Archive for February, 2010

Tawfiq Hamid in Colorado

Dr. Tawfiq Hamid, one of the voices in the wilderness seeking to reform Islam from within, is making an extended tour of the Denver/Boulder area.  In addition to the public appearances listed below, he is making a large number of radio appearances, including one this evening on Backbone Radio (audio to be posted later in the week).  If you get a chance, please be sure to hear him speak.

  • Mon, March 1, 7:30 PM, St. John’s Cathedral’s Abrahamic Inititive, The Roots of Jihad: What Americans Need to Understand to Keep America Safe., 1350 Washington St., Denver
  • Tues., March 2, 5:30 pm-7:30 pm, Regis University, 3333 Regis Blvd., Denver 80221
  • Wed., March 3, 11:30am-1:00 pm, Centennial Institute, 8787 W. Alameda Ave., Lakewood 80226. Confronting Radical Islam
  • Thurs., March 4, noon-1:30 pm, Wellshire Presbyterian Church, 2999 S. Colorado Blvd., Denver 80222. Why Terror is Proliferating in the West.
  • Thurs., March 4, 6:00 pm-8:00 pm, CU Boulder Mathematics Bldg., Room 100 (Folsom and Colorado).  -Fri., March 5, 7:00 pm-8:30 pm, University Park Methodist Church, 2180 S. University Bldvd., Denver 80210. Reforming the Muslim Religion.
  • Sat., March 6, 10:00 am-11:30 am, Simchat Torah Beit Midrash, 19697 E. Smoky Hill Rd., Centennial. An Insider’s View of Islamic Violence: The roots of Jihad and Suggested Solutions.
  • Sat., March 6, 12:30 pm-1:30 pm, Book signing at Barnes & Noble, 8555 E. Arapahoe Rd., Greenwood Village 80112.
  • Sun., March 7, 7:00 pm-9:00 pm, Plymouth Congregational Church, 3501 S. Colorado Blvd., Denver 80113. The Mentality of Terror: The How and Why Terror is Proliferating in the West.
  • Mon., March 8, 7:00 pm-9:00 pm, Hebrew Educational Alliance, 3600 S. Ivanhoe St., Denver 80237. Why the World is Losing the War on Terror: An Islamic Liberal’s View.

His tour is being sponsored by Act for America.

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So by now, most of you have seen the new logo for the Missile Defense Agency:

Look familiar?

Which got me thinking.

Department of Energy:

State Department:

Department of Transportation:


Electric Car Network

I wrote about car recharging stations being developed in Israel and being deployed there and in Denmark.  Now, the company, which has secured a $350 million investment led by HSBC, plans to launch a network of charging stations in Israel by next year.  They’ve partnered with a local gas station chain to host the recharging stations, and with Renault to modify their cars to take the electric batteries.  Better Place claims that the batteries have a first-run life of 300-400,000 kilometers (that’s about 180-240,000 miles in real units), and then can be reconditioned to get that amount again on their second run.

New technologies often have the problem of being dependent on parallel developments to work.  In the 1860s and 1870s, railroads weren’t going to build without a population to support; the people couldn’t get there without the railroads, so the government heavily subsidized western track-building.  In this case, it was clear that the recharging stations wouldn’t work without cars to service, and it’s been clear to me for some time that electric cars weren’t going anywhere if they were only good for runs to the supermarket.  Better Place has managed to broker the deals necessary to get the technology moving, and one assumes that Israel’s electrical grid is up to the task.

It’s unclear where the initial R&D funding came from, but the fact is that the market has supported the development of these grids and these cars.  Agassi claims that the cars will be cheaper than the gas equivalents, and cheaper to “refill” per mile than the gas equivalent.  Their range is advertised at 350  miles, which is about what an average tank of gas gets, and about 50 miles farther than my Jeep gets on one tank.  Assuming that the car’s performance is adequate, the market already exists.  It means that I don’t have to believe in anthropogenic global warming or peak oil or anything else to buy one.  I just have to want to save money.

The question for the USA, as always, is where we’re going to get the electricity from.  If individuals want to recharge their batteries, they’ll probably do so overnight, which means baseload capacity that wind and solar can’t provide.  So hopefully, those of us who want to see both nuclear and electric cars can persuade both ends to make it easier for the middle.



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Backbone Radio!

I’ll be on Backbone Radio this evening, with Ross Kaminsky and Matt Dunn.   Listen to 710 KNUS from 5-8 to hear us.

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Refighting the Cold War

The Cold War.  This idea is so old – and yet so new – that I don’t even have a category for it.  I mean, the USSR is so last century.  Really, it embodies pretty much everything that went off the rails from 1914 – 1989.  You want evil, the Soviets have it all.  Genocide.  Secret police.  Armed suppression.  Grey masses wearing grey clothes eating grey mush.

Let’s face it.  We do best when we can make fun of our enemies.  (It’s the main reason that the suppression of the Mohammed cartoons is so dangerous, and the main reason that the academy’s meek acquiescence in the matter is so dreadful.)  But if we find it funny it’s because we were winning, and we didn’t have to live with this crap, and if any Russians find it funny, it’s because they don’t have to live with it any more.

So why do I bring this up?  Because apparently, there are people abroad in the world who are not entirely convinced of this.  I don’t mean Putin, who was apparently plotting to re-create the Czarist Empire from the moment Hungarians started issuing visas and half the Germans under his watchful eye decamped to the West for some refreshingly non-destructive window-shopping.  I don’t mean Inner Party members or even Outer Party members.  I mean Americans, westerners, people who supposedly spent the better part of a century working to eliminate Homo Communismus from the taxonomy of living political beings, who are not entirely convinced that it was a good thing that the GDR went out of business.

I ran into one today.

I won’t recount the conversation at length, since I can’t do it justice, and you’ve heard it all before.  (If you haven’t heard it all before, a major part of your philosophical education has gone missing.  But since you’ve probably been to college, this is extremely unlikely.)  But the arguments are worth hearing on their own.

  • Oh, East Germany wasn’t free?  Well, what do you mean by free?
  • Well, no, nothing in our Bill of Rights would have been respected, but they did have a certain freedom conferred on them by their social services
  • The only reason the system never became self-supporting was because we never invested in it
  • Or because we offered the Marshall Plan with strings attached
  • Germany has re-created an internal police system every bit as invasive as the Stasi
  • 1956 was our fault, because we encouraged the Hungarians

While some may have encouraged the Hungarians, Budapest 1956 was notable for Soviet brutality, not American duplicity.  And, of course, there’s only the West to blame for the GDR’s economic failure, since only a capitalist economy had wealth that could go looking for foreign markets.

Still, to compare East and West from a purely materialistic point of view misses the point.  What good is having free health care if I get carted off to prison for making a joke about Honecker?  There’s no dignity in being a perpetual supplicant to the state for my subsistence.  Of course, even on purely materialistic terms, the East failed its citizens compared to the West.

(Some people will be tempted point to the debate here in the US now as mirroring my argument with this gentleman, but it is worth pointing out that nothing in long-time socialist Western Europe begins to approach the totalitarianism of Stalin and Brezhnev.  So while the philosophical points are similar, and the practical arguments may sound the same, East Berlin 1967 was several orders of magnitude worse than Berlin 2010.  Let’s keep things in perspective.  Helmut Schmidt was no Erich Honnecker.)

In the brilliant film, The Lives of Others, there’s a joke going around East Germany:

Erich Honnecker wakes up, and the sun is just coming up.  He leans out the window and says, “Good Morning, Sun!”  And the sun replies, “Good Morning, Erich.”

At lunchtime, Honnecker leans out the window and says, “Good afternoon, Sun!”  And the Sun replies, “Good afternoon, Chancellor!”

And in the evening, Honnecker, after a hard day at work, goes to the window and says, “Good evening, Sun!”  Silence.  He tries again, “Good evening, Sun!”  Nothing.  “What is that matter, Sun, why don’t you reply?”

And the sun says, “Screw you, I’m in the West now!”

I have to admit, I was flabbergasted to be revisiting conversations I had had innumerable times in the 80s.  To come across someone who still, after all this time, felt that East Germans were better off under the Communists than they are now.  Because surely the East Germans didn’t think so, at least not when they got a chance to make the choice.

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