The Reform Islam Needs

Tuesday, February 25th, 2003

In The Reform Islam Needs, James Q. Wilson tries to make the point that “in time Islam will become modern, because without religious freedom, modern government is impossible” — but he also lays out exactly why that’s not likely:

Moreover, the Muslim religion is quite different from Christianity. The Qur’an and the hadith contain a vast collection of sacred laws, which Muslims call shari’a, that regulates many details of the public as well as private lives of believers. It sets down rules governing charity, marriage, orphans, fasting, gambling, vanity, pilgrimages, infidelity, polygamy, incest, divorce, modesty, inheritances, prostitution, alcohol consumption, collecting interest, and female dress.

By contrast, the Christian New Testament has rather few secular rules, and these are best remembered as a reaffirmation of the Ten Commandments as modified by the Sermon on the Mount. One can grasp the whole of Jesus’ moral teachings by recalling only two things: love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.

As Bernard Lewis has pointed out, the differences between the legal teachings of the two religions may have derived from, and were certainly reinforced by, the differences between Muhammad and Jesus. In the seventh century, Muhammad was invited to rule Medina and then, after a failed effort to conquer Mecca, finally entered that city as its ruler. He was not only a prophet but also a soldier, judge, and governor. Jesus, by contrast, was an outsider, who neither conquered nor governed anyone, and who was put to death by Roman rulers. Christianity was not recognized until Emperor Constantine adopted it, but Muhammad, in Lewis’s words, was his own Constantine.

Jesus asked Christians to distinguish between what belonged to God and what belonged to Caesar. Islam made no such distinction; to it, Allah prescribed the rules for all of life, encompassing what we now call the religious and the secular spheres. If a Christian nation fails, we look to its political and economic system for an explanation, but when a Muslim state fails, it is only because, as V. S. Naipaul put it, “men had failed the faith.” Disaster in a Christian nation leads to a search for a new political form; disaster in a Muslim one leads to a reinvigoration of the faith.

Islam’s early history is one of conquest over infidels. Thus, the early Muslims never had to “render unto Caesar” — and now, hundreds of years later, Islam still explicitly states how government should be run.

How I Was Smeared

Tuesday, February 25th, 2003

In How I Was Smeared, Harry Stein, author of How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (and Found Inner Peace), describes a nightmare scenario that started with a few tongue-in-cheek questions from his book’s back-cover list of How to Tell if You’ve Joined the “Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy”:

  • You’re actually relieved that your daughter plays with dolls and your son plays with guns.
  • You sit all the way through Dead Man Walking and at the end still want the guy to be executed.
  • At your kids’ back-to-school night, you are shocked to discover the only dead white male on your tenth-grader’s reading list is Oscar Wilde.
  • And by the end of the night you realize the only teacher who shares your values teaches phys ed.

Stein goes on to tell the story of his son’s English teacher announcing that Huck Finn is “racist”:

My son, already very familiar with the Twain classic, raised his hand and told the teacher that, in fact, it was an anti-racist book — indeed, one of the most powerful ever written. Thus began an increasingly heated back-and-forth that went on for a good 15 minutes, culminating with the teacher saying, “It’s clear you have to work on your racial sensitivity.” “Are you calling me a racist?” my son demanded, deeply aggrieved. When the teacher turned away, refusing to answer, he stalked out of class.

And this all led to Stein getting smeared in the papers for using racial epithets.

What the Voucher Victory Means

Tuesday, February 25th, 2003

What the Voucher Victory Means, by Sol Stern, gives some background on school vouchers, including this image of Ted Kennedy, anti-voucher, and David Brennan, pro-voucher:

Kennedy never found a public school good enough for his own kids, so why was he there in the front row, signaling support for the teachers’ union lawyers trying to force Cleveland kids back into their dismal neighborhood schools? [...] The public education industry, with 5 million employees and $350 billion in annual expenditures, has become one of the key Democratic political constituencies, supporting through its powerful unions those candidates willing to keep the Wall in place and throwing its considerable weight behind other liberal policy goals such as national health insurance and affirmative action.

Sitting near Kennedy was David Brennan, the spirited, six-foot-five, Stetson-topped entrepreneur and industrialist from Akron, Ohio, who’s been the prime mover behind the Cleveland voucher experiment. Like others in the school choice movement, Brennan joined up after some painful experiences with the public schools. During the 1980s, he discovered that many of the young workers in his manufacturing firms were functionally illiterate and innumerate. To help them — and to improve his workforce’s productivity — Brennan created “learning centers” at his facilities. These company schools quickly and inexpensively boosted the employees’ math and reading skills.

The Barbarians at the Gates of Paris

Tuesday, February 25th, 2003

The Barbarians at the Gates of Paris, by Theodore Dalrymple, describes modern France’s criminal-infested housing projects (cités), and the parallels to American housing projects are uncanny:

A kind of anti-society has grown up in them — a population that derives the meaning of its life from the hatred it bears for the other, “official,” society in France. This alienation, this gulf of mistrust — greater than any I have encountered anywhere else in the world, including in the black townships of South Africa during the apartheid years — is written on the faces of the young men, most of them permanently unemployed, who hang out in the pocked and potholed open spaces between their logements.
Their hatred of official France manifests itself in many ways that scar everything around them. Young men risk life and limb to adorn the most inaccessible surfaces of concrete with graffiti — BAISE LA POLICE, fuck the police, being the favorite theme.
[Pit bulls were] the only breed of dog I saw in the cités, paraded with menacing swagger by their owners.
Antagonism toward the police might appear understandable, but the conduct of the young inhabitants of the cités toward the firemen who come to rescue them from the fires that they have themselves started gives a dismaying glimpse into the depth of their hatred for mainstream society. They greet the admirable firemen (whose motto is Sauver ou périr, save or perish) with Molotov cocktails and hails of stones when they arrive on their mission of mercy, so that armored vehicles frequently have to protect the fire engines.
The absence of a real economy and of law means, in practice, an economy and an informal legal system based on theft and drug-trafficking. In Les Tarterets, for example, I observed two dealers openly distributing drugs and collecting money while driving around in their highly conspicuous BMW convertible, clearly the monarchs of all they surveyed. Both of northwest African descent, one wore a scarlet baseball cap backward, while the other had dyed blond hair, contrasting dramatically with his complexion. Their faces were as immobile as those of potentates receiving tribute from conquered tribes. They drove everywhere at maximum speed in low gear and high noise: they could hardly have drawn more attention to themselves if they tried. They didn’t fear the law: rather, the law feared them.

Cops Can’t Keep Up With Cactus Rustlers

Tuesday, February 25th, 2003

According to Cops Can’t Keep Up With Cactus Rustlers, thieves are stealing desert flora from public lands:

Cactus thievery pays. A single ocotillo, with its spindly arms reaching out, can fetch as much as $150 on the retail market, while mighty saguaros, which grow to more than 20 feet, can command as much as $5,000. Saguaros are expensive because they take about 100 years to reach maturity.

Clever Octopus Caught with Tentacle in Shrimp Jar

Tuesday, February 25th, 2003

From Clever Octopus Caught with Tentacle in Shrimp Jar:

A common octopus in a German zoo has learned to open jars of shrimp by watching zoo attendants perform the act underwater.

I’ve heard of this before. Evidently, not all invertebrates are slugs. An on-line review of The Octopus and the Orangutan cites some more examples:

In addition to running vertical mazes with ease, learning by observation to choose a red ball over a white one, figuring out creative ways of accessing the meat in mussels and clams sealed by researchers, Octos have often stunned owners and aquarium curators with unexpected bursts of creativity. This includes escaping from “maximum security” tanks, crawling out on perfectly-timed “raids” on tanks of crustaceans, sliding bolts on tank covers open by extending arms through airholes, jetting water (for some inexplicable reason) at redheaded women, and in one remarkable instance even “telling” a teuthologist in no uncertain terms what it thought of being fed slightly stale shrimp!

Who needs to fabricate sci-fi creatures when we’ve already got an intelligent mollusk that can change colors almost instantly, regrow lost limbs, and spray ink as an underwater smoke screen? Frankly, they don’t quite seem of this earth — especially if you’ve ever seen one crawl across the beach out of the water.

GEDs Aren’t Worth the Paper They’re Printed On

Monday, February 24th, 2003

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that GEDs Aren’t Worth the Paper They’re Printed On:

Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman and colleague Stephen Cameron have found GED holders to be “statistically indistinguishable” from high school dropouts: they’re not significantly more likely to land a job or to have higher hourly wages. Other studies find that GED holders do slightly better than dropouts but still lousy compared with regular high school grads — who themselves, in today’s knowledge-based economy, earn only 54 percent of what college grads make, according to 1999 Bureau of Labor Statistics figures.

A great quote from Lois Quinn, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin, who has written a critical history of the GED:

It’s the Wizard of Oz; they give you a piece of paper.

The Campus Diversity Fraud

Monday, February 24th, 2003

The Campus Diversity Fraud, by John H. McWhorter, presents some sad facts:

At the University of California at Berkeley, where I teach, the quota system was as obvious on the ground as it had been at Rutgers in the 1980s. One older white professor, an avowed leftist, confided in me that since the early 1970s black students had done badly in his classes so often that he had found himself viewing any black student who appeared on the first day of class as a potential problem. A white remedial-composition tutor observed that he had worked with so many minority students hopelessly underprepared for Berkeley-level work that he had found himself questioning the wisdom of racial preferences, despite his leftist persuasion. Professors across the country have expressed similar views to me.

Many would dismiss such observations as bias and stereotyping. The facts are otherwise. Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom note in America in Black and White that black Berkeley students who enrolled in 1988 had an average SAT score below 1,000, compared with white students’ average of over 1,300. The highest quartile of black SAT scores in this class clustered at the bottom quarter of the SAT scores of all students. The high school grade average among black students was B-plus, rather than the straight-A average required of white students. Nor was this a mere Berzerk-ley aberration: in 1992, the gap in average SAT scores between black and white entrants was 150 points at Princeton, 171 at Stanford, 218 at Dartmouth, and 271 at Rice.

Why We Don’t Marry

Monday, February 24th, 2003

Why We Don’t Marry, by James Q. Wilson, restates an interesting statistical sound-bite:

Former Clinton advisor William Galston sums up the matter this way: you need only do three things in this country to avoid poverty — finish high school, marry before having a child, and marry after the age of 20. Only 8 percent of the families who do this are poor; 79 percent of those who fail to do this are poor.

What Looks Like Profiling Might Just Be Good Policing

Monday, February 24th, 2003

What Looks Like Profiling Might Just Be Good Policing — which should be fairly obvious:

In Los Angeles, crime rates are in fact lopsided. In 2001, blacks committed 41% of all robberies, according to victims’ descriptions given to the LAPD, though they constitute only 11% of the city’s population. Robbery victims named whites, who make up 30% of the population, 4% of the time, while Latinos, 46% of the population, were identified as the assailant in 45% of such crimes. The figures for aggravated assault and rape are similarly skewed.

The Starving Criminal

Monday, February 24th, 2003

The Starving Criminal, by Theodore Dalrymple, starts by reporting some recent findings from the British Journal of Psychiatry:

Researchers carried out a double-blind trial of the effect of vitamin and mineral supplements on the behavior of prisoners aged 18 to 21. Two hundred and thirty-one such prisoners were divided randomly into two groups: one that received real vitamins, one that got only a placebo. Those who received the real vitamins committed about a third fewer disciplinary offenses and acts of violence during the follow-up period than those who took the placebo.

That’s amazing, until you realize just how malnourished most prisoners are — when they get to prison.

From the dietary point of view, freedom has the same effect upon them as a concentration camp; incarceration restores them to nutritional health. This is a new phenomenon, at least on the scale on which I now see it. Last week, for example, I treated in my hospital a skeletal man who had been released from prison only two months before and had in that short time lost 44 pounds. A recidivist, he had served many short sentences for theft, and his weight went up and down according to whether he was in prison or at liberty. This is a common enough pattern of weight gain and weight loss among the males of my city’s underclass. It has a meaning quite alien to those who believe that modern malnutrition is merely a symptom of poverty and inequality.
He smoked heroin, but the connection between his habit and his criminality was not what is conventionally assumed: that his addiction produced a craving so strong, and a need to avoid withdrawal symptoms so imperative, that resort to crime was his only choice. On the contrary — and as is usually the case — his criminal record started well before he took to heroin. Indeed, his decision to take heroin was itself a continuation, an almost logical development, of his choice of the criminal life.

He was thin and malnourished in the manner I have described. Five feet ten, he weighed just over 100 pounds. He told me what many young men in his situation have told me, that he asked the court not to grant him bail, so that he could recover his health in prison — something that he knew he would never do outside. A few months of incarceration would set him up nicely to indulge in heroin on his release. Prison is the health farm of the slums.

I examined him and said to him, “You don’t eat.”

“Not much,” he said. “I don’t feel like it.”

“And when you do eat, what do you eat?”

“Crisps [potato chips] and chocolate.”
I asked the young man whether his mother had ever cooked for him.

“Not since my stepfather arrived. She would cook for him, like, but not for us children.”

I asked him what they — he and his brothers and sisters — had eaten and how they had eaten it.

“We”d just eat whatever there was,” he said. “We’d look for something whenever we was hungry.”

“And what was there?”

“Bread, cereals, chocolate — that kind of thing.”

“So you never sat round a table and ate a meal together?”


In fact, he told me that he had never once eaten at a table with others in the last 15 years. Eating was for him a solitary vice, something done almost furtively, with no pleasure attached to it and certainly not as a social event.
These young men’s malnutrition is the sign of an entire way of life, and not the result of raw, inescapable poverty. Another patient whom I saw soon after, similarly malnourished, told me that he ate practically nothing, subsisting on sugary soft drinks.

Creepy. Dalrymple’s darkly humorous suggestion?

It can’t be long before someone suggests that the solution to a problem like this is to fortify chocolate with minerals and vitamins.

Peru Prehistoric Horse Most Complete in Americas

Saturday, February 22nd, 2003

According to Peru Prehistoric Horse Most Complete in Americas, horses existed in the Americas before the Spanish brought them — but they went extinct 10,000 years ago:

Peruvian geologists have discovered the most complete horse fossil in the Americas, a reminder that the hoofed mammal existed in the New World long before the Spanish brought horses in the 1500s.

“Horses were reintroduced to South America. With this (find) we hope to remind people this animal did exist here, but died out some 10,000 years ago,” Rodolfo Salas, head of Peru’s Natural History Museum’s paleontology department, said on Friday.

A team from the museum discovered the preserved skeleton of an Equus (Amerihippus) santaeelenae in July 2002 in the arid department of Arequipa, some 600 miles south of Lima.

So did early American humans hunt them to extinction?

U.S. Military Wanted to Provoke War With Cuba

Friday, February 21st, 2003

I stumbled across this entry in Julian Sanchez’s Notes from the Lounge:

Whatever you might think of our leaders, they’re surely not so truly morally monstrous as to kill thousands for some secret, self serving reasons.

That’s when my friend pointed me to an ABC News report on the declassification of documents related to something called Operation Northwoods…

How had I not heard of this? From U.S. Military Wanted to Provoke War With Cuba:

In the early 1960s, America’s top military leaders reportedly drafted plans to kill innocent people and commit acts of terrorism in U.S. cities to create public support for a war against Cuba.

Code named Operation Northwoods, the plans reportedly included the possible assassination of Cuban émigrés, sinking boats of Cuban refugees on the high seas, hijacking planes, blowing up a U.S. ship, and even orchestrating violent terrorism in U.S. cities.

The plans were developed as ways to trick the American public and the international community into supporting a war to oust Cuba’s then new leader, communist Fidel Castro.

I’m assuming these were the same guys who wanted to spike Castro’s drink with LSD before an important speech.

Use of Ceramics Is Critical To Pentagon’s War Goals

Friday, February 21st, 2003

According to Use of Ceramics Is Critical To Pentagon’s War Goals, ceramics are replacing steel for both personal body armor and vehicular armor:

Elite American units such as the Delta Force have been wearing ceramic armor — about half as heavy as the metal variety — since the mid-1990s. Now more U.S. ground forces will get it.
As depicted in the movie Black Hawk Down, U.S. soldiers removed the metal plates from their body armor because it weighed them down too much for urban fighting, leaving them vulnerable when local militiamen attacked with gunfire.

For Soldiers, Desert Becomes Cruel in April as Heat Rises

Friday, February 21st, 2003

For Soldiers, Desert Becomes Cruel in April as Heat Rises points out one more reason I’m glad I’m not going to war:

A blacktop road in Baghdad on a July day can hit 150 degrees Fahrenheit. [...] With typical desert temperatures cresting at a fiery 120 degrees in July, Iraq could prove to be an inhospitable place to fight a war, especially if the conflict bogs down. [...] Most U.S. tanks and personnel carriers aren’t air conditioned, and temperatures inside can easily rise 25 degrees above outdoor air temperatures. Although biological or chemical attacks on invading U.S. troops are considered by most analysts to be unlikely, just the threat of them means soldiers probably will wear protective gear and not just carry it in their packs. [...] Indeed, the military’s new chemical suits, though far lighter than earlier versions, can get steamy quick. Last November, at a Pentagon briefing to show off the lighter suits, one soldier modeling the gear became overheated under the harsh camera lights and fainted, pitching face-first into a row of chairs.

Perhaps our army’s new ninja powers will protect them from the heat:

Although military planners have steadfastly refused to discuss timing for a war, tradition suggests the start date may come shortly after March 3, the beginning of the new moon — the phase when it reflects no light. [...] To some extent, the U.S. military will mitigate the effects of sun and sand by doing most of its traveling at night, when temperatures can drop into the 80s and troops, outfitted with night-vision gear, will have a distinct advantage.