victims.

Although one might debate the morality of slashing WBC tires (or shooting them dead, for that matter), there's absolutely no gray area in the response of the community. All of those businesses were fully within their rights in refusing to help WBC members in any way. I would have done the same. In fact, if a WBC member collapsed of a heart attack in front of me, I'd just watch him until he stopped twitching. If one caught fire, I literally would not piss on him to put it out.

If you didn't read Ron Morse's essay Monday, please read it now. In fact, even if you did read it, read it again. Post it on your own site or on other sites that you frequent.


Wednesday, 17 November 2010
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08:28 - On explicitly or even implicitly claiming academic credentials to which one is not entitled.

With my books, and especially now with my YouTube videos, I get a fair number of emails and private messages that address me as "Dr. Thompson" or "Professor Thompson". Sometimes I let it slide just because I don't have time to clarify. I know that these people mean no harm and are so addressing me as a sign of respect. Usually, I respond with humor, something like, "I'm not really a professor, I just play one on YouTube." But, just for the record, let me state it explicitly. I do not have a Ph.D. I am not a professor. (Despite my having denied it strenuously and repeatedly, Wake Forest University Bowman Gray School of Medicine remains convinced that I have an MD, but that's another story.)

People who falsely claim to hold academic credentials are pathetic, the academic equivalent of those pathetic little people who falsely claim to be SEALs. Most of them are religious nutters who claim the title "Dr." based on "degrees" granted by unaccredited diploma mills. At least one of those "universities" is actually literally a double-wide trailer, and many are simply post office boxes. These people are seeking the respect granted to those who hold terminal degrees without doing any of the work involved in actually earning such a degree. 

People who hold actual Ph.D.'s in real disciplines are very careful about delimiting the areas of their expertise. For example, my friends Mary Chervenak and Paul Jones both hold doctorates in organic chemistry from Duke University. They were technical reviewers for Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments. Neither had any problem with me referring to them as "Dr. Chervenak" and "Dr. Jones" in the narrative of that book, because that book was about chemistry. However, Mary and Paul were also contributors and/or reviewers for Astronomy Hacks and Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders, as were my friends Dr. Steve Childers and Dr. Gene Baraff, both of whom also hold Ph.D.'s in the hard sciences. Although their academic credentials are listed in the front matter, none of them wanted to be referred to as "Dr." in the narrative, because their doctorates are not in the subject matter of the book. So in those books I refer to them as Mary, Paul, Steve, and Gene. They wouldn't have it any other way.


Thursday, 18 November 2010
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08:15 - Speaking of doing a biology lab book, I happened to see this article yesterday, Synthetic Biology Raises Ethical Concerns. No, it doesn't. Ethics, which I prefer to call moral philosophy, concerns itself with good and evil, right and wrong. Experimenting on people raises ethical concerns. Experimenting on puppies raises ethical concerns. Experimenting on rats raises ethical concerns. Some would even argue that experimenting on politicians and child molesters raises ethical concerns. But experimenting on single-cell organisms raises no ethical concerns. I doubt that even those lunatics at PETA would object to experimenting on bacteria.

The article should have been titled, Synthetic Biology Raises Safety Concerns. When the subject of synthetic biology is raised around non-scientists, they invariably imagine worst-case scenarios. A teenager with a basement biology lab accidentally creates and releases a completely new microorganism that's more infective and deadlier than ebola. Everyone on earth dies, writhing in agony. Or a terrorist cell intentionally creates and releases such a microorganism for the greater glory of allah. Give me a break.

As any scientist realizes, it's the synthetic microorganism that'll be in a fight for its life. If it ever escapes the safe cocoon of its Petri dish, it's immediately confronted by trillions of hostile microorganisms that want to kill and eat it. It has no defense. Think of a newborn kitten surrounded by a trillion kittenivorous Godzillas. Think the Martian invaders in War of the Worlds.

Microorganisms surround us. There are literally trillions of them within your current field of view. Every one of them has evolved through natural selection for billions to trillions of generations, all of which prepared it to survive in its current environment. The synthetic microorganism is literally a babe in the woods, generation one. It wouldn't know what hit it.

Okay, so what if we're not talking about a completely new synthetic organism? What if some 15-year-old girl in her bedroom bio lab modifies a common bacterium via "gene splicing" and accidentally creates a new Black Death organism? Uh-huh. Meet the Chance Brothers, Slim and None.

No, if I want to create a dangerous organism, I don't use synthetic biology to do it. I start with an existing nasty organism and some stuff I buy at WalMart. I use natural selection to breed antibiotic-resistant examples of that organism. Lather, rinse, and repeat until I have a "superbug" that's resistant to every antibiotic. Then I release it, sit down, bend forward to put my head between my legs, and kiss my own ass goodbye.

The point is, synthetic biology isn't the offense. It's the defense against the guy with evil intentions and a few bucks to spend at his local WalMart. If we're really worried about a biological apocalypse, the answer isn't to regulate or restrict DIY synthetic biology. It's to encourage such efforts to make sure we have lots and lots of competent synthetic biologists standing between us and the bad guys.


Friday, 19 November 2010
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Saturday, 20 November 2010
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Sunday, 21 November 2010
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09:22 - I've been too busy to post lately. Yesterday, I did several loads of laundry, climbed up on the roof to blow off the accumulated leaves, and built Barbara a new system. Actually, we refurbished an older system, which had been my den system. I'd intended to make my current office system--which is still the second-fastest system in the house by a large margin--her new main system. My new main system is still sitting in my office, where it's been since we built it as the extreme system for the new edition of Building the Perfect PC. It works fine, and it's immensely fast, but I just haven't had time to migrate over all my stuff from my current main system.

So, Barbara's old office system had started spontaneously rebooting. A couple of weeks ago, I decided as a stopgap to migrate her stuff over to my old den system, which was sitting on the floor in the workroom. I did that, but then a few days ago that system started spontaneously rebooting. I was going to replace the power supply, which of course involves removing the motherboard, when Barbara pointed out that we might just as well transfer that motherboard/processor into her new case, an Antec P180-series mid-tower. So, we moved that motherboard and processor into the new Antec case, with a new Antec power supply.

The CPU cooler wasn't clamped tightly (I hate those damned push-and-twist connectors), so we removed the CPU cooler, replaced the thermal goop, and reinstalled it. When we finished building the system, it came up normally. Alas, a few minutes later, it spontaneously rebooted. Arrrrgggghhhhh. So, we're going to have to do what I should have done originally: migrate the motherboard/processor/memory from my current main system to the new case and migrate all my stuff to the new extreme system.

That'll be several hours of work if I do it right. I could simply move the primary hard drive, but I'm currently running Ubuntu 9.04, which is nearing EOL. Getting a basic 10.10 installation up and running won't take long, but a lot of the stuff I run will need to be reinstalled and reconfigured from scratch, which will take some serious time. I should probably just bite the bullet and do it.

I'm also stubbing out lab sessions for the new biology book, on the assumption that it won't fall through. I already have the labs worked out in general terms, but the devil is in the details. So I'm going through my inventory, trying to figure out what I'll need that I don't already have. For example, although I have a couple of dozen different biological stains at my microscopy station, I don't know if I have all the specific stains I'll want for the book. Same on prepared slides, and various other items.

My goal for the book is to cover lab work for a first-year standard/honors biology course, a second-year/AP biology course, and a fair amount of stuff that few students are exposed to in high-school, including extensive work with DNA gel electrophoresis, PCR, restriction enzymes, etc. It's going to be a push to get everything I want to cover into a book of 350 pages or so.


Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.