Saturday, June 20, 2015

Nemesis Games

I finished reading "Nemesis Games", by James S.A. Corey. This is the the 5th installment of The Expanse series (soon to be a series on SyFy channel). The other installments I've blogged:
This installment brings us back to the solar system. Radical Outer Planet revolutionaries are determined not to let the Outer Planets become a footnote in history as mankind moves to the 1000s of planets to which the alien gate system has allowed access. So lots of politics and explosions, and several Motor Vehicle Chases (spaceship) - something you don't get everyday. We also have a character from the earlier books turn up, on what looks to be a recurring basis. I like how the authors do this.

The novel also has something in common with the previous novel I reviewed. It was kind of shocking to have that theme brought up in 2 successive reads.

This is as readable as the previous installments, a total page turner. Looks like the next installment will have to stick around the solar system to clean up the mess created in this one. And they still have the 1000s of worlds to explore. This series definitely is getting some legs on it.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Seveneves

"Seveneves" is the latest novel by Neal Stephenson (@nealstephenson). This one is pretty much straight hard science fiction, 880 pages - Neal don't do no short books.

Several reviewers have commented on the books beginning:

The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.
I guess the first line of a novel cannot be a spoiler??? I will also posit that the title of a novel cannot be a spoiler either. Nor can something listed in the table of contents. The point is, I am going to go into a little more plot details than normal, maybe these dispensations hold, maybe not, so, just to be safe, SPOILER ALERT.

Next the Neal Degrasse Tyson figure quickly figures out, oops, fragments of the moon will, in around 2 years, bombard earth and destroy all life.

The 1st 1/4 of the book follows the race to expand the ISS (now attached to Near-Earth asteroid Amalthea - wait a minute, Amalthea is Jupiter's 3rd moon???) to be the hub of a swarm of small modular spacecraft being launched ASAP by everyone who has launch capabilities. The candidates for survival in orbit are being selected and trained on Earth from all countries. Then, slightly ahead of schedule, the Hard Rain falls and Earth is trashed.

This part of the book begs for comparison to the gold standard "end of the world" sci-fi novel, "The Forge of God", by Greg Bear, 1987. There, the cause of the end of the Earth is known: it is being reduced to slag to be harvested for raw materials by Von Neumann machines dispatched by malevolent / indifferent advanced alien civilization. In "Seveneves" there is no discussion of why the moon blew up, other than limited speculation about aliens doing it, or god. In "The Forge of God", a tiny fraction of humanity survives due to the intervention of benevolent advanced alien civilizations. In "Seveneves", we engineer our own survival, which is I guess more uplifting.

The 2nd 1/4 of the book follows the survivors in orbit, where politics and equipment failure eventually wipe out all but 8 females. 1 of them is past menopause, hence "Seven Eves". With advanced genetic engineering they are able to keep their gene pool viable, and reintroduce the Y chromosome. But they somehow get into a discussion of to what extent they should try to correct / enhance what they each see as the weaknesses / strengths of humanity. They decide that each of them gets to determine the traits for which their offspring will be optimized.

The 2nd 1/2 of the book takes place 5000 years later. I found the jump rather jarring, it took me a while to get locked back into the narrative. There are now 3 billion members of the 7 human "races" living in geosynchronous orbit around the Earth. Most of the plot of this part of the book deals with political and other conflict between the 4 good guy races (blue) and the 3 not-so-good guy races (red) as they finally start to repopulate the earth.

I found the whole 7 races thing slightly ... repugnant, I guess? Like the race of the Malala figure Eve, who decided to remove competitiveness from her descendants, who are now health, child, or personal service personnel. It reminded me of the scene in the Star Wars prequel where the clone master explains to Obi-Wan how the clones have been bred to be great warriors but to be submissive and follow orders. Instead of killing the guy and calling for more Jedi to figure out how to restore the poor clones to full humanity, Obi-wan says "I'll take a million!"

Maybe in the far future, like in "Dinosaurs" by Walter Jon Williams, 1987, it will make sense for the human race to splinter into more specialized forms. But for the near future, we still have so much of a problem with racism that for the 7 Eves to go out of their way to create a new source of racism seemed off to me. It was to me a somewhat shocking lack of faith in the human race (general purpose model), which was not responsible for the Earth's destruction, for the 7 Eves to decide, in a very ad hoc manner, that they should start a eugenics program.

The book is of course a great read, Stephenson is one of our best modern sci fi authors. Lots of neat tech in both parts of the book. But, a little bit of a "yuck" factor to me for the engineered races. And, overall, I did enjoy "The Forge of God" more - I have reread it and its sequel at least once.

Stephenson did his thing with the title. His last book, it took me a few months to notice that the title was "Reamde", not "Readme". This one at least it was only a few days before I noticed the title was "Seveneves", not "Seveneyes".

Now, back to "Value and Capital", by Hicks, 1939. It's got 5 parts, I'm reading a part, then something else. My Unread shelf in my Kobo eBook reader has 22 books now, mostly sci fi and fantasy. Is it time to give up on economics? Or maybe just Twitter.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Apex

Just finished "Apex", by Ramez Naam (@ramez). This is the 3rd book in the "Nexus" series, the 1st 2 books of which I blogged about here. It is a real page turner - I read the > 600 pages in a couple of days. It continues the story of the 2 new cybernetic singularity technologies of the 1st 2 novels: the nanotech-based wetware that lets you run apps, including a group mind app, and otherwise reprogram your brain; and the scientist uploaded into a quantum computer who becomes a (threatening) superintelligence.

The book has all the positive attributes of the 1st 2: breakneck pacing, tons of action and explosions, great computer geek authenticity, lots of memorable characters. The message of social justice, civil rights, and equality for all is even stronger, yay! I also liked how much of the story involved China and India - realistic for 25 years from now.

The conclusion of this installment of the series is such that I think that he is done with the series. It definitely is uplifting in its attitude, and I strongly recommend it. Interesting that in an appendix on the tech, he doubts that this tech will be available by 2040, which is when the novels are set. I think I concur.

1 odd thought I had reading this final novel: I kept wondering, why didn't he leave the uploaded intelligence out of this series, and put that in a separate series? The 2 memes are both very strong, I think there could have been plenty done with just the wetware meme, perhaps even a more thorough exploration of the meme, and, somehow, the uploaded intelligence meme muddied the waters? Ha ha, I'll have to ask him to refactor it into 2 series! I bet with modern tech it wouldn't take that long.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Rockstar

So 2 weeks ago, I played 4 times in 5 days:
  • Sunday at the blues jam at Shamrock's.
  • Monday at the blues jam at Patchen Pub.
  • Tuesday as part of the house band at the Funkabilly Groove Jam at Champion's Bar & Grill at Galaxy Bowling Center in Richmond. Lindsay Olive and I filled in for Dane Sadler who was on vacation. Got to take my rig out - Lindsay insisted on my taking the Super Reverb since the Funkabilly bass player has a 1200W head and 8x 10" speakers. Got to wear my "getting paid" hat, and of course, a cool t-shirt.
  • Thursday at the new blues jam at Austin City Saloon. Man, great acoustics, house PA with mixing board at the back, nice large stage with a drum throne.
Since then, it looks like Monday nite is done, and Tuesday nite has changed to Thursday in a new venue. So down to 2 jams, Sunday and Thursday. Much more reasonable.

Several recent discussions re putting a band together, but nobody seems to follow through on action items. I may quit jamming for a while. I seem to be trying to take things over, I believe a sign that I think I could do a better job of running things. But when I did run that jam at Henry Clay's Public House 2 summers ago, I had the same small turnouts that other jams see sometimes. So there is no support for the theory that I could do a better job.

I think that I've gotten to be a great jammer. Playing lead, rhythm or bass guitar; singing lead, harmony, or backup; and leading the band. I've done 80 songs at jams, probably still good for most of those lyrics. Plus, I know hundreds of other songs. It was funny in Richmond, they'd get women wanting to play songs no one knew, it was "Chris, you know this song?", and I think all but once the answer was yes. "Fever", "Jolene", "Runaway". That's what comes of being old ...

So I may quit jamming for a while and work on my solo act. I am now ready equipment-wise. I bought a mic, mic stand, conductors music stand. The mic sounds OK from the voice channel of the Fender Accoustasonic amp I bought. I also got a Digitech Vocalist, which will sing 2 or 3 part harmony with you. Your guitar runs through it so that it can detect the chord playing and know how to harmonize. It also has a built-in tuner and reverb and chorus that I like better than the chorus in the amp. So I took my looper out of the pedal box and have as my solo rig just the looper and Vocalist, running into the accoustasonic. The Vocalist is not like other pedals. You have to rehearse with it and figure out how to get it to sing the harmony you want. It also has autotune - get behind me satan!

Meanwhile, my main pedal box is completely out of control. I added a little utility pedal I got from Lindsay - I like its rotary setting. I also got an ElectroHarmonix C9 organ emulation pedal. Pretty odd stuff. That makes 10 pedals in my box. I had to get a 2nd OneSpot 9V power provider - they can only handle around 7 pedals.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Letter to the Editor

Today you published 4 letters reacting to a letter which compared climate change denialism to slavery. I share the 4 writers frustration. We should all agree to not compare anything to slavery, Hitler, or Nazis - it never furthers a discussion.

Beyond that, tho, there is nothing to agree with in these letters. "There really is a legitimate debate about whether and to what degree mankind is responsible". In the scientific community, this statement is completely false. 97% of climate scientists and 99% of all scientists agree that the evidence for human-caused global warming is overwhelming.

Another letter: "climate is always changing" - yes, but over time periods of 10,000 to 100s of millions of years. We can clearly see the effects of fossil fuel burning over just the last 200 years. The fact that there are longer-term influences on climate don't mean we can just ignore this data.

Perhaps the most incredible statement was that of the writer who didn't care if New York was underwater in 5 years. "Let those future residents deal with it". I think a lot of those future residents are current residents now. They are trying to "deal with it", and would like our help. But, Lexington is indeed 900 feet above sea level, so why should we care?

The fossil fuel industry spends $700 million/year spreading disinformation about the climate crisis. Head-in-the-sand attitudes like those from these 4 letters show that they are getting their money's worth.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

More Short Stories!

1 good collection, 1 mediocre collection.

The good collection is "Twelve Tomorrows - 2014", published by MIT's Technology Review magazine. A very good collection. I particularly liked "Countermeasures", by Christopher Brown, and "Petard: A Tale of Just Deserts", by Cory Doctorow. In addition to the short stories, there was also an interview with Gene Wolfe and a collection of sci-fi art by John Schoenherr. The only disappointment here was surprisingly "Death Cookie/Easy Ice" by William Gibson. It was a disappointment because it was the 1st chapter of his latest novel "The Peripheral", which I had already read and blogged here. I was looking forward to something from Gibson I hadn't already read. Plus, I didn't think that this really worked as a short story.

The mediocre collection is "The Alien Chronicles (The Future Chronicles)", edited by David Gatewood. "The Future Chronicles" is a series of collections on different themes put together by Samuel Peralta. These are mostly (all?) new writers, this kind of has a self-published feel. The editor says that they are aiming for quality in the stories. Generally, these stories are OK, but not up to the level of say, "Twelve Tomorrows" above or "The Years Best" edited by Gardner Dozois. The stories that stood out did so by being really not so good.

  • "Hanging with Humans" by Patrice Fitzgerald reminds me of something from the 1950s, with wacky aliens. It just doesn't seem to work in modern times.
  • "Remember Valeria", by W.J. Davies was just really badly written. I find myself trying to put my finger on identifying what triggers my "this person can't write" response. I know unnecessary words is one thing. Stating the obvious too many times is another. Using names from mythology for no apparent reason seems wrong as well.
  • "Life" by Daniel Arenson again seems like something from the 1950s, and its subject matter I found pretty unbelievable.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Heretic

"Heretic", subtitled "Why Islam Needs A Reformation Now", is the fourth book by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Richard Dawkins recommended it on twitter, and I decided I could do with something different to read.

The book is 288 pages, 8 chapters with an intro, conclusion, and an appendix that lists muslim dissidents and reformers. It is an easy read.

Ms. Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia and raised a muslim. She describes being a radical muslim as a teenager. She fled to the Netherlands to avoid an arranged marriage, was elected to parliament there, and became known as a proponent of women's rights and an opponent of Islam and FGM (female genital mutilation). She collaborated on a controversial short film on the treatment of women in Islam titled "Submission" with Theo van Gogh who was later murdered by a radical Islamist. She came to the US in 2006. She now is a fellow at the Kennedy Government School at Harvard University. I think I had previously heard of her after there had been opposition to her speaking at some university based on her being an islamophobe.

Ugh, she came to the US to work at the American Enterprise Institute, home of warmongers like John Bolton and Paul Wolfowitz. And she's married to conservative Harvard historian Nial Ferguson, who was a big Romney backer and who got into it with my fav Paul Krugman. I guess her right leaning associates are not so far right as to be a problem with her support of women's rights.

I read The Koran, along with most of the world's other holy books, when I was in my mystical period, ages 21-23. It was probably my least favorite of these books. Mohammed came across as pretty much a used camel salesman from whom you would not want to buy a camel. His message was straightforward: do what I say and give me 10% and when you die you go to paradise with all the cold water you want and lots of fresh fruit; otherwise, you go to hell and have demons gnaw on your bones for all eternity. So it's easier to understand than, say, the Tao, but, no thanks, I think I'll take door #3. So I really wasn't expecting to learn much about Islam, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn several new things.


Ms. Hirsi Ali really does not come across as a vitriolic Islam hater. She seems sympathetic to muslims, but feels that Islam must be held accountable for its worst features. In the introduction, she opens with this headline template, which you have to admit, we see instantiated all too often:

On ______, a group of ______ heavily armed, black-clad men burst into a ______ in ______, opening fire and killing a total of ______ people. The attackers were filmed shouting “Allahu akbar!”

Speaking at a press conference, President ______ said: “We condemn this criminal act by extremists. Their attempt to justify their violent acts in the name of a religion of peace will not, however, succeed. We also condemn with equal force those who would use this atrocity as a pretext for Islamophobic hate crimes.”

She concludes "Islam is not a religion of peace.". I'm not sure that this is a valid statement. Kind of an apples to oranges comparison. I'll return to this later.

She breaks Muslims up into 3 groups:

  1. Medina Muslims - these are the bad ones, who strongly identify with the parts of the Koran that take place after Mohammed has moved from Mecca to Medina and become a warlord. She puts this at 3% of the Muslim population, but rising.
  2. Mecca Muslims - these are "the clear majority throughout the Muslim World", "who are loyal to the core creed and worship devoutly but are not inclined to practice violence." But they have the same problem with which we see fundamentalist Christians struggle: "their religious beliefs exist in an uneasy tension with modernity."
  3. Modifying Muslims - these are the Muslims to whom she is addressing this book, to offer encouragement and support as they try to reform their faith.
She lists 5 things that she believes must be addressed for a "true Muslim Reformation":
  1. Muhammad’s semi-divine and infallible status along with the literalist reading of the Qur’an, particularly those parts that were revealed in Medina;
  2. The investment in life after death instead of life before death;
  3. Sharia, the body of legislation derived from the Qur’an, the hadith, and the rest of Islamic jurisprudence;
  4. The practice of empowering individuals to enforce Islamic law by commanding right and forbidding wrong;
  5. The imperative to wage jihad, or holy war.
I like this statement of hers:
this is an optimistic book
I am always in favor of optimism in looking forward. [ I have just recently come to think that one of the things that defines conservatives is that they do not believe in a "moral arc bending towards justice". They really don't believe in progress, they haven't read Steven Pinker's book "The Better Angels of our Nature", which I blogged here. They see all of history as cyclical, for example, with the USA inevitably declining as the Roman Empire did. So anyone who identifies with optimism is OK by me. ]

I think that, based on the number of times she repeats it, this idea is central to her message:

The Muslim world is currently engaged in a massive struggle to come to terms with the challenge of modernity.
In Chapter 1, she reviews her life story in more detail. She saw several different flavors of Islam in the various places she lived, including Saudi Arabia. Another flavor of her main idea:
Embracing violent jihad has become an all-too-common means for young Muslims to resolve the cognitive pressures of trying to lead an “authentic” Muslim life within a permissive and pluralistic Western society.
Chapter 2 asks "Why Has There Been No Muslim Reformation?" You can't get much more conservative than this:
The triumph of the Asha’ri school cemented a belief that, with the message of Muhammad, “History came to an end.”
One of the things I had not realized about Islam was its decentralized organization:
Unlike Catholicism, Islam is almost entirely decentralized. There is no pope, no College of Cardinals, nothing like the Southern Baptist Convention—no hierarchical structure, no centrally controlled system of ordination. Any man can become an imam; all it takes is a self-professed knowledge of the Qur’an and followers.
This is similar, I think, to charismatic christian sects. Here's an interesting anecdote from when Ms. Hirsi Ali was teaching a Harvard seminar.
She replied: “I haven’t done the assigned reading. I don’t need to. I already know everything.” This goes to the heart of the matter. Paradoxically, Islam is the most decentralized and yet, at the same time, the most rigid religion in the world. Everyone feels entitled to rule out free discussion.
At the end of Chapter 2, she states her action plan again, this time in positive terms. In Chapters 3-7 she examines each of her 5 reforms in detail.
Some of these changes may strike readers as too fundamental to Islamic belief to be feasible. But like the partition walls or superfluous stairways that a successful renovation removes, they can in fact be modified without causing the entire structure to collapse. Indeed, I believe these modifications will actually strengthen Islam by making it easier for Muslims to live in harmony with the modern world. It is those hell-bent on restoring it to its original state who are much more likely to lead Islam to destruction. Here again are my five theses, nailed to a virtual door:
  1. Ensure that Muhammad and the Qur’an are open to interpretation and criticism.
  2. Give priority to this life, not the afterlife.
  3. Shackle sharia and end its supremacy over secular law.
  4. End the practice of “commanding right, forbidding wrong.”
  5. Abandon the call to jihad.
Chapter 3 was interesting in its discussion of how much of 7th century Arab tribal life became part of the Koran: patriarchy, and tribal honor and shame.
“Muhammad created a new monotheism fitted to the contemporary needs of tribal society.” The effect was to perpetuate tribal norms by freezing them in place as holy writ.
Another new fact I learned deals with "abrogation". Like all (static) holy books, the Koran contains many contradictions. These are resolved by positing that the later passages "abrogate" or replace the earlier passages. Unfortunately, the later parts of the Koran, after Mohammed had fled to Medina and became a warlord, tend to be the ones that incite violence.
Thus Ibn Salama (d. 1020) argued that chapter 9, verse 5, known as ayat as-sayf, or the sword verses, abrogated some 124 of the more peaceful Meccan verses. The same applies to the verses concerning forcible conversion. As Ibrahim explains, “whereas Allah supposedly told the prophet that ‘there is no compulsion in religion’ (2:256), once the messenger grew strong enough, Allah issued new revelations calling for all-out war/jihad till Islam became supreme (8:39, 9:5, 9:29, etc.).”
One of the things that Chapter 4 concludes is that Islam's emphasis on the afterlife leads to a fatalistic outlook in this life.
Allah has willed it to be this way; it is there because Allah has willed it. And if Allah has willed it, Allah will provide. It is an unbreakable ring of circular logic.

...

Though it is unfashionable to say so, Islam’s fatalism is a more plausible explanation for the Muslim world’s failure to innovate.

Chapter 5 discusses sharia law.
it is as if our priests, ministers, and rabbis were also our judges and legislators, employing their religious theology to establish legal boundaries of acceptable conduct in our daily lives.
And on top of that, you have the whole medieval flavor of the justice system: beheading, crucifixion, amputation, stoning, lashing. What can you say besides "ugh"? After Friday prayers in Saudia Arabia, "many men flock to the central squares to watch the implementation of Islamic justice". We should remember tho, that it has been less than 100 years since public executions stopped here in the USA.

Chapter 6 discusses the "command right and forbid wrong" thing. This is totally creepy, very much reminiscent of "1984" and thought crime.

It is almost always the immediate family that starts the persecution of freethinkers, of those who would ask questions or propose something new.

...

commanding right and forbidding wrong are very effective means of silencing dissent. They act as a grassroots system of religious vigilantism.

...

As modern Islamic communities have become radicalized, there is a kind of arms race of commanding right and forbidding wrong.

Chapter 7 addresses jihad. In addition to the terrorist attacks in the West as a sign of ongoing jihad, Ms. Hirsi Ali notes that there is also a "Worldwide War on Christians".
One of the most devastating manifestations of the modern era of jihad is the violent oppression of Christian minorities in Muslim-majority nations all over the world.

...

Yet any fair-minded assessment of recent events leads to the conclusion that the scale and severity of Islamophobia pales in comparison with the Christophobia evident in Muslim-majority nations from one end of the globe to the other.

There is a good discussion of what leads young westerners to become jihadists.
Ghaffar Hussein, the managing director of Quilliam, a British think tank working on combatting terrorism, notes that jihad is appealing because of its “one size fits all” set of answers to complex problems. Introspection is not required, he notes, because all blame is shifted to outside enemies and “anti-Muslim conspiracy theories.” The jihad narrative has therefore become “the default anti-establishment politics of today. It is a means of expressing solidarity and asserting a bold new identity while being a vehicle for seeking the restoration of pride and self-dignity.” In response, “mainstream Muslim commentators” — not to mention non-Muslims — have failed to articulate a positive narrative that does not simply reinforce the idea that Muslims are somehow victims. In short, Hussein’s argument is that the jihadists have the more compelling narrative.
Chapter 8 is titled "The Twilight of Tolerance". She advocates for the west and champions of western values to develop a more compelling narrative to compete with jihadism.
It [Islam] is a political religion many of whose fundamental tenets are irreconcilably inimical to our way of life.

...

I have spent more than a decade fighting for women’s and girls’ basic rights. I have never been afraid to ask difficult questions about the role of religion in that fight. As I have repeatedly said, the connection between violence and Islam is too clear to be ignored. We do no favors to Muslims when we shut our eyes to this link, when we excuse rather than reflect. We need to ask: Is the concept of holy war compatible with our ideal of religious toleration? Should it be blasphemy — punishable by death — to question the applicability of certain seventh-century doctrines to our own era? Why, when I have made these arguments, have I received so little support and so much opprobrium from the very people in the West who call themselves feminists, who call themselves liberals?

...

In the midst of all our efforts at policing, surveillance, and even military action, we in the West have not bothered to develop an effective counternarrative because from the outset we have denied that Islamic extremism is in any way related to Islam. We persist in focusing on the violence and not on the ideas that give rise to it.

...

If we continue this policy of nonintervention in the culture war, we will never extricate ourselves from the actual battlefield.

In the conclusion, Ms. Hirsi Ali frames the conflict within Islam.
Today there is a war within Islam — a war between those who wish to reform (the Modifying Muslims or the dissidents) and those who wish to turn back to the time of the Prophet (the Medina Muslims). The prize over which they fight is the hearts and minds of the largely passive Mecca Muslims.
She says that currently, the bad guys (Medina) are winning, using 4 measurements: individuals joining; media attention; resources; and coherence. On coherence:
In many ways this is the most important advantage the Medina Muslims have over the Modifier Muslims. The latter are faced with the daunting — and dangerous — task of questioning the fundamentals of their faith. All the Medina Muslims have to do is pose as its defenders.
But she does see the good guys winning eventually, yay! The section "Why the Tide Is Turning" begins:
Three factors are combining today to enable real religious reform:
  • The impact of new information technology in creating an unprecedented communication network across the Muslim world.
  • The fundamental inability of Islamists to deliver when they come to power and the impact of Western norms on Muslim immigrants are creating a new and growing constituency for a Muslim Reformation.
  • The emergence of a political constituency for religious reform emerging in key Middle Eastern states.
Together, I believe these three things will ultimately turn the tide against the Islamists, whose goal is, after all, a return to the time of the Prophet — a venture as foredoomed to failure as all attempts to reverse the direction of time’s arrow.
Her final conclusion:
The dawn of a Muslim Reformation is the right moment to remind ourselves that the right to think, to speak, and to write in freedom and without fear is ultimately a more sacred thing than any religion.
Reviewers of this book think that her hope for a reformation is unlikely to be fulfilled. I think she is doing the right thing, tho, and certainly hope that some of all of her proposed reforms take hold in the decades to come.


I want to return to the statement "Islam is not a religion of peace", and discuss religion, Islamophobia, and multiculturalism.

1st off, I think "not a religion of peace" is basically an invalid statement. Religions are amongst the most complex memeplexes ever created with in human mindspace, containing 10s of 1000s of memes or more. Most religions probably have verbiage that comes on both sides of any issue, for example, war vs peace. So I think that basically, the nature of religions is that anything you can say about them is both true and false. So why bother?

I sometimes have a much darker read on the Jehovah-based religions. At times it seems to me that the main social use of these religions has been to convince individuals that it is OK to engage in mass murder. To quote physicist Steven Weinberg, "Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion." So maybe instead, saying any religion is violent is indeed true.

I think that these memeplexes evolve over time. Islam is, what 600 years younger than Christianity? I think that, in general, the younger a religion is, the more virulent a mind virus it is. As time passes, the other memes in our minds create defenses against the religious memes. Hopefully, as with Ms. Hirsi Ali's prognosis of victory, our immense information infrastructure will speed this memetic immunization.

So, is Ms. Hirsi Ali Islamophobic? I don't think so. But I think that those attacking her show that something very unfortunate has happened in liberal / progressive thinking. I think that all progressive thinkers support immigrants and welcome them to our countries, unlike conservatives, who seem to have forgotten that all of us are descended from immigrants. But supporting immigrants does not mean that they get a blank check, in the name of multiculturalism, to import all the customs of their native countries. They are of course free to practice their religion, but, it must be subject to the civil laws of their new land. So allowing sharia law in muslim immigrant enclaves is a definite "hell no".

One thing on which I totally agree with Ms. Hirsi Ali is that Islam's treatment of women is abhorrent. The Koran doesn't even talk about women in heaven, just men. Multiculturalism is one thing, but, if your culture treats women, or anyone for that matter, as 2nd class citizens, then your culture is inferior and unacceptable.

I see Middle Eastern immigrant females wearing head coverings when I'm in the grocery store or otherwise out and about. I find it offensive, like seeing a slave wearing chains. But should it be banned, as I think France has done in its schools? I had forgotten how when I was a kid attending Catholic school and going to mass every morning, females were absolutely required to wear head coverings to church. And, per this article with which The Google provided me, the 1917 Catholic Canon Law not only required head covering, but also required males and females to be separated in church, just like most muslims and conservative Jews still do. And this was in place until 1983.

So how upset do we get over these backwards practices? I think that a lot of these issues will go like language does for immigrants. The 1st generation largely speaks their old language at home; the 2nd generation speaks both languages; the 3rd generation just speaks English. So if this generation of Islamic American females doesn't quietly quit going veiled, I would hope the next generation will. Still, it's hard to watch females relegating themselves to being 2nd class citizens.

I'll conclude with one of my many failed memes. Here's an image of the prophet Mohammed, which I drew and tweeted after "Je suis Charlie":

||:-<
I thought that this was a meme worth spreading - how to break sharia law in 5 characters - but, it seemed to get no traction whatsoever. On the plus side, I haven't received any death threats, so, phew!