Monday, May 18, 2009

The Sri Lankan civil war is at its end.

BBC, Prabhakaran's obituary

The Sri Lankan civil war, which has raged for as long as I have been alive, is finally at its end. Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the Tamil Tigers and longtime de facto dictator of the territory the rebels and terrorists controlled, has been killed by the Sri Lankan Army; may he rest in pieces.

Since I've never before discussed Sri Lanka in this space, a brief outline of the conflict is in order. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, more commonly called the Tamil Tigers, are (or now, hopefully, were) a radical guerrilla army, hellbent on carving out 40% of Sri Lanka's land area as a homeland for the Tamil minority population of the island, which comprises less than 10% of its people. The Tigers invented suicide bombing as it is known today, as cited by the New York Times, and used it extensively in their terroristic campaign against the Sri Lankan government and people. They also, at the height of their power, managed to become a conventional threat, with artillery, a naval flotilla, and even a small air wing, which they used to conduct aerial bombings until just a few months ago, when the last of their planes were shot down.

The Tamil Tigers negotiated many ceasefires and truces with the Sri Lankans during the course of the war when strategically convenient for them, using each one to rearm and then breaking it when they were prepared to resume their offensive. The current Sri Lankan government, to its very great credit, decided enough was enough, and pressed on to destroy the Tigers once and for all despite international calls for another ceasefire. The LTTE stayed true to form even in their last days, resorting to using their remaining artillery to shell civilians behind their own lines so that they could attempt to blame the Sri Lankan government and step up international pressure for a truce.

The world is better off without this scourge. May the rebuilding move swiftly and without recrimination towards those ethnic Tamils who did not take up arms.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Ralph Hayes, Jr. is a coward and a fool.

It's not often that I do this; after all, writing a post for everyone who commits a logical fallacy in a debate would fill this blog to the exclusion of all else. However, argument through appeal to force is something I feel the need to write about.

The subject of today's rant is known as Ralph Hayes, Jr. Mr. Hayes is the illustrator and author of a couple of excellent webcomics, in addition to several mediocre to outright bad ones, hosted at his site which I linked to in the title.

This has little to do with my problem, however. What it has more to do with is the fact that he is an outspoken social conservative, and happens to advocate revoking all funding for AIDS research and treatment, in favor of quarantining the victims of the disease. I virulently disagree with his conclusion, but even that's not why I'm writing this.

No, I'm writing this because, after I wrote a long reply detailing just how bogus his money-saving rationale is, due to the fact that a quarantine would require cutting off international trade to prevent the virus from being re-introduced into the country, which would cost the economy an amount of money that makes the $13.7 billion he complains about seem paltry by comparison, he deleted my reply and banned me from commenting on his blog.

That's some way to win an argument there. Don't like what someone has to say? Destroy the evidence and get rid of him! Comrade Stalin would be proud.

As you can (currently; I don't know how long it'll last) see, he did not delete all my replies. Earlier ones based on the immorality of locking up so many people who had done nothing wrong were dismissed on the basis that quarantine would save lives, and he simply claimed I was wrong when I pointed out that quarantine in the modern world, with modern travel, isn't as effective as he would like, but when I destroyed his flimsy rationale, he got rid of me. Guess I struck a nerve.

I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when discussing it with him, but I'm sure as hell not going to now. The method of controlling the disease that he advocates is ineffective by every single measure - cost savings, preventing the spread of the disease, easing the suffering and extending the lives of the victims - except the measure of punishing those who engage in what he, as a social conservative, sees as immoral behavior. Sure, it's costing us boatloads of money and not advancing medical research in any way, but at least we get to lock up THE GAYS!

There. I said it. He hasn't, but that's the only purpose his proposed solution would serve, so there it is.

Mr. Hayes, if you ever read this, I want you to know: Censorship is the act of a coward. Public censorship, openly removing material after it has already been published and read, is the act of a fool. You have revealed yourself as a foolish, pathetic little man who, given a modicum of power, is quite prepared to use force against those who disagree with him. I also want you to know that argumentum ad baculum may make you feel better, but it has yet to ever win a debate.

"The attempt to silence a man is the greatest honor you can bestow on him. It means you recognize his superiority to yourself." - Joseph Sobran

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Arlen Specter switches parties

Wall Street Journal, MSNBC

Well, the news broke barely five minutes before I started writing this (hey, I think that's a new record on me covering something in this space), and already the wailing and gnashing of teeth has begun. Senator Arlen Spector, R-Pennsylvania is now Senator Arlen Specter, D-Pennsylvania, and I saw the complaints starting even before I had read enough to be able to open this tab and write about it.

My analysis: This is powerful symbolism, but ultimately it doesn't matter in practical legislative terms. Cloture will remain the same as it was before; Specter won't suddenly vote down every Republican filibuster because he's now registered as a Democrat. If he'd have done it before, he'd do it now, and if he wouldn't have, he won't. It really just doesn't change anything.

I really don't have a whole lot more to add, but thought I'd better get my (very small) voice of reason in anyway. Beyond the political ruckus, I don't care who's got what letter behind his name in media reports on Congress. Our representatives and Senators are individuals, and should be judged and elected as such. I know that's not what happens, thanks to both the primary system and the large proportion of the electorate who simply vote their party line when it comes time to go to the ballot box, but hey, I can dream.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Stephen Hawking hospitalized

Associated Press

Dr. Stephen Hawking, world-renowned physicist famous for his work on black holes and quantum mechanics, has been rushed to the hospital with a chest infection that he has apparently been fighting for some weeks. I do not know his status beyond that, but Professor Hawking has Lou Gehrig's Disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which has left him paralyzed and presumably more vulnerable to infection due to his body's inability to exercise.

My thoughts and prayers are with Dr. Hawking tonight. His work is invaluable to science, and he is currently our best hope for reaching a unified theory of general relativity and quantum physics, the goal of which is to explain both quantum and what we see as "normal" mechanics within a single framework. Here's to his pulling through.

Thought Reform at the University of Delaware

I could write a big ol' post about this, but I think I'll let the students tell their own story.

"We are not content with negative obedience, nor even with the most abject submission. When finally you surrender to us, it must be of your own free will. We do not destroy the heretic because he resists us; so long as he resists us we never destroy him. We convert him, we capture his inner mind, we reshape him...You must love BIG BROTHER. It is not enough to obey him: you must love him." - O'Brien to Winston in 1984, by George Orwell

Spread this far and wide. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and this malignancy at the heart of our university system needs disinfecting.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Since I've apparently accidentally encouraged a "Truther..."

Well. In my last post, I embedded a video of a debate between the makers of the film Loose Change and the editors of Popular Mechanics magazine. Unfortunately, I failed to realize that some people are too dense to recognize a good intellectual thrashing when they see one, and instead side with the guy who shouts the most (when in actuality, being reduced to shouting in a debate usually means you've lost), so I've decided to correct that oversight.

So I am posting to promote the "9/11 Debunked" video series by R.K. Owens. These lay out, in simple format, precisely why the various 9/11 conspiracy theories do not stand up to the facts. I heartily recommend watching at least some of them to anyone interested in the issue, whether you believe the conspiracy theories or not.

The videos may be found here. Highlights include this video on why the fires in the World Trade Center didn't have to melt steel to collapse the buildings, this one handily shows that the towers did not fall at free-fall speed as frequently claimed by conspiracy theorists, and this one showing that the damage to the Pentagon is entirely consistent with a 757 hitting the building.

Be warned: Many of the videos, including the first two I linked, show the World Trade Center's collapse multiple times from multiple angles. If this is an emotional subject for you, as it is for me, you may wish to not take it in all at once.