Thursday, December 27, 2007

Brits Lightening Up: Good

It is heartening to see reason returning to the British people as they recover from the Bush-Blair era, I can only hope it returns to Americans soon, too.

From The Guardian:
Gordon Brown's hopes of securing a parliamentary majority for his plans to extend the time terrorist suspects can be detained without charge have been dealt a severe blow by a survey of Commons opinion showing only a third of MPs back tougher laws.

The survey also reveals the appetite for further anti-terror legislation among Brown's own MPs is faltering, with 48% of Labour MPs agreeing there has been too much anti-terror legislation.

The findings indicate Brown may have badly misread the mood of parliament by tabling plans to extend the period of detention in terrorist cases to 42 days, subject to stronger judicial and parliamentary oversight.

The survey, likely to ring alarm bells in the government whip's office, finds only 36% of Labour MPs support extending detention beyond the current 28-day limit. The findings were revealed after the director of public prosecutions yesterday launched a fresh attack on the plans. Sir Ken Macdonald said the evidence had shown that the existing 28-day limit was working well and he accused ministers of legislating on the basis of "hypotheticals".

"I think the basic point is whether you want to legislate on the basis of hypotheticals or whether you want to legislate on the basis of the evidence that we have acquired through practice," he said. Only third of MPs back tougher anti-terror law

In the US, a politician who supported due process and habeas corpus would still be seen as soft on terrorism. Why would want to give rights to the people who intend to commit acts of terror against Americans? Well, the reason is that we do have a system of justice, and part of what it does is determine if an accused person really is guilty of the crime they are charged with. You lock them up without charges, without a trial, and you have undermined everything our civilized society stands for. Maybe they are guilty -- in that case, evidence will be presented, arguments will be made, and they will be punished.

You might have noticed, almost nobody that has been charged in the US with crimes related to terrorism since 9/11 has been convicted. I take it back. There have been numerous convictions of rightwing terrorists, but the media are careful not to muddy the waters by actually using the word to describe them -- they are usually "abortion clinic bombers" or something.

Security expert Bruce Schneier had a really excellent article, which you can read HERE, about what he calls "The War on the Unexpected," the tendency to look suspiciously at anything out of the ordinary. His analysis is right on the target, even if the article is not that recent. It is crazy, just insane, when people are expected to freak out over a backpack or briefcase left on a train, or somebody doing something out of the ordinary. The amplification of fear in our society is outrageous, and people should refuse to play along with it.

It would appear that this process can only lead inevitably to pure, invariant conformity. Remember the young lady from MIT who showed up at the airport to pick up her friend, wearing a little piece of electronic art with LEDs that blinked and stuff? They arrested her, charged her with crimes, for cryin' out loud. You can say, well, she should've known better, but I disagree, she shouldn't have had to know better. She wasn't hurting anybody, and it never occurred to her that anybody would be afraid of her. But they were, they were terrified, and they blamed her for doing something unexpected that made them think frightening thoughts.

I've talked about this before, but it's an important fact: an excellent system of justice is going to let a bad guy get away now and then. It's the trade-off that allows liberty for the rest of us. You have to give people their rights, even if they are terrible horrible people, you have to give them a fair chance to defend themselves. The generous attitude is to say that mistakes can be made, for instance with the MIT student or the guy they executed for turnstile-jumping in London, and the less-nice interpretation is that tyranny needs to be held in check -- sometimes it's not a mistake, it's an attempt to stifle legitimate dissent.

So it's good to see the Brits waking up from the nightmare.
The survey also reveals that two-thirds (65%) of MPs think there has already been too much legislation in this area and 62% disagree with the use of the phrase "war on terror".

To which I say: good. There's no "war on terror" and there never was, it's an impossibility. Terrorists capitalize on surprise, that's how it works, you cannot have a government that prevents all surprises. Maybe you can, but who'd want to live like that? A guy's carrying a bouquet behind his back, coming home after work -- it could be a bomb! Report him!

One of the great disappointments of our time has been the ease with which Americans gave up their heard-earned freedom. It didn't take anything, really, just constant reminders about how frightening life can be, and Americans willingly gave up everything our great country stood for. It's looking like people in the UK are beginning to realize what has happened/ How soon will it be before Americans see the awful tragedy of our time in perspective?


Anonymous the red baron said...

In "Who Really Cares", Arthur Brooks, a scholar at Syracuse University, has produced one of the most careful, exhaustive studies of modern philanthropy. He examines the charitable giving of four groups of Americans: religious conservatives, secular conservatives, religious liberals, and secular liberals. He shows that by far the most generous group is religious conservatives. One might have expected secular conservatives to come in second, but no, that honor belongs to religious liberals. Secular conservatives come in third. The least charitable group is the secular liberals. Not only do religious conservatives donate the most money, they also donate the most time, and they are more likely to give to secular causes like the Sierra Club and the United Way. "The evidence leaves no room for doubt," Brooks writes. "Religious people are far more charitable than non-religious people...In years of research, I have never found a measurable way in which secularists are more charitable than religious people."

Brooks gives a telling example. "Families in San Francisco give almost exactly the same amount to charity each year as families in South Dakota--about $1300," Brooks writes. Yet secular San Francisco enjoys almost double the disposable personal income of South Dakota. Brooks calculates that "the average South Dakota family gives away 75 percent more of its household income each year than the average family in San Francisco." Remarkable.

The same trend is evident when you compare America with Europe. Europeans are famously stingy and even people earning six-figure incomes rarely give anything to charity. Brooks argues that secular liberals both in America and Europe are so uncharitable because they consider philanthropy to be someone else's responsibility, typically the government's. Yet Brooks sensibly notes that when a government forcibly taxes its citizens and then administers welfare programs the result can hardly be termed "charity" since the "giver" is not contributing voluntarily and the receiver is claiming the benefit not as a gift but as an entitlement. Ironically the secular, upper-middle class people who give so little of their own income and time to charity are quite likely to condemn society for "lacking compassion." As Brooks shows, these hypocrites should worry less about the Bible Belt and reach a little more deeply into their own pockets.

December 27, 2007 11:38 AM  
Anonymous the red baron said...

Western doctors are more likely to volunteer their time and to view their work in humanitarian terms than doctors from other cultures. It is only in the West that you have institutions like the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, etc. It is only in the West that medicine is viewed more as a vocation than as a profession. Even secular doctors in America reflect the values of a culture formed by Christianity.

December 27, 2007 11:45 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

Readers -- I don't know if this is a spam-bot or a person who doesn't understand that comments are usually related in some way to the topic of the post. If these irrelevant and uninteresting comments keep appearing I will start deleting them.


December 27, 2007 12:02 PM  
Anonymous the red baron said...

These comments were simply responses to your Christmas morning post in which you contend that the spirit of Christmas is a secular phenomenom. I just saw that post for the first time this morning and put the responses on the top post to give them visibility.

While many of the decorative motifs of Christmas have pagan origins, the celebrated Christmas spirit is distinctly Christian. The continued use of these motifs represent the victory over paganism, not the validation of it that anti-Christians seem to assume. Further, even if one isn't a Christian believer, I really don't understand why one would fail to acknowledge the contributions of Christianity to our world. I don't worship Zeus but I still don't mind acknowledging Greek contributions to civilization.

On the other hand, maybe I do understand.

December 27, 2007 12:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrea- not anon
Red moron- you are full of it and I don't mean the Christmas Spirit- unless it is the kind from a bottle.

December 27, 2007 3:56 PM  
Anonymous the red baron said...

"Red moron- you are full of it and I don't mean the Christmas Spirit- unless it is the kind from a bottle."

You feel that way about the ancient Greeks too, or just the Christians?

December 27, 2007 4:33 PM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

RB did NOT actually say the first two items posted on this thread, he stole them without attribution from Dinesh D'Souza. And RB spun D'Souza's article, omitting the part that said secular US doctors donate more of their time than religious US doctors:

Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic and columnist for Scientific American, and I had our third and final debate for the year at Cal Tech University last night. It was our liveliest, most hard-fought debate yet. More than at thousand people turned out to watch a cordial and yet combative showdown on the questions of "Is Religion a Force for Good or Evil in the World?" and "Can We Be Good Without God?" This debate as well as my debate with Shermer at George Washington University will be posted on the web this week.

Shermer raised the question of whether religious people act any differently from non-religious people. He cited a study that showed, for example, that Christian doctors in America are no more likely to donate their time than secular doctors. Actually the secular doctors volunteered a bit more, although the difference was not statistically significant. I argued that Shermer was missing a deeper point...

I concur with Andrea, RB is full of it and plagiarizes and spins without compunction.

December 27, 2007 7:01 PM  
Anonymous Merle said...

Nice one, Aunt Bea.

December 27, 2007 7:08 PM  
Anonymous Mr. Teacher Man said...

Oh, RB... once again, you make me laugh!!!

December 27, 2007 8:46 PM  
Anonymous Uncle A said...

Oh brother, Aunt Bea, you omitted the parts of the article you didn't like. RB captured the point of the article. You didn't.

Also, it's not plagiarism when it's obviously an excerpt from somewhere and no one is taking credit for it. (You guys were probably confused and thought the Red Baron actually wrote it.) Not to mention, I'm sure D'Souza would love to know his arguments are being repeated in a darkened corner of our culture such as the TTF blog.

Everyone be sure to check out D'Souza's latest book about the merits of the Christian heritage in Western culture.

Oh, and try arguing ideas for once. Go ahead and plagiarize them. You still won't get very far trying to counter D'Souza's observations, no matter your source. You see, he's right.

December 27, 2007 10:23 PM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

What makes America great is not Christianity, but rather the fact that religious freedom was born here and remains a rule of the land. The wall of separation of church and state is what keeps America as the shining beacon up on the hill and prevents her from becoming a theocracy like Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the rest.

December 29, 2007 11:42 AM  

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