Sunday, August 22, 2010

Do you trust your political opponents?

Via Libérale et libertaire, I've been discussing "the Horowitz Challenge":
The next time you’re engaged in a political discussion with someone who has very strong views different from your own, ask them if they can name two famous thinkers or politicians whose politics are opposed to theirs who they also think are very smart and genuinely concerned with making the world a better place. If they can’t, it’s not clear they are able to grant the good faith such discussions should have.

I'm stuck on the criteria of "genuinely concerned with making the world a better place". Sure, plenty of my political opponents want to make the world a better place, but they are domineering and even megalomaniacal about it. Basically, the way that they would make the world a better place is to force everyone else to conform to their own ethical and ideological system.

I can really only interpret "make the world a better place" as meaning "generally improve the welfare of humanity." There are plenty of people out there (including many Americans) who clearly indicate that they view vast swaths of humanity as their enemy, for no reason other than a difference in culture, values, or lifestyle. These people will identify someone as an enemy even if that person has never expressed any ill intent towards them, or acted in any way that is clearly harmful to others.

These people are commonly known as culture warriors. Some culture warriors only use the arsenal of cultural confrontation -- such as rhetoric. However, others think nothing of using violence (including the state). This later group ranges from the "Clash of Civilization" Islamophobes who want to bomb foreign countries back to the stone age and shut down mosques in America, to the Drug Warriors who intend to "scare straight" all of those hippies and ravers. These people clearly do not want to make the world a better place for people with different cultures. They explicitly intend to cripple others who pose no material threat to themselves.

The thing about these people is that their enemies list knows no bounds. We see that it is generally the same group of people who attack all of these different subcultural groups. In contemporary America, they are generally a particular type of Republican. They attack religions minorities, cultural minorities, political minorities. If many of these minorities are free from harassment in modern America, it is only because we have fought these bigots to a standstill or we have learned how to avoid their attention, and they have turned their attention to less powerful groups. However, if those less powerful groups weren't around to distract them, then they would again turn their hate towards the more established minorities.

So basically, I believe that these people want to destroy me. There is no excuse for their advocacy of policies such as imprisonment (or even fines) for things like drug use. People who do so are my enemy, and I cannot trust them. I can only have a good faith debate with them in the most abstract sense, but ultimately, for my self preservation and the preservation of everything I value, I must hide from them and undermine their agenda at every opportunity.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Religious War in NYC

It never ends. The Right-Wing Noise Machine* has found a new spin for the (near) Ground Zero (semi) Mosque** (GZM) story, assuring that it will live for another week. I had the rare opportunity to listen to Rush Limbaugh today, and he was ranting about Saint Nicholas church not being rebuilt. The basic story is that the church building was adjacent to the WTC site, and was crushed when the south tower fell. The church has yet to be rebuilt due problems coordinating with the Port Authority, which is responsible for the renovation and rebuilding of the WTC site.

Some bloviators are contrasting the difficulties facing this church against the supposed ease with which the the GZM project is proceeding. They take this as evidence that government officials --and by extension "the elite", which includes everyone who disagrees with them-- favor Islam over Christianity. This recent spectacle of demagoguery comes to us thanks to George Demos, a Republican candidate for Congress in NY. He apparently finds it easier to get elected on a campaign of FUD targeted at local activists, instead of directing constituent attention to substantial policy issues, or even his competition in the election. While I'm sure that the St. Nicholas congregants appreciate the attention that their cause is getting, I'm guessing that they (especially the officers) want nothing to do with this divisive issue of the GZM

Before picking apart the comparison between the GZM and St. Nicholas church, I want to present this Google Earth image of the WTC site. There are two things to pay attention to:
  1. St Nicholas is within the reconstruction/renovation zone, immediately adjacent to the WTC site. It is in the SE corner (there's a map with this NYT story). It is actually in a location where the Port Authority wants to build a park and an underground bus/truck screening center.***
  2. The Cordoba House is two full blocks away from the WTC site (I have it marked in the map). It is intended to be 13 stories tall. I counted 16 stories on the building that separates it from the WTC site.

View Larger Map

(Update: street view)

View Larger Map
Okay, here are some important differences between the church and the mosque:
  1. The church site is in the middle of an incredibly complex reconstruction and renovation project. The Port Authority may have bumbled this project, and made it more complex than is necessary, but nobody is forbidding the church from building in that area (immediately adjacent to the WTC). The problems arise from trying to figure out what is the best site for the building, how it will fit into new zoning regulations, and who will pay for it. The zoning issue would not exist if they were simply planning to rebuild the original building, but they want to build a much larger structure. The financial issue is especially tricky since the Port Authority is building underneath the WTC site, including the church site.
  2. In contrast, the opponents of the mosque would forbid them from building anywhere in the general vicinity of the WTC. Furthermore, the barriers that they would place in front of the mosque construction are not based on any practical considerations -- they just dislike the religion that would be the focus of the project.
I guess that's really the entire difference between the two construction projects. One is held up by a coordination problem, the other would be forbidden for ideological reasons. The opponents of the mosque act like they are so liberal because they don't want to expel all Muslims from the USA, they just insist that Muslims keep their heads down and constantly apologize for the actions of other Muslims. It is ridiculous that they accuse Bloomberg and others of facilitating the mosque, when all that they have done is speak up for it in the face of this ideological onslaught being led by Republican office-seekers.

*I don't think I've ever used the term "Right Wing noise-machine", but I couldn't think of any better description of those media outlets who pick up on Republican talking points and never shut up about them.
**The GZM is not on the WTC site, or even adjacet to it. It also apparently would not even qualify as a mosque since it will have a food court and performance space. It will have a large prayer room and hold Friday services, but that will only occupy a portion of the building. It is also said to be built from glass and steel, so it won't have the traditional architecture of a mosque.
***The transportation system that they are building makes no sense to me. Maybe it will work out well, but it seems like they have too many conflicting demands. Maybe that's just how transportation is in NYC.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Why all the Chinese comment spam?

This may explain why CAPTCHA is unable to keep the Chinese comment spam off of my blog -- Chinese sweatshops are full of workers who are paid to post this spam. What confuses me is that Google has not elected to harness the power of these spammers by using Re-CAPTCHA.

from CAPTCHA Economics at Marginal Revolution:

Bottom line:

  • Prices run about $1 per thousand CAPTCHAs solved, depending on the time of day and demand.
  • The median response time to solve a CAPTCHA is 14 seconds and accuracy runs about 90%.
  • "[T]he business of solving CAPTCHAs, a well developed, highly-competitive industry with the capacity to solve on the order of a million CAPTCHAs per day."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Responding to Muslim influence

please pardon this ramble from 2AM

I'm increasingly bothered by the continuing fuss (not debate) over the Cordoba House, a.k.a "the ground zero mosque". As I mentioned before, this is a particularly strong exhibition of irrationalist xenophobic nationalism. The irrationalism of this whole thing is emphasized with how much energy is being harnessed for ... nothing.

I say that there is no debate (and all the agitation is focused on irrational feelings) because nothing can be done about the Cordoba house. There is nothing illegal about building it, and there cannot be anything illegal about it because to do so would blatantly violate the First Amendment of the US Constitution. Their donors are very unlikely to back out of this project (though maybe if the donor list is made public, they can be intimidated). In other words, there is no legal way to force the Cordoba House to shut down. In spite of this, a bunch of people are making this into a political issue.

I'm figuring that the politicians are just demagogues who have decided that they can ride this non-issue to power. Other organizers are probably more concerned with creating an "us vs. them" mentality (and constructing mailing lists). In that way, it reminds me of the anti-war protests that were held on the eve of the Iraq invasion (after the decisions had been made and the elections completed).

Anyway, there seem to be two semi-reasonable concerns related to the construction of this "mosque", and the general increase of Muslim influence in America. First, there is concern that foreign terrorists will be able to blend into these American Muslim communities. Second, is that Muslims will become a political force in some places, as they apparently have in Europe, and start demanding that we change our ways in order to not offend their sensibilities.

Neither of these concerns are totally reasonable for the basic reason that my fears do not justify the infringement of other people's liberty. It applies to gun ownership, just as it does to religious movements.

This second issue ties into some of the plans being laid by opponents of the mosque. Over at Free Republic, there is a semi-serious proposal to perform various "anti-muslim" acts in the vicinity of the mosque, from opening a gay bar, to a pork factory. Of course, these proposals are meant to explicitly antagonize the Muslims, in retaliation for the perceived insult of building a mosque near ground zero.

But we could also approach them as an issue of setting boundaries. We want to make sure that the congregation here doesn't start to think that the area around the building is their private property and that they can dictate what others do there (whether promote homosexuality, serve alcohol, process pork, or wear skimpy clothing).

There may be some benefit in making it clear that they have to tolerate us just as we are willing to tolerate them. After all, despite all of their liberal platitudes, the people building this mosque have political views that are on the far right of the American culture wars.