Monday, June 25, 2007

Samuel Adams: Beer, Jesus, and Revolution

As early as July 1765, Samuel Adams, known mainly for brewing beer in Boston, was identified as a leader in the revolutionary movement which would eventually demand - and get - independence from England.

It was Adams - before Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, or Thomas Paine - who decided that the colonies could establish their own nation. He was the first American of any real prominence to dispute Parliament's right to tax the colonies.

Samuel Adams was a pious churchgoer who fashioned his arguments with scrupulous devotion to legal precedent, who urged his fellow citizens to refrain from violence except in self-defense, and whose aims, while ambitious, were also finite.

Unlike the French revolutionaries, Adams was no ideologue. In the beginning, his goal, it seems, was simply to ensure that Massachusetts merchants could operate without interference from Parliament or the Crown and without taxes to which they had not consented. As a producer and seller of ale, he had a direct interest in free trade. Such freedom of commerce, it turned out, required political independence, which Adams promoted. He sought no overthrow of established values, however. He wished Boston to become a "Christian Sparta."

Adams was well versed in history, literature, philosophy and legal theory, in addition to being recognized as one of the very best beer-brewers.

To his political opponents, Adams once wrote, "Do you think that your pen, or the pen of any man, can un-Christianize the mass of our citizens, or have you hopes of converting a few of them to assist you in so bad a cause?"

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Sir Salman?

In the current era, receiving knighthood from the Queen of England is a purely symbolic gesture; there is no military or political power attached to the office. Why, then, would several governments respond with "diplomatic threats" (an oxymoron), and riots erupt in different cities, when a poet was recently knighted?

Because that author is Salman Rushdie. For those of you with bad memories, Rushdie became famous, or infamous, in the 1980's, when he wrote a book which questioned some of the beliefs of Islam, and was somewhat skeptical of the Prophet Mohammad. In 1988, several Islamic governments issued orders to have Rushdie killed, and rewards were offered to anyone who killed him. He went in to hiding, and was protected by various European governments.

In mid-June 2007 Rushdie was given the title of knight by the British Queen. This action brought much criticism around the world in many countries with Muslim majority populations. Soon after the news of the knighthood was released protests against the honour were held in Malaysia and Pakistan where effigies of Rushdie were publicly burnt. On June 19, 2007, governments in both Pakistan and Iran summoned their British ambassadors to officially protest the award.

After Friday prayer services on June 22, 2007 Prominent cleric Hojatoleslam Ahmad Khatami spoke to worshipers by broadcast on state radio from Tehran. He addressed the death sentence issued by the Ayatollah in the 1980's against Rushdie, saying "In the Islamic Iran that revolutionary fatwa of Imam [Khomeini] is still alive and cannot be changed."

On June 18, 2007 Pakistan's parliament passed a resolution condemning the knighthood and demanding the British revoke it. The resolution was passed unanimously, then the Religious Affairs Minister told the parliament that "insults to Islam were at the root of terrorism", and said "if someone committed a suicide bombing to protect the honour of the Prophet Mohammad, his act was justified."

It seems that the governments of Iran and Pakistan (among others) are more willing to kill, than to allow anyone to voice questions about Mohammad, or skepticism about Islam.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

New Ways to Oppress

Although African-Americans have gained much in the area of civil rights over the last 150 years, racists keep trying to find new ways to oppress them.

Day Gardner is an African-American political activis, and she reports the following statistics:

* 34% of all abortions performed in the U.S. are performed on African-American women.

* African-Americans make up approximatley 15% of the U.S. population

* 98% of abortionists who performed these procedures are white

* over 90% of the donations to Planned Parenthood's abortion clincis are come from white donors

She concludes that abortionist "are trying to suggest that we fix societal problems by reducing the number of black Americans through abortion." She reminds us that it was Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, who managed to get large donations from white people by promising to reduce the African-American population. In short, she points out that rich white people donate money to pay rich white physicians to perform abortions on poor black women to make sure that there are fewer and fewer African-Americans.

Day Gardner is an administator at Georgetown University's medical center, and a lobbyist in Washington, D.C.

Creating Fear

We have learned that one common technique used by would-be fascists or totalitarians is the exploitation of fear. If a large segment of the population is sufficiently afraid of something, they will be willing to give power to a leader who promises to protect them from what threatens them.

If there is no great threat to a nation, unscrupulous leaders can still create fear among the people, and then use that fear to gain power. But the fear must be great, because it has to be powerful enough to convince most of the people to give up most of their rights to a dictatorship: hence the advent of doomsday scenarios.

If a political movement succeeds in convincing the citizens that there is some terrible fate ready to happen to them, like "global warming" or "climactic instability", and illustrate these fears with notions of catastrophic floods, storms, and droughts, then the votes might be scared enough to turn over their civil liberties to politicians who promise to save them from these terrible threats.

Beware the politician who creates fear!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Population and Economics

A steadily growing population provides the most fruitful economic environment. We learn this by studying the alternatives: an unsteadily growing population is synonomous with lurches in supply and demand, leading manufacturers into erratic business cycles; a population which does not grow at all cannot support the "legacy" costs of retirees, and more importantly, leads to excess management at top levels; a population growing too quickly leads to inflation and shortages; a shrinking population creates a local exodus of talent, and a global shortage of labor.

So the best route to prosperity is a steadily growing, slowly growing, population.

But would that lead to global over-population? Not at all. Since the writings of Thomas Malthus, the question of over-population has resurfaced time and again. Yet we see that, at the present time with earth's population over six billion, we are currently producing too much food, not too little. Food shortages and starvation are not caused by over-population, but by bad government. Likewise, resource management informs us that clean water and air can support billions more than are currently living on the planet. A population of twenty or even thirty billion is easily sustainable, with proper environmental stewardship. The vast amounts of uninhabited, but habitable, land ensure that we could avoid over-crowding. We are nowhere near the "carrying capacity" of our habitat. We simply need better use of resources.