Wednesday, August 07, 2002
Here's what I added to the discussion, spurred by the suggestion that, like John Walker Lindh, some of the bigots were converts to Islam.
"Someone was speculating about "Taliboy II"s.... This thread
has a guy called "Sonic" who says
"I have visited many afghanistan sites and heard views from all over the spectrum its very intersting. But what i liked about when i read into islam after sept.11 is its common sense. ", which given the site involved is rather scary (even more so that he's in the UK). He says in effect that he believes what he's read.
He's been reading "whatreallyhappened.com" (judged a "nice link" by the dubious local crowd) and says:
"No offence taken! no i am not an athiest, i believe in the one god/allah the god of the muslims,jews,hindhus,athiests,christians i believe in all the prophets from moses to muhammed. I also pray and a pay my taxes. Thats about all!"
They'd be pretty happy if he turned out a jihadist. Their pet sheik quotes approvingly from a story about an American-born "martyr" in Kashmir:
"After two and a half weeks I met back up with Abu Adam at the launching sector to prepare to infiltrate with him into the occupied valley. We were only waiting for our slot to carefully infiltrate the occupied valley of Kashmir to strike down and destroy the enemies of Allah, the vile Hindus and Sikhs from the Indian army...
We were firing old grenades that had been in storage for quite a long time. One brother shot the grenade and it simply shot out and landed about 3 feet in front of us (we were in one big crowd). After we had all dashed to take cover from the expected explosion that was only 3 feet away from us (it was a dud and never blew Al-hamdulillah) Abu Adam looked up at me and said, "We ran and didn't even remember Allah! What's up with us?"
Abu Adam and his team of brothers launched a bloody raid on an army post in the Doda sector in the Jammuu region. Reports indicate that out of the thirty four Indians killed in the action, Abu Adam was responsible for killing seventeen. Allahu Akbar!
After this dream, I received news that my good friend, Abu Adam had beaten me to our respective goal ash-shahadah fee sabeelillah. (Insha-Allah) I remember him saying to me once, "I want to get shot in the chest so that my soul doesn't leave immediately and I can prostrate to Allah on the battlefield before my soul leaves my body."
I cannot help but wonder if he got his last wish or not. "
All rather disturbing, especially as it's followed someone wishing their daughters will grow up to marry men like him.
[Just in case you were wondering whether you'd be welcome to contribute, or attempt to rebut some of their delusions, or if it's just a sounding house for these rather distasteful people, one of the admins (by context) says:
This is an announcement for the Disbelievers.
Keep your political views out of the discussions on this Forum [Non-Muslims learning about Islam].
Keep your posts out of all other forums.
This forum is the only place where you may post questions or comments, with the aim of learning more about Islam.
If you come to this discussion board, it is expected you are here to learn more about Islam. Any other posts that are not aimed at seeking information and learning about Islam will be deleted.
If you are here for discussing political issues or trying to justify and defend the crimes of America and her allies, I suggest you go elsewhere.
I trust I have made myself clear.
If not, you can send me your complaints and grieviances through the Private Message option."]
There's an awful lot of gun-fetishising going on too, and suggestions that it's necessary preparation for JIHAD. Most posters view appears to be this
a) it's a religious duty to slaughter "kaffirs" (possibly as unpleasantly as possible)
b) if you disagree, you're crazy, or not a real Muslim, or both
c) no really, how could you think anything else - aren't the atrocities against Muslims in Chechnya, Bosnia, Kashmir, etc, etc proof of the need to slaughter (all?) "kaffirs" as a religious duty?
d) Crusader! How can you criticise the religiously righteous slaughter of unbelievers? You're defending the atrocities against Muslims in Chechnya, Bosnia, Kashmir, etc, etc.
e) Because of the atrocities against Muslims in Chechnya, Bosnia, Kashmir, etc, etc, it's a religious duty to slaughter (all?) "kaffirs" (as unpleasantly as possible?)
Obviously, I've added in a liberal helping of intellectual coherence and basic logical form to the original, but I think you'd be pushed to read too many thread mentioning jihad without spotting the same position. And yes, it does seem to keep repeating itself.
The absolutely crucial moves are
1) to claim that because bad things have happened to Muslims, absolutely anything (or near enough anything) is a permissible response, and
2) to ignore the possibility that someone could deplore the massacre of innocents or other barbaric acts wherever they occur (and might be particularly concerned when organisations like (anagram time to hide bias) "As-Ham" emphasise the murder of innocents as an essential part of their campaign).
There's also everyone's favourite missed distinctions between deaths of innocents that you've 1) inadvertantly caused, 2) attempted to minimise but accepted the possibility of, 3) caused through reckless disregard for the consequences of your actions, 4) accepted as inevitable products of your actions, but don't care about or 5) deliberately set out to maximise.
Generally, I'd say people commenting on how bad something a state or other organisation has done should work through that check-list. I'd argue at length, if prodded, that from 1 to 5, things get worse. People doing something that brings about "1" probably shouldn't have done what they did. People bringing about "5" are evil. "3" and "4" might swap round for some people. Just in case anyone's got any doubt about how to apply the check-list, here are some examples:
1) typing in the wrong coordinates for a bomb-drop
2) how the West tends to try to fight (though constrained by the "minimum" being the "minimum consistent with an acceptable risk to their troops" - maybe this makes it 3 or 4). Here, you're doing your best to keep civilian deaths down.
3) dropping a bomb on a Hamas leader's house without thinking through the impact on neighbouring structures - if you think it through, probably "4". Here, you're acting without serious regard to the possibility of civilian deaths - you haven't thought the outcomes through.
4) - is often asserted to be the attitude taken by the West. However, the best examples of what I'm thinking of are probably the planners of the "Great Leap Forward" or the collectivisation of Russian farms. A lot of people will die, we know that for certain, but we're going to do it anyway. The important things here are there's no attempt at minimising damage, and you're well aware that it's going to happen
5) shooting a five-year old in the head whilst she sleeps, bombing wedding parties, bombing buses, etc, etc.
Notice that even if you're very uncharitable towards the West (and Israel), their policies can only really be pushed into category "3" or "4" at worst. "3"'s bad, and "4" can be very bad indeed (as in my example), but "5" is yet worse. And to be that harsh a judge, you really have to believe that the West and Israel take no care whatsoever to reduce civilian casualties, but proceed on regardless. And that's just not compatible with the number of civilian casulaties the West inflicts relative to those arising from acting "with a free hand".
And that, of course, is why a portion of the lunatics on clearguidance are out of their tree. The deliberate massacre of innocents (and, by parallel arguments, such atrocities as the beheading of prisoners) is about as bad as it gets, and can't be justified by anything they have in their intellectual armoury and can back up. If they were attempting to minimise civilian deaths, that would be far more acceptable - it's just a fact of wars that people you don't mean to kill will die, and if the cause is just, that's sad but inevitable*. This is, after all, the argument underlying moral justifications of America fighting in self-defence.
Muslims aren't debarred from making these arguments - no doubt many do. However, they can't be used to justify campaigns of terror against civilians where the aim is to maximise the death-toll, and that's what our Taliboys seem to want. Illogical, amoral, claiming to be armed, and apparently dangerous, these guys scare me.
As ever, but as should be particularly apparent from the topic, this isn't a claim about all Muslims. It's a claim about a virulent "meme" put about by people who profess to follow Islam. I won't use the "some of my best friends are Muslims" line. Instead, I'll point out that Muslimpundit, a practising mosque-goer, has any number of screeds against jihadists and other "starry-eyed pan-Islamic futurists" (I think that's the phrase), written on the basis of an understanding of both the Koran and of basic requirements of humanity. There are an awful lot of Muslims who have both - I hope that more will become anything like as active opponents of this kind of dangerous hate as he has.
[some minor edits were made to the post I cut across - nothing major]
* notice my ranking refers to individual acts, not directly to collective decisions - it needs some fleshing out to handle inevitable deaths (it's war) that you try to minimise (as each action fits category "2").
"Hello. Hello. May I have your attention, please. This is Homer Simpson. I have been asked to introduce our performer tonight. There have been many great counterculture heroes that I have admired over the years. Steve McQueen, Dr. Demento, Dr. Denis Leary, and Wavy Gravy. Mmmmm, gravy.
But even some counterculture heroes go much too far and step over that line between dissent and in-dissent...sentcy. I'm speaking of Paul Krassner.
The first problem I have with Paul Krassner is that the only song I like that he wrote for The Jefferson Airplane was "Crown of Creation." And even then his name is spelled K-a-n-t-n-e-r, even though it is pronounced "Krassner."
Second, I have a problem with the fact that he is an atheist. If there is no God, then who has placed a pox upon me and mocks me every day? Of whom do I live in fear and mortal terror? Buddha? I think not. He's way over in China where thankfully he can't get at me.
I also have a problem with his constant use of words such as "penis," "Larry Flynt," "premature," "ejaculation," "CIA," and on several occasions he has been known to use the words "Bush" and "Bush Jr." in mixed company. Did I mention "penis"? Yeah, here it is--"penis." [Laughs.] Heh heh heh. [To self:] Penis.
Let's see, where was I? I mentioned, "penis," "gravy," "Buddha," "God," "Jefferson Airplane." No. That's it.
Will everyone please put their hands together for that raving, unconfined nut--let's hope that he opens with "Crown of Creation"--Paul Krassner!"
"Pardon me for being forward
Just a note to let you know:
I already saw it.
That forward? I got it. I've gotten it. I do not wish to keep receiving it. I was neither moved nor inspired. It was neither clever nor funny. I was not amazed at the stupidity of that criminal, nor disgusted, appalled, and chagrined by the United States Government. I do not marvel at how inexpensive things used to be, nor am I astonished that kids today don't know about things that happened before they were born.
The photo? I had that, too. I have seen two children of any given ethnicity holding hands. I have seen fat ladies in thongs. I saw the bungee jumper crap his pants and I have seen adults covering themselves or others with vomit, urine, and/or beer in any conceivable arrangment with which you would want to provide me. I have no concern for what you consider to be worthy of a MasterCard "Priceless" parody. Intoxication does not amuse me.
I will not be starting or stopping the consumption of any product or service due to the information you provided me in your forwarded email. I will not be winning any contest not will I submit any data for market research. I will not be subverting AOL, Microsoft, Disney, the IRS or any other entity through the continued transmittal of your bogus message. I boycott your boycotts.
I will not sign up for whatever affiliate program you've got in your email signature. I do not marvel at The Way Things Used to Be. Change your homepage to snopes.com.
I do not care about your heart-warming bullshit, for I am a stone and my heart is cold. Genuine friendships are characterized by emails that are written and sent for me and to me. I do not want to be made aware you were thinking of me, I will not stop to smell the flowers, I will not count my blessings, and I live in neither the best nor the worst country on Earth. Jesus and I have a policy of mutual apathy toward one another. That kitten is not cute. Your baby is not the first to walk, talk, or use a toilet. God is a hoax."
Tuesday, August 06, 2002
"These cases compel our compassion at the deepest level. But they also illustrate how illogical it can seem to draw any arbitrary lines in the matter of making babies, or assisted reproduction. If the reasoning seems specious, perhaps it is because the HFEA itself was erected on the shifting foundations of arbitrary and pragmatic ethics.
Mary Warnock, the architect of our fertilisation and embryology regulations, takes a practical and utilitarian view of reproductive ethics, tending to regard those who oppose her as "hard-line moralists" and "fundamentalists".
In her new philosophical manifesto* on these human life matters, she claims that the notion of a universal moral law is obsolete: we take our moral laws today from science, and the state.
On specially difficult issues, Lady Warnock favours a case-by-case approach, which is certainly pragmatic and even popular. But the trouble with judging each case on its merits is that new bio-technologies become available, society develops new "needs", and judgments have to be constantly altered.
Thus, Lady Warnock has changed her mind over the years on several issues involved with assisted reproduction. She was, for instance, originally opposed to human cloning, and was instrumental in banning it in Britain.
But now she says that there could be a compelling, exceptional case for cloning. Supposing a man had been rendered infertile through some appalling tragedy: there could be circumstances when it might be acceptable to achieve parenthood by cloned reproduction.
Well, yes - there are exceptional circumstances that can justify almost any decision. But once you depart from first principles, how can you make consistent judgments? "
Similarly, a new "collaborator" of mine, Peter Cuthbertson, adds:
"Once you decide that the ends justify the means, suddenly everything Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Pol Pot and all the vilest men in history did can be seen in a better light. That alone should alert honest people to the fact that some actions or wrong in themselves, irrespective of alleged beneficial consequences."
But, in my oh so layman-like opinion, neither argument quite holds up. I'll take Peter's argument first.
Perhaps it's true that the ostensible ends that Hitler, Stalin, Lenin and Pol Pot were aiming at were slightly better than the means they employed along the way: it's a standard cliche of defending communism to claim that its superiority over Nazism is that killing millions wasn't one of its aims. The moral repugnance of this kind of nit-picking shouldn't disguise the fact that both means and ends are important.
If I kil a man who is planning to "hit" someone's wife because of what he'll do, then that's pretty obviously more defensible than killing a man for wearing plaid. See: ends matter, or at least they do with the petty kinds of crime most people commit. Judges and juries make their decisions on that basis all the time. "Mitigating circumstances", "noble cause" crime, and similar notions are usd to explain why some (actions/)crimes differ from others on the basis of why you did them.
In some cases, the reason why you did ostensibly the same physical act can completely alter the description. For example, if I was genuinely a good boy scout, and had killed the guy whilst struggling with him for his gun as he was about to shoot the dame, then that wouldn't be murder, or murder with extenuating circumstances - it would be "death by misadventure" or some such.
The point about mass murder and other crimes committed by statesmen is that we have, for the most part, debarred any mitigating factors. A few despairing omlette chefs aside, it is accepted that there is no purity of end that can justify genocide, just as, in a more limited arena, there is no purity of end that would be accepted for killing a (healthy*) five year-old in their sleep (this excludes the "trolley problem", where you're faced with the choice of where to direct a runaway vehicle to do least harm, but there choices are compelled). Peter's Rogues Gallery may quibble about the details, but the only defence we might allow would be "not guilty by reason of insanity".
Sure, my argument seems to make a lot of the running on Peter's argument that "some actions [are] wrong in themselves, irrespective of alleged beneficial consequences". But, as should be reasonably apparent, my examples talk about monstrous actions where we can accept no mitigation - in those instances, though we can judge the goals separately from the actions, they can't justify the acts themselves.
[Here's where things pull together, in case you're wondering...]
But this brings us back to the murky land of reproductive medicine. Why is creating a life via any particular method that won't damage the future child something so henious that it can admit of no justification or explanation? The contrast to totalitarian atrocity is pretty plain - one brings life into this world, albeit perhaps for a purpose, whilst the other destroys innocents.
And here is where I differ from Mary Kenny. She says: "Well, yes - there are exceptional circumstances that can justify almost any decision. But once you depart from first principles, how can you make consistent judgments?". And my immediate reaction is - well, if the circumstances justify something, why can't you do it?
The notion that "neutral" descriptions of actions should be the basis for the construction of principles used to make "consistent judgements" is a shibboleth, usually of people who want to ban things, but occassionally of people who want to dismiss morality itself. But this is an absurd price of entry to the club. "To end someone's life" could mean a mercy-killing, killing in self-defence, any range of accidents from the culpable to the completely forgivable, murder, manslaughter, state-sanctioned execution, divine sacrifice, or perhaps one of a number of other, less obvious, possibilities. There's no reason that the morally ambiguous phrases should be used: I'd hope all Texans (or Brits) would say that murder is wrong, whilst far fewer would say that executing a mass murderer is wrong.
"Thou shalt not kill" is a great slogan, but very few people have bought into the plain vanilla version. Our real-world moral judgements are built around certain moral descriptions of sorts of right and wrong act - this is murder, that it self-defence. "Thou shalt not murder (and won't get away with manslaughter)" is a more realistic reflection of our moral perspective. And whilst the concept of "murder" packs away a great number of ideas about what is and is not acceptable, and varies within and across cultures, we roughly know where we stand. People make judgements that particular acts are murders, and that they are wrong, and act, or refrain from acting, appropriately.
But "clone", "create life artificially", and so forth aren't moral categories. Moral categories are things like "create life to satisfy your own desire X" (whether through in vitro fertilisation or not), "have a baby to supply a transplant", "clone an army that will crush the Republic into the dust", that sort of thing. And, as the last of those categories gave away, it's in large part the "why" that transforms the quotidian life of the geneticist into an ethics paper set by one of Siphesus's tormentors.
It's possible that there are some things that the scientist can do that would be indefensible. Creating a child that would be, purposefully, in continual pain, might be one such example. But, as Mary Kenny herself acknowledges, there are "exceptional circumstances" that might justify cloning, germ-line therapy, or other flights of fancy. And the reason why the circumstances would justify it is that in those cases we're talking about "cloning-good" or "cloning-acceptable" rather than "cloning-abomination-before-the-lord" (for want of better moral terminology). If there's something wrong with certain types of cloning (e.g.), or even cloning full stop, then that's because of its effects - there's something about the means that's unacceptable, in spite of the "end" benefits that accompany it. But if unacceptable moral outcomes only arise for most instances of cloning, then there can be cases of "cloning-good", and the art's in spotting and allowing those cases.
The law might have said that it is wrong in all circumstances and to the same degree to kill someone, or to take something that doesn't belong to you. But that's not what British law says, and that doesn't correspond at all well with "real world" codes of ethics, whatever the Bible may or may not say. I see little reason why "cloning" or "in vitro fertilisation" or "germ-line therapy" should be treated as moral categories. The point of detailed consideration of individual cases is that they can be used to mark out our moral universe so that we gain the concepts of "cloning-good" or "cloning-Lucas" that we need to make consistent judgements.
* just to forestall arguments
"THE ARAB NEWS
calmly analyses the murder of five US students at the Hebrew University:
As to the 5 American students that died, why weren't they studying in the United States, at Yale, or Vassar, instead of being in a foreign country in which a genocidal war against Palestine was going on? If those students were, like many other such "American" students that go to work, study, live, or join the Israeli army, then they must have known they would be in jeopardy.
Quite right. They'd have been perfectly safe from lunatic Islamopsychos if they'd only stayed somewhere out of their way. Say, in the World Trade Centre, perhaps. Or the Pentagon."
If Tim were a regular reader of the Arab News ("All the news that's parochial, sexist, anti-semitic or insane"*), he'd know that the students would have been perfectly safe in New York or Washington, as they'd have known what was going to happen....
*Seems like I'm in a bad mood.
Monday, August 05, 2002
"The only thing worse for a country than being exploited by a multinational is not being exploited by a multinational"
Debate about the environment or the Third World can be very complex. But a lot of positions are prima facie implausible, often because they reshuffle the lost arguments of the past. The "lump sum" argument is one of them.
"Capitalism - or, under its many criminal aliases, globalisation, industrial society, the economy..."
It also incidentally says that, basically, you all need to get plenty poorer, and quickly. It's just plain wrong to have or want nice things. Back to the fields, Farmer Brown - there's no room for Number 10 now.
Of course, if you accept a great many of the assumptions of this particular brand of greenery, then their moral argument just about succeeds. If there is a very strict limit to what bounty nature (and man's ingenuity) can provide, and we're beyond that point (or even nearing it), then massive wealth redistribution would seem to be morally imperative.
If we accept the "lump of stuff" fallacy*, then it's pretty hard to argue against a massive reduction in welfare in the West. We're using more than our fair share of the only resources that there are. That's the argument standardly used against the States - 4% of the world's population, and they use 25% of the world's oil (or whatever the favoured stat is this week). And if others can't live like Yankee-Doodle-Dandy, or at least like his European chums, or at least like those folk in the Mexican borderlands, because there's just not enough stuff to go round, then that's just not fair. Wah, wah, wah. Sorry, I meant, "QED".
But the world doesn't seem to be working out that way. It's not the West's use of oil that's preventing others from buying more out of the ground. It's that people in poor countries aren't as productive, due to a massive lack of usable physical and human capital ("usable", as, per de Soto, they seem to have a lot). It's that they can't make and sell things that other people want enough to pay for highly enough to send virtuous circles spinning. Sure, there are complications about disease, especially AIDS, but that's what it comes down to. One country being richer doesn't make another poorer (or pretty much so - new competition in primary resource markets might have that effect for highly concentrated national economies). Raising East Germany's living standards towards those of the West didn't beggar Mongolia through karmic resonance or by stealing their yaks (is it yaks?).
And if the "lump of stuff" fallacy is wrong, then the "unfair shares" argument has no bite. It might be right, proper or a moral necessity to give to help the poor of the world for a variety of reasons, but "that's North Korea's Wall Street - play nicely now" isn't one of them.
* I may be wrongly using these labels, but "throw away your dollars" greenbacks do seem to parallel the "lump of labour" fallacy in their belief that there's only so much stuff to go round, and whilst this is, in either a very far-sighted or a very short-term sense, true, it's a fact that's immediately distorted. Sure, in the next month, year or decade, there are limits to productive capacity that could be brought to bear**, and there are total limits to the resources of the earth. There's a chance that those total limits may be closer than they appear, though the current abundance of most materials suggests not. And so I'd say it's just about an argumentative fallacy, as it totally misdescribes the situation.
** Short-term arguments might make a moral case for redistribution if a) redistribution wouldn't increase production constraints (see Zimbabwe for a topical (and slightly unfair) rebuttal) and b) those constraints were rigid. But that's an argument for another day - my only passing comment would be that North and South Korea (or, more fairly, East and West Germany) should be compared when we're looking to see how that kind of massively interventionist approach works.
Sunday, August 04, 2002
"“We will do everything in our power to end attacks on Israeli civilians, on innocent men, women and children, in both Israel and in the occupied lands of the West Bank and Gaza. We make this declaration without seeking or demanding any prior conditions.
“Why now? “The bombings of the last few months have transformed your society. Those bombings horrified and angered your people, and sent your nation into despair. It did that to us. It sparked a rethinking of who we are as a people. It marked a shift in our perceptions — not of you, but of ourselves.
July 31, 2002
'An end to the rivers of blood'
The full text of the letter to Israel from the leaders of Fatah and Tanzim and their associated organisations
These are extracts taken from the letter to Israel from Fatah and Tanzim
“We understand . . . how you feel about us. We are a ‘gang’, and a ‘bunch of murderers’ . . . We ‘can’t be trusted’.
“But maybe, just this once, you should drop these prejudices and listen to what we say . . . We, the leaders of the most influential political movements among the Palestinian people; we, who represent those who, like you, have been orphaned and widowed; we who desire the comfort and security of not just a state but a home — we choose the future.
“We will do everything in our power to end attacks on Israeli civilians, on innocent men, women and children, in both Israel and in the occupied lands of the West Bank and Gaza. We make this declaration without seeking or demanding any prior conditions.
“Why now? “The bombings of the last few months have transformed your society. Those bombings horrified and angered your people, and sent your nation into despair. It did that to us. It sparked a rethinking of who we are as a people. It marked a shift in our perceptions — not of you, but of ourselves.
“For a time we were able to put this horror out of our minds . . . Our eyes look out to see what you are doing to us in our towns and villages every day, but the same eyes look in at the hardened hearts of our children. It may take a generation for us to teach our children a new way, to soothe their bitterness, to erase their hatred, to teach them that there is hope for the future. But we must begin. It is for them, for their future, that we have made this historic decision. The rivers of blood that have so embittered our people will be staunched. The suicide bombings will be brought to an end. By us. Now.” "
I can see how they'd be really pissed off about the use of an F-16 against a building in a civilian area, about the loss of innocent lives alongside the guilty, heck, about the killing of a militia chief. But what part of that challenges their revealation about suicide bombings (and other attacks on civilians, which appear implicitly included)? Such factors explain why the declaration wouldn't be made, but if it was genuinely what the authors thought, then they wouldn't explain an new wave of terrorist attacks against civilian targets.
If you really saw the "hardened hearts of [y]our children" and wanted to "teach them hope for the future", would you bomb a university? How much feigned reference to the sacred cows of the west was involved in this proposed declaration, and how much real belief? Hamas were at best unlikely to sign this, but it's improbable that Fatah are merely waiting for the right moment to speak out.
The text of the declaration is of a great moral revealation. The kind of awakening that isn't a bargaining chip. The kind of moral stance that the Palestinians need to take and follow to win the argument for a state of their own. The kind of position that isn't to be cast aside when misfortune strikes or in adversity. Sadly for the Middle East, it seems that the declaration-to-be just wasn't that kind of girl...
Here in the UK, giving a false address isn't an option, as your discounts come in the form of vouchers posted to you, rather than discounts on the door (though some other stores use straight-forward membership discounts. Under those circumstances, it's much harder to evade store information requests, though your demographic information can be "gibberised" through random answers. So when I shop the issue doesn't really arise - you either tell (most of) the truth and get discounts, or you don't and can't. (I generally have loyalty cards for the stores I use, but then lose them or forget to carry them around.)
"Latimes.com reserves the right to change this policy at any time. Please check this page periodically for changes. Your continued use of our site following the posting of changes to these terms will mean you accept those changes. Information collected prior to the time any change is posted will be used according to the rules and laws that applied at the time the information was collected."
In fact, except where I have absolutely no reason to trust a site, I generally provide pretty accurate information when asked, and trust to my own security settings to look after my privacy. But I can understand why other people might take a different attitude, especially as the US has less strict data processing regulation than the UK. And trust is a two-way street - if I knew a company had definitely misused information, or reserved the right to do so, I might be substantially more charry about dealing with them in an open and honest fashion..
* Questions for future "are you a warblogger?" quiz:
1) Before reading this question, could you spell "Volokh"?
2) Can you pronouce it?
3) Do you know how many of them there are, and which is which?
Burchill writes hate-filled bile most weeks. I tend to find it compulsive reading if I'm within reach of the Guardian. It's terrible, but, together with Biff cartoons, the Reader's Editor column and the Editor section, it's one of the things I head straight for each week. AC Grayling's column on concepts was another big draw, but sadly that's died a death. Much as the Guardian infuriates me at times, it has a few clever innovations (not Burchill) that are selling points. Though it still doesn't seem to have corrected my letter...
"Do you want to write a commentary piece?
About Observer Comment Extra, our exclusive online commentaries. Please email site editor Sunder Katwala at email@example.com with ideas for pieces."
As the explanatroy article says,
"While some of the Comment Extra pieces develop news stories which we are running in the newspaper, we will consider ideas for pieces on any topical subject. Comment pieces drawing on new reports, books, research and campaigns are welcomed: we are, where appropriate, pleased to link users on to related sites for more information."
Seems like an ideal opportunity to subvert the Observer from within to me - their own content blogged as its printed. Sunday's stories will often be pretty predictable by midweek - a debunking article written on Wednesday or Thursday would often turn out to be relevant to their main themes.
Obviously, that's a tongue-in-cheek "subvert", but there's an opportunity to get a lot of page views about something you care about, and to put a side of things that often isn't voiced in the Observer. Have fun.