Sunday, December 11, 2011

So long and thanks for all the comments.

I started this blog five years ago, late into high school and headed towards Tulane. I originally thought this was going to be about gaming and politics, but I soon found myself writing about race and Unitarianism at least as much as politics, and I wrote about gaming here all of once. I'm going to leave it up, in the grand tradition of nothing on the internet ever really going away, but for now it's done. It remains as an archive of my youthful speculation, with all the warts, rash decisions, embarrassingly naive decisions I wrote here left intact. I am still blogging, now with a narrower focus, over at wordpress.

Thanks for reading. It's been good.

That's All Folks by Scott Campbell from Purple Magazine on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The wars of the future will be the legacy of the austerity of the present

Half the fun of reading foreign policy wonks is that at times they feel like the hipsters of the commentariot; "Oh, sure, we're still involved in three wars, but c'mon, focusing on what we're doing right now? Sooooo last decade." It is this insistence upon forward-looking that most informed me as I read the following three articles.

The first, and most far-reaching, was John F. Cooper's assessment of the strategic importance Taiwan plays in the grand strategy of the United States. As long as Taiwan remains sovereign and supported by the American navy, then it will remain the primary focus of Chinese military power, much as (to use Cooper's analogy) the independent American Indian nations remained for a century the primary focus of US expansion and campaigning. As Cooper relates, if Taiwan were to fall, China will be able to project her power globally, through a navy that was no longer
“contained” by a proximate chain of islands extending southward from Japan, through the Ryukyu’s, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia."
What's fascinating about Cooper's piece is the emphasis it gives to preparing for and/or safeguarding against great power war as the primary goal for US strategy. Decades ago, this had been a given; throughout the Cold War many smaller wars were fought with the ultimate objective of making the situation favorable to the United States should a great power war break out. But since the fall of the USSR, the United States has had a clear and uncontested global reach but no similar singular focus. Part of Cooper's argument is that this has been possible because our probable global rival has been singularly focused on an enemy just off their shore. The wider implication of Cooper's piece, though, is that our military focus (and, explicitly in the piece, budget priorities) should guarantee our military strength against other great powers.

I read Cooper's article the same day that the New York Times published this editorial, about the experience of NATO in Libya. This was the first war undertaken by NATO where the United States was insistent upon taking a secondary role to the militaries of Canada and Europe. While Qaddafi's regime was ultimately toppled by the NATO-supported Libyan rebels, it was a success more guaranteed by the weakness of the opponent than the prowess of the Western forces involved. The editorial cites ammunition shortfalls and outdated technology as the genuine problems, and suggests more broadly that the combination of austerity measures during the economic downturn has only exacerbated a general trend in Europe of allowing the largess of the Pentagon to substitute for European defense spending. It ends with this condemnation
European leaders need to ask themselves a fundamental question: If it was this hard taking on a ragtag army like Qaddafi’s, what would it be like to have to fight a real enemy?
The nations of Europe, it appears, are unready for any war, and are notably unprepared for a great power war for the first time in centuries.

This is fine if one believes that the coming wars will not be symmetric ones. Such skeptics of major conflicts can point to the aughts most memorable strategist, who has spawned a whole school of thought focused on how big powers fight the little wars. Given the present balance of power, and cognizant of the last half-century of American warfare, this makes sense. But such a narrow focus has limitations. Spencer Ackerman writes
With the wars of the future looking likely to occur in sea, air, space and cyberspace, a generation of Army officers forged in counterinsurgency — critics call it a cult — will be challenged to adjust
The nature of wars that will be fought in the future remain a fortunately-unanswered question. But the defense priorities set now, in a time of austerity for the West, will profoundly shape the warfighting of the next decade and beyond.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Fetishizing the Peasant

Peasants into Frenchmen is a classic text in a niche field that hits at the very central problem of modernity: how does a nation convert its population from subsistence farmers into modern citizens? This problem is as old as the concept of citizen itself: it is easy to have a collective identity within a city, and urbanites have formed the early core of states since we have had states, and in many cases a dominating city has gone on to found or anchor empires and civilizations. There's a clear urban bent in history, which makes sense given that cities had the wealth and literacy to devote to writing history.

Outside the city, life for most people, throughout most of human history, has been very much the same: live in a village, grow as much as you can, hope the crops don't fail and the taxes aren't too high and that the neighbors don't raid, and then survive to do it all again next year. There is a simplicity to this, a romanticism, that emerges almost exclusively in urbanites at least three generations removed from having to live like this.

It is seemingly without any knowledge of this history and informed by romantic notions filtered through the modern environmental movement that articles like this are written. Subsistence farmers are, in the strictest sense, "locavores," but very rarely are they so by choice. It is, instead, a lifestyle adopted by necessity, or maintained when they are no seen to be no viable alternatives.

Pushing for development away from subsistence farming, maligned here as the specific failing of USAID programs in Afghanistan, has been the whole project of modernization for the last several hundred years. In The Great Transformation, economist Karl Polanyi documents the century of legal changes it took to provoke small-time farmers in England to give up their farms and take jobs elsewhere. The labor-intensive nature of agriculture has traditionally hindered nations in their attempts to pursue any other path of economic development, whether it be the command systems of Soviet Russia and Communist China or market economies of the West. Encouraging development in other directions is not about trying to destroy what is unique in Afghanistan, but is instead about understanding what the term development means.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Death of an Enemy

The gestation period for revenge is 9 years, 7 months, 20 days. Or for justice. Or for closure. However you read the death of Osama bin Laden, it took about twice as long as the Manhattan project to go from notion to completion. We messed it up once before - in November 2001, just two months after the attacks of September 11th, we failed to capture him in a battle at Tora Bora. We have kept a military presence in Afghanistan since then, with it escalating over the past several years into counterinsurgency against a resurgent foe. We went chasing other demons abroad, declared that we had found one in Iraq and embroiled ourselves in a regime change there as well. For just shy of a decade, the man who twice bombed the World Trade Center evaded capture, to the point that seven years after 9/11, prioritizing his capture became a presidential campaign promise. It became the stuff of far-ranging speculation (not to discredit these guys - their approach to the problem was both novel and damn close to accurate). And yet, here it is, the death of America's Most Wanted.

Other people have more interesting and informed accounts of what his death mean. Here's my favorite of the facty ones, in ten bullet points. Here's my favorite emotional reaction read, in lots of words. And here's my least favorite spot-on response, in 140 characters: "Recall, this is a huge operation, a huge cost (over $1 trillion since 9/11/01) to get an elderly man on dialysis in a small town in Pakistan"

The 9/11 attacks cost $500,000. That's chump change to pay if the goal, as it was stated in later years, was US bankruptcy. What bin Laden did was unquestionably an act of evil. But it was one that provoked something very much like an allergic reaction - in responding to one threat, the US spent over a trillion. We as a nation failed to adequately respond to the threat. Not that we didn't respond - we did, with excess and paranoia and jingoism and two wars, one relatively justified and one entirely superfluous. We surrendered civil liberties, made air travel a farcical exercise in security theater, and justified torture and indefinite detention of people who we maybe had evidence on. We ignored large swaths of the constitution and made ourselves less safe. The way we responded to 9/11 was all out of proportion. Hunting down the criminal took a year of intelligence work, the cooperation of Pakistan's government, and a strike team consisting of exceptional skilled men in boots on the ground.

What this means going forward comes from the writer at Transitionland with, I think, the best short statement of the impact this will have:
To be clear on Osama bin Laden's death: 1) I wish he had been captured alive. 2) His death isn't a blow to the Taliban, because his life was pretty irrelevant to the post-2001 Taliban. 3) For better or worse, bin Laden's death will be used to cement US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
This isn't really a moment about that future, though. This is a reconciliation with a long overdue past. In late September 2001, my uncle wondered "why are we focusing on getting the messenger, instead of getting the message?" I was 12 when this happened, and never particularly clear on the message we were supposed to get (was it that America must acknowledge bin Laden's demands? was it that we were responsible for generic capitalist unpleasant byproducts in the world at large that turn people against us?).

I like to think it was "maybe the US should stop explicitly supporting autocrats so that radicals direct their frustration with domestic politics outwards at us," which I like to think it was, and we did. It is still supremely satisfying to know that, at the very least, we have reached a moment of closure, if not exactly a moment of justice.

Amidst the immediately jubilant atmosphere of last night, a couple of friends, posting in various places, quoted the same line of scripture, which is especially fitting for the moment. "Rejoice not when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles. Proverbs 24:17"

This is a time of closure, a awareness that this worst moment of the last decade is, finally, over.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

One Part Fatigue, Two Parts Snark

It is apparently really, really hard to be democratic, and impossible to be successful as an elected democratic leader if your last name isn't Roosevelt and the year is anything past 1932. Or at least, that's the impression I get reading Stephen M. Walt's piece "What Hath Obama Wrought?" in which the sitting president's failure is plotted from... well, I'm not sure exactly.

He starts by claiming "[Republicans] will almost certainly pick up a lot of seats in Congress come November, which is the normal mid-term pattern after a big swing the other way." Which is true, but so irrelevant to his point that it risks undermining it. Presidents almost always lose support during midterm elections, barring something tragic that is seen as entirely beyond their control. To label this a failure of Obama's is to set the bar for presidential success during the first 18 months in office at "suffer 9/11, receive benefit of public sympathy." Which is impossible for any president to replicate (Exception: conspiracy theorists, chime in now!) So that's not a loss. That is dull, tried-and-true routine.

The next paragraph hits the Poli-Sci 101 (or AP government) level truism that voters care most about the economy. This is a fact! And he follows with the Poli-Sci 201 truism that "Voters don't care about the disasters-that-might-have-been-but-weren't." Also a fact! Voters have a very, very bad sense of perspective relative to presidents, and tend to punish them for it. Voters are sometimes selfish jerks, but they have to be because otherwise they'd start caring about things like foreign policy. This is why a minority party can, should they so desire, tank efforts of the majority to go as far as they need in rebuilding an economy, and be rewarded for it.

So if the economy isn't something the president can claim credit for (and he can't! avoiding econocolypse by steering the ship of state into recession harbor means you're still not at Candy Island and everyone is tired of how boring the cruise is; at least an iceberg would have spiced things up), what can the president claim? Foreign policy is totally his arena, so let's look at a highly selective list of foreign policy choices that voters might think about. (Side Note: did you know that the US operates embassies and, therefore, foreign policies in a fuckton of nations? Neither do most voters!)

So what foreign policies do voters care about that the president, as head of state, will be judged by? Iraq, Iran, Israel-Palestine, and Afghanistan. Oh, goody.


Walt is perfectly right in saying that Iraq is Bush's fault, and Obama doesn't deserve to be blamed for it. But apparently the one Bush success in a steaming pile of everything gone wrong was the surge, and Walt sees that being undone. Perhaps it is! Over at the Atlantic, there's a handy checklist of things the surge has failed to do. Note that of the 4 items on the list, only one is a US action. Which is withdrawal. Which is what the voter cares about most anyway. Also, they throw in that al Qaeda in Iraq has been mostly decapitated, which is about as explicit a US success as you can claim (we needlessly arrived in a hostile environment, watched the country fight through a civil war, decided to start pulling out during a shaky peace, and all the while casually defeated the enemy whose whole existence is built around our destruction, in a nation where they had the potential for ample support? I'm declaring V-aQ-in-Iraq day TOMORROW.) Also, maybe the surge wasn't even the kind of thing that could have success.

Omar Khdhayyir over at gorilla guides says of the surge: "it fit into a series of converging and violent dynamics on the ground, coinciding expediently with a shift in the balance of power. That is what the empirical evidence shows." Maybe this has something to do with the fact that in insurgencies, as Abu Muqawama said, "actions of local actors matter more than those of external forces." Those 3 items on the Atlantic list that show the surge has failed? Those are all Iraqis being unable to reach political settlement, despite the efforts of the US to create a climate in which they can do that. So Obama, here, will get knocked for the internal politics of a foreign nation not lending themselves to compromise. Awesome.

(Sidenote: Walt is upset that we'll leave a "government that is sympathetic to Iran" in Iraq? Iran and Iraq fought the largest conventional war of the last 30 years against each other, and that conflict itself convinced Saddam to go for Kuwait. I think it's safe to say that if they can make friends, the whole stability of the region will be less in jeopardy.)


I stand by my assertion that, if the 2008 election had gone the other way, US tanks would have rolled towards Tehran during 2009's "Green Revolution." Why do I say this? Call it a fucking hunch.

Honestly, I think Obama can borrow entirely from Woodrow Wilson and campaign on a "he kept us out of the war" platform in 2012, and win.


"Two-States" talk, that perpetual project of US presidents from Nixon onwards, has suffered an awkward pause in dialogue, and this will frustrate voters at home. Probably true, but it's the most predictable of frustrations - talks have halted every single time an election has brought a hardliner into power in one of the relevant countries. This first happened when Nasser accidentally started a war in 1967 because the US and the USSR wouldn't facilitate talks, and has continued onwards as Egypt regained territory but abandoned claims to Gaza, as Begin proclaimed the idea of "Greater Israel," as Jordan lost and then relinquished its claim to the West Bank, as the Palestinian Liberation Organization moved from exiles in Algeria to an old man under house arrest in Ramallah, as Israel elected another former general, as the PLO became the Palestinian Authority, and as Hamas decided to seize power in Gaza after Abbas and Olmert's talks proved fruitless. Really, Netanyahu and the continued existence of Hamas rule in Gaza fit the pattern of slow moves toward progress falling short every other election cycle. Soon enough, after a stalemate here, Israel will elect a moderate who will probably loosen restrictions on Gaza, and Hamas will have to show itself just as capable of compromise as it is of bombastic defiance. But that's an election cycle or two from now.

Obama will get a little bit of heat for this, as the respective Israel and Palestine lobbies are long-suffering. But the staggeringly slow pace of progress here at all times means that this is just a given, and the amount of votes lost nationwide will probably be in the dozens.


Let me start by saying that the wikileaks information doesn't reveal anything beyond the names of afghans the US has worked with, and the fact that a bureaucracy at war generates paperwork. In 92,000 documents, there is enough evidence to cherry pick every single perspective that can be written on the war. So to claim that the information in it "doesn't matter" and then use it to justify your already established opinion is sheer laziness and shitty journalism.

So what is happening in Afghanistan? Lots. Like the high success rate of embedded 12-man special forces teams in facilitating dispute resolution that doesn't involve adding or using guns. But there is a lot that isn't going well. Karzai protected his office at the expense of ruining elections. This is both a) an act of local agency and b) insanely frustrating. And that's been the biggest failure of Afghanistan since Obama was elected, which is, again, something he doesn't have control over.

But if Obama's commitment to Afghanistan is problematic in the eyes of the American voter (and it is! kind of!), there is no way he could have not committed to fighting the faction that housed al Qaeda without suffering an equally negative blow to his ratings.

Remember the 1990s, when the democrats tried to play humanitarian with the military, got black hawk down, then played cautious, got Rwanda, and then didn't really know what to do in Bosnia and Kosovo so we had cluster bombs in villages missing Serbian tanks and almost risked a war with Russia? That sucked. As the first Democrat commander-in-chief since then, Obama has handled the wars he inherited fairly well. Focusing explicitly on the nation most closely identified with the actual attack on US soil wasn't something he could have chosen not to do.

Does this matter?

Walt seems to think that the cautious approach Obama has pursued in his foreign policy will turn off voters, who will see it as largely unchanged from the second Bush term. That's sheer craziness - voters haven't made a real distinction between the diplomacy of the Bush terms, and still associate him with pre-emption and two long stupid wars we didn't really need to fight. Obama's caution will be seen as distinct from that, and because it is uninteresting to be cautious, voters won't care about it. Which makes the whole article (and, um, this critique) unnecessary. Voters are thinking about other things.

They are thinking that there isn't food on the table and a British company has ruined the gulf for the next 50 years. They'll hate Obama for that.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Fantasy Wargaming: Nuclear Weapons in Videogames

When I started this blog, I initially wanted to write about gaming. That's the reason for the "plastic" in the title. That my attentions went elsewhere are unsurprising - I play less games than I did before I started college, and I suddenly had all these new exciting things to write about, like Nukes and Iran and elections and rights and things. So I'm really excited to find an intersection between my dorktastic hobby and my dorktastic studies.

Nuclear weapons feature in many, many videogames, and a friend of mine had expressed concern on how their presence in videogames relates to public perception of their effects. Games writ large are too diverse to treat as one mass, so I figured I'd start by breaking down the ways nuclear weapons feature in games.

1. Gameplay mechanic itself
  • Missile Defense
  • Balance of Power
In Missile Defense, nuclear war is abstracted to the point that a successful nuclear missile strike leads directly to defeat. Consequences of such a strike don't need to be more descriptive than game loss, because in a game, that's enough. Not being able to play any more is as deadly as the abstraction can get. (I haven't played DEFCON or Balance of Power, but from their description they seem similar.)

2. Narrative Device (Modern warfare, Metal Gear Solid)
  • Modern Warfare (First Person Shooter, FPS)
  • Modern Warfare 2 (FPS)
  • Metal Gear Solid (FPS)
  • Frontlines: Fuel of War (FPS)
  • The Ace Combat series (Flight Simulator)
  • Trinity (Text adventure)
  • Nuclear Strike (Shooter)
  • Metal Gear series (FPS)
  • Tom Clancy's EndWar (RTS)
  • Warhammer 40,000 (Minature wargame/RTS)
  • Warzone 2100 (RTS)
  • Syphon Filter series (3rd person shooter)
  • Splinter Cell: Conviction (FPS)
  • others
The size of this category should be unsurprising - since 1945, nuclear weaponry, nuclear strikes, and post-nuclear wastelands have all featured heavily in fiction. Games are, to a large extent, a story-telling medium, and the first-person shooter is a narrative vehicle, as a character follows along and plays through scripted experiences. Plots in these games include nuclear weapons often as a climactic moment in the story, mid-plot twist, or prologue which creates a setting different from the present day but featuring similar weapons. That's commonly done in every medium - Orwell uses a nuclear war as premise for the stalemate society he depicts in 1984. The same needs-of-narrative fuel RTS's, and all of the above have nuclear weapons as plot-points but not in game weapons.

3. Weapon available to the player
  • Starcraft (RTS)
  • Empire Earth (RTS)
  • the Civilization series (Turn-Based Strategy, TBS)
  • World in Conflict (FPS)
  • War Front: Turning Point (RTS)
  • Supreme Commander (RTS)
  • Spore (RTS, at least for the stages in which players can use nukes)
  • Mercenaries 2 (FPS)
  • Metal Gear Solid 3 (FPS)
  • Rise of Nations (RTS)
  • Ratchet and Clank (third person shooter)
  • the Unreal series (FPS)
The games here again are divided between strategy and shooter, and the way they depict Nuclear weapons is different. In Ratchet and Clank, the Unreal series, and Metal Gear Solid 3, a nuclear rifle appears, usually as the games' BFG. This use is both entirely unrealistic and fitting within the nature of these games as fantasy. For Unreal, that fantasy is FPS combat isolated of plot, meaning, or worlds. For Ratchet and Clank, it's a fantasy galaxy, inhabited with nonhuman creatures, where the main characters are a robot and a cat-alien. In Metal Gear Solid 3, the weapon is a doomsday machine that is part of the plot. The nuke rifle is a fantasy allowed by videogames.

In the World in Conflict and Mercenaries 2, tactical nuclear strikes are an unlockable weapon. These games depict small nuclear weapons as not only viable, but as an option that would be similar in usage to a predator drone (to emphasize this effect in Modern Warfare 2 predators are unlockable for much the same purpose).

In the RTS games listed, tactical nuclear weapons are available. In Starcraft, they are the superweapon of the humans against both a horde of buglike aliens and another more advanced alien race. In Empire Earth, nuclear bombers can be built from WWII onwards, and while they are a deadly attack, the area and permanence of the blast is limited in keeping with the aims of game balance. War Front is a science-fictional retelling of WWII, and nuclear weapons are again used within the context of that conflict. In Spore, both city- and planet-destroying nuclear weapons are available. In Supreme Commander, nuclear weapons are fired from silos and deal damage in a smaller area than one would expect. In Rise of Nations, nuclear weapons can be used, though anti-missile lasers can be purchased and a missile defense shield can be researched which protects one's entire territory from nuclear strikes. Rise of Nations also has an Armageddon clock the limits the total number of nuclear weapons that can be fired before the game ends in defeat for everyone. Civilization, though not a real-time strategy game, also offers nuclear weapons that can destroy cities, and with it's more advanced resource system, can slowly have the world die out from after-effects of nuclear weapons.

4. Some combination thereof
  • Fallout series
The Fallout series is set after a total nuclear war, and cold-war culture is the substance of the games. It also features, in Fallout 3, a tactical nuclear rifle.


So what does it mean to have nuclear weapons be part of videogame culture? For the most part, it is no different than having nuclear weapons in fiction, in movies, in comic books, and in song. Sometimes, they will be treated with proper understanding, sometimes they'll be used as a cheap plot accellerant, and more often than not they'll used somewhere between. This is fine, because that's the state of our cultural understanding of nuclear weapons right now.

Games could make a strong statement about tactical nuclear weapons, and on the surface they appear to do so. After all, games, more than any other medium, feature small nuclear strikes. But this isn't really an argument for the use of more nuclear weapons - this is a constraint of game design. When games feature realistic, all-destroying nuclear strikes, they are exclusively plot devices/scripted events, and happen outside the control of the player. When players are given control, nuclear weapons are small, because, and this is important, players will be using these against other players online, and instant-game-ending shots don't make for popular or enjoyable games.

Nuclear weapons could be depicted realistically, but if history has shown us anything, the more powerful a nuclear weapon is, the less likely people are to want it used against themselves. And, in the games-design universe, the certainty that players will use a horribly destructive weapon in a setting where consequences are low translates directly to scaling-down weapons so that they are a balanced component of gameplay. It's not realistic, but it's also very clearly not reality.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The intersection of faith and politics

Religion and Politics seem to be about where all my interests overlap. I've more experience in church governance than anything else outside of school. At school, I'm most fascinated studying Turkey and Iran, which are both outliers for the role of religion within their government. My advisor has made his work studying Western Europe, and the consensus state that failed tom emerge in 1918 but came about after 1945; a consensus marked clearly by the inclusion of religious parties in many mixed-confessional nations. The role of confessional political parties in post-war Europe is significant enough that a case has been made attributing the rise of fascism to a lack of meaningful participation in politics by the deeply religious. It is an intersection so rich that I go from idle musing to wonkish details in seconds.

In academia, this works out well: comparing the struggles that led Europe to its mostly secular public sphere coexisting with the occasional state-sponsored church is a valuable reference point for understanding similar the church and state relations happening elsewhere in the world today. Very good, but very niche.

The more immediate intersection of religion and politics, and the impetus behind this post, was their role in the politics of the US today. On twitter, many friends of mine, whose opinions I value, argued that if churches take political stances, they should lose their non-profit status. I mentioned that churches can lose tax-exemption for endorsing candidates, but this only slightly dodged the issue. What matters is not so much that a tax-exempt organization doesn't support specific people - it matters that they both get to be tax-exempt and engage so actively in the public sphere.

At the core of my friends' distaste for politically-vocal religion are images like this one:

From Overcompensating: "Here is a picture of a group of Americans who just found out they have successfully denied equal rights to another group of Americans." That is, to put it lightly, disgusting. The categorical denial of rights to a group of people is something abhorrent to the ideals of most Americans'.

It's deplorable activity, for which the correct response is disgust, distaste, and shaming. But these people should never be forcibly excluded from politics. If we exclude them, we exclude the very idea the morality can be based on religious experiences/teachings, and we are left with secularism alone to inform our collective values. There's an argument to be made for that - secularism is the shared values of everyone sans religion, and in a world where multiple religious interpretations exist, removing religion altogether has a lot to say for it. Another large part of the European consensus involves having a forcibly secular public sphere.

But there are problems with that. In France, the secular public sphere has invaded the realm of personal choice and religious practice, where most notably muslim women are forbidden from wearing veils in public. Rather than allowing for a shared society of shared values, that's oppressive. And in England, there has been controversy over the relation between the country's historic legal system and the values of some of its residents. This lead the Archbishop of Canterbury to claim that Shari'a law in the UK will be inevitable, and led a Tory shadow minister to say in response:
"We must ensure people of all backgrounds and religions are treated equally before the law. Freedom under the law allows respect for some religious practices. But let's be clear: all British citizens must be subject to British laws developed through parliament and the courts."
While the debate is framed as between religious law and secular law, the religious context and values that formed and informed british law go unmentioned. What is ostensibly secular law tends to reflect the values of protestants fairly closely. In this case, trying to keep the religious out in the name of secularism is similar to the nativists of the 1890s-1920s trying to keep southern Europeans out of the USA in the name of "Nativism". It can be done, sure, but it's hypocritical, and it assumes as normal a state that was itself the result of centuries of change.

But even more important than the implicit religious values that informed secularism to the inclusion and protection of religious institutions as tax exempt is the role of religious activism. The easy example here is the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s in the United States, and it's one of the most meaningful as well. Nationwide religious associations motivated and coordinated activists on an issue that was as explicitly political as it was anything else. Religious groups also protested and argued against civil right in the South, too; even my Unitarian church suffered a split thanks to disagreement over the civil rights movement. But the civil rights movement could not have acted as it did, and had the success it did, if it did so without the religious values that enabled it to both challenge the status quo and to call upon the US to live up to its own ideals.

And then there is today, where the appearance of religious activism is of one march to quash rights after another. Certainly, that religious activism is happening, but it is happening because conservative religion is generally about quashing rights anyway, and while I can accept individuals voluntarily taking on religious restrictions on behavior, it will always be hard for me to accept forcing such restrictions on others in the name of religion. But today's religious activism is not exclusively activism on behalf of the right.

Today, at All Souls Church in DC, Mayor Fenty signed into law a bill granting marriage equality to gay and lesbian couples. This is the second-to-last step (a confirmation by the national legislature is next) of a long campaign, spearheaded by the religious community of DC and helped by the Unitarian Universalist Association's Standing on the Side of Love campaign. Here was religion acting inconcert with secular society to better secure the rights of all citizens, and this was the result of seeing marriage equality as not just a secular concern, but as one with a religious mandate behind it. This activism in specific is crucial to the purpose of our nation, and having religious activism as a valid means of expression, as a protected means of expression, is vital the vibrancy of our democracy. And crucial to all of this: we must let religious organizations be invested in this world. If we take that away, if we make it hard for religious groups to engage with the nation in which they exist, we lose the participation of part of the population (itself a problem in democracy), and we lose the ability for religion to remind us of our higher values and nobler virtues.

The problem has nothing to do with the religious being active in politics. The problem has everything to do with *which* religious are active in politics, and I for one prefer the participation of all to the exclusion of any.