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I have some simple rules I apply to any argument I undertake, whether in person, in print, or on this site.

Tackle the ideas, not the person. If you can only win an argument by denigrating your opponents, you deserve to lose.

If the person is the problem, say why as clearly and as generously as possible. Don’t write people off because you disagree with them.

State the other person’s point of view fairly. If you have to distort what your opponents are saying to defeat them in argument, then you have lost, or ought to.

Put your own evidence fairly. Be open to the possibility you may be wrong, and be willing to be convinced by the evidence others offer.

Test/check everything.

It’s OK to make mistakes (occasionally). It’s OK for other people to make mistakes too. Mistakes do not necessarily indicate carelessness or dishonesty.

Yet despite these simple rules, when it comes to wretched hives of scum and villainly, Mos Eisley has nothing on the internet.

Here are the concluding paragraphs of an article by Kevin DeYoung on First Things:

Here, then, a little advice for the tough guys: Save the big guns for the big issues. Don’t try to die on every hill; the hills are crowded already and you only have so many lives to lose. Be courteous wherever possible (Col. 4:6). Drop the rhetorical bombs and launch the satire missiles only as a last resort. Be patient with those who really want to understand (2 Tim. 2:25). And remember, it’s ok to have an unarticulated thought (Prov. 18:2).

And for the tender ones: Dare to not qualify. Don’t pad your criticisms with fluff praise (Gal. 1:10). If you have affirmations of substances, go for it. But don’t be a self-protective flatterer. Don’t be afraid to be misunderstood. Don’t soften a needed jab of logic. And when you get an ad hominen right hook, don’t take it personally (1 Cor. 4:3–4).

And for everyone: please, please argue with actual arguments. Don’t just emote or dismiss the other side with labels. Explain why your side makes more sense. Try more persuasion, less pouting (2 Cor. 5:11). Give reasons, not just reactions (Acts 18:19).

Here’s hoping against hope that thinking adults, Christians especially, can sustain meaningful discourse without resorting to name-calling or cowardly equivocation. Christ calls us to love, which is something entirely different than being a jerk or playing it safe. A.W. Tozer got it right: “The kingdom of God, has suffered a great deal of harm from fighters—men who would rather fight than pray; but the kingdom of God has also been done great harm by men who would rather be nice than right.”

The Telegraph reports this morning that the UK government will allow all Gurkhas with a record of honourable service  to settle in the UK.

All Gurkha veterans were finally granted the right to live in Britain yesterday as the Government was forced into a humiliating climbdown. Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, confirmed the policy reversal for those with four years’service in a Commons statement following an intense three year campaign, led by Joanna Lumley, the actress.

The victory brings to an end more than 20 years of demands to give Gurkha veterans equal rights and has left Gordon Brown and his ministers embarrassed after misjudging the public mood.

Joanna Lumley was generous in her response to Gordon Brown, and expressed her thanks that his government had finally done the right thing.

But others were openly frustrated about the gap between Labour’s claims to the be party which cares about ordinary people, and its policies and practices.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat Leader whose Commons motion led directly to the Government’s volte-face, labelled it a “great victory” but added: “Gordon Brown has finally woken up to the principle that people across Britain understand instinctively: if someone is prepared to die for this country, they must be allowed to live in it.

“Tragically this decision will come too late for many of those brave Gurkhas who have been waiting so long to see justice done.

“Gordon Brown’s claim of a ‘moral compass’ rings hollow when, on every issue from Gurkhas to expenses, he has to be dragged every inch of the way towards doing the right thing.”

Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary, said: “It is just a shame that the Government had to be dragged kicking and screaming through the courts and then through the crowds of Gurkhas outside parliament before it finally did the right thing.”

I meant to say something about this a week ago, then forgot about it, and found it again today while looking at something else. It still seems worth commenting on.

Britain seems to be willing to let just about anyone in. The pollies don’t want to appear harsh, after all.

But that free for all welcome does not apply to the Gurkhas.

Joanna Lumley has pointed out more than once that the Gurkhas fought for Britain in several nasty places and have a genuine claim on the loyalty and goodwill of the British people.

Immigration Minister Phil Woolas looked like a ninny in comparison with the delicious and brainy Joanna.

Woolas said “They (the Gurkhas) may be a special case morally, but legally you cannot legislate on the basis. I can’t say ‘let the nice people in and the nasty people not’. We have to have a law,” he said.

While accepting the principle that “if you are prepared to die for this country you should be allowed to live here”, Mr Woolas warned it could open up retrospective cases for other Second World war veterans.

Joanna pointed out, with scathingly raised eyebrows, that there is hardly a overwhelming horde of  World War Two veterans waiting to take over Britain. And surely it is a simple matter to change whatever laws are needed to grant residency rights to anyone who has served honourably in combat in the British armed forces.

The expressions on her face in some of the photos are just delightful.

I forgot to mention, when talking about my islamic teacher friend, that she had also told her class about the many islamic inventions taken for granted and not acknowledged in the West.

She talked about the number system, coffee, chess, arches (in architecture). Students were sceptical. And rightly.

I am not sure whether she had read this article from The Independent a couple of years ago. It lists 20 world changing islamic inventions.

Except not one of them really is an islamic invention.

A coupe who own a small business in Rotorua in New Zealand applied to the Westpac bank for a $10,000 overdraft.

The bank deposited $7.8 million into their account.

Not surprisingly, the couple took as much of the money as they could and cleared off.

Detective Senior Sergeant David Harvey has called on Interpol to help track the couple down. “The individuals associated with this account are believed to have left New Zealand and police are working through Interpol to locate those individuals,” he said.

Stealing other people’s money is a bad thing.

Nonetheless I wish them well. And I hope Westpac shareholders ask some difficult questions.

Otherwise this is a pretty good article about the problems with economics predictions, and the difficulty of developing policy on the basis of those predictions.

Stephen seems to think puerile means pointless, because there can never be any definitive answers. But it doesn’t.

Puerile means childish, immature, trivial. Debate about economic policy is certainly not that. Even if policy makers cannot be certain about answers and outcomes, history and common sense must inform decision making.

A brief excerpt:

The data from around the world at the moment is all over the shop and gives no clear guide to who’s right, other than Yogi Berra.

And if it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future, the whole game gets even tougher when it’s twisted by the force of political spin.

One reason Treasury’s economic growth estimates received such a sceptical, even scornful, response was that the Treasurer had been warning Australians for months that the world is in the midst of “the worst recession since the 1930s”. (Read, “we’re not responsible” and “prepare for a little pain in the Budget’). Did you notice how Wayne Swan tweaked the rhetoric on Budget night, talking of “the sharpest” downturn since the 1930s? No wonder it was hard for the public and many commentators to accept the idea that we’re back on track within a few months and recording stellar growth in a couple of years.

Yogi Berra, notorious for his (often intelligent and amusing)  mis-speaks, said ‘It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.’

My favourite Yogi Berra quote is this: ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll wind up somewhere else.’

A couple of days ago I posted a story about a 14 year old girl who had been charged with possession of child pornography because she had some nude photos of herself on her mobile phone.

Then there was  story about a group of teenagers in Victoria being cautioned by a magistrate in relation to child pornography, because of nude photos of themselves and their friends on their phones.

There have been a couple of articles warning teenagers and parents about the possible legal and social consequences of teens taking pictures of themselves naked, and sending those pictures to friends or boyfriends.

Parents, counsellors and police officers quoted in those articles have all pretty much nailed the whole negative consequences thing – you may get in trouble with the law in ways that stay with you for the rest of your life, once photos are ‘out there’ you have no control over where they go or who sees them, you may be humiliated to the point you cannot return to your school, etc.

It’s good that teenagers are made aware of those things. It would be even better if they were helped to understand that actions can have consequences which are not easily foreseen, and that rules about sexual behaviour and and respect for self and others exist to protect people from some of those consequences.

What has been missing is the simple statement that some things are wrong. This includes taking nude pictures of yourself and sending them to friends.

So I was pleased to read this article ‘It Is Wrong’ by the Joneses. As well as saying the right things, it is funny and well-written.

These are the concluding paragraphs:

Why is it that today’s culture thinks that 16-year-olds are old enough to understand and deal with sexual relationships on their own? Teenagers can’t even handle friendships in a rational manner. But if the only caution you can give your child is, “Don’t do that because it might get you in trouble later,” then you’re waving the white flag and the battle is over.

I care enough about my children, and my friends’ children, and the beautiful, alienated teenagers I pass in town, to say, “You shouldn’t do this. It’s wrong.” To do less is to hand our children over to those who want them only for their bodies.

Who would have guessed?

Another non-news headline from the New York Times.

In the days when banks were able to assess loan applications on merit there was little difference between various ethnic groups in the level of loan defaults. If people were unlikely to repay a loan, they didn’t get the loan.

But this meant some minority groups were ‘under-represented’ in their ability to access housing finance.

Then along came Clinton’s 1993 ‘Fair Housing Act.’

In essence, starting with Jimmy Carter, successive Democrat administrations offered incentives to lenders to give home loans to people in minority groups who would not have qualified under normal lending criteria (or penalties to lenders who did not). This is the ’sub-prime’ mortgage market, which consisted of giving loans to people who could not afford to repay them.

If you assume (as seems likely) a complete lack of understanding of basic economics in those who formulated this policy, you can allow that it may have been well-intentioned. In fact it should have been obvious to anyone with half a brain that it would leave those to whom the loans were given worse off in the long run, because they were likely not only to lose their homes, but any money they put into them, and their credit rating.

The end result is: the storm has fallen with a special ferocity on black and Latino homeowners, the analysis shows. Defaults occur three times as often in mostly minority census tracts as in mostly white ones. Eighty-five percent of the worst-hit neighborhoods — where the default rate is at least double the regional average — have a majority of black and Latino homeowners.

The New York Times article suggests that the problems and foreclosures are the fault of the banks. But note that key phrase: where the default rate is at least double the regional average.

The NYT goes on to say:

This holds a special poignancy. Just four or five years ago, black homeownership was rising sharply, after decades in which discriminatory lending and zoning practices discouraged many blacks from buying. Now, as damage ripples outward, black families in foreclosure lose savings and credit, neighbors see the value of their homes decline, and renters are evicted. ..

“There’s a huge worry that this will exacerbate historic disparities between the wealth of black and white families,” said Ingrid Ellen, co-director of the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University.

Well, duh, yes. And the answer is, don’t force banks to give loans to people who can’t afford them.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago that I hoped to do some serious thinking about torture, semantics and public policy over the weekend, and to something ready to post last Monday. That didn’t happen. I ended up working over most of the last two weekends, and on Mondays – my normal day off. But things have been percolating away, and I feel as if I am starting to get to the point where I have done enough research and thinking to begin to have an opinion.

For the past few years some Australian academics have been using the word ‘genocide’ to describe the removal of part aboriginal children into schools or home-based care. It has been claimed there was a policy of the forced removal of such children, even from caring homes or communities, simply because they were part aboriginal.

However, no such policy ever existed in any Australian jurisdiction. Not one one law ever prescribed such action, nor did any official guideline ever suggest it. No court, despite their sympathies for the cause, has ever found a single case in which this occurred.

All the evidence is that children of any racial background were only removed from their families because their parents either gave them up into to care, or because the children were being neglected or abused.

You can find more about this at Keith Windschuttle’s The Sydney Line.  Or for a brief introduction, I posted an article on this earlier this year called ‘Empty Apologies.’

Even if part indigenous children had been routinely removed into care to give them access to medical care and education, and so that they could be integrated into wider society, it is hard to see how this qualifies as ‘genocide’ in any sense even remotely related to how the word is normally understood.

The force of the word comes from the fact that what it describes – the deliberate murder or attempted murder of a whole race of people – is so horrendous that any normal person is shocked and appalled by it.

But taking children into care, even if the reasons for doing so were misguided (and they were not), is not genocide. The word genocide was used, not because it described what had happened – it did not – but to give those who used it a political advantage over the men and women who had taken those children into care, and those who suppported them, or even who refused to condemn them.

Something similar is happening with the use of the word ‘torture.’

Some people whose opinions I greatly respect (Zippy Catholic, for example) have suggested that ‘Any legitimate public discussion of torture definitions by faithful Catholics ought to acknowledge, as prerequisite to even discussing the matter, that waterboarding KSM was immoral torture.’

To say that begs the question is an understatement.

Before deciding whether some particular action was torture, we need to have a clear definition of what constitutes torture.

Mark Shea points out that the Church defines torture as:  ‘Violation of human dignity in the form of  intentional mental and/or physical harm in order to  use a human person as a means (or instrument) for some producible end against that person’s will.’

But this is simply not an adequate definition of torture.

Using a person as a means to an end in a way which causes them harm is wrong in almost all circumstances, but it is not necessarily torture. If it is, then I have been tortured a number of times, including by some former bishops.

The Compact Oxford Dictionary says torture is the ‘infliction of severe pain as a punishment or a forcible means of persuasion.’ That’s closer – torture involves not just harm but pain.

But the Oxford definition is not entirely adequate either. People torture kittens, and other people, just for fun. And the church is right about torture involving a refusal to recognise the other person as a person, as an end and not just a means.

What people mean they use the word torture is this: Serious physical or mental pain, deliberately inflicted, with disregard for the victim’s needs or rights.

If Khalid Shaikh Mohammed had been waterboarded 183 times, this might very well constitute torture. A drop of water on the head, repeated incessantly, can cause severe mental pain. But KSM was not waterboarded 183 times. That is the total number of times water was poured. Most of those pours of water lasted less than ten seconds.

I have no doubt that he was uncomfortable, as were Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

But there is nothing in the memos to suggest even remotely that anyone ever, at any time, inflicted serious pain on any of those three detainees. They were never in danger of harm, and they knew they were never in danger of harm.

Instructions to operatives included notes that no technique should be used which would delay healing of any pre-existing wounds or injuries, and that if it appeared physical or psychological harm was being done by a particluar technique, that technique should no longer be used, or the interrogation stopped altogther.

Detainees at Guantanamo were and are provided with high quality food, medical and dental care. Their religious traditions are respected. There is no evidence of any disregard for their needs or rights.

All of the techniques were used at Guantanamo were techniques used on US military personnel in the course of their training.

Some of those techniques are harsh. People are entitled to question whether they were approriate or effective when used on detainees.

But to call them torture is misinformed, stupid, or politically motivated and dishonest.

I hope this is not true.

The Times of India reports newly re-elected Prime Minister Singh has warned the US that Pakistan is already lost, and that some nuclear sites in the North West of Pakistan are in the hands of the Taliban.

Pakistan President Zardari says Taliban sympathisers have been removed from the army, that both army and government believe the Taliban are a national threat, and that Pakistan will press on into Taliban strongholds until they are no longer a threat.

All good. But he also acknowledges that the situation is politically difficult, and that an extended conflict or high civilian casualties could cause a mutiny.

Zardari is pressing for more aid to take care of refugees and rebuild after the conflict, and says if he doesn’t get it, much of the North West will turn against the government.

“This is not just Pakistan’s problem,” he said. “It’s the world’s problem. It’s no good everyone being in denial. If we don’t defeat the militants, where will they go next?”

One of my close friends is a muslim and a teacher. She is a delightful and interesting woman with a bright smile. I speak with her three or four times a week.

She is Indonesian, and teaches Indonesian language and culture.

As part of her programme she talks about the religious culture of Indonesia. She tells the students she is a Muslim, and explains something of her faith. I have no problem with any of that.

A couple of days ago she was distressed and angry after school. I asked her what had happened. She told me she had been telling the students Islam was a religion of peace. They laughed at her.

That was rude. And to be fair, she is not always treated well, by staff or students. But I almost laughed too.

This is the monthly jihad report for April 2009 from Religion of Peace:

 Jihad Attacks: 158
 
 Countries: 15
 
 Religions: 5
 
 Dead Bodies: 715
 
 Critically Injured: 1135

Her response to the class resulted in further laughter.

She started by telling the class that the way people thought about Islam was because of distortions by the media.

Christians killed people just as much, she said. Martin Bryant, for example, killed all those people at Port Arthur. And then to illustrate how morally lax Christianity was, she pointed out that here in Australia lots of men have sex with one another.

She assumes that everyone in Australia, or every white person, is a Christian. She has been here long enough to know better.

But more alarming is the blindness, even in this intelligent and largely westernised woman, to the horrors perpetrated in the name of Islam

Where to begin?

Well, one industry.

Rachel Love, general manager of the Pentagon Grand brothel in Queensland says things are looking up in the sex trade.

“Around Christmas time with the first government injection we got, our figures went sky-high… and then in the last few weeks the numbers have just gone up and up,” Ms Love said. She said her establishment had recorded a 27 per cent increase in takings since the latest stimulus package started to filter into Australians’ bank accounts.

Bliss and AABS180 brothels also reported substantial increases in takings over the stimulus period.

“A lot of people have been coming in and saying `this one’s on Kevin.'”

I am so happy to see my tax dollars at work for the good of the community.

Hard to believe but true.

‘Israel should be wiped off the map, the holocaust never happened’  president of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University on September 24, 2007.

This was an example of the free exchange of ideas, of the liberal championing of the value of free speech.

The day before he departed for America, Ahmadinejad re-emphasized the two most heartfelt ideas to which he and his regime are dedicated–“Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” emblazoned on signs in a military parade over which he presided.

But you know, diversity, free speech and everything.

Yet more than once, planned speeches by Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, one of the US’ closest allies, have been cancelled because of violent demonstations by ‘peace loving’ liberals.

Netanyahu will meet with Barack Obama tomorrow (the 18th).

According to The Telegraph, Obama will use that meeting to tell Netanyahu that from now on Israel must earn its privileged relationship with America.

The arrogance! Perhaps Netanyahu will get a chance to tell Obama that from now on the US must earn its privileged relationship with Israel.

The present US administration has already allowed millions in aid to flow to Palestinian groups run by or with links to terrorist organisations. Leon Panetta recently told Israel that a nuclear armed Iran would not be much of a worry.

Yes, well, see comments above from Mr Imanutjob.

Israel may very well begin to feel that it is on its own when it comes to defending its borders and people.

So may its enemies. And it is hard to hold bullies back if they think they can threaten with impunity.

Obama’s distancing the US from Israel is the last thing that is likely to lead to peace.

Also in the Times, Gail Collins weighed in on the already-tired yokelism of the new commander in chief. “What we’re getting is Wasilla chic. That’s what we’re getting. She arrives in the Oval Office, and first thing sends back Blair’s gift of the Churchill bust as if it’s a once-worn Penney’s outfit. Then she gives the Brits some unwatchable DVDs as a booby prize…

“Pretty crude, pretty petty,” Sally Quinn sighed in the Washington Post. “No manners at all. Does our new mom in chief think it’s neat to laugh when her court jester at the correspondents’ dinner calls Michael Moore a traitor and a terrorist — and hopes he dies of kidney failure? Is that funny? Ask those on dialysis.

More harsh words on Palin’s first 100 days as president at National Review.

Be sure to pass this one on to your ‘dolphins are our water-siblings’ loony friends.

Dolphins are violent predators, pack rapists and baby-killers.

The sites linked in that article are worth visiting too.

My favourite was Mystical Dolphin Love. We are related to dolphins. And a new breed of humans is evolving who have psychic links to dolphins. Children with disabilities can recover if they swim with dolphins. And this is why the writer loves water and feels she might be part fish. Even though if she were a fish, dolphins would probably chase her and chomp her to bits.

I bet she believes in global warming too.

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