On the Soapbox

The Degeneration of Conservatism

Sunday, January 28, 2007
Keywords: Politics, Religion

A person once said,

On religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God's name on one's behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in "A," "B," "C" and "D." Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of "conservatism."

No, this was not a bleeding-heart liberal; in fact, this is someone who most bleeding-heart liberals have learned to detest. This was a 1981 Senate speech given by Republican Senator Barry Goldwater. It is ironic that most people consider Ronald Reagan to be Goldwater's ideological successor. Various authors have pointed to the loss of the Goldwater campaign as the start of the modern Republican Party. John McCain remarked that Goldwater created the "breeding ground for the election of Ronald Reagan." A conservative columnist for the Washington Post described the 1980 Reagan election with the words, "it took 16 years to count the votes [of the 1964 election], and Goldwater won." But Reagan was not Goldwater's ideological successor. Goldwater was a libertarian. Reagan's right-conservatism was an unusual and hideous marriage of libertarian principles with religious zealotry. And 26 years after Reagan's election, moderate Republicans are beginning to see just how pernicious Reagan's alliance has been.

This entry was edited on 2007/01/28 at 19:26:32 GMT -0500.

Shooting Down Peace: The Perplexing Chinese Missile Test

Friday, January 19, 2007
Keywords: Politics, China

I wasn't planning to comment on the Chinese missile test, but after hearing the near-hysterical American reaction on the evening news, I'll throw in my two cents.

  1. China is not the Soviet Union, and this is not the Cold War.
    • China does not share in the hegemonic goals that the Soviet Union had of spreading Communism and destroying capitalism.
    • China has abandoned Communism in all but name. With the rapid erosion of the state's roles, China is by some measures even less socialistic than the United States is.
    • China is even on the slow--though often uneven--path of political reform and is gradually creeping towards democracy and the rule of law.
  2. China has been historically pacifist. They like the boast that, unlike white nations, they have never invaded and occupied foreign soil. Additionally, over the course of the past several years, China has reduced the size of its armed forces by over half a million.
  3. China is all but drowning in growing domestic unrest and strife. The political instability of a war would likely put the ruling party at grave risk, especially since the only thing that is keeping China's head above the rising waters of unrest is the tremendous economic growth and income that comes from trade with the West. Any disruption in that trade would hurt both China and the West, but it would hurt China much more as their economy is less diversified and more dependent on trade and because of the importance of that trade on its political stability--something that the exceedingly self-preservationist ruling party is keenly aware of.
  4. The European Union was founded on the principle that economic trade would make wars all but unthinkable in a region that was once the greatest hotbed of wars. This is certainly the case with China. Strong economic ties and trade are the best and most permanent guaranteers of peace.
  5. Although American foreign policy has been less rational lately, it strikes me as very odd that China would see the West as any sort of military threat that it needs to compete with, especially given how very allergic to war the West has become. The only real potential flash point is over the status of Taiwan (to be sure, a point that is not to be underestimated), but it seems that both China and Taiwan have now comfortably settled into the status quo of Taiwan's de facto but not de jure independence.
  6. Right now, the greatest threat to American national security is Islamic terrorism, and the greatest threat to Chinese national security is also Islamic terrorism. Lost in all the news about Iraq is the fact that China, which borders a number of Islamic countries and whose western provinces are the home to a significant number of Muslims, was the victim of well over 200 Islamic terrorist bombings in 2005, some of which even happened in the capital Beijing. Like the bombings in Iraq, many were conducted by foreign fighters who infiltrated China's western borders. I trust that in the long term, the national security interests of both China and the West will be identical.

For all these reasons, the missile test perplexes me. It perplexes me how the Chinese government (which, by the way, is not a monolithic and single-minded entity, much like how the American government, divided between the two parties and the factions within the two parties, is far from monolithic and single-minded) ever got the notion that testing this sort of weapon would be in its interests. Political Islam and terrorists are China's newest and most immediate enemies, and they won't have have any satellites to shoot down. In fact, recent newscasts from China paid little or no attention to the missile test whereas the state of the conflict in Iraq and the battle against Islamic extremism seems to get much more spotlight and coverage. At the same time, the American overreaction is puzzling, too. Perhaps this is because most Americans are still stuck in a Cold War mentality and fail to realize just how different China is from the Soviet Union. In any case, I think that China and the United States are much more alike than either side would admit and that ultimately, I think that that it would be most sensible for the two to act as allies instead of rivals.

The 10th Year

Friday, January 19, 2007
Keywords: Me

It is January 19. A year ago, I launched this 7th incarnation of my website. This new year will also be my website's 10th year; before 2007 is over, I shall be able to say that I've had a home on the web for a decade.

The first four versions of my website came and went within the first year. On my website's first birthday in 1998, I launched the fifth version. Things slowed dramatically after that; the sixth version of my website was launched years later in 2002, and it would be years after that before the current seventh version came into being. This is not too unlike the browser world, where release cycles that used to be measured in months have now morphed into ones measured in years. Or for that matter, much of the Internet itself. People often remark about how much and how fast the Internet is changing, but it seems to me that things have slowed dramatically, especially compared with the rate of change in the 90's. People and technology have found and settled into their grooves--their steady state equilibria, if you will--and the world of computing is developing a comfortable inertia. Anyway, it would be interesting to see how many years it would be before I do another redesign and technical overhaul of this website; personally, I wouldn't hold my breath.

Jabberizing AIM

Monday, January 15, 2007
Keywords: Technology, Jabber

This is a follow-up to this post from September.

When Google purchased a 5% stake in AOL is late 2005, it was announced that Google Talk and AOL Instant Messenger will become interoperable. However, a year passed, and there was no interoperability in sight, so many people, including me, began to think that it would never happen. After all, why would AOL open up what is arguably its most prized asset for a company with a measly 5% stake?

Well, according to Internet rumor mills on both Google's end and AOL's end, it's looking like the interoperability is going to happen this year. Better late than never, I guess.

What is most exciting about this, however, is what it will mean for the future of Jabber/XMPP if the largest IM network adopts Jabber/XMPP. And that is a big "if" because it's possible for AOL to achieve interoperability without actually adopting Jabber. The easiest way to achieve interoperability would be to set up a Jabber transport that acts as a sort of crude proxy in which Jabber users still need to register for an AIM account and where the transport basically acts as a liaison that hooks the AIM account to the Jabber account. A transport would be a superficial solution and one nullifies a number of the main benefits of Jabber/XMPP, namely the unifying of e-mail and IM addresses. The upside of transports is they are easy to implement; third-party Jabber transports that allow Jabber accounts to communicate with AIM, MSN, Yahoo!, etc. have existed for years and have been deployed by many organizations who use Jabber transports as a secure means for people on the internal network to connect to these external networks.

The other way to achieve interoperability is to make the AIM network speak XMPP. The AIM network is already "bilingual", in that one can communicate on the network using either TOC or Oscar, so adding XMPP support would simply involve adding a third parallel protocol. I am hoping that this is the solution that they are seeking because it would do much to advance Jabber/XMPP and because of the elegance of having "native" XMPP support. I think that this might be the case because of the wording of the Google rumor (though the language is ambiguous enough that it could just as easily be read the other way as well), because of how long it has taken (if they were just setting up a transport instead of doing "true" interoperability, they could have done it in a matter of weeks), and because of how nicely this fits with recent developments in the AIM network. With the launch of the @aim.com e-mail service, AOL has been getting people to equate buddy list screennames with e-mail address, pushing the idea that one's screenname is now example@aim.com instead of just example. This is the first step to paving the way for a Jabber-like paradigm. And with AOL pushing a custom domain service, they now have people on the AIM network whose screennames are not in the form example@aim.com, but are instead in the form of name@example.com. This sort of change would make a true Jabber implementation almost a necessity.

In any case, this is all just speculation. Here's to hoping that the interoperability happens the right way and that Jabber/XMPP will get the boost that it needs in 2007.

This Un-Christian Nation

Thursday, January 11, 2007
Keywords: Politics, Religion

I have long known that the notion that the United States was "founded as a Christian nation" is nothing more than a fabrication of the historical revisionism of the religious right. What I didn't know was that this concept was actually expressed in a government document. As it turns out, the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli, as ratified by the United States Senate, contains the following phrase:

... the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion ...

While reading about this, I also came across these words from the famous infidel who penned the Declaration of Independence:

Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person's life, freedom of religion affects every individual. ... Moreover, state support of the church tends to make the clergy unresponsive to the people and leads to corruption within religion. Erecting the wall of separation between church and state, therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.

It is amusing, then, to observe the revisionists of the religious right painting this "wall" as a liberal fabrication unsupported by the views of the Founding Fathers. Ironically, members of the religious right should be grateful for this wall of separation, as Jefferson was right about the wall of separation helping stave off corruption. This wall of separation is arguably the most important reason why the United States today is, for better or for worse, more devout than Europe, Canada, or even Israel, where there currently is or has been state-supported religion.