Thursday, June 30, 2005

I'm Sorry, It Just Doesn't Fit

So I get this link from some wingnut whiner over at Atrios' place, and it got me to thinkin', as I'm sometimes wont to do. See, I'm a dude that digs on logic. When I hear a statement, I have to recognize that it actually means something other than just gibberish used to induce an emotional response. When presented with a scenario, I do my best to examine all the evidence, consider all the variables, and come up with a solution that maximizes benefits for not only me, but everyone involved as much as possible. I'm not always successful, granted. More often than not, I crash and burn horribly, particularly when it comes to matters of romance. Figure that out... but I digress. Anyhow, if someone tells me I should think a certain way, the first thing that pops in my mind is "Why?" thanks to Socrates. "Just because I said so" only cuts it with my folks.

The gist of the link, dear souls, is that the new president of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is spittin' fire and brimstone. Apparently, this excitable boy - who is a real winner, let's make no mistake - is saying that his recent electoral victory "marked the dawn of a new Islamic revolution". He says they're gonna whip the whole planet, and the wingnuts' general contention is we have to do something. Something that involves blowing up a helluva lot of people whose only crime is being born somewhere close to this jackass. Otherwise, we're repeating the mistakes that allowed Hitler to take power. In other words, Nazi Fascism is the same thing as Islamic Fundamentalism.

Now, first off, I hate hate hate comparisons like that. I really do. For one, they're just too easy, since Hitler's too good a booger man. Mention his name, and anyone in his/her right mind thinks "complete bastard". Problem is, the modern Arabic world isn't 1930s Germany, and the Nazi ideology is emphatically different from the many strains of Islamic fundamentalism, and there are many we don't even know about as far as the media and government go. The same thing, for whatever it's worth, goes for when liberals compare Iraq to Vietnam. It's just not the same. Study and learn from history and past mistakes, sure, but realize that the world continues to turn and evolve despite our dearest wishes to the contrary. Anyhow, when I hear this argument, I start considering things.

Thing about Nazi Germany and particularly Hitler is that they kept up to speed with current events. Germany in the early 20th century was home to some of the most brilliant minds in physics - theoretical and experimental - in this history of mankind. It's stunning - and greatly humbling - when you think of how smart those fuckers really were (ol' Al, in particular; scary smart) and just how many of them they were. Hell, you couldn't swing a dead cat in Munich after the First World War without hitting a half dozen brilliant bastards.

Though no one wants to own up to being in league with the scum of the earth, not all of 'em split when the Little House Painter took the reins. Some of 'em dug on the Nazi ideology and some just didn't give two shits one way or another. Some got out while the gettin' was good, particularly the Jewish ones, and a few like Max Planck stuck around for a bit and tried to bring some sanity into Hitler's madness. Usually, they split before too long, as well. But a couple hung around and enjoyed a Fuehrer enthusiastic about what these men of science could provide the Hun war machine. Wernher Von Braun, truly a man who saw no borders, is a primo example of this.

That's the thing, see. Germany wanted to rule the world, but the Nazi ideology was based on race rather than religion. Sure, Hitler played ball with the local religious leaders who would play ball with him - even though offered no other choice - and he apparently had an interest in the supernatural (including Christian artifacts like Longinus' Spear). Gobbledygook, sure, but it was nevertheless desired for the further fortune of the Aryan Race. Or at least that's what Hitler said, anyway; I think the one-nut little shit just wanted to be in a position where he could eradicate anyone who made fun of his mustache and his corpropheliac tendencies. It's true, apparently, Hitler liked to be shit on.

And this is what gets me. From what I understand about the most powerful and persuasive branch of Islamic fundamentalism, they want to transform the world into an Islamic paradise (or maybe just their own particular areas; information differs and, frankly, I don't think these yay-hoos do the compromise thing). But their paradise wouldn't be one of better Muslims through science, but one that's exactly the same as the height of Muslim power back in the early part of the Second Millennium. Before, ironically enough, the fundamentalist mindset of Wahhabiism settled in good and hard, and the Arabic world's development slowed considerably. Interesting stroke, that.

And for what it's worth, this is what makes Islamic fundamentalism different from our homegrown Christian variety, even the real lulus like the Assembly of God and whatnot. Despite all their caterwaulings to the contrary, there's very little Biblical basis for such groups' world view and, frankly, the historical basis is pretty damn shaky. Christian fundamentalism, for all the irritation it causes, is basically a modern interpretation of the Bible while the Wahhabis, for example, reject any and all change from 950 A.D. on or so. That includes social changes, advances in technology or new realizations about how our world works.

Anyhow, here's where the comparison falls apart for me. These screaming nutjobs are quite willing, oddly enough, to use modern weapons, but the mindset's still stuck in the past. Their goal - either goal, frankly - is impossible. At mankind's current stage of development, and while I'm no expert on such matters, I think it's safe to say there's no way you'd be able to establish and maintain a one-world ideology (apart from Mammon, of course, but we don't really like to talk about that) that encompasses and subjugates every single nation, religion, ideology, race, ethnicity or individual on the planet. Won't happen, it just won't.

Secondly, not all Muslim thinks alike. As amazing as it is for our wingnut friends to consider such a prospect, it's nevertheless true. I've know a few Muslims in my time, but simple common sense will tell you that an Iraqi will think differently from a Jordanian or an Iranian or a Yemeni or a Pakistani, despite the common background and unification of religion, just as an American Catholic will view the world at least slightly differently than a Mexican Catholic or a Spanish Catholic. People are funny that way. Going further, just as my mindset is slightly skewered because of my rural upbringing - as opposed to if I was born in a big city - someone from rural Iraq will view things slightly differently than someone who was born and raised in Downtown Baghdad.

Hitler achieved this, true, but it's important to remember that, first, he systematically eradicated all competition and dissent, and even then, just managed to get the majority of folks in one country. And even then, only for a little while and, basically, only by keeping 'em so busy with war that they had little time for anything else. In the end, he still got his butt kicked once the rest of the world got its collective shit together, and that was fifty years ago. Does it even come close to logical to think that the rampaging Muslim horde could really tamp down the U.S., Russia, China and Europe? Nationalism aside, there's over a billion people in China and they'll fight just as hard as anyone else will when the shit hits the fan.

Finally, none of these screaming nutjobs in the "Islamofacist" corner are on the same page. Again, I am no expert on these things, but there's seventy skillion of these little groups wherein Al Qaeda and Hamas make for the big fish, and you can barely get through the day without some aspect of Islam declaring you a "heretic". They might work together from time to time, but you can bet that just like the Joker and Lex Luthor, they're watching their "partners" as closely if not closer than they are the guys in the funny outfits.

So... I'm supposed to believe that an anachronistic, backwards-looking, poorly funded, eternally squabbling, group of raving lunatics only tentatively supported by their own neighbors can subjugate the entire world in, apparently given the urgency of our wingnut friends' cries, no time flat. Not only that, but apparently they can whip the world's best-funded, best-equipped, most technologically advance military protecting the most diverse nation on the earth, a country so antagonistic to the idea of a "group mindset" that we can't agree on whether or not our first true leader was a good guy or not. In other words, us.

I'm supposed to buy all that?

Sunday, June 26, 2005

If This Ain't A Sign Of The Apocalypse, Then Nothin' Is...

For whatever reason, my mind has taken a eschatological turn of late. Nothing morbid, mind you, but the fascination stems from a bit of reading I’ve done lately. Apparently, there’s stuff called "strange matter" potentially causing massive destruction. Then there's the fears that physicists using atom smashers to study the fundamental building blocks of creation might accidentally slap the wrong two wiglets together and make up something that would, basically, cause creation to unravel (much like early fears that detonating the first atomic bomb would cause all other atomic material to blow up or set the atmosphere aflame). Closer to home, Yellowstone National Park is, basically, setting on top of - and was caused by - a gi-normous"supervolcano" which, if it erupted, would result in a serious drop in tourism... all over the country and probably most of the planet. Then there's the possibility of some chunk of interstellar detritus smacking into the planet again, sorta like what some folks think caused mass extinctions back in the day.

And even leaving out all the ways we could wipe ourselves out, other geological nightmares and the rather worrying tendency for killer viruses to erupt into life after long dormancy, we're pretty much at the whim of the cosmos. Cosmologists know the universe is, best they can tell, not only expanding, but also it's speeding away from us. Sorta. It works like this (I think): the further something is away from us, the faster it's moving. Therefore, a galaxy that's, say, 10 billion light-years away from us is moving at an exponentially faster rater than one that's five billion light-years away. Furthermore, anything that's further than a certain number of light-years away - I can't remember exactly, but I think it was 20-ish or so - cannot be detected and probably never will be, because it's farther away than the universe is old. Or something like that. Scientists really don't know why, but that's the best they can figure out from what they see (which is why science has it up on religion in my book, but that's neither here nor there).

This raises some interesting questions about the universe, and since human beings are terribly hung up on mortality, many of the questions arise around how it began and how it will end. Some folks say there was a "big bang", one cataclysmic moment that got the whole show a-rollin'. Some folks think that's horse hockey. Some folks think the universe will expand to such a point that whatever's pushing it won't be able to overtake gravity, and it'll collapse into itself. A "big crunch", as it were. Some folks say, nah, the universe will just bounce back. Other folks say it'll expand forever, causing a "cold death" as opposed to the "heat death" caused by maximum entropy.

Point is, the universe might end some day and there's nothing we can do about it. Life on earth might end some day, or, more likely, continue in a manner completely alien to how we consider it (given the relatively massive success of bacterial forms of life over "more complicated" forms like us). Either way, we have no way of stopping it, no way of predicting it and, probably, no way of surviving it. For some that's a frightening thought, and many take refuge in spirituality and religion, both of which tries to convince us that there is a purpose and meaning to the universe when science continually reveals that, nope, there isn't. Not as we understand it, anyway, and definitely not in a manner that even remotely suggests it was all made for us.

Other folks - like me, for example - find it somewhat liberating. Life is enduring, but individual life is ever so brief and just about everyone agrees that the big picture is way out of our hands. So have a good time today because a rampaging super-virus, immune to all our science and medicine, might awaken tomorrow and wipe us all out.

Now. I said all that to say all this. Just as we can't figure out how the universe definitely will end, despite all the observations and calculations of science - or, for that matter, all the prophecies and dogma of religion - we really can't tell how individual human cultures will end. Sure, we can look at the fall of the Roman Empire or the collapse of communism in the 20th century and make informed guesses, but like heat death and the big bang, that's all they are: guesses. Physics and anthropology are not the same discipline, of course, so it's foolish to say what holds for one will hold for another. Still, an individual culture, like an individual life, is a growing, evolving, changing, and eventually dying thing. Nothing is permanent. Every mountain slips into the see and every castle is made of sand in the long run. The pharaohs are dust and the buffalo no longer roam. Modern post-Enlightenment Western culture is just over, what, 300 years old, and already we're on the ropes, as this story from the Kansas City Star readily shows.

Yep, you read that right. There's a company in Great Britain that's marketing spray-on mud to SUV drivers so they can look like they've been roughing it without it actually getting all that rough. I'm not making this up, costs $14 bucks a can. Seriously.

Oh, well. And, of course, this is another reason why the aliens haven't showed up yet.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Home Is Still Home, Group Senior Editor of the excellent Atlanta alt-weekly Creative Loafing has an excellent series on the Edgar Ray Killen case in my home state of Mississippi. There's all kinds of neat stuff there, and he's doing daily reports for Here's today's dispatch, which includes some moving testimony from one of the victims' mother and a little wit from the defendant's brother.

Speaking of my home state, I went back to Mississippi last week for my first cousin's wedding. She's the baby of the bunch. As always, it was nice to see a whole lot of folks I haven't seen in a long, long time and it's always a little startling to see how much life changes when you're not paying attention. And, speaking of home, my dear mother sent me this website, designed and maintained by a first cousin of my childhood neighbor and sixth-grade math teacher, Mr. Barry Green. There's a nice little eulogy for Mr. Green's father, Mr. James William Green, who passed away recently.

Home is always home, one way or another.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Socrates Wept

This is heavy stuff, y'all. It's an op-ed piece adapted from a speech given by photojournalist Molly Bingham. She gave the speech at Western Kentucky University last month. Bingham's a hard banger, spending time covering the ugly shit in Iraq. She even spent almost two weeks in Spring 2003 detained by Iraqi security forces at the infamous Abu Grahib prison.

I really can't add much to Bingham's excellent article. She's saying the right things. We have quit asking the hard questions and the media ain't doing its job anymore. We're both afraid of being seen as "unpatriotic" so we shun submitting the government to scrutiny. The government refuses to come clean and people are so scared of... well, something that they're letting it happen. We're letting it happen.

Don't be afraid to ask questions. That's how we learn. And personally, I always get suspicious when I ask a question and instead of receiving an answer, I get an insult for having the audacity to question. Makes me wonder what that person's hiding.