Thursday, 14 January 2010

The Devil Made Me Do It

It’s not always easy to be a devout Christian in an increasingly-secular world, but the worst of it doesn’t come from agnostics, or even the believers who just don’t feel moved to participate regularly in worship. I say grace before eating at McDonald’s and openly cross myself afterward, without attracting hostility. The hard part of it is that those who see me as Christian can’t help trying to reconcile that image with the image of some of the Lord’s spectacular fools. Yesterday, the day after a devastating earthquake in Haiti, the most spectacular fool was one Pat Robertson, who has a show called The 700 Club that appears on CNN.

On his broadcast yesterday, Robertson delivered this absurdity:

And you know Christy, something happened a long time ago in Haiti and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French, uh, you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said we will serve you if you’ll get us free from the French. True story, and so the Devil said OK it’s a deal. And they kicked the French out. You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since they’ve been cursed by one thing after the other.”

His broadcasting operation, CBN, doesn’t seem to be bothered by this. They admit it in this release, and they have the video online. (My system wouldn’t play it, but that’s okay, it’s all over the place, including right here.

Now it happens that a voodoo priest named Dutty Boukman performed a ceremony in August of 1791 which precipitated the start of the revolution, which lasted until 1804. I’ve not seen any accounts that include the number of people involved, but as it wasn’t broadcast we can assume that there were a half million Haitian slaves that had nothing to do with this, other than sharing the desire to end their slavery. I’ve not seen any account that suggests that Satan attended, nor that he clearly committed himself to a deal. We do know that Napoleon III was captured in battle, and the monarchy he led was dissolved on 4 September 1870. He was the last Napoleon to have anything to do with the government of France, and he died on 9 January 1873. Robertson’s pact with the devil didn’t take place until over twenty years after the last Napoleon left power.

I suppose it’s a waste of time to point out that earthquakes are the result of tectonic motion in the rigid structure immediately below the surface of this liquid-centered globe we live on. That’s not covered in the only book Robertson really accepts, my telling him the details of how the planet God created works would be lost on him.

It’s hard to admit to being a Christian when there are “Christian” embarrassments of this magnitude spewing their nonsense on national television. I want to make one thing clear: Pat Robertson doesn’t speak for me. I seriously doubt that he speaks for Jesus Christ. If he does, he has managed to find a Jesus that isn’t present in the Gospel I’ve read. Never mind that he has the historical scholarship of a third grader and the intellectual capacity of cauliflower.

Google vs China, Quietly

Google’s challenge to China yesterday was big news here, barely a whisper in China. According to Andrew Jacobs in Google’s Threat Echoed Everywhere, Except China in today’s NYT, the Great Firewall hid almost every trace of the uproar from the Chinese public. Imagine that! They even censor news about their censorship, about which nobody is in the dark.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Google Stands Up to China

I’ve greatly admired Google since the day my Kiwi friend Bruce Hoult suggested trying it as a replacement for an aging Alta Vista. My search behavior comes close to monogamy, although I’ve occasionally dallied with others. I predominantly used the home-town favorite, WebCrawler, for ages, then was lured by better results at Alta Vista, and finally Google. Google’s product was good, but so was their soul as far as I could tell. They rose above the grasping machinations of Redmond’s empire (and their bloated MSN portal), they were never tacky like AOL or Yahoo!; they didn’t need to play any game but doing their job well every day, and it seemed like they didn’t particularly want to. “Don’t be Evil”, said the corporate mission statement, and it wasn’t hard to believe.

Every once in a while, however, word came out that they had caved in to some stupid request from the US government to hand over search data, just like the DoJ-frightened Microsoft and the ever-clueless AOL. Somehow they managed to redeem themselves, at least to a small degree, by being a bit less accommodating then the other search engines. But it really worried me whenever I heard of their Chinese operations. When they setup shop there four years ago, they did so under an agreement to censor certain subjects on google.cn. As Victoria used to say, “We are not amused” by such things. In fact, I was disgusted and disappointed.

It’s one thing to fall in with the US government, it has to work within certain limits. It is also recently run by those that aren’t exactly mental giants, recalling a president that obviously didn’t delight in reading and left the impression that he didn’t know how. The Chinese are not limited by any legal restraint, any historical sense of decency in power, and they’re not stupid. Neither China nor the rest of the world are well served by an amoral regime that is unchecked by anyone.

Yesterday, Google announced “A new approach to China” on their official blog. Finally motivated by a series of attacks against their systems last month, Google has “decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn”. It’s a tough call whether the people of China are better off with a censored Google or none at all, in the short term. In the long term, however, it’s definitely in the interest of the people of China that their government not be allowed to pretend that it is a legitimate and mature member of the community of modern nations.

It’s a risky bet. China has gotten their way until now, and the other companies that have gone along with the statist thugs in Beijing (Microsoft, Yahoo!, and Cisco spring to mind, but there are dozens of other co-conspirators to censorship in the world’s largest country) may all decide to take advantage of Google’s absence. It won’t even slightly surprise me if they do. On the other hand, I would be delighted to learn that Ballmer is abashed at the comparative venality of coöperating and steps up to join them. Google has more to lose here than anyone else, and they’re willing to make the bet.

They’re are worse things than censorship, slavery and murder for example. But those are illegal and we don’t need anybody to take a stand against them. Censorship is profoundly evil and damaging, and we need champions to continue to highlight it. Thank you Google!

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Tax the Banks!

According to Obama Weighs Tax on Banks to Cut Deficit in today’s New York Times, the Obama administration is considering a significant tax on large banks to help close the current deficit. Needless to say, the banks aren’t exactly thrilled at the prospect, pointing out that most of them have already paid back their bailouts. While true, this amply demonstrates that the big players in the financial system still don’t get it, not that we were holding our breaths expecting them to.

Leaving aside the obvious fact that government does not always tax based on direct relationships, if they did we would see taxes on the poor to pay for poverty relief, the major element here is that the costs of the irresponsibility of the financial institutions do not start and end with the costs of directly keeping those institutions afloat. One suspects that the bailouts for the banks and brokerages represent a tiny fraction of the damage that was done. Even when the US Treasury has been made whole, the American people won’t have been. If a tax on the financial industry can help cover some of the other costs of the recent economic crisis it will be a good step; if the administration conjures up some way to structure the tax so it eliminates the high-risk strategies that got us in this mess, that’s better.