Saturday, February 05, 2011

Skin Graft Gun is an Exhilarating Good Thing

The long, painful, and dangerous process of skin grafts seems to have taken a giant leap forward. This is such a "wow!" story that it worth a whole day of hopefulness.

Friday, February 04, 2011

A World of Democratic States

The Muslim world is the major ideological holdout against democracy.

To be sure, there are still a few "Communist" states that justify one-party rule with a veneer of ideology. Yet nearly all of them have become market capitalist states in fact. I think it is only a matter of time - short time - before the middle classes being created by capitalism in those places demand a say in the government.

There are also military dictatorships and naked kleptocracies. This will always be true, I think - sometimes gangs get into power.

And there will always be organized criminal gangs in the poorest places, fighting with the legitimate authorities for control.

But since the end of the Cold War there has been only one large bloc of states that ideologically resist, if not reject, the idea of democracy - the Muslim states from Morocco to Indonesia. Turkey has been a Muslim nation with a democratic state for a long time, but it did so at the cost of a fierce secularism. Several Muslim nations have had elections, but they have had a very hard time holding two free elections on schedule, in a row.

Yet it is clear to me that there is a large core of pro-democracy Muslims in every Muslim nation, concentrated in the sectors that are connected to the world economy. If the wave of pro-democracy movements sweeping the Muslim world right now were to bear fruit in several states at once, the back would be broken of Islamic ideological resistance to democracy.

If the Muslim world became predominantly democratic, there is not now another serious anti-democratic ideology capable of creating a bloc of states. There would still be islands of tyranny, and there would still be plenty for democratic states to argue about, both internally and with each other. But we can imagine a world, within this generation, of democratic states.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Nurturing the Fragile Flower of Muslim Democracy

A great good thing may be happening in the world. Massive movements against dictatorship and for democracy have broken out in Egypt and Tunisia. Anti-dictator protesters are in the street in Yemen. Polite crowds pushing for parliamentary monarchy are on the move in Jordan. Massive street protests for free elections were suppressed recently in Iran, but the sentiment has not been crushed. The one great example of democracy in a Muslim nation, Turkey, has seen a Muslim party come to power without destroying democracy or the secular state.

The most encouraging thing to me about these movements is that they are led by local leaders of civil society organizations, who have grown up in uneasy independence from the state. There are, of course, dangerous people, secular and religious, who want to exploit this unrest. People just like them are in power now. But the crowds in the streets have been surprisingly disciplined. They seem focused on getting the bad regime out, and creating a legitimately elected regime in its place. What happens after that is up to the course of normal politics.

The second most encouraging thing to me has been the restraint and quiet positive nudges from the world powers. The U.S. and European governments seem to be helping the democracy movement, as much by staying out the way as by not propping up the dictators. The Russians, Japanese, and Indians seem not to be making things worse. The Chinese have been hiding the pro-democracy story from their people, not surprisingly, but so far have made no openly disruptive moves.

If there were a wave of democratic movements in the Muslim heartland the world would be a better place.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Lesson of Vietnam and Middle Eastern Democracy

Elections were scheduled for 1956 in north and south Vietnam to create a government for a unified state. When it became clear that the Communist Party would win the election in the north, the strongman in the south refused to participate. He was backed up by the U.S. government. Instead, prime minister Diem rigged a referendum, in which he "won" 98.2% of the vote, and declared a separate state in the South. Thereafter, the U.S. backed an illegitimate government, which we later helped overthrow in an even less legitimate coup. After 20 years and millions dead, we finally gave up.

The Vietnamese Communists were, indeed, communists. They would have created a centrally controlled economy, and limited political freedom, no matter what we did. However, they were nationalists first, fighting what they regarded as a war of national liberation against the French. Ho Chi Minh, the nationalist, Communist leader, appealed to the United States for help, and quoted the Declaration of Independence.

I believe that if we had supported democracy, Vietnam would have held elections in 1956. If we had spent our political capital promoting democracy, instead of merely anti-communism, we might have pushed for free elections, commitment to future free elections, and protections for religious groups that feared persecution. Ho would likely have won. He would have made a communist, or at least a socialist, state. BUT if we had supported democracy, and honored the results of the election even if our opponents won, the whole disastrous Vietnam war could have been avoided. Vietnam would be, at least, the kind of market socialism that it is today, without the decades of catastrophe in between.

If the United States supports democracy even when our opponents win, we will serve our interests, and the good of other nations, better than we do when we accept dictatorship in the name of stability and short-term gain.

If all the Middle Eastern dictatorships held free elections, some of them would be won by anti-American groups. But if we support the legitimacy of democratically elected governments over and over again, their periods of anti-Americanism will be shorter and less violent. Indeed, if we supported democracy consistently, there would be much less anti-Americanism to begin with.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Democratic Dominoes in the Middle East

I am very hopeful about the possibility of a good "domino effect" producing a series of democratic states in the Middle East. Egypt is the most hopeful, with Tunisia close behind. Yemen is imaginable, though a long shot. The new nation of South Sudan, or whatever it will be called, is likely to at least to attempt to begin as a democracy.

Some friends to my right politically are worried that people in that region are not culturally ready for democracy, and fear that removing useful dictators will create a power vacuum for something worse. This is, of course, a real possibility, as Somalia shows. Nonetheless, I am very hopeful about a democratic movement that begins in massive, peaceful street protests, supported by a varied (and competing) set of opposition groups.

Other people on the news have been worried that free elections might bring to power people we do not like. Liz Cheney, who supported the Palestinian elections in 2006, now thinks they were a mistake because they brought to power a group she does not like. I think this position is based on a legitimate fear, but also on a basic misunderstanding of democracy. There is no contradiction in a democratic nation electing a government that opposes other democratic nations, including opposing the United States. Indeed, if the U.S. has supported a dictatorship that prevented democracy, we should expect that the first free government would be anti-American.

Democratic governments, though, tend to moderate over time and to get along with others. This does not even take very long; the knowledge that another election is coming soon moderates extremists now. In general, democracy is good for peace, freedom, and prosperity. The people tend not to elect governments that keep repressing them. The people tend not to elect governments that make big wars which require popular sacrifice and interfere with trade. If there were a wave of democratic revolutions in the Middle East, it is likely that some of the first governments would be anti-American, and some would be more strongly Muslim (these are not at all the same thing). Even so, I believe the U.S. should support the democracy movements in the Middle East, and in all Muslim lands. This will create more moderate states that are less repressive of their own people, less threatening to Israel and the West, and better partners to the U.S.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Young Are Embracing "Mixed Race"

The New York Times has a nifty story about the younger generation choosing to identify more as "mixed race." I think the Census Bureau made a sensible decision in 2000 to allow people to choose combinations from broad array of races and ethnicities. The current younger generation embraces it.

I think, though, that two generations from now, most of the "races" that we now talk about will be archaic. And America will never have a "minority majority," but will have absorbed most third-generation-plus Americans into the great American ethnicity.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Does Jesus Require Us to Carry Guns

A Georgia church and the organization filed suit against a law prohibiting carry guns in a church. The president offered this argument against the law, which is a new one to me:

Stone wrote in a filing that his “motivation to carry a firearm as a matter of habit derives from one of my Lord's last recorded statements at the ‘last supper,’ that ‘whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one ... I believe that this injunction requires me to obtain, keep and carry a firearm wherever I happen to be.”