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Blue By You

About 20 years ago, I read a fascinating book by astronomer Clifford Stoll. In "The Cuckoo's Egg," he explained how he -- an unabashed Berkeley hippie grad student working towards his Ph.D. in astronomy -- linked up with the FBI, the CIA, and was instrumental in capturing one of the Soviets' best computer spies.

One part of that book -- utterly unrelated to computers or espionage, but indicative of Stoll's truest passion -- was his description of his verbal boards for his doctorate. There was one member of the board who he knew would be his toughest inquisitor, and Stoll lived in dread of his questions.

When the day came, Stoll's questioner hit him with a single question:

"Why is the sky blue?"

Stoll couldn't believe it. Such a simple, fundamental question. He quickly answered, tossing off the rote answer -- sunlight refracting off the earth's atmosphere.

But that wasn't enough. The professor pressed for more details. Stoll went to greater lengths, wanting to move on to areas he had boned up for.

They never moved on. The professor kept pressing for more and more details, more and more explanations, into "why is the sky blue?" Stoll found himself invoking nearly every single thing he knew about astronomy, stellar dynamics, astrophysics, spectrography, fluid dynamics, chemistry, geometry -- the whole gamut. He spent (I believe) an hour going into the finest details, demonstrating his grasp of all aspects of his field, to satisfy this professor and his one deceptively-simple game:

"Why is the sky blue?"

That's a hell of a roundabout way to get to my point, but I was reminded of that story when I saw the way some of the comments were headed in my recent discussion of the laughably-misnamed "Islamic Thinkers' Society." One persistent fellow accused me of painting with too broad a brush. Here's a bit of the exchange from the comments:

You spend an inordinate amount of time arguing what shade of blue the sky is and trying to avoid admitting the fact that it is indeed, basically, blue.

That's because, to go with your analogy, the sky isn't basically blue. SOMETIMES it is, but many times it's not. In fact, for about half of the day (or more), the sky is most definitely not blue. Sometimes it's kind of orange, or red. Sometimes it's gray. Other times it's purple. And it also depends at times on which parts you look at...it can be purple on the edges and bluish in the center. As I look out my window right now, it appears to be black.

Much of this, from our perceptions of the color of the sky to our political ideas, is greatly dependent upon our own perspectives. All I am doing is giving mine.

(The italicized words are from oyster; the rest is ryan a's response. And it is ryan a that I am talking about.)

ryan, it pains me to admit, has a point. A very, very slight one, but one nonetheless. I do tend to paint with a fairly broad brush when I discuss the more vile aspects of Islam, and I am willing to admit that the ones I am denouncing are not the majority.

But they certainly are the loudest, and they certainly aren't contradicted too strenuously when they claim to speak for all Muslims.

Yes, there are "moderate Muslims," Muslims who don't howl to "behead those who insult Islam," Muslims who are repulsed by the crazy Islamist psychos out there who get all the press. But those who feel that way -- and are willing to take a stand -- are a very, very small minority. The rest are content to let the nuts have their way, have their say, and grab all the headlines. I suspect this is partly out of fear -- far, far more Muslims have died at the hands of other Muslims than at the hands of any other demographic. Indeed, if I were a Muslim, I'd be more frightened of my co-religionists than I would be of the infidels.

These crazies, these militant Islamists, these people who set off bombs and call for death when people draw cartoons, when the mere rumor (no matter how impossible) of a "Koran in a toilet" can trigger riots among the nuts, can not and must not be ignored, minimized, or dismissed. They need to be recognized, called out, and confronted at every opportunity.

The left has a saying: "Silence equals consent." In this case, they're all too right.


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Comments (30)

Not only the 200 years behi... (Below threshold)
Scrapiron:

Not only the 200 years behind the rest of the world Islamist fell for the old Koran flushed down a comode lie, half the educated elitest (according to them) democrats not only fell for it, but hyped it.

Unclosed tags in this post.... (Below threshold)
SPQR:

Unclosed tags in this post.

when the mere rumor (no ... (Below threshold)
P. Bunyan:

when the mere rumor (no matter how impossible) of a "Koran in a toilet" can trigger riots among the nuts

It may have been impossible, but I wonder just how common flush toilets are in other parts of the world. Perhaps when a lot of the people in the middle east and SE Asia heard the story, to them it meant tossing it down an outhouse hole which would clearly be possible.

Now it's another thing for the Americans who wrote and published the story, but as leftists they are blinded to reality, fact, logic, and reason when they have an opportunity to help the Islamofascists by making the US military look bad.

The real problem, however, ... (Below threshold)
cirby:

The real problem, however, is not the argument about the color of the sky. The folks on the other side will argue with you all day long about what makes the sky blue, will engage you in hard debates about what color of blue it is (robin's egg, cerulean, et cetera), and complain that you didn't allow for clouds and sunsets.

Meanwhile, they're 100% certain the sky is plaid, and that since you're on the other side, it's okay to lie about the rest of it.

Not only do the extremists ... (Below threshold)
GarandFan Author Profile Page:

Not only do the extremists perceive 'silence as consent'. It is also seen as encouragement.

Yes, GarandFan, the general... (Below threshold)
Oyster:

Yes, GarandFan, the general silence shows them that their tactics work. That's what gives them the encouragement to continue.

I am not so sure the majori... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

I am not so sure the majority of Muslims are moderate. I think a minority of muslims are moderate. Your brush was not too broad for me. I remember after the twin towers came down, that huge Muslim population in Michigan rose up and with one voice said terrorism is bad and the muslims that toppled the towers were motivated by satan. Oh! Wait. Here's what they said. (crickets chirping) ww

There are 1 billion Muslims... (Below threshold)
hyperbolist:

There are 1 billion Muslims in the world, most of who do not commit acts of violence. So STFU, WildWillie. You are not to be taken seriously.

I'd like every Protestant to stand up and decry the actions of Timothy McVeigh; every Catholic to write a letter to the Pope demanding the ex-communication of every church official who did not immediately apologize when the sexual abuse crisis entered the public discourse; every Alaskan who voted for him to apologize for Ted Stevens...

Doesn't this sound stupid? I don't like Islam any more than you, Jay Tea, but it's not like Osama Bin Laden was elected. And it's not like some dude in Pakistan with seven kids and a herd of goats trying to scrape by is obliged to speak out against extremism. I simply fail to see the connection. It's totally different from, say, German citizens and the Nazi Party in the 30s and 40s.

"The Cuckoo's Egg" was also... (Below threshold)
J Kevin:

"The Cuckoo's Egg" was also made into a TV documentary we saw on PBS decades ago. Fascinating stuff. Clifford Stoll is way out there in most respects. You'll probably see him pictured by Zombie at one of the "How Berkley Can You Be" parades.
When polls taken in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Umma regarding attitudes towards Jihadists, they get at least a majority of support. Don't think Mcveigh would in the U.S.

In any compromise between a... (Below threshold)
Clay:

In any compromise between a glass of water and cyanide, it is only death that can profit. In any compromise between the West and Islam, it is only Islam that can benefit. There can be no compromise on the basic principles upon which the American republic is founded. As we witness the western culture in full retreat as Sharia invades Europe, let us well remember that there can be no compromise on the moral issues of natural law, or matters of knowledge, truth, and rational conviction.

If moderate Islam - if indeed such an animal exists - has not found its voice by now, what on earth would ever lead us to believe that it ever will? Now is not the time for us to be silent. Now is the time to speak boldly against this evil that is prepared to tread our faith, families, and freedom. You can heed the voice of liberalism and political correctness that says, "Islam is basically a peaceful religion, it's just a minority element that's problematic", or you can heed those alarm bells that are sounding in your head. The latter is concerned with matters of your survival...the former has other interests.

And if your thought is that I'm being overly dramatic...well, this message is not for you.

That was a really good book... (Below threshold)

That was a really good book. And a fascinating "insiders view" into both the scientific world and the Berkeley long-hair world. (I went to Cal; I could see and taste and smell every detail.)

Also, as I recall, it was a perfect example of what we see so often, a very smart liberal refusing to think deeply. Not daring to think deeply. He drifts into the middle of a fascinating and intricate Cold War espionage plot, he works with FBI and CIA, and yet has nothing pertinent to say about the deep issues.

What do you mean by "natura... (Below threshold)
hyperbolist:

What do you mean by "natural law", Clay?

Europe withstood Christian insanity in the Middle Ages; Fascism and Communism in the 20th century; and will withstand radical Islam as demographics inevitably shift. Anecdotally, I have lots of European friends and none of them are threatened by Islam. Still a pretty great place for educated people to live, all things considered.

In concrete, non-abstract terms, what are you afraid of? Crazy people on another continent? What epoch in the history of human civilization did not feature nutjobs who wanted to kill or enslave everybody? Cancer is far scarier than Islam.

Even if we could say with certainty that Islam poses a grave threat to our civilization, as it certainly does not, what would we do about it? Which Muslims would we have to kill, and when would we know when we've killed enough of them? Insofar as you're genuinely afraid of Islamic encroachment, what do you suggest we do about it? What are you going to do about it? Personally, I'm going to get drunk and watch a baseball game. Suck it, Osama!

I'd like every Protestan... (Below threshold)
Clay:

I'd like every Protestant to stand up and decry the actions of Timothy McVeigh

I don't remember seeing Lutherans dancing in the streets of Des Moines when the devastation in Oklahoma City occurred.

And it's not like some dude in Pakistan with seven kids and a herd of goats trying to scrape by is obliged to speak out against extremism.

In the days immediately following the WTC, I would have had no difficulty finding volumes of quotes from the world of Islam suggesting that the fault of 9/11 rested squarely on the shoulders of the United States. The sad thing is that I would find as many liberal American voices in agreement.

In their mind, we were like a rape victim wearing immodest clothing. They thought we asked for it.

People dancing on the stree... (Below threshold)
hyperbolist:

People dancing on the street is not equal to people flying airplanes into office towers. It's offensive, and indicative of a warped morality, but it doesn't actually harm you. I don't care about my next-door neighbour's opinion of global events; why would I worry about some ignoramus in Riyadh or Islamabad?

Liberal Americans, like Falwell and Robertson and Hagee, did indeed place the blame of 9/11 squarely on the shoulders of the United States. Hey, wait a sec... isn't it stupid extrapolating across half the political spectrum based on what a few polemical assholes have to say about things?

Another strawman argument f... (Below threshold)
SPQR:

Another strawman argument from you hyperbolist, clay's statement about dancing in the streets directly addressed your attempt to draw a parallel - and debunked it.

Now you've decided to ignore his point, and create a strawman. Hardly a reason to take you seriously.

What do you mean by "nat... (Below threshold)
Clay:

What do you mean by "natural law", Clay?

You've spent much too much time with modern philosophers and now you Kant think. You might consider going back a little further to the Greek classics, those lovers of reality and rational thought.

Natural law derives from our right to defend ourselves and our property, it is not derived from the power of the state. As Xenohon wrote, Alkibiades argued that if the Athenian assembly could decree whatever law it chose, then such laws were "not law, but merely force". The Athenian assembly promptly proceeded to prove him right by issuing decrees that were clearly unlawful, and with the passage of time its decrees became more and more lawless.

Aristotle and others argued that each kind of animal has a mental nature that is appropriate to its physical nature. All animals know or can discover what they need to do in order to lead the life that they are physically fitted to live. Thus humans are naturally capable of knowing how to live together and do business with each other without killing each other. Humans are capable of knowing natural law because, in a state of nature, they need to be capable of knowing it.

The Founders of this great republic where ardent followers of natural law. Our Constitution, specifically the preamble, underscores there intimate awareness of it.

People dancing on the street is not equal to people flying airplanes into office towers.

Oh please. Now I'm embarrassed for you. It may be better if you stopped now.

No, Ryan, trying to find a ... (Below threshold)
max:

No, Ryan, trying to find a tiny little loophole or poke at a possible exception through one individual is being a dickhead.

A more relevant comment would be to find places where my statements about the "Islamic Thinkers Society" or any of the other groups (CAIR, American Islamic Society, Hezbollah, Hamas) that claim -- with some authority -- to speak for Muslims are wrong. David did a good job shaving a couple hundred years off my "thousand years" reference, and I appreciate that.

You, though... you're just a twit.

J.

10. Posted by Jay Tea | June 4, 2008 12:25 PM


So I guess that makes you the dickhead, huh Jay.

So I guess that makes yo... (Below threshold)
Clay:

So I guess that makes you the dickhead, huh Jay.

I'll bet you unwittingly made his day. Now, what does that make you?

The primary motive of McVei... (Below threshold)
thud:

The primary motive of McVeigh was not protestantism...unlike nearly all terrorists today who are driven by Islam.While we play the moderate Muslim game our enemies plot to do us harm.Polls in England show quite high numbers for supposedly loyal Brits supporting terrorism...in Pakistan etc polls show huge majorities who hate either us or Israel in particular.....we have an enemy...an enemy that has fought us overtly for nearly 1300 years...its name is Islam.

Let's see:Both wat... (Below threshold)
BlueNight:

Let's see:

Both water and atmospheric gases are blue in sufficient quantities, under most conditions.

Muslims follow scriptures that say they need to be ready to kill for their God.

Moderate Muslims are as rare as the colors of a sunset.

My argument about ryan was ... (Below threshold)
Oyster:

My argument about ryan was right.

Let me give some parallels, rather than the blue sky analogy.

1 - If Jay had spoken about the poor state of our education system, ryan would point out a school district in some state that had improved and say Jay was being too broad. He would also imply that his broad brush painted all teachers as a failure.

2 - If Jay lauded our health care system, ryan would point out some hospital where it failed to protect someone from a doctor's malpractice and whine about generalizations.

In both cases, he would imply that Jay wasn't dumbing his conversation down enough, because you know, not all people realize that there are no absolutes.

I stand by my thoughts on this. His arguments are petty and distracting from the issue.

When Jay posted the article in question, ryan took it as a slight against all Muslims, when in fact Jay's argument was about Islam. To demonstrate his point, he used a group of Muslims who adhere to the tenets of Islam and use the Quran to justify the heinous acts of others. He also pointed out that Muslims are of the only faith that justify the penalty of death for apostasy and heresy.

So ryan brings up Zalmay Khalilzad.

Why he found Zalmay Khalilzad to be pertinent is beyond me. The man obviously does not adhere to many aspects of Islam. (this is Jay's argument - Islam) His wife wrote a book critical of the implementation of Sharia Law and doesn't herself wear a scarf. He has worked diligently with the west to confront those who wish to impose Sharia Law. Why I'll bet they even pay usury tax with credit cards. This laudable couple are obviously pushing the idea that all is not compulsory in Islam. So how Jay's post could be construed to be somehow shortchanging or insulting to Khalilzad or the few like him, I don't know. The Khalilzads would be considered Muslim moderates - meaning they don't practice all the tenets of Islam (again, this is Jay's argument - Islam).

In parallels 1 & 2 above, ryan's examples were almost assuredly instances where the prescribed tenets or rules were not being applied by the individuals. Such is the case with Khalilzad. None apply to the overall argument.

If I haven't made my point, then I give up.

Jay:I think you ar... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

Jay:

I think you are right about the fact that it is often fear that keeps many Muslim populations from speaking out against extremism. The Taliban has terrorized the hell out of the Afghani population, for example. And it's not like the people of Iran are exactly living in an environment of freedom and tolerance for ideas that challenge what the regime puts forth.

I agree with you that those who do commit acts of terrorism, or who espouse hate-ridden speech, should be challenged and confronted in every instance. Definitely.

At the same time, I think we just have to keep an open mind that behind assholes like the president of Iran--who have the ability to spread their messages--there are often others who are silenced and/or silent. The question is whether this is out of outright support for extremism, fear of it, or some middle ground of ambivalence.

Oyster:Maybe you s... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

Oyster:

Maybe you should just give up. I gave you an extended, and respectful, reply in the other thread, and you answer with this?

My argument about ryan was right.

Let me give some parallels, rather than the blue sky analogy.

1 - If Jay had spoken about the poor state of our education system, ryan would point out a school district in some state that had improved and say Jay was being too broad. He would also imply that his broad brush painted all teachers as a failure.

2 - If Jay lauded our health care system, ryan would point out some hospital where it failed to protect someone from a doctor's malpractice and whine about generalizations.

Look, if you're going to try to make a point, then at least argue against something that I actually wrote, instead of constructing straw man arguments in your own mind and then challenging them because they're so ridiculous. Seriously.

When Jay posted the article in question, ryan took it as a slight against all Muslims, when in fact Jay's argument was about Islam.

Since Muslims by definition practice the religion of Islam, your contention here is absolute nonsense. Jay's claims about Islam automatically apply to all Muslims, who practice the religion, unless he specifies certain practitioners. Jay did start the post off somewhat specifically, but then made several claims that were a little too broad-brushed, as he readily admitted.

Why he found Zalmay Khalilzad to be pertinent is beyond me.

The relevance is clearly beyond you. The fact that Khalilzad is Muslim, and that he does not do what SOME other Muslims do, is fairly important. This means that there is in fact variability in the practice of the religion, and a possibility that Islam can be something OTHER than what certain extremists make of it. That's the point.

This laudable couple are obviously pushing the idea that all is not compulsory in Islam. So how Jay's post could be construed to be somehow shortchanging or insulting to Khalilzad or the few like him, I don't know. The Khalilzads would be considered Muslim moderates - meaning they don't practice all the tenets of Islam (again, this is Jay's argument - Islam).

The point is that they ARE Muslim, and therefore some of Jay's statements don't work when we take these two (and anyone else like them) into consideration. There have been contributions to society by Muslims in the last 1000 years, and Islam can be about something much more than violence, terrorism, and fanaticism--as the lives of the Khalilzads attest. And they are just one minute example.

Hmmmm. Maybe that means there are more...

And I am pretty sure that a couple of the statements that were made about Islam might not have settled all that well with the Khalilzads and many other Muslims in the world. But we can agree to disagree there.

In parallels 1 & 2 above, ryan's examples were almost assuredly instances where the prescribed tenets or rules were not being applied by the individuals. Such is the case with Khalilzad. None apply to the overall argument.

Again, the "parallels" were all in your own mind, and therefore completely useless to talk about. If you are going to argue with me, than please use my words...not some half-assed recreations of what you think I "might" say or think.

Khalilzad, once again, applies directly. Jay made some huge statements about "Islam," which applies to all Muslims, since they by definition are the adherents of Islam. All it takes, then, is a few examples to derail a claim such as the one that Jay made. If there are exceptions, such as this particular Muslim man, to statements made about Islam, it might be important to recognize them. Or we can all just keep making generalized claims that we THINK fit reality and ignore the actual details of real life.

Jay had the class to listen to what I had to say, and I appreciate that. I realize that I do indeed have to be careful about nitpicking, and that I have to make fair arguments when using specific details to argue against larger generalizations. Otherwise, no larger statements about anything can ever be made.

You make some good points Oyster, and I do listen to what you have to say. This particular comment of yours, however, is an exception.

Also, next time someone gives you an extended response, maybe you should consider the idea of actually answering them directly.

Just an idea.


Clay, I laud your respect f... (Below threshold)
hyperbolist:

Clay, I laud your respect for classical philosophers, though I cannot engage with arguments based on their work as I studied contemporary thinkers. However, Joseph Raz (Aristotelian) and John McDowell (Kantian) have repackaged and made slightly more germane some of the best ancient/modern theories, stripped bare of spooky metaphysics.

If this natural law you speak of has to do with Hobbes and/or Locke, I can understand its appeal to an American like yourself, though I'm more persuaded by Rawls' Theory of Justice as a basis for liberal political philosophy. (Liberal in the classical sense, not the contemporary.) I think the "state of nature" is a bit of a non-sequitur, but granting that it isn't, why not embrace Rousseau's conception of it rather than Hobbes'? The context in which Hobbes wrote Leviathan cannot be ignored either.

Ryan, if Jay Tea were to qu... (Below threshold)
hyperbolist:

Ryan, if Jay Tea were to qualify every generalization he makes with a ceteris paribus clause, I'm afraid your criticism of the practice of making generalizations would be moot. Statistically insignificant counter-examples are really only devastating to a claim when we're talking about math, logic, physics, and other more deductive areas of investigation.

Hyperbolist:Hmmm. ... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

Hyperbolist:

Hmmm. Doesn't the ceteris paribus clause necessitate a certain level of scientific rigor to apply? I mean, this isn't really a matter of controlling variables as much as it is a matter of making false claims based upon certain preconceptions.

Statistically insignificant counter-examples are really only devastating to a claim when we're talking about math, logic, physics, and other more deductive areas of investigation.

I guess part of that depends upon who sets the parameters as to what is and what is not "statistically significant," doesn't it?

Beside that, I have a feeling that the number of Muslims who do not fit some of the generalizations made around here might in fact be fairly significant, even to hard-lined "objective" researchers.

No, Ryan, "statistical sign... (Below threshold)
hyperbolist:

No, Ryan, "statistical significance" is a normative measure by which I make my living. If something deviates from a norm in a statistically significant way, we note it in our client presentations. I'm not a statistician, though I'm bright enough to take note of the complexity of the formula that our statisticians have derived from a variety of industry sources.

Hyperbolist:No,... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

Hyperbolist:

No, Ryan, "statistical significance" is a normative measure by which I make my living.

Ya, I know what statistical significance is. And yes, it is a normative measure. And the basis for determining what is and what is not significant depends on certain assumptions of the researcher. For example, the accepted [p] values are often different in Social Science research (.05) and the research of the "harder" sciences (.01). Statistics are quite malleable. That's one of the dangers of employing them. Significance can also depend on the different ways that data are sorted or coded, as well as the legitimacy of the data collection itself.

That's what I was referring to above.

If something deviates from a norm in a statistically significant way, we note it in our client presentations.

Interesting. What line of work are you in?

I'm not a statistician, though I'm bright enough to take note of the complexity of the formula that our statisticians have derived from a variety of industry sources.

I care less about how complex something is than how useful or informative it is, personally. What sorts of stats tests are they running on your data? What kinds of data are you dealing with?

Socio-demographic research,... (Below threshold)
hyperbolist:

Socio-demographic research, mostly for private sector clients but also for governments and political campaigns. It's quantitative, not qualitative (i.e. focus groups), so we use samples large enough to make accurate inferences. The formula we apply to judge whether a deviation is significant is proprietary, of course.

Hyperbolist:Intere... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

Hyperbolist:

Interesting. So what is your background, if you dont mind me asking? Sociology? I am in the field of anthropology. Cultural anthropology to be specific, which trends toward more qualitative analysis (esp. in ethnography). But there is plenty of quantitative as well...kind of depends on the type of research and the questions we need to answer.

The formula we apply to judge whether a deviation is significant is proprietary, of course.

Well, I understand why you guys would have to do that, considering you're in the commercial sector and competing with other companies (I assume). I was just asking what types of analyses you are running though--not the details of your particular proprietary analysis.

Last question: how do you guys collect your data? Mostly surveys?

Sorry for all the inquiries. Just wondering where you are coming from.




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