Thursday, September 30, 2004

Watching the Beauty Contest

Assessing the kind of president a man would be on the basis of a debate performance is like judging the kind of wife and mother a woman would be on the basis of a beauty contest. Whatever charms she dazzles us with in her swimsuit are really quite irrelevant to the judgment we have to make, and it would only be a callow young man, in thrall to his hormones, who would think otherwise.

The audience will sit on tenterhooks tonight waiting for one or the other speaker to make some trivial "gaffe" and then seize upon it as a reason to vote for the other guy. It's a ludicrous exercise. It debases our democracy and insults the intelligence of its citizens. In their promos for the debate the networks have been replaying what they consider to be the highlights, the salient moments, of past debates. They wax nostalgic over Nixon's heavy beard, Kennedy's attractiveness, Reagan's "there you go again" and his witticism about Mondale's "youth and inexperience," Bentson's ad hominem attack against Quayle, Bush '41's glance at his watch, Gore's oafish sighing and striding across the stage to try to stare down Bush, Jr., and so on.

These are the things people remember from past debates, but with the exception of Gore's buffoonery, perhaps, none of these events tells us what kind of leader a man would be. They may tell us whether the man is likeable or not, but there's no demonstrated connection between likeability and presidential ability. Both Clinton and Reagan were likeable, but you can find plenty of people who would argue that Clinton was a terrible president and probably just as many could be found to argue that Reagan was.

Aside from being an exercise in media auto-eroticism the debates do little more than satisfy the public's desire to turn everything into a spectacle or a game. Who will "win" the debate? It doesn't matter. The winner is whoever is most attractive to the audience. Viewers will not score these debates as if they were really forensics competitions, or as if they were genuine attempts to get at some deep political truth. Indeed, it wouldn't matter if they did because they're not going to vote for the guy who is the technical winner anyway unless he happens coincidentally to be the most articulate, or the best looking, or the most charming, or the wittiest, or the most relaxed guy on the stage.

Ninety five percent of the people watching the debates have already decided for whom they will vote, and they will not be swayed by anything that is said by Kerry or Bush. The other five percent, in an ideal world, should be dissuaded from voting at all. If they haven't decided by now what could they possibly be waiting for? Whatever it is, it can't be substantive because anything of importance that we're going to learn about these two gentlemen has been out there in the public arena for months or years. They can only be waiting for some superficial word or gesture that would rationalize a vote for one of the contenders. If that's the purpose of having these debates, however, to give a handful of people who couldn't care less about their responsibilities as citizens some trivial reason to cast their vote for one or the other candidate, then we're wasting our time.

Even so, I guess I'll watch it. Sometimes even a beauty contest can be interesting.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Fighting the Global War On Terror

Mark Helprin of the Claremont Institute offers some excellent advice on what the U.S. needs to do to prevail in the war on terror. In an extensive analysis of what it will take to win this struggle Helprin claims that:

Neither the party in power nor the opposition has awakened to what must be done or what may happen if it is not. Neither party, nor the Left, nor the Right, nor the civilian defense establishment, nor the highest ranking military, nor the Congress, nor the people themselves, has been willing, in a war not of our own making, adequately to prepare for war, to declare war, rigorously to define the enemy, to decide upon disciplined and intelligent war aims, to subjugate the economy to the common defense, or even to endorse the most elemental responsibilities of government, such as controlling the borders of and entry to our sovereign territory.

Later in the piece he says this:

[T]he borders must be controlled absolutely, as is the right of every sovereign nation. It is hardly impossible and would demand no more than adding to the Border Patrol a paramilitary force of roughly 30,000, equipped with vehicles, helicopters, unmanned aerial drones, fences, and sensors. Crowded and slow entry points should be expanded to provide quick and thorough inspection by traditional methods and inspection to the limits of technological advance where traditional methods are impossible, as in searching the interstices of vehicles, or packed cargo containers, for nuclear or chemical warfare material. The sea frontiers can be secured if we undertake to supplement the Coast Guard with a few dozen high endurance cutters, 100 coastal patrol vessels, 50 long-range reconnaissance aircraft, 100 helicopters, and the appropriate additional personnel; and if the navy, by expansion of its anti-submarine assets, fixed and afloat, guarantees against submarine infiltration.

Helprin has much more to say on the matter of what we should be doing in the GWOT and how we should be doing it. His suggestions are certainly thoughtful and merit full consideration. Let's hope the Bush administration is listening.

First Things

The August/September First Things contains much that is excellent, but three articles are particularly good. The first, by Stephen Barr, is entitled here.

Two other pieces are also very much worth your attention. In Capital Punishment: The Case For Justice the inestimable Jay Budzizewski makes a powerful argument for the inherent justice of the death penalty. Some excerpts:

So weighty is the duty of justice that it raises the question whether mercy is permissible at all. By definition, mercy is punishing the criminal less than he deserves, and it does not seem clear at first why not going far enough is any better than going too far. We say that both cowardice and rashness miss the mark of courage, and that both stinginess and prodigality miss the mark of generosity; why do we not say that both mercy and harshness miss the mark of justice? Making matters yet more difficult, the argument to abolish capital punishment is an argument to categorically extend clemency to all those whose crimes are of the sort that would be requitable by death.

The questions we must address are therefore three: Is it ever permissible for public authority to give the wrongdoer less than he deserves? If it is permissible, then when is it permissible? Is it permissible to grant such mercy categorically?

The balance of the article is a fascinating and erudite attempt to answer those questions.

The equally distinguished Robert Bork makes a case for providing marriage with constitutional shelter in The Necessary Amendment. Judge Bork opens his essay with these words:

Within the next two or three years, the Supreme Court will almost certainly climax a series of state court rulings by creating a national constitutional right to homosexual marriage. The Court's ongoing campaign to normalize homosexuality-creating for homosexuals constitutional rights to special voting status and to engage in sodomy-leaves little doubt that the Court has set its course for a right to marry. This is but one of a series of cultural debacles forced upon us by judges following no law but their own predilections. This one, however, will be nuclear. As an example of judicial incontinence, it will rival Roe v. Wade, and will deal a severe and quite possibly fatal blow to two already badly damaged but indispensable institutions-marriage and the rule of law in constitutional interpretation.

The only real hope of heading off the judicial drive to constitutionalize homosexual marriage is in the adoption of an amendment to the Constitution.

He makes a good case. Conservatives are in a bit of a bind on this issue because they tend to be loath to tinker with the constitution. On the other hand they value tradition and perhaps no tradition is more highly esteemed than the tradition of marriage. How then can this valuable tradition be protected from complete dissolution without amending the constitution. It appears that legislative remedies are inadequate as they can easily be overturned by a single unsympathetic judge who deems any restriction of the marriage laws to be an unconstitutional infringement on the right of individuals to marry whomever they wish. That leaves conservatives like Bork with only two options: Either acquiesce to the Zeitgeist and watch homosexual marriage become a constitutional entitlement or amend the constitution now to define marriage as exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

Some ask why we should care if marriage is extended to homosexuals. How, we are asked, are we effected by an expansion of civil rights to include all citizens? A local radio talk show host said the other day that homosexual marriage doesn't affect him in the slightest and the rest of us should keep our religious views to ourselves.

In other words, if we think homosexual marriage is a good thing we should promote it in the public square, but if we think it is a bad thing then we should keep quiet about it. According to this gentleman, the only reasons one could possibly have for thinking that gay marriage is "bad" are religious reasons. Aside from the reply that the only reasons one could have for thinking that anything is bad in the moral sense are religious, one might also point out that whether one is religious or not, if he wishes to preserve heterosexual marriage and the family as we know it, changing our understanding of marriage makes the task several orders of magnitude more difficult.

As Viewpoint has argued before, once we change the definition of marriage from one man and one woman to include two men or two women we no longer have any non-arbitrary basis whatsoever for restricting marriage to just two people, or even to people. Proponents of gay marriage tend to scoff at this concern but to scoff is not to refute. If there are no rational grounds for limiting marriage to two people or to require that the blissful union involve only people it will be a mere matter of time before these conventions are challenged in the courts and when they are they'll be unsustainable. Marriage will come to mean whatever we want it to and at that point it will cease to mean much of anything at all. At that point marriage will be effectively dead.

If we agree with Bork that marriage is worth preserving then it seems that he's also correct that a constitutional amendment is, like some forms of surgery, an unpleasant but absolutely necessary measure to preserve the health of our society.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Winners Are Optimists

David Petraeus on Iraq's progress is an effective counter to the doom and gloom of the Kerryites. Petraeus is the commander of the Multinational Security Transition Command in Iraq and, among many other things, he says this:

[T]here are reasons for optimism. Today approximately 164,000 Iraqi police and soldiers (of which about 100,000 are trained and equipped) and an additional 74,000 facility protection forces are performing a wide variety of security missions. Equipment is being delivered. Training is on track and increasing in capacity. Infrastructure is being repaired. Command and control structures and institutions are being reestablished.

Within the next 60 days, six more regular army and six additional Intervention Force battalions will become operational. Nine more regular army battalions will complete training in January, in time to help with security missions during the Iraqi elections at the end of that month.

Iraqi National Guard battalions have also been active in recent months. Some 40 of the 45 existing battalions - generally all except those in the Fallujah-Ramadi area - are conducting operations on a daily basis, most alongside coalition forces, but many independently. Progress has also been made in police training. In the past week alone, some 1,100 graduated from the basic policing course and five specialty courses. By early spring, nine academies in Iraq and one in Jordan will be graduating a total of 5,000 police each month from the eight-week course, which stresses patrolling and investigative skills, substantive and procedural legal knowledge, and proper use of force and weaponry, as well as pride in the profession and adherence to the police code of conduct.

There will be more tough times, frustration and disappointment along the way. It is likely that insurgent attacks will escalate as Iraq's elections approach. Iraq's security forces are, however, developing steadily and they are in the fight. Momentum has gathered in recent months. With strong Iraqi leaders out front and with continued coalition - and now NATO - support, this trend will continue. It will not be easy, but few worthwhile things are.

There are a couple of thoughts which come to mind when reading this article. First, it seems evident that time is on the side of the coalition. The longer things go, the more trained forces the Iraqis will be able to deploy against the terrorists in Fallujah and elsewhere and the less of a threat they will be. The worst thing we can do at this point is to pull out.

Second, no great thing has ever been accomplished by those who are always looking for reasons to justify their belief that it can't be done. Great deeds require men with vision and a positive spirit. They require leaders with a "can-do" mentality, men who see the goal and have the stamina, strength, and courage to pull the rest of us with them to that objective. Winners are optimists. They are cheerful and confident in the rightness of what they are about.

Senator Kerry offers us nothing but retreat, criticism, defeatism, and the politics of pessimism. According to him everything we're doing is wrong. We are, he asseverates, fighting the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, in the wrong way. Such an attitude certainly does not inspire our troops to strive for successful completion of their mission. It only discourages, disheartens, and demoralizes the people who hear him. His gloomy negativism makes him the wrong man to serve as our commander-in-chief in these momentous times.

The Politics of Paranoia

Massachussetts Senator Ted Kennedy has repeatedly made the claim that we are becoming less and less safe from terror attacks on our homeland. We keep hearing this assertion from all sorts of people in the opposition party but the question one wishes someone would ask the senator and anyone else who makes this fatuous claim is: How do you know that what you're telling us is, in fact, true? What is the metric by which Senator Kennedy can descry an increasing probability of a terror strike in the U.S.? Is it that he, like so many others in his party, believes that any assertion critical of the President, no matter how incredible or outrageous, is self-validating?

Of course, claims like these are low risk/high yield investments because there's no way they can be falsified. If there is a terror strike Kennedy and his votaries will shriek and howl about how they warned us that it was coming, and if there is no attack, well, they will assure us, it's on its way, and Bush is doing nothing to stop it. Either way, there's no price to pay for their reckless dishonesty. Indeed, it's possible that by continually shouting to the world that we are in a pitiful state of unpreparedness, the senator and his allies may well be emboldening the Islamists to attempt an attack that they might not otherwise have risked.

At any rate, these sorts of unsupported allegations are rhetorical parries directed at morons. The Democrats have decided that they will say, and perhaps do, whatever they think an intellectually uncritical public will accept. They're putting out so many baseless charges about the administration's "secret plans" to do dastardly harm to virtually every constituency the Dems can think of that the Republicans are finding it impossible to refute them all. There are "secret plans" to deprive African-Americans of their right to vote, to draft young people, to strip away social security from old people, just to name a few, and now Kerry reveals to us the administration's "secret plan" to take away subsidies from Wisconsin dairy farmers.

Perhaps we'll soon be hearing that Dick Cheney "secretly" had Halliburton pilots fly the planes into the WTT on 9/11 in order to boost the administration's poll numbers. One wonders in astonishment how Senator Kerry has come to be privy to the inner machinations of the Republican party. How does he uncover all these "secret plans"? Maybe Bush should have made Kerry head of the CIA when George Tenent resigned.

Of course, incessant assurances of "secret plans" to hurt this or that group of people is the politics of paranoia, and it's quite contemptible. The Democrat party, however, has long ago ceased to care how much it debases the American political process or how foul their allegations are against their opponents. For the left there are no moral constraints as most people understand them. For them the highest good is to win and regain power. Anything which achieves this goal is morally justified. The end of securing power warrants the application of whatever means are necessary.

If the voting public rewards their conduct with victory in November it will ensure that these tactics become standard fare in our elections, and in the long term it will have a severely corrosive effect on our democracy. These people don't deserve to win for a number of reasons, but the fact that they find such slimy tactics so agreeable to their character is surely foremost among them.

Monday, September 27, 2004

What is a Conservative?

In this election season it's not uncommon to hear the ideological labels "conservative" and "liberal" used to describe either an individual or a particular policy position. Since a lot of people may be unclear as to what these terms mean we thought it might be useful to offer a thumbnail sketch on what it is people are referring to when they use the word "conservative". Perhaps later we'll do something similar for the term "liberal".

There are at least four fields or arenas where the labels conservative and liberal are applied: Foreign policy, economics, social policy, and religion. Many people are conservative in some of these and liberal in others. Few people are uniformly one or the other so it behooves us to know, when someone is identified as a conservative, exactly what area of life he is considered to be conservative in.

It also should be pointed out that the ideological spectrum has shifted to the left over the past 100 years so that what is conservative today would in some cases have been considered liberal in the 19th century. Thus, to add to our confusion, people who are considered modern conservatives are sometimes said to be classical liberals. That is, they embrace the values of political and individual liberty advanced by liberals of the 18th and 19th century.

So what does one who calls himself a conservative believe? The foundational principle of conservatism is individual freedom. Conservatives tend to be in favor of small, decentralized government, low taxes and spending, and minimal governmental interference in our economic and personal lives. They believe that excessively high taxes are not only a violation of one's right to keep his own property but are also economically counterproductive.

Conservatives maintain that high taxes are counterproductive for this reason: The more money people have in their pockets the more they will save and spend and both of these activities are good for the economy. The more money people save the more money that is available for businesses and home and automobile buyers to borrow and therefore the lower interest rates will be. The more money people spend, the more money businesses earn and the more jobs that are created. The higher the earnings business enjoys, and the more people who are employed, the more taxes that are paid. Thus lowering taxes actually increases the tax revenues taken in by the government.

High taxes, on the other hand, have the opposite effect. They depress spending and saving and reduce the rate of job creation. This increases poverty and accomplishes nothing good except to allow people who resent the wealthy to feel good about taking their money.

The conservative emphasis on individual freedom and small, unintrusive government underlies their support for giving parents the right to send their children to whichever schools they wish. It also accounts for the conservatives' desire to privatize social security. They want the people who earn the money to have the freedom to decide for themselves how they will provide for their senior years, and they oppose what they see as a government sponsored pyramid scheme that passes the obligation to pay for social security benefits onto future generations.

Conservatives also tend to see human nature as inherently sinful or flawed. They believe that, although society should maximize individual freedom, it needs to balance liberty with the need to maintain a healthy moral environment for families to thrive in. Society needs to erect fences around human appetite to keep people from shedding the tenuous moral leashes which enable us to live together in community. Thus conservatives prize free speech, but believe that some speech, like anything taken too far, or too broadly interpreted, can be harmful to society. Thus the right to freedom of expression needs to be balanced by the right to raise one's children in a psychologically and morally healthy culture.

Conservatives, furthermore, tend to advocate a strong military which should be employed only in defense of our national interest. Many conservatives opposed the peace-keeping missions in Bosnia and Haiti in the nineties because they could see no national interest at stake. Many also opposed the war in Iraq, though not the war in Afghanistan, for the same reason.

This is one of the differences between "paleo" conservatives and "neo" conservatives. "Neo-cons" are much more willing to use American power in defense of those who cannot defend themselves. Paleo-cons would argue that we have no national interest in Sudan, for example, so we should do nothing more than use diplomatic and economic levers to effect change there. Neo-cons would argue that we should not stand by and allow people to be slaughtered if we can prevent it. We should do whatever we can to help those people, and if that includes the application of military force then we should not shrink from such a measure. "Paleos" tend to be militarily isolationist while "neos" tend to be more willing to intervene around the world on behalf of the poor and oppressed.

Conservatives also maintain that human rights need to be grounded in the transcendent, i.e. God. If there is no transcendent source of our rights then there are no rights at all. There are just arbitrary words on paper (See here for a fuller treatment of this topic). For this reason, it is less common to find atheists in conservative ranks than it is to find them among liberals who tend to see human rights as somehow inherent in persons.

Conservatives tend to hold, or at least support, traditional values and religious beliefs and oppose major structural change when undertaken just to accommodate current cultural, social or political fashion. They will, therefore, tend to oppose gay marriage, easy divorce, abortion on demand, and attempts to purge the public square of religious influence (for example, removing God from the pledge of allegiance).

They also tend to be strict constructionists with respect to interpretation of the constitution. The constitution, in their view, is not a document which can be stretched to mean whatever a handful of justices think it should mean. Conservatives believe that the constitution should be interpreted in the light of the intentions of those who wrote it. This leads them to oppose some gun control laws, which they see as an infringement of the second ammendment and to oppose the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision which overturned the laws prohibiting abortion in every state in the union and for which they can find no constitutional warrant.

Conservatives are strong believers in personal accountability and consequently tend to favor tough enforcement of laws and serious punishment for serious crime. Their belief in personal responsibility combined with their conviction that government should be decentralized and unobtrusive leads them to be skeptical of the efficacy of many government welfare programs. Their objection to these has been primarily that historically they provide relief to people but require no accountability from the recipient and don't really help people in the long run. Indefinite relief with no accountability or reciprocation nurtures vices which tend to perpetuate the very poverty government wishes to eliminate.

It's probably fair to classify President Bush as a conservative or neo-conservative. He certainly fits this identification with respect to his positions on national defense, the constitution, and religion. He's somewhere in the middle of the ideological spectrum economically, favoring low taxes but indulging in high government spending, a combination that earns him criticism from both conservatives, who are aghast at the high spending, and liberals, who deplore low tax rates, especially if they apply to the wealthy.

On social issues Bush tends to be conservative in his stance on life issues like abortion and stem cell research, as well as on protecting marriage. He receives a lot of criticism for his immigration policy, but it's not clear that the criticism is ideologically grounded. He favors maximum opportunities for people to come to this country, but so do many conservatives and liberals. Both camps are split on this issue for quite different reasons.

There is doubtless much more that could be said about conservatism, and we invite readers to contribute their thoughts on the topic to our Feedback Forum.

PC Lunacy at UNC

Joanne Jacobs reports on a Washington Times story that administrators at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are trying to close down a Christian fraternity on the grounds the student group is violating the university's anti-discrimination policy because it excludes non-Christians and self-professed homosexuals from membership, the Times reports.

So, in order to continue to exist Christian organizations must allow atheists to join which would, in effect, cause them to cease to exist. In their desire to avoid discriminating against anyone the august administrators at UNC are demanding that Christian fraternities commit organizational suicide. Will they next be banning organizations that oppose abortion if they don't allow pro-choicers to join? Does UNC insist that Muslim organizations allow Jews to join? Why not insist that the basketball team allow midgets to participate? May men join the women's groups on campus? Did these administrators actually make it to college themselves or are they the product of an affirmative action plan to hire the mentally disadvantaged?


Profuse apologies to the tens of thousands of readers and potential readers who were denied access to Viewpoint this weekend. Apparently the phone company in North Carolina upon which our server depends chose this weekend to shut down service for some sort of maintenance and we were unable to operate as a result.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Kerry on the Economy, Allawi

NRO's Bruce Bartlett has a critique of Kerry's economic plan. The quick summary is that there isn't one, at least not one that makes any sense. Bartlett writes:

Last week, Kerry made an effort to present a coherent economic plan. In a Wall Street Journal article entitled, "My Economic Policy," he made his case. It has four key elements: create good jobs, cut middle class taxes and health costs, restore America's competitive edge, and cut the deficit and restore economic confidence.

He then analyzes each of these four proposals and concludes that they are little more than political rhetoric. His promise to create jobs, for example, is based on ending outsourcing, but it's not clear that the advantages of this would outweigh the disadvantages:

Kerry's proposal to create jobs involves reducing outsourcing by closing a tax provision that he believes encourages U.S. companies to invest abroad. The $12 billion per year that this would raise would be used to reduce the corporate tax rate slightly. He would also reinstate a failed tax credit for new jobs and crack down on imports from China and elsewhere., a respected independent forecasting service, looked at these tax provisions and concluded that their net impact on job creation would be "very modest." On the other hand, Kerry's implied protectionism could be very damaging to economic growth. Renowned Columbia University economist Jagdish Bhagwati calls Kerry's trade policy "muddled and maddening" and "the voodoo economics of our time."

He closes his column with these words:

In the end, all John Kerry has is the charge that everything George W. Bush has done on the economy has been wrong. This may be enough for hard-core Democrats and Bush-haters. But anyone who is remotely open-minded is going to have a hard time believing that Kerry will do better. He would have helped himself by proposing something bolder and more interesting. You can't beat something with nothing.

The critique of the other three points is helpful, as well. It seems that Kerry's problem is that once he gets past criticizing Bush for everything he can think of he has really nothing to offer in his place. All he gives us are vague platitudes about how he'd do better.

Given the lack of a solid counter to Bush on the economy and other issues, he's decided to attack Bush on the war in Iraq where he hopes that he can still get some traction by heightening fears that Iraq is descending into chaos. This is why he was so quick to criticize Allawi's speech yesterday. Allawi claimed that the situation in Iraq is much better than the media portrays it, and Kerry couldn't let that notion take root in the public mind. Thus, in a rather unseemly act of disrespect for a man who is working hard to bring freedom and democracy to his people in the face of a very good chance of being murdered every day, Kerry, who didn't even show enough courtesy to attend the session to which Allawi spoke, essentially accused him of fabricating his story.

This strikes us as a sign of desperation. Why couldn't Kerry have been gracious enough to at least offer Allawi his support and good wishes and wait until he was back home before he attacked the man's claims? For the Kerry campaign there's nothing good happening in Iraq and anyone who says there is, is lying. Allawi is a genuine hero, even if he doesn't have a wall full of dubious citations, and all Kerry can do is criticize him, challenge his credibility, and embarrass him when he visits this country to thank us for what we've done for the Iraqi people. It's sad and pathetic.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

A Trio of Lies

Someone who repeatedly and willfully says, or endorses, contemptible things is in danger of becoming a contemptible human being. This is the danger John Kerry treads precariously close to in this campaign. Desperate to cut into Bush's lead in the polls the Democrats have decided to resort to the politics of fear and loathing, but in order to make it work they have to shed whatever integrity they had and try hard to sell the public the Big Lie. In the present case, three big lies, one each directed at Blacks, young people, and the elderly - three groups the Democrats cynically believe they can easily bamboozle.

The first lie is that Bush and the Republicans are going to suppress the African-American vote. There are currently ads on television claiming precisely this, but whenever a spokesperson has been asked for the evidence that this allegation is true, he can only answer with irrelevancies about mythical disenfranchised voters in Florida in 2000. No such voters are identified, however, because the claim that there were such is an urban legend. There's not a shred of evidence that the Republicans have done anything in the past, or the present, to prevent minority voters from exercising their right to vote, but facts don't matter to those who seek to create a climate of fear and resentment.

The second deception is that if re-elected the Bush administration is going to reinstitute the draft. It would take an act of Congress to reinstate the draft, and it's hard to imagine any politician pushing for such legislation in the current climate. When spokespersons are asked what they base this allegation upon they cite their belief that we are undermanned in Iraq. This is an example of liberal logic: We need more troops (maybe) so the Republicans must be going to reinstate the draft. They also cite two bills which have been languishing in committee and which call for young people to serve a period of national service, but these have nothing to do with a draft. See here for more on why this charge against Bush is implausible at best.

The third falsehood is that Bush's plan to privatize social security means that he intends to cut off benefits to the elderly. This is a patent and willful misrepresentation on the part of the Democrats of the president's plan. Bush's proposal leaves current recipients alone and the Dems know this, but they try to scare the old folks anyway. It is a despicable, if not unsurprising, tactic. After all, we shouldn't wonder that the campaign of a man who deliberately slandered his fellow veterans in order to advance his own reputation in 1971 would hold truth in such low esteem.

Interview With an Iraqi Soccer Player

Hugh Hewitt posts this interview by an Iraqi blogger with an Iraqi Olympic soccer team goalie. You'll recall that some of his teammates distinguished themselves last month by making some anti-American remarks that were notable for their abject stupidity. This fellow has a different take, but you won't see his opinions on the evening news. Here's the interview:

Yesterday I was in Al Hurriya Olympic Swimming Pool together with my friends. While we were there, the Iraqi soccer team alternates entered the place with the goalkeepers' coach, Ahmed Jasim. I met one of the players, Akram Sabeeh, the goalkeeper and talked for a few minutes, then I asked some questions and told him that I'd publish his words on the internet and he agreed, so I gladly began my questions:

A: What do you feel when you play now? Do you think there's a difference from those days during the ex-regime?

Akram: look, I was seriously afraid when I was playing, they were really horrible days under Uday, I was afraid to do anything that might be misunderstood and the result would be the jail. Now, I feel free when I play soccer, I feel that I'm playing to improve myself and never afraid of anyone.

A: So you feel that you are free now?

Akram: Of course free.

A: Have you ever been jailed?

Akram: Yes, for 10 days.

A: What for?

Akram: Because I shouted at the referee!

A: Isn't it a humiliating act to be jailed for this reason?

Akram: Yes, but Uday was enjoying doing so, I might be lucky to be jailed only, other players were being beaten severely, tortured and many other brutal acts, you've heard about that?

A:Yes...let's forget what was Uday doing... what about the economical status?

Akram: My salary was 20$ and now it is 200$.

A: Wonderful...multiplied by 10.

Akram: Yes, I can think in my future now!

A: So what was wrong with other Olympic players, they were so upset when they were shown on the TV after each game, they kept repeating: occupation, targeting the cities..etc, they blamed on the Americans for that, what do you think?

Akram: Well..they were saying this cause they were watching what was going on in AlNajaf and previously in Fallujah, they felt that the families were being killed everyday. A: And do you believe that?

Akram: We are watching all of that on the channels.

A: Have you ever watched some good news regarding Iraq on those channels?

Akram: Frankly...Never!

A: So those channels intentionally collect the bad news and exaggerate most of them and play with our emotions to achieve their goal, and they've succeeded in that with some people..if they are honest they had better look at the good changes also.

Akram: Yes, you are right, we cry and get angry as we watch those channels!

Well, I could ignore all those questions, and ask him directly showing some bored and upset facial expressions: 'DO YOU ACCEPT...what's going on in your country now? Chaos, explosions, bombing the cities...what do you think..isn't it miserable?' !! I could make all the conversation full of hatred and pessimistic views!

I mean, you have to hear the question of the reporter and the manner of asking the players before you judge the players' opinions....Those journalists ask according to what they want to hear or according to what is needed from them.

The reporters should be honest and fair in dealing with the people in Iraq, it's a temporary critical period, and they have to help and support the Iraqis to stand against terrorism and build their country. Unfortunately, there are few of them.

This interview was passed on to Hewitt by a Marine who included his own thoughts and frustrations with the negativism of a media which, in Viewpoint's opinion, seems more and more to be actually hoping for a failure in Iraq. The Marine's e-mail is worth reading.


Celsius 41.11

Go here to see the trailer and tv ad for the newly released movie Celsius 41.11, the answer to Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The Question of God

Last night PBS ran part two of its two-part presentation of The Question of God (See here for a discussion of part one). The show is based upon an excellent book of the same title by Armand Nicholi of Harvard. In his book Nicholi compares and contrasts the worldviews of Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis and shows how their fundamental assumptions about God led these men to much different answers to several of life's most profound questions.

Unfortunately, the PBS presentation was disappointing. The dramatization of his life made much of C.S. Lewis' faith in God but said next to nothing about the arguments he offers in his writings to undergird his belief. A viewer might well have come away from the show with the impression that, for Lewis, faith was exclusively a Kierkegaardian leap, a completely existential exercise in subjectivity, with no rational component.

Not only was a solid explication of Lewis' apologetic lacking in the portrayal of the Oxford don, but the roundtable discussions that interspersed the dramatization of both Freud's and Lewis' lives seemed to reinforce the impression that theism is bereft of any rational justification, that it's purely a matter of Freudian wish-fulfillment. The secularists, as they did last week, seemed to have reason and all the best arguments on their side, and the believers were left sputtering about their feelings and lamenting that they can't explain the difficulties that arise in their belief system, but that one just has to trust and have faith.

One man in the group admitted that he can't reconcile his conception of a good God with the existence of suffering, and Michael Shermer, an atheist, observed that he's just a step from atheism and invited him to try it. The Christian had no reply.

I don't know whether the believers around the table actually had no effective rejoinders or whether their best responses were edited out, but certainly there are plausible answers to the questions that were raised in this segment. To take just one, the program addressed the nature and origin of the moral law. What is it that tells us what's right and where does it come from?

The Christians in the seminar maintained that morality comes from God, but the atheists weren't buying that. They questioned why God is necessary for moral behavior. We can come to the same conclusions about how we ought to behave as the theist, they asserted, so why do we need God? People didn't decide to abolish slavery because God told them it was wrong, rather they abolished slavery because a consensus formed around the proposition that freedom is good and that it should be extended to all men. Human beings can be good whether they believe in God or not. We can live by the Golden Rule even if we're not Christians. And so on.

This is all true enough, which is why the Christians had a hard time responding to it, I suppose, but it's all irrelevant. To see why, consider this hypothetical conversation between a theist and an atheist:

Theist: Why would it be wrong for me to hurt someone?

Atheist: It's wrong because society couldn't function if everyone went about harming each other.

T: Maybe, maybe not, but at best that's an argument for not universalizing the behavior. The question is why would it be wrong for me to harm another individual? My act isn't going to have a significant influence on the rest of society.

A: It's wrong because you wouldn't want people to hurt you.

T: That's true, but that's not a reason why I shouldn't hurt someone else. If I can do it and get away with it why would that be wrong? What makes a might-makes-right ethic morally wrong?

A: People won't like you very much if you behaved that way.

T: Why should I care whether I'm liked or not? Is right just a matter of doing whatever makes you popular? Besides aren't you now tacitly admitting that there's nothing intrinsically wrong with hurting others. The only thing that makes it wrong, according to what you've said, is that it may not be in my best interests. But if it were in my best interests to harm another, you'd have no basis for saying that my act is wrong.

In other words, the problem isn't that the atheist can't adopt the same values as the believer. Of course he can. The problem is that the adoption of those values is completely arbitrary, as are the values themselves. Someone who lived by radically different values would be doing nothing "wrong" because right and wrong cannot exist as anything other than social conventions. I might adopt a value of human kindness because that appeals to me. Someone else might value cruelty because that appeals to him. Which of us does the atheist say is right?

This problem is implicit in the above discussion of slavery. Slavery was ended because people decided that freedom was good and should be extended to all men, but what if they hadn't so decided? Would they have been wrong to continue to enslave Africans if the consensus had been that slavery was acceptable? And why should freedom be extended to all men? Where does that belief come from? Are right and wrong simply a matter of whatever society decides? If so, then if society decides to kill off all its minorities, like the Nazis tried to do, that would not be wrong.

Shermer says that the Golden Rule is a product of evolution, not of God. Very well, but then why should anyone follow it? Why should a product of blind, impersonal forces which shaped us for life in the stone age be in any way binding upon us today? Besides, lots of things are products of evolution, but we don't advocate submitting to them. We have an evolutionary penchant for aggressiveness and violence, for sexual promiscuity, avarice, and selfishness. Why should we suppress these inclinations but adopt the Golden Rule? Isn't that just an arbitrary choice? What criteria or standard are we holding these various evolutionary proclivities up to in order to arrive at the conclusion that one of them is superior to the others?

The point is that unless there is a transcendent moral authority there is no morality. There are just behaviors that people like and dislike. People can agree to adopt a certain set of behaviors and arbitrarily choose to value them, but that doesn't make someone who dissents from the consensus immoral. Nor does it mean that if society had adopted different values they would have been wrong. Moral right and wrong are empty, meaningless concepts unless there is a God.

What Are We Waiting For?

President Bush has always taken hits from the left for his management of the post-war in Iraq, but now he's getting more heat from his own party. The neo-cons are rightly upset that several cities in the Sunni triangle have been allowed to fester and become havens for insurgents and terrorists. Word is that foreign fighters, emboldened by our reluctance to crush al Sadr in Najaf, are streaming into Fallujah and Samarra and a couple of other cities in the Sunni stronghold. The question that even Bush's supporters are asking is, why are we allowing this to happen? Our troops say they can take Fallujah in three, maybe four days, if they are given the go-ahead, so why aren't they?

There are two possible answers to this question, one of which is completely unacceptable. If the troops are being restrained by the administration because the suits don't want to give the impression of chaos and large numbers of casualties until after the election, then they don't deserve to be re-elected. If they're playing politics with this war then they've forfeited their right to our support (although it certainly doesn't follow that Kerry has done anything to merit it).

If, however, the administration is following a recommendation made by the commanders in the field then I think we need to be supportive. After all, if the commanders had recommended holding off on an attack and the administration overruled them for political reasons and ordered our troops into Fallujah and elsewhere, that would be as reprehensible as the scenario traced in the preceding paragraph.

If our military thinks it best, for whatever reason, to delay taking down these cities then we should defer to their judgment. Indeed, if that's the reason we're tolerating the current difficult situation I think the administration is to be commended for letting the military make those decisions, especially as the pressure mounts on the White House to do something.

One reason that has been floated as to why there seems to be so little aggressive activity is that our generals have decided that when we go in they want Iraqi troops in the mix. This is undoubtedly a wise long-term decision since it will give the Iraqis a sense of ownership as well as garner more support among the Iraqi residents of the cities we assault. It appears that the next wave of Iraqi trainees will not complete their training until sometime next month at which time Fallujah will come in for serious house-cleaning.

So, we'll see. If an assault does come in October the President's critics will scream about the "timing" of an attack coming so close to the election, but let them. Despite the fact that people are dying in Iraq because of the delay, the long term benefit of waiting until the Iraqis are ready to contribute could be a much more stable Iraq in the future. Let's hope that terrorists and others continue to flood into these cities over the next couple of weeks. It'll make those environments that much more target-rich.

This Week's Dreyfus

This week's Dreyfus award, named for Inspector Jacques Clouseau's superior officer in the Pink Panther movies, Charles Dreyfus (Herbert Lom), who was driven mad by jealousy and hatred of the totally inept Clouseau (Peter Sellars) who bumbled his way to sleuthing success and fame. Last week the award went to Robert Kuttner for a column he wrote for the Boston Globe.

This week's prize is awarded jointly to two men, one of whom is clearly unbalanced and the other of whom was driven to professional suicide by his looney attempt to politically assassinate his own Inspector Clouseau (George Bush). This week's winners are William Burkett and Dan Rather. See here for more on Mr. Rather's strange career.

Each winner will receive a Dreyfus doll which is clothed in a white strait-jacket and which twitches uncontrollably.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The Guy in the Stands

After excoriating President Bush in a speech yesterday at NYU Wagner in New York for shortcomings that reside mostly in his own imagination, Senator Kerry, laid out four things the President must do now in Iraq. Presumably these are four steps he would take if he were president and which he offers to the public to help us distinguish how a Kerry presidency would differ from the Bush presidency.

Unfortunately for the Senator it is very difficult to find anything in these four items which is substantively different from what the Bush administration is, and has been, doing. Kerry may differ from Bush in how he would go about accomplishing these measures but the measures themselves have been underway for a long time now.

Here's what Kerry said that Bush needs to do:

First, the president has to get the promised international support so our men and women in uniform don't have to go it alone.

Second, the president must get serious about training Iraqi security forces.

Third, the president must carry out a reconstruction plan that finally brings tangible benefits to the Iraqi people, all of which, may I say, should have been in the plan and immediately launched with such a ferocity that there was no doubt about America's commitment or capacity in the very first moments afterwards. But they didn't plan.

Fourth, the president must take immediate, urgent, essential steps to guarantee that the promised election can be held next year. Credible elections are key to producing an Iraqi government that enjoys the support of the Iraqi people and an assembly that could write a constitution and yields a viable power-sharing agreement.

I challenge Viewpoint readers to find anything in this list that the Bush administration is not, or has not, worked assiduously to accomplish.

This is Kerry's problem. He's like the unpleasant guy who likes to sit in the stands ripping the coach on the sidelines for whatever failures he might have, but when you ask the critic what he would do differently his response is either pretty much indistinguishable from what the coach is actually doing or it displays a complete lack of understanding of the nature of the game on the field.

Kerry's criticisms of Bush vascillate between these two types. He tries to appeal to those who support fighting terrorists in Iraq by saying he would do what Bush is doing but do it in some vague way differently, or he tries to appeal to the left-wing base of the party by saying he would do quite the opposite of what Bush is doing. In one speech he claims he would fight the war, but more effectively, the next speech he'd bring the troops home as close to immediately as is practical. In one speech he would spend any amount of money to depose Saddam Hussein, in the next speech he laments the cost and says, as he did in New York, that deposing Hussein isn't worth it.

The Senator seems to suffer from multiple personality disorder, and it's become something of a parlor game to try to predict which of his personas will manifest itself next.

Colson on the Resurrection

Hugh Hewitt recalls an interview he did with Chuck Colson in which they talked about Colson's argument that the Watergate cover-up is a good example of how men behave when they're trying to defend a lie and that it would be helpful to keep it in mind when considering why the early disciples of Jesus were willing to suffer torture and death rather than recant their belief that Christ had risen from the dead. Here's Hewitt's summary of the interview:

On the subject of cover-ups generally, here's an exchange I had with Chuck Colson from my 1996 series for PBS, Searching For God in America:

HH: A couple of times you've commented in your writings and in your speeches that Watergate and its unraveling convinced you of the factual accuracy of the resurrection of Christ. How so?

CC: Well, it's a great analogy actually. If anybody really looks at what happened in Watergate, they would discover that Nixon did not know the full scope of the Watergate cover-up until march 21. John Dean, his counsel, paraded into his office and said "Mr. President, there's a cancer growing on your presidency." And if you look at the tapes of that day, you'll see that was when he laid out everything that had gone on and Nixon suddenly knew there was a criminal cover-up. Halderman called me a couple of days later. I did not know about that meeting, but he told me some things. And I said, "Bob, you'd better get a lawyer." I think everybody at that point knew that it was serious and that the White House was involved.

"John Dean went off to Camp David to write a report, began to think that he was in trouble. And he wrote in his own memoirs with refreshing candor that on April 4, less than three weeks later, he went to the prosecutors to make a deal, as he put it, to save his own skin. The moment he did that, Jeb Magruder went tot he prosecutors. And a whole string of guys went to the prosecutors. I took a lie detector test. Here we were, the twelve most powerful men in the world. We were surrounding the President of the United States. And we couldn't keep a lie for three weeks."

"The truth of the Gospel depends upon the fact that Jesus Christ was bodily raised from the dead. How do we know that? We have the eyewitness testimony of five hundred people, according to the Apostle Paul. We have eleven apostles who were with Him and who saw Him raised from the dead. There was Thomas, who put his finger in the wound because he doubted Jesus. And all of the apostles were with Jesus after he was bodily resurrected from the tomb. Now, if He was bodily resurrected, that is the most convincing evidence of the divinity of Jesus Christ. And there's the testimony of the apostles for forty years. And they had no power like we did in Watergate. They were persecuted. They were crucified upside down. All but one died a martyr's death. They were stoned, beaten, and not once did they deny that they had seen Christ risen from the dead."

"I believe that men will give their lives for something they believe to be true. They will never give their lives for something they know to be false. If Christ hadn't risen, the Apostle Peter would have been just like John Dean. He would have gone and turned state's evidence to save his own skin. Not one of them denied the resurrection of Christ, which to me means that they had seen the risen Christ, God in the flesh. Otherwise they would have saved their own skins, just like we did in Watergate."

Good point, but as Jesus said, even if someone rises from the dead those who don't want to believe, won't. Belief is not a matter of the reason, it's a matter of the will and of the heart.

With Friends Like These

Matt Drudge links us to a memo from Michael Moore who tries to buck up the Democratic troops' sagging morale with a message that must make the Kerry camp cringe. Here are some salient excerpts:

Yes, they caught Kerry asleep on the Swift Boat thing. Yes, they found the frequency in Dan Rather and ran with it. Suddenly it's like, "THE END IS NEAR! THE SKY IS FALLING!" No, it is not. If I hear one more person tell me how lousy a candidate Kerry is and how he can't win ... Dammit, of COURSE he's a lousy candidate - he's a Democrat, for heavens sake! That party is so pathetic, they even lose the elections they win!

Yes, OF COURSE any of us would have run a better, smarter, kick-ass campaign. Of course we would have smacked each and every one of those phony swifty boaty bastards down. But WE are not running for president - Kerry is. So quit complaining and work with what we have.

The Bush people need you to believe that it is over. They need you to slump back into your easy chair and feel that sick pain in your gut as you contemplate another four years of George W. Bush. They need you to wish we had a candidate who didn't windsurf and who was just as smart as we were when WE knew Bush was lying about WMD and Saddam planning 9/11.

The country is almost back in our hands. Not another negative word until Nov. 3rd! Then you can bitch all you want about how you wish Kerry was still that long-haired kid who once had the courage to stand up for something.

This last is an especially interesting admission. What the Democrats should be voting for, according to Moore, is a candidate whose defining moment came when he slandered his fellow veterans with false, unsubstantiated testimony, who committed an act of treason by giving aid and comfort to the enemy, who admitted to committing war crimes, and who consorted with the enemy in Paris while still an officer in the armed forces. This is the Democrat ideal? The guards at Abu Ghraib are going to prison for doing far less than what Kerry did when he was their age and this and this a man Americans should elect as President?

Moore's message is essentially this: Kerry is terrible but Bush is worse, and it's still possible to beat him. Why is Bush worse? Because Iraq is going badly. How would Kerry make it better? He'd pull our troops out and insert Kofi Annan, Jacques Chirac, and the Germans, the very people whose corrupt abuse of sanctions and the oil-for-food program propped Saddam up and made him a threat to his people and to his neighbors. The duplicity and greed of the French, Germans, and Russians and the U.N. was what ultimately made Operation Iraqi Freedom necessary in the first place and Kerry wants to give them access to Iraqi oil wealth. The blood of American troops and Iraqi civilians is on their hands and Kerry wants to reward them with contracts. Moore's message is every bit as inspiring as Kerry's plan is dumb.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Hillary in <i>2004</i>?

Jim Gerghaty at KerrySpot proffers a fascinating and highly plausible scenario, suggested to him by a friend, which may well unfold should Kerry's poll numbers continue to tank and especially if some whiff of scandal attaches to the Kerry campaign as a result of the CBS memo debacle.

To be sure, Gerghaty doesn't think the scenario is as plausible as Viewpoint does, but in light of how the Democrats dumped incumbent Senator Robert Torreceli deep into the race for a Senate seat in New Jersey, it's not unthinkable that they might do likewise with Kerry, particularly if his feckless campaign threatens to take the whole party down with it.

Here's what Geraghaty, and his friend, say:

Saturday night I met Michael Graham at the NRO Party. Exceptionally smart guy. He's got a scarily plausible theory about what the Democrats could do if things look grim in October. So - presume, for the purposes of this theory, that some significant scandal comes out of Max Cleland's comments that he briefly spoke with alleged CBS memo source Bill Burkett.

Suppose that the Democratic National Committee's "Operation Fortunate Son" attack ads and press conferences were organized as a result of the CBS memos. Suppose the Kerry campaign sees these memos from Burkett, thinks they are fake, but decides to pass them along to CBS anyway and to launch a DNC ad campaign based on them (All of this, I remind you, is speculation).

Suppose Kerry is tainted by the memo, and the whole thing crushes his chances. His poll numbers plummet around the country. By October, he looks like he's on his way to a Dukakis-Mondale style blowout. Worse, he's dragging down Senate candidates in Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, Colorado, etc. The Democrats face an election day with even worse losses in the House.

Would the Democratic party dump Kerry, and bring in some other candidate at the last minute?

Michael decided to figure out just what it would take to do this.

Apparently, not much. A simple majority of the Democratic National Committee could vote to replace its nominee. According to Disinfopedia:

While anyone who is registered to vote as a Democrat is a member of the Party, there are 440 members of the Democratic National Committee. The National Committee has 9 elected officers: The Chair, five Vice Chairs, Treasurer, Secretary, and National Finance Chair. "Membership on the National Committee is composed of individuals selected by the Democratic Party organizations in each state (including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico), the U.S. Territories (American Samoa, Guam, and the Virgin Islands), and Democrats living outside the United States and those Territories listed above (Democrats Abroad).

"Each jurisdiction is represented by its Chair and the next highest ranking officer of the opposite sex. An additional 200 votes are distributed to the states and territories based on population, with each receiving a minimum of two additional seats. Each delegation must be equally divided between men and women.

"Also seated on the DNC are representatives of various Democratic constituencies and elected officials. These include two U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives, two members of the College Democrats, and three representatives each from the Democratic Governors, Mayors, State Legislators, County Officials. Municipal Officials, Young Democrats, and the National Federation of Democratic Women. Fifty members are appointed by the DNC Chairmen, and approved by the DNC, and are considered 'Members-at-Large.'

So all it would take would be for 221 members of the DNC to agree it's time to replace Kerry. The closest precedent to this is the post-convention replacement of Thomas Eagleton, George McGovern's running mate, with Sargent Shriver in 1972.

Would a majority of those folks vote to dump Kerry if he seemed to be a McGovern-style disaster in the making?

Probably not. For starters, there's no easy choice to replace him. Hillary Clinton appears to be laying the groundwork for 2008. The party could bump up Edwards, or bring in two new guys.

The advantage for the Dems would be that all of the anti-Kerry efforts of the GOP and conservative groups - all the Swift Boat Vets for Truth ads, all the flip-flop jokes, all the "I voted for it before I voted against it" - all of that would get wiped off the table. And if things are looking so horrifically grim, the point of the last-minute switch wouldn't be to win, it would be to make it respectable.

It's like pulling a struggling quarterback in the fourth quarter of a rout, and hoping that the backup QB can at least make the score look respectable when time runs out.

The problem for the Democrats is that there isn't any universally-respected safe alternate. You would need someone acceptable to the Deaniacs, yet that the country could trust in the war on terror.

This isn't likely, and it's just a theory. But if radio talk show host and NRO contributor Michael Graham has thought of this and looked into it ... it's probably a safe bet some DNC lawyer has looked into it.

We're not so sure that Hillary wouldn't accept the role. Nor are we sure that she wouldn't be welcomed with acclaim by Democrats all across the country and be seen as a Joan of Arc riding to the rescue of her party. Even if she didn't win this year she would probably prevent a rout in the senate and house as well as in state houses across the land, and as a consequence she would have a much stronger claim on her party's nomination in 2008.

Listen for the Hillary buzz to rise in intensity in October if it still looks then like Bush is going to run the table.

Steyn Hits a Pair

Mark Steyn has stroked a couple of home runs recently. The first is on "Rathergate":

Of all the loopy statements made by Dan Rather in the 10 days since he decided to throw his career away, my favorite is this, from Dan's interview with the Washington Post on Thursday:

"If the documents are not what we were led to believe, I'd like to break that story."

Hel-looooo? Earth to the Lost Planet of Ratheria: You can't "break that story." A guy called "Buckhead" did that, on the Free Republic Web site a couple of hours after you and your money-no-object resources-a-go-go "60 Minutes" crew attempted to pass off four obvious Microsoft Word documents as authentic 1972 typewritten memos about Bush's skipping latrine duty in the Spanish-American War, or whatever it was.

As the network put it last week, "In accordance with longstanding journalistic ethics, CBS News is not prepared to reveal its confidential sources or the method by which '60 Minutes' Wednesday received the documents." But, once they admit the documents are fake, they can no longer claim "journalistic ethics" as an excuse to protect their source. There's no legal or First Amendment protection afforded to a man who peddles a fraud. You'd think CBS would be mad as hell to find whoever it was who stitched them up and made them look idiots.

So why aren't they? The only reasonable conclusion is that the source -- or trail of sources -- is even more incriminating than the fake documents. Why else would Heyward and Rather allow the CBS news division to commit slow, public suicide?

You can read the rest of this very good column here.

The second outstanding piece by Steyn is on Iraq:

After the predictions of hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and a mass refugee crisis and a humanitarian catastrophe and wall-to-wall cholera and dysentery all failed to pan out, the naysayers fell back on predictions of imminent civil war. But the civil war's as mythical as the universal dysentery.

Do you remember that moment of Fallujah-like depravity in Ulster a few years ago? Two soldiers were yanked from a cab in the wrong part of town and torn apart by a Republican mob. A terrible, shaming episode in the wretched annals of Northern Irish nationalists. But in the rest of the United Kingdom - in Bristol, in Coventry, Newcastle, Aberdeen - life went on, very pleasantly.

That's the way it is in Iraq. In two-thirds of the country, municipal government has been rebuilt, business is good, restaurants are open, life is as jolly as it has been in living memory. This summer the Shia province of Dhi Qar, south-east of Baghdad, held the first free elections in its history, electing secular independents and non-religious parties to its town councils.

Both of these articles are must reading.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

The Best Universities in the World

Joanne Jacobs has links to a study listing the top 500 universities in the world. According to the report, nine of the top ten schools are American and seventeen of the top twenty are. All told the United States had 170 universities make the top 500. Click here to see the listing by region and by country.

Jacobs notes that:

Only 35 countries have at least one university among the 500 (more exactly 502) best. While Israel (population around 6 millions or 0.1% of mankind) has 7 of these, all the Islamic countries together (maybe 1/5 of mankind) have not a single one.

Viewpoint will leave the reader to ponder why that may be.

It's not clear, of course, how helpful this type of list is or what it really portends. The schools were evaluated mostly on the basis of their reputations for math/science excellence and some might argue that that's an incomplete measure of the quality of a school.

A number of the comments at Jacobs' site address the question how the U.S. schools can rank so high when our secondary education is so abysmal. Some of the speculation focusses on the high number of foreign-born professors on our university faculties, but we're not too sure that's the answer. Anyone who's ever sat in on lectures given by many of these foreign-born instructors is often outraged that he's paying tens of thousands of dollars in tuition for classes in which he cannot understand a single word of what's being taught.

There's no way to support this, perhaps, but I suspect that part of the reason our universities are so good is because public education in the U.S. is not really as bad as we're often led to believe. Students who want to get a good education and go on to a major university can usually get an excellent preparation in many of our high schools. Once these students complete their post-secondary education the universities draw from their ranks to supply their own faculties. Our high school test scores are poor overall because an increasing number of students in the last forty years are much less concerned with securing the best education they can and are much more concerned with academically peripheral matters like after-school jobs and extra-curricular activities, or they are handicapped by a substandard home life.

Most public schools and their teachers offer our young people a good to excellent opportunity for learning, but too many students are coming to school unprepared, unwilling or unable to avail themselves of that opportunity. Nevertheless, the students who do take advantage of the education American schools offer are the ones who are making our universities the best in the world.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

The Rise and Decline of Modern Atheism

I recently finished Alister McGrath's The Twilight of Atheism and highly recommend it to anyone who would enjoy a good overview of the development of atheism, the rise of modernity, and the prospects for unbelief in a post-modern world. McGrath writes as a Christian who is not completely unsympathetic to the atheist critique of religion, having formerly been an atheist himself.

He argues that the appeal of atheism is historically rooted not in hostility toward the notion of God so much as it is in hostility to what people perceived to be a corrupt and illegitimate church. He suggests that throughout its existence the church has been debauched primarily by its lust for political power, and that atheism thrives today in Europe in large part because of the Church's illicit relationship in centuries past with secular governments, particularly in France and England. Atheism has not caught on to the same extent in the United States where the Church has never been seen as particularly tainted by the vices of politics, very likely because in the U.S. it is constitutionally barred from close proximity to the levers of power.

As McGrath recounts the story of the evolution of unbelief in 18th and 19th century Europe the reader is told much that he may not have known. He points out, for instance, that, contrary to conventional opinion, Voltaire and many of his cronies were not really atheists, but were led by their disgust with the church to a rather vague deism. One also learns that the famous story of John Calvin's alleged "refutation" of Copernicus, wherein he declared that the first verse of the 93rd Psalm proves that the earth is fixed and cannot be moved, a story which makes Calvin look like an arrogant buffoon, is completely apocryphal. So, too, is the even more well-known account of Bishop Wilberforce's challenge to Thomas Huxley when, in a public debate on the merits of Darwin's theory of natural selection, the good Bishop is alleged to have inquired of Huxley whether it was through his grandfather or grandmother that he claimed descent from a monkey. This story is told and retold with great gusto by atheists to illustrate the utter doltishness of religious clergy, but there is no historical evidence that the incident ever occurred.

One of McGrath's more controversial claims, perhaps, is his assertion that reformation Protestantism essentially opened the door for the emergence of atheism. His argument is that by desacralizing the world, by removing God from the Eucharist, by removing icons from their churches, Protestants turned God into "an absence in the world". Taking pains to avoid idolatry, these believers emphasized God's transcendence and inadvertently made it easier to think of God as removed from their everyday lives, a move which McGrath claims "inevitably encourages belief in a godless world". I suppose a lot of scholarship supports this view, but it strikes me as a little bit like blaming the Wright brothers for 9/11. Protestants did not, as McGrath states, remove any grounds for expecting to encounter the divine directly through nature or in personal experience, they merely insisted that people not confuse the divine with nature, that there is an important distinction to be made between creature and creator.

In any event, McGrath presents us with a fine introduction to many of the seminal figures in 19th century atheism: Ludwig Feurbach, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, William Clifford, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud, and explains how their thought advanced the idea in the popular mind that God was an obsolete concept. Marx, for example, was famous for having called religion the opiate of the people, but as atheism hurtled toward the dark night of nihilism in the twentieth century, the true opium, as Czeslaw Milosz puts it, "is a belief in nothingness after death - the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murders, we are not going to be judged." The true opium of modernity is not Christianity, which tells us that we are accountable for every choice we make in life, but rather, McGrath says, "the belief that there is no God, so that humans are completely free to do precisely as they please."

The second part of the book describes what the author believes is the decline of atheism and the forces which have triggered it. Atheism reached its zenith in the first sixty years of the 20th century during which it became official policy in communist and fascist nations around the globe. The fruits of state atheism were readily observable in the horrors of Auschwitz and the Soviet Gulag. Over one hundred million people were murdered in the name of a consistent naturalistic humanism. The terrible irony in this is that modernity sought to exalt man, to elevate mankind to the status of divinity, but in so doing they dehumanized him and reduced him to the status of a beast, fit to be herded, manipulated, exploited, and slaughtered.

The reason for this is clear. Atheism has nothing upon which to base human dignity, and consequently nothing upon which to base human rights (See Viewpoint here for a fuller treatment of this problem). Man has dignity by virtue of the fact that he is made in the image of God and is loved by God. He has rights only because he belongs to God. Take God away and man is nothing more than a lump of blood, muscle, and bone. There is no inherent dignity or "rights" in that. The holocaust and the Soviet slave labor camps were simply the logical conclusion of the assumption that there is no God.

Another strange irony of the 20th century is that people reflect upon the grisly barbarisms of the totalitarian states which encompassed much of the globe from 1917 to 1989 and, blaming God for the evils these states perpetrated, they despise him for them. How, they ask, could such atrocities happen if God is truly good? (See Viewpoint here and here). Yet surely this is to misplace the blame and to sink into confusion. God is held responsible for the crimes of an ideology that rejects him. Belief in God becomes impossible because the consequences of godlessness are so horrific. People reject God because of the evil they witness in the world, but they worship man who is the primary cause of the evil.

McGrath notes that John Lennon called upon us to imagine a world in which there's no heaven and no religion, but imagining such a world is unnecessary. All one need do is observe the former Soviet Union, Red China, North Korea, Cuba, or Nazi Germany to see the sort of world we'd have if Lennon's dream were fulfilled.

The 20th century, McGrath writes, "gave rise to one of the greatest paradoxes of human history: that the greatest intolerance and violence of that century were practiced by those who believed that religion caused intolerance and violence."

Now we've entered a new era, the post-modern, which McGrath believes undermines the plausibility of atheism. "God," he observes, "was never argued out of existence; a cultural mood developed which tended to see God as something of an irrelevance." Now a new cultural mood is upon us, one much more congenial to the realm of the subjective, one much more insistent on tolerating diversity of opinions and much more skeptical of all dogmatic truth claims, whether religious or materialistic. The attraction of atheism, he reminds us, "lies in what it denies, not in what it offers as an alternative....What propels people toward atheism is above all a sense of revulsion against the excesses and failures of organized religion. Atheism is ultimately a worldview of fear - a fear, often merited, of what might happen if religious maniacs were to take over the world."

This worldview has been weighed in the balance, however, and found wanting. It has failed to demonstrate through reason that God does not exist. It has also failed as a practical principle because, as we've seen, the adoption by the state of an atheistic ideology leads to degradation and death on historically unprecedented scales. It has also failed metaphysically because the implications of atheism all tend toward nihilism (See Viewpoint here for a more detailed discussion of this claim). Atheism denies any meaning to existence, any ground for moral judgment, any hope for ultimate justice, and any basis for human dignity or human rights. It withholds any rationale for believing in a self, or a hope for life after death. It is a philosophy of despair, and despair is not an attractive option for most people. To the extent that atheism is indeed slouching through its twilight it is these failures which have brought it to this pass.

Nevertheless, McGrath cautions, even though the Church today may not be plagued by the liabilities which stigmatized it in Europe, atheism will still continue to appear, at least superficially, to be a reasonable alternative for those repelled by what they see as the savage moral character of the God of the Old Testament and the merciless doctrine of eternal damnation in the New Testament. One wonders how many people have fallen short of embracing belief in God because they could find no compelling answers to their questions about the nature of God, evil, and our eternal destiny. How many others have been repulsed by the insouciance, arrogance, and insensitivity with which Christians sometimes dispatch their deceased loved ones to everlasting punishment? God must agonize over the boneheadedness of those who sometimes claim to speak with such certainty on his behalf.

McGrath again: "Christianity must provide answers - good answers - to such fair questions and never assume that it can recycle yesterday's answers to today's questions."

The Twilight of Atheism is an enjoyable and worthwhile survey of how atheism came to enjoy preeminence in the twentieth century and how its very success has laid bare its intellectual, ideological, and metaphysical impoverishment. Interested readers may order copies of the book here.

A Look at the Polls

The media have been reporting that Bush's post-convention bounce has all but disappeared and that the race for the White House is once again a draw. This doesn't seem to be borne out by the polls, however, which continue to move in the President's favor. Gallup has Bush up by fourteen, a CBS/NYT poll just out has Bush up by nine, in Pennsylvania poll averages give Bush a three point lead and one New Jersey poll shows Bush leading by four. In the battleground states of Ohio, Florida, Missouri, and Wisconsin Bush is ahead. In those states where Kerry has a lead it appears to be shrinking, even in New York, and it looks like Ralph Nader will be on the ballot in Florida. All of this is very good news for the President.

The commentary that focusses on the closeness of some polls while failing to mention those which are trending in Bush's direction, represents, apparently, an attempt to keep Kerry's marginal support from defecting and to keep his core supporters from losing heart. Another week or so of numbers showing a strong showing for Bush and Kerry will be forced to hit a grand slam in the debates, or Bush will have to show up drunk, to keep the lukewarm from deciding to stay home in November.

If the polls don't turn around for Kerry look for the Democrats to start questioning their reliability. They can't allow voters to think that a Bush victory is inevitable because too many of the people they're counting on to turn out on election day are really not that enthusiastic about their candidate in the first place. They don't need much of a reason to do something else rather than drive to the voting booth so convincing people that the race is close and that their vote is important will be crucial.

From the Front

If one only gets his news about Iraq from the MSM they are likely to suspect that "Bush's war" is a complete disaster, that our efforts there are utter failures, and that the whole country is teetering on the brink of civil war. Media pundits are genetically disposed to see only the dark side of every moon, but their negativism and pessimism are misleading the American people. The following e-mail, posted at Captain's Quarters, is an antidote to the unfortunate predilections of the media Chicken Littles. It's from a Marine who is there:

The US media is abuzz today with the news of an intelligence report that is very negative about the prospects for Iraq's future. CNN's website says, "[The] National Intelligence Estimate was sent to the White House in July with a classified warning predicting the best case for Iraq was 'tenuous stability' and the worst case was civil war." That report, along with the car bombings and kidnappings in Baghdad in the past couple days are being portrayed in the media as more proof of absolute chaos and the intransigence of the insurgency.

From where I sit, at the Operational Headquarters in Baghdad, that just isn't the case. Let's lay out some background, first about the "National Intelligence Estimate." The most glaring issue with its relevance is the fact that it was delivered to the White House in July. That means that the information that was used to derive the intelligence was gathered in the Spring - in the immediate aftermath of the April battle for Fallujah, and other events. The report doesn't cover what has happened in July or August, let alone September.

The naysayers will point to the recent battles in Najaf and draw parallels between that and what happened in Fallujah in April. They aren't even close. The bad guys did us a HUGE favor by gathering together in one place and trying to make a stand. It allowed us to focus on them and defeat them. Make no mistake, Al Sadr's troops were thoroughly smashed. The estimated enemy killed in action is huge. Before the battles, the residents of the city were afraid to walk the streets. Al Sadr's enforcers would seize people and bring them to his Islamic court where sentence was passed for religious or other violations. Long before the battles people were looking for their lost loved ones who had been taken to "court" and never seen again. Now Najafians can and do walk their streets in safety. Commerce has returned and the city is being rebuilt. Iraqi security forces and US troops are welcomed and smiled upon. That city was liberated again. It was not like Fallujah - the bad guys lost and are in hiding or dead.

You may not have even heard about the city of Samarra. Two weeks ago, that Sunni Triangle city was a "No-go" area for US troops. But guess what? The locals got sick of living in fear from the insurgents and foreign fighters that were there and let them know they weren't welcome. They stopped hosting them in their houses and the mayor of the town brokered a deal with the US commander to return Iraqi government sovereignty to the city without a fight. The people saw what was on the horizon and decided they didn't want their city looking like Fallujah in April or Najaf in August.

Boom, boom, just like that two major "hot spots" cool down in rapid succession. Does that mean that those towns are completely pacified? No. What it does mean is that we are learning how to do this the right way. The US commander in Samarra saw an opportunity and took it - probably the biggest victory of his military career and nary a shot was fired in anger. Things will still happen in those cities, and you can be sure that the bad guys really want to take them back. Those achievements, more than anything else in my opinion, account for the surge in violence in recent days - especially the violence directed at Iraqis by the insurgents. Both in Najaf and Samarra ordinary people stepped out and took sides with the Iraqi government against the insurgents, and the bad guys are hopping mad. They are trying to instill fear once again. The worst thing we could do now is pull back and let that scum back into people's homes and lives.

So, you may hear analysts and prognosticators on CNN, ABC and the like in the next few days talking about how bleak the situation is here in Iraq, but from where I sit, it's looking significantly better now than when I got here. The momentum is moving in our favor, and all Americans need to know that, so please, please, pass this on to those who care and will pass it on to others. It is very demoralizing for us here in uniform to read & hear such negativity in our press. It is fodder for our enemies to use against us and against the vast majority of Iraqis who want their new government to succeed. It causes the American public to start thinking about the acceptability of "cutting our losses" and pulling out, which would be devastating for Iraq for generations to come, and Muslim militants would claim a huge victory, causing us to have to continue to fight them elsewhere (remember, in war "Away" games are always preferable to "Home" games). Reports like that also cause Iraqis begin to fear that we will pull out before we finish the job, and thus less willing to openly support their interim government and US/Coalition activities. We are realizing significant progress here - not propaganda progress, but real strides are being made. It's terrible to see our national morale, and support for what we're doing here, jeopardized by sensationalized stories hyped by media giants whose #1 priority is advertising income followed closely by their political agenda; getting the story straight falls much further down on their priority scale, as Dan Rather and CBS News have so aptly demonstrated in the last week.

This guy makes a good point. When we listen to reports from Iraq we have to remember that the reporters and the networks through whom the reports are transmitted have two agendas. One is to report the news, the other is to get Bush out of the White House. The latter is not advanced by reporting positive news about the reconstruction of Iraq. It's probably a good rule to keep in mind that whatever we hear about Iraq, it's never as bad as the reports make it seem.

The Noam Chomsky Reader

Some of Viewpoint's readers will be familiar with the MIT linguist Noam Chomsky who, since the 1960s has been one of the foremost critics of almost anything the United States does at home or abroad. Chomsky has been very influential among college students. His calm demeanor and unquestioned intellectual abilities have caused many to find his arguments seductive.

Now comes a collection of critiques of those arguments titled The Noam Chomsky Reader and edited by former left-wing radicals Peter Collier and David Horowitz. A review of the book can be found at Front Page Mag. Anyone who has ever been exposed to Chomsky's large body of work and either been persuaded by it or had the sense that something was wrong with it but couldn't quite put their finger on what it was, will find these essays useful.

Friday, September 17, 2004

God on PBS

Our local PBS affiliate on Wednesday night aired the first of a two part program called The Question of God. Based on the book of the same title by Harvard professor Armand Nicholi, the show traces the spiritual development and ideas of C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud. Last night's segment, which was two hours long, was interesting and instructive.

The narrative of the lives of these two men was punctuated by panel discussions led by Nicholi himself on some of the religious and philosophical issues raised by the biographies. The panel was an eclectic group consisting of two atheists, two new-age types, two traditional Christians, and a film-maker who looked like he was spending the evening wondering why he was invited.

Unfortunately, the atheists came across as having the better arguments throughout the show. Whether this was because of the way the program was edited or because the Christians simply had no compelling reply to the objections that were raised to their faith, I don't know. Even so, it seemed to me that the arguments of the atheists were vulnerable, but they were usually allowed to stand as the last word.

I also felt that the new-agers were given entirely too much face time. Their position, articulated with noticeable condescension, seemed to be that the truth of any religious belief is ascertained by one's intuitions and that whatever speaks with greatest forcefulness to your heart is true for you, and that's the end of the matter. Any talk of reason, logic and evidence is pretty much irrelevant.

Now there might be a grain of truth to this, but it's nonetheless a sure-fire discussion stopper. If God exists is a true claim simply because the idea of God has purchase upon my intuitive faculties, then how does one argue or discuss a contrary position? One can only nod politely that that's an all-well-and-good view for the person who holds it and then turn his attention to those at the table for whom the claim that God exists is objectively true or false and with whom one can have a conversation.

Despite these quibbles the show is worth watching, and even if you missed part one, you can still catch the second segment at 9:00 P.M. next Wednesday, September 22nd.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Poll Results

Latest polls at Real Clear Politics show Bush's lead widening from one point to three points in Pennsylvania and going from three points down in New Jersey to four points up. These results are within the margin of error and they reflect the results of only a single poll, not an average, but they're not good news for Kerry. If Bush takes Pennsylvania and New Jersey, two states won by Gore in 2000, Kerry's toast. In states where polls show him ahead, Bush's electoral vote count has also risen from 269 to 279. He needs 270 to win.

The bad news for Bush is that the bounce he enjoyed coming out of his convention seems to be dissipating and his lead over Kerry in several battleground states as well as nationwide is shrinking. Whether the gap will continue to close remains to be seen.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The Inspector Dreyfus Award

Viewpoint is considering initiating an Inspector Dreyfus award named for the character in the Pink Panther movies who went insane because his hated subordinate, the incompetent Inspector Clouseau (played by Peter Sellars), went from one completely serendipitous success to another. As Clouseau's accidental successes took an increasing toll on Dreyfus' sanity he first developed severe facial ticks, then he contrived plans to assassinate Clouseau, and finally he went completely over the edge and into a strait-jacket.

The Democrats seem to be playing Dreyfus to Bush's Clouseau (at least they regard Bush much the same as Dreyfus regarded the Peter Sellars character), and like Dreyfus they have been driven to varying degrees of madness.

There will be no shortage of candidates for the award, of course, and we may have to make daily presentations to accomodate the large number of deserving entrants. We'll see. In the meantime, Robert Kuttner of the Boston Globe makes a strong bid to receive today's honor. Here's an excerpt from his current column:

[T]he frustrating reality is that everything important about George Bush and his presidency is a lie. Bush himself is far more of a phony. As several biographies have documented, he virtually fell upwards, benefiting from family connections to survive a dissolute youth, draft avoidance, and several business failures. But Bush has seized the iconography of the honest cowboy, the regular guy clearing brush on his Texas ranch, the war hero arriving by fighter plane to rescue America. That Kerry actually served in combat, that he made his way upwards with far less family help, gets buried under the smears. Bush's presidency has been an even bigger lie, beginning with the dishonest way he assumed office and the gap between his moderate posture and his extremist policies. There is such a huge medley of lies that a challenger almost doesn't know where to start.

The tax cuts didn't create jobs. No Child Left Behind is big government without the resources. The deficit will sandbag the economy for decades. The Medicare drug plan is a fake. Privatizing Social Security will leave retirees worse off.

And his national security policy is worse. Whether the venue is Iraq, the phony case for war and the disastrous aftermath, the hit-and-run policy in Afghanistan, North Korea's quest for nuclear weapons, or the vaunted "war on terror" and the Keystone Kops Homeland Security Department, it all leaves America and the world less safe.

Okay. I know it's pretty tame compared to, say, Al Gore's stuff, but the award is not retroactive. It starts today. Gore still has plenty of time before the election to give another unhinged speech and stake his claim to the Dreyfus trophy. Readers should feel free to submit their own nominations through our Feedback section.