Just finished Infidel.

Buy it.  Read it.

It’s an amazing book by an absolutely amazing woman.  An unflinching, honest, wrenching and extraordinary memoir from a woman about whom not enough can be said.

I’ve written about Ayaan Hirsi Ali before, but nothing really prepared me for this book. I’m simply astounded and awed.

Two excerpts:


One November morning in 2004, Theo van Gogh got up to go to work at his film production company in Amsterdam. He took out his old black bicycle and headed down a main road. Waiting in a doorway was a Moroccan man with a handgun and two butcher knives.

As Theo cycled down the Linnaeusstraat, Muhammad Bouyeri approached. He pulled out his gun and shot Theo several times. Theo fell off his bike and lurched across the road, then collapsed. Bouyeri followed. Theo begged, “Can’t we talk about this?” but Bouyeri shot him four more times. Then he took out one of his butcher knives and sawed into Theo’s throat. With the other knife, he stabbed a five-page letter onto Theo’s chest.

The letter was addressed to me.


When I was born, my mother initially thought death had taken me away. But it didn’t. When I got malaria and pneumonia, I recovered. When my genitals were cut, the wound healed. When a bandit held a knife to my throat, he decided not to slit it. When my Quran teacher fractured my skull, the doctor who treated me kept death at bay.

Even with bodyguards and death threats I feel privileged to be alive and free.

People accuse me of having interiorized a feeling of racial inferiority, so that I attack my own culture out of self-hatred, because I want to be white. This is a tiresome argument.

Tell me, is freedom then only for white people? Is it self-love to adhere to my ancestors’ traditions and mutilate my daughters? To agree to be humiliated and powerless? To watch passively as my countrymen abuse women and slaughter each other in pointless disputes?

When I came to a new culture — where I saw for the first time that human relations could be different —
The kind of thinking I saw in Saudi Arabia preserves a feudal mind-set based on tribal concepts of honor and shame. Would it have been self-love to see that as a foreign cult, which Muslims are forbidden to practice?

Life is better in Europe than it is in the Muslim world because human relations are better — and one reason human relations are better is that in the West, life on earth is valued in the here and now and individuals enjoy rights and freedoms that are recognized and protected by the state.

To accept subordination and abuse because Allah willed it — that, for me, would be self-hatred.


Free Speech

The Supreme Court today reversed decades of campaign finance laws and held that corporations and unions, as voluntary associations of individulas, have all the first amendment rights that individuals have.

First, I don’t think that’s a wild interpretation. It seems far more bizarre to argue that an individual loses his constituional rights when he associates with other individuals. That, it seems to me, goes to the very heart and soul of the first amendment.

However, I do understand–and even to some extent sympathize with–the instinctual revulsion at the idea that elections might be bought and candidates sold to the highest bidder. But that’s politics as usual. Indeed, that’s politics as the parties and politicians have  designed it.

Second, laws limiting the abilities of corporations or unions from spening money on elections are pure mummery. When billions are at stake, the loopholes in the law will be found and they will be stretched wide. McCain-Feingold did nothing to slow or stop corproate influence in American electoral politics. All campaign finance laws serve to do is drive donations through opaque, circumlocuitous routes; transparency suffers and the electorate is denied information.

But really, if you want money out of politics, get politics out of money.

The President had this to say,

[The ruling] is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.

Big Oil (like Saudi Arabia? Where 14 year old girls are flogged and homosexuals crucified?) , big banks and big insurers marshal their power in Washington because Washington gives them hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money. This Administration and Congress have literally handed hundreds of billions of dollars in payouts to connected bankers and friendly corporate lobbyists.

Don’t want politicians being bought? Elect better politicians.


I found this video by Penn Jillet very moving. He was clearly very hurt and very rattled by the experience. In the end, however, I don’t think he’ll allow himself to be intimidated by his idol. As he says, the antidote to bad speech is more speech.

I especially like the line about Hitler. Tommy Smothers aksed him, “If Hitler had a talk show, you’d go on that show?”

Penn responded, “Yes, Tommy. Yes I would. And I’d speak the truth.”

I’ve always been a fan of Penn & Teller, but in the last few years I have become ever more impressed with them.

In the Henhouse

Regarding the latest kerfuffle between the White House and Fox News….

First, the mission of Fox News–like every other television news agency in the known universe–is to attract viewers and sell advertising. Journalism is not a mystical calling.  Cable news programs do not provide either their hosts, guests, or viewers mystical enlightenment. CNN, MSNB, FOX, and Al Jazeira do not compete for TRUTH they compete for viewers. If Fox News leans to the right, it’s because that’s the market niche they’ve focused on. Rupert Murdoch is a businessman; if he could make more money by pandering to the left, he would. Why does Fox News lean to the right? Because that’s how they make money. Fox News is winning the competition for ratings. The White House is probably helping.

Second, the White House is behaving boorishly.

As ridiculous and offensive as some Fox “personalities” are, none of them wield a terrible swift sword. Barack Obama commands enormous actual power–he’s Commander in Chief of the U.S. Military. Fox News is a freaking television show. In his capacity as Chief Executive, the President exercises prosecutorial discretion over the entire federal legal apparatus. If you don’t like the President, tough. If you don’t like Fox News, change the channel.

Finally, so what if Fox News is partisan? Are we supposed to imagine that the White House isn’t partisan?

If democracy is ever to work (an open question) it requires vigorous debate. Not more toadying.

Freedom of the Press

From Reason:

North Korea has sentenced two American journalists to 12 years in a labor prison as they were found guilty of illegally entering the region, three months after they were arrested, the state-run news agency said on Monday.

The journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, were tried in the Central Court, North’s highest court in Pyongyang, from June 4 to 8. They both were found guilty of “hostile acts” in the communist state.

The two female journalists were taken into custody by the North Korean guards on March 17 while filming near the Tumen River, which separates North Korea and China.

“The trial confirmed the grave crime they committed against the Korean nation and their illegal border crossing,” the Korean Central News Agency reported, adding that they were sentenced to 12 years of reform through labor.

More here.

Lee and Ling work for Current, the Al Gore-sponsored TV/web outlet, whose home page as of this writing betrayed no interest in the verdict (an auto newsfeed linked to a wire story on a secondary page).

Gawker takes Al Gore to task for being silent on the matter:

Gore has been silent on the issue, Current.TV told their people to not say a word about it. It’s no less disconcerting that Gore was, according to the Page Six item, at a fundraiser for Andrew Cuomo earlier in the day, instead of working – doing something, anything – to free his employees from what’s probably the worst work-related trip of all time. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s now threatening to put North Korea back on our country’s list of “Terror States” as of this morning, and President Obama just told them that we’re not playin’ when it comes to nuclear proliferation as of yesterday. Things are absolutely getting worse, and it’s pretty clear that if North Korea views Ling and Lee as diplomatic pawns, our government sure as hell doesn’t.

Gore’s got several points of entry he can make: among the few political issues Pyongyang takes “public” is climate change. The North Korean government loves to have their asses kissed, and the Department of State hasn’t ruled out Gore’s involvement, so him coming simply as a diplomat couldn’t be a bad thing.

So what’s Gore waiting for? Our government’s approval? A PR angle? Whatever it is, it better come quick. There’s virtually no idea out there of what Ling and Lee are going through, or how they’re being treated. Ling and Lee could be fine. They could simply get deported, get off scot-free. But Lee’s got family in South Korea. Who, you know, North Korea doesn’t really like. Which is besides Americans, which Ling and Lee both are.

Slipping slowly away

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

So, exactly which of the enumerated rights is our government interested in protecting?

Obama is expanding federal funding of religious organizations.

The govt. argued in opposition to the 2nd amendment in Heller.

Warrantless wiretaps continue apace, RICOH and drug laws have made a mockery of probable cause.

The court eviscerated the Fifth in Kelo.

In Harmelin v. Michigan, (1991), the Court upheld a life sentence without the possibility of parole for possession of 672 grams of cocaine.

The ninth is a joke.

The tenth is a charade.

So we’re left with the third, the sixth, and the seventh.

For now.