Thursday, March 31, 2005

Chrenkoff's 24th

When next you hear someone opine that America should get out of Iraq at once, ask them if they've been reading Arthur Chrenkoff's series of posts titled Good News From Iraq. Of course, the answer will be that they have not, for if they had they wouldn't be uttering such fatuities.

Chrenkoff's 24th installment is now up and the posts keep getting longer and longer as the news from Iraq keeps getting better and better.

There is so much good happening there that Iraq bids fair to become not only the political, but also the economic, envy of the Middle East. It will be increasingly difficult for the tyrants in neighboring states to keep their citizens down on the farm once the transformation that's taking place in Iraq begins to sink in elsewhere, and the citizenry begins to ask why they can't have some of the freedoms and advantages that they see their Iraqi neighbors enjoying.

Freedom is on the march. Tell your liberal friends it ill-becomes them to be so glum about it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Flying Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Thank goodness the likes of Paul Krugman stand sentry at the gates of society to warn us of the approaching horde of Vandals and Visigoths who threaten all manner of rapine and mayhem. Krugman sounds the tocsin in this New York Times column:

Democratic societies have a hard time dealing with extremists in their midst. The desire to show respect for other people's beliefs all too easily turns into denial: nobody wants to talk about the threat posed by those whose beliefs include contempt for democracy itself.

Interpretation: The extremists (guess who they are) are a threat to democracy and should not be tolerated.

We can see this failing clearly in other countries. In the Netherlands, for example, a culture of tolerance led the nation to ignore the growing influence of Islamic extremists until they turned murderous. But it's also true of the United States, where dangerous extremists belong to the majority religion and the majority ethnic group, and wield great political influence.

Interpretation: The dangerous extremists are white, conservative Christians (bet you knew that).

Before he saw the polls, Tom DeLay declared that "one thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo, to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America." Now he and his party, shocked by the public's negative reaction to their meddling, want to move on. But we shouldn't let them. The Schiavo case is, indeed, a chance to highlight what's going on in America.

Interpretation: Let's tell America that Christians have been trying to save Terri Schiavo's life and liberal Democrats have been trying to have her tortured to death. That'll be a sure-fire winner in the 2008 elections.

One thing that's going on is a climate of fear for those who try to enforce laws that religious extremists oppose. Randall Terry, a spokesman for Terri Schiavo's parents, hasn't killed anyone, but one of his former close associates in the anti-abortion movement is serving time for murdering a doctor. George Greer, the judge in the Schiavo case, needs armed bodyguards.

Interpretation: The spokesperson for the Schindler family knows someone who committed murder, therefore Judge Greer needs bodyguards. Everybody knows how violent those Christians are.

Another thing that's going on is the rise of politicians willing to violate the spirit of the law, if not yet the letter, to cater to the religious right. Everyone knows about the attempt to circumvent the courts through "Terri's law." But there has been little national exposure for a Miami Herald report that Jeb Bush sent state law enforcement agents to seize Terri Schiavo from the hospice - a plan called off when local police said they would enforce the judge's order that she remain there.

Interpretation: Unelected political appointees are sovereign in Mr. Krugman's United States, and the representatives of the people have no business exercising their constitutional prerogatives over them.

It should be pointed out, in this connection, that Gov. Bush sent his agents to rescue Ms. Schiavo because there was a lack of clarity as to who, exactly, had jurisdiction in the matter. When the local police said they would enforce the judge's odious order, the Governor pulled back. Where's the dire threat to democracy here? It's purely in the fevered recesses of Mr. Krugman's paranoid mind.

And the future seems all too likely to bring more intimidation in the name of God and more political intervention that undermines the rule of law. The religious right is already having a big impact on education: 31 percent of teachers surveyed by the National Science Teachers Association feel pressured to present creationism-related material in the classroom.

Interpretation: Parents and school boards are trying to take some control over what their children are taught. Democracy is imperiled! The sky is falling!

But medical care is the cutting edge of extremism. Yesterday The Washington Post reported on the growing number of pharmacists who, on religious grounds, refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control or morning-after pills. These pharmacists talk of personal belief; but the effect is to undermine laws that make these drugs available. And let me make a prediction: soon, wherever the religious right is strong, many pharmacists will be pressured into denying women legal drugs.

And it won't stop there. There is a nationwide trend toward "conscience" or "refusal" legislation. Laws in Illinois and Mississippi already allow doctors and other health providers to deny virtually any procedure to any patient. Again, think of how such laws expose doctors to pressure and intimidation.

Interpretation: No medical professional should have the right on religious grounds to deny a woman an abortion if she wants one. If a woman presents herself as a patient for an abortion, a doctor should be obligated, under pain of having his license revoked, to perform it even if he or she thinks a murder is being committed. Now that's "pressure and intimidation."

But the big step by extremists will be an attempt to eliminate the filibuster, so that the courts can be packed with judges less committed to upholding the law than Mr. Greer.

Interpretation: The senate, in keeping with the constitution, intends to change a procedural rule which has been abused by a minority of senators in order to prevent the full senate from voting on the president's judicial nominees. Mr. Krugman's idea of religious extremism is the conviction that in a democracy the majority should get to pick the judges as it had for two hundred years until the last congress. That is indeed extremism of the most insidious kind.

We can't count on restraint from people like Mr. DeLay, who believes that he's on a mission to bring a "biblical worldview" to American politics, and that God brought him a brain-damaged patient to help him with that mission.

What we need - and we aren't seeing - is a firm stand by moderates against religious extremism. Some people ask, with justification, Where are the Democrats? But an even better question is, Where are the doctors fiercely defending their professional integrity? I think the American Medical Association disapproves of politicians who second-guess medical diagnoses based on video images - but the association's statement on the Schiavo case is so timid that it's hard to be sure.

Interpretation: Mr. Krugman implies that those best positioned to thwart people motivated by religious conviction are the Democrats. This is evidently because he thinks that Democrats have no religious convictions themselves. This is a stunning admission which will not be welcomed by beleaguered Democrats in red states.

The closest parallel I can think of to current American politics is Israel. There was a time, not that long ago, when moderate Israelis downplayed the rise of religious extremists. But no more: extremists have already killed one prime minister, and everyone realizes that Ariel Sharon is at risk.

The United States is pretty much just like Israel where religious extremists have killed a prime minister and threaten another. Yes sir, the U.S. is just like that. It was, after all, religious extremists who killed JFK and tried to kill Ford and Reagan, or maybe not, but if it wasn't, it could've been. We'll just bet that Timothy McVeigh, who blew up the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, was a Christian. After all, he was named after a book in the New Testament. And besides, white, conservative Christians have the highest crime and political assassination rates of any demographic group in the world. You can look it up.

America isn't yet a place where liberal politicians, and even conservatives who aren't sufficiently hard-line, fear assassination. But unless moderates take a stand against the growing power of domestic extremists, it can happen here.

Yes, indeedy. It doesn't happen here, but it darn well could. Just let doctors refuse to perform abortions, return majority rule to the senate, and let people fight to save a woman from being starved and dehydrated and the next thing you know the religious nuts will be assassinating our presidents.

Instead of mocking Mr. Krugman perhaps we should show a little compassion for a man clearly in the advanced stages of psychosis. Let's hope he's getting treatment.

Breakthrough in the Death Penalty Debate

There are those who say that Terri Schiavo is not being killed, rather the state of Florida is simply letting her die by not feeding her. Of course, if a mother chose not to feed her infant we wouldn't call it "just letting" the child die, we'd call it murder.

Nevertheless, perhaps the argument has more merit than it might at first appear. It certainly suggests a novel solution to the vexing debate in this country over capital punishment.

With the reasoning of those who favor "letting Terri die" in mind Viewpoint proposes that we abolish the death penalty altogether. We recommend that every electric chair and gas chamber around the country be immediately dismantled and that we, as a nation, foreswear ever executing another murderer.

The only penalty we should impose upon them is to confine them to their cells...and withhold food and water until they die.

Moral Imbecility

Belmont Club tips us to a survey done by the BBC which asks readers to answer the question "What are your hopes for Iraq's parliament?"

Replies came from all over the world. Many were supportive of American efforts there, some were critical, and some were like that of Nina from Toronto:

I hate to say this to Iraqis, but I pray for chaos and civil war: it's the only way to stop Bush's policies and show that peace can never come through force. If Iraq gets peace, Bush wins credibility. It cannot be allowed to happen. Nina, Toronto, Canada

Nina pretty much shines the light on the dark places where the Left's priorities are concealed. She's willing to sacrifice the lives of thousands, maybe millions of Iraqis, just to keep Bush from looking good. She's so committed to the idea that peace can't come through the use of force that she'd rather see millions suffer than have her belief be proven wrong.

One tragic irony offered by people like this (there are several) is that they are moral imbeciles who are convinced that they're morally superior to anyone who sees things differently than they do. Sadly, there may be many more like Nina out there who secretly hope for failure in Iraq for the same reasons she does, but who realize that it would sound terrible for them to say it.

What ugly, twisted, hate-filled lives they must live.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Hentoff on Judicial Murder

The Democrats and others on the Left have been repeating the vacuity that Republicans have been using the Terri Schiavo case for political gain. The charge is moronic on its face but especially so now that Jesse Jackson has gone to Pinellas Park in solidarity with Terri's family and such right-wing Republican journals as The Village Voice are excoriating the judicial murder of Terri Schiavo.

Nat Hentoff, who no one will ever mistake for a Republican, unloads both barrels at those who have brought Terri Schiavo to the brink of death.

The whole tragic affair hinges on Michael Schiavo's testimony that Terri told him once that she wouldn't want to be kept alive if she were in a persistent vegetative state. There is no corroboration, however, that Terri ever said this, only the memory of her husband who recalled it seven years after she suffered her brain injury. But even if she had said it, it's not clear that she's actually in a PVS, and even if she is, it's not clear that she would want to die the way the state of Florida is killing her.

There is absolutely no good reason, no good argument, for doing what is being done to Terri Schiavo. None. The judge in this case is either an incompetent buffoon or a moral pygmy. The husband is utterly contemptible. The MSM has been irresponsible and disingenuous, as is its wont. Polls which show large pluralities of Americans siding with Michael Schiavo are going to soon begin showing those numbers swinging the other way as more people learn how Terri Schiavo's tragic situation unfolded.

If they don't, then we are no better than Sodom and Gomorrah.

And The Beat Goes On

It was the late Murray N. Rothbard who said "fiat currency by any other name smells just as sour". He may very well have been talking about the Euro.

The Euro was conceived as a new and "different" currency that would ultimately compete with and perhaps replace the US dollar in its role as a world reserve currency primarily because it was "backed", although not redeemable, by the 30% gold holding of the ECU whose singular mandate was currency stability.

Well, it looks like that mandate has caved to political pressure and now that...

"EU member states have agreed to relax constraints their budgets are subject to under the Stability and Growth Pact which underpins the euro".

the euro is no better than the worthless dollar and destined to suffer the same fate.

See this link for the full story.

So it appears that the ECU, too, succumbs to Mr. Rothbard's proclamation and the Euro is on track to follow the way of the US dollar into unlimited inflation. Note that nothing is said regarding the 30% gold "backing" which ultimately will have to be reduced as the Euro is inflated into oblivion.

The take home message is that all of the individuals who acquired Euros, in the belief that they would represent a stable currency, have been defrauded by the ECU since now the ECU will produce as many Euros as necessary to accommodate economic growth, diluting the value of each individual Euro. Is anyone really surprised?

As the article from the link above points out, this is good for gold advocates because the price of gold will undoubtedly rise against all currencies as, once again, there is no alternative unit of measure that represents true wealth.

How You Likin' Them Now, Teddy?

ABC News reports that:

Iraqi soldiers, backed by US helicopters, are reported to have seized 131 suspects in a dawn raid on insurgents planning attacks on the holy city of Kerbala.

The Defence Ministry says troops also retrieved tons of explosives. The Defence Minister, Hazim al-Shaalan, described it as a very successful operation based on intensive surveillance.

Several suspected militants were reported killed in the operation, which began late on Friday and culminated in the dawn raid just outside Kerbala, about 100 kilometres south-west of Baghdad.

Officials say say those arrested included foreigners using fake Iraqi identification papers. Three tons of TNT explosive, hundreds of rocket-propelled grenade launchers and at least three prepared car bombs were also found.

Earlier this week Iraqi police commandos said they killed 85 militants in a raid on a suspected insurgent training camp near Baghdad, hailing it as a breakthrough against the insurgency.

Somebody ask Ted Kennedy and his portside colleagues how they're liking the Iraqi security forces now. It was just a few short months ago, we recall, that there were no words disdainful enough to capture the contempt the Dems sought to heap upon the Iraqi effort to police themselves. There were too few troops and police, we were advised, and what there were of them, the stalwart warriors of Capitol Hill scoffed, turned tail and ran at the first sign of danger. We would be bogged down protecting people who wouldn't fight for themselves for years to come, they whined.

Our military cautioned us to be patient. They told us that training takes time, and that the Iraqis were brave and talented and that eventually they were going to prove it. Now they are. We'll wait patiently while the Democrats cobble together an admission that they were wrong, again.

The Twilight of the Insurgency

Three stories mentioned by Arthur Chrenkoff's article in the WSJ of Iraqi civilians taking up the fight against terrorists themselves are more evidence that the insurgency is doomed. When insurgents lose the battle for the hearts and minds of the people they cannot win. The terrorists in Iraq lost this battle when they turned from the militarily suicidal practice of targeting Americans to the politically suicidal practice of targeting Iraqis.

Here's an excerpt from the first account:

Just before noon today, a carpenter named Dhia saw a troop of masked gunmen with grenades coming towards his shop and decided he had had enough.

As the gunmen emerged from their cars, Dhia and his young relatives shouldered their own AK-47's and opened fire, police and witnesses said. In the fierce gun battle that followed, three of the insurgents were killed, and the rest fled just after the police arrived. Two of Dhia's young nephews and a bystander were injured, the police said.

"We attacked them before they attacked us," Dhia, 35, his face still contorted with rage and excitement, said in a brief exchange at his shop a few hours after the battle. He did not give his last name. "We killed three of those who call themselves the mujahedeen. I am waiting for the rest of them to come and we will show them."

Two other fairly recent examples can be found here and here.

Another sign of failure for an insurgency is when it ceases to be indigenous and is forced to rely on alien forces. The presence of so many foreigners among the dead is an indication that popular support among Iraqis for the terrorist effort is waning. Indeed, when the bulk of the adversary is foreign it really is no longer an insurgency, and perhaps it's time for the media to stop referring to it as such. No doubt a lot of the Iraqis who are left among the opposition are thinking that it's time to get out or to cut a deal.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Steyn On Schiavo

Mark Steyn is always worth reading. He is especially so in this column on Terri Schiavo. His article is a bracing splash of common sense and needs to be read by everyone who thinks that Terri Schiavo ought to die.

Powerful Stuff

There is a remarkable piece by the Albanian ambassador to the U.S., Fatos Tarifa, in the March 27th edition of the Washington Times. Tarifa writes:

The announcement several days ago Albania -- a small country with limited resources -- was sending an additional 50 well-trained troops to Iraq came as a surprise to some observers. But it really should not have surprised anyone.

Albania was one of only four countries to send combat troops during the operation "Iraqi Freedom." Albania is probably the most pro-American country on Earth. It showed its support of the United States early, when it initially sent 70 commandos to join the Coalition of the Willing's effort to bring peace, stability and free elections to Iraq. These new troops bring to a total of 120 Albanian soldiers serving in Iraq.

From a country with only 3.5 million people, the troops -- the flower of Albania's youth -- represent the best Albania has to offer. Why does Albania do this when it could have avoided President Bush's call for support, or when it could have dropped out as others have done when the going got tough? The answer is not difficult to find. If you believe in freedom, you believe in fighting for it. If you believe in fighting for freedom, you believe in America.

Unlike people in other countries in Europe and elsewhere, the Albanian people have not forgotten what it is like to live under tyranny and repression. The Albanians for more than 40 years were held in thrall by the repressive forces of the communists, living like prisoners without rights in their own country. It was to the United States that freedom-loving Albanians looked for inspiration during those dark years, and the Americans have not let us down.

"We Albanians are a nation of freedom fighters who know something about living under oppression," Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano wrote in a letter to President Bush. "That is why we wholeheartedly support the American-led effort to free the people of Iraq. And though we are a small country with a small military, we are proud to stand side by side with our allies in the fight to end the reign of terror in Baghdad."

Europe is a small place and it is hard not to run into history there. It is also hard to avoid the historic contributions of the United States in the defense of freedom and liberty on the Continent. There are cemeteries throughout Europe -- in France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg -- containing the remains of American soldiers who died in battle to free Europe in two world wars.

Although it is not fashionable to talk about it, the face of Europe would indeed be much different today were it not for the Americans who died storming the Normandy beaches. Were it not for the Americans, there is a good chance there would be no France, nor a United Kingdom nor a Belgium, as we know them today. Were it not for the United States it also is very possible no Balkan countries would be free.

Upon committing Albania to the Coalition of the Willing, Prime Minister Nano urged his fellow European leaders to visit Normandy "to see for themselves what the United States has been willing to undertake in the name of freedom. We should all visit Normandy. We should pay homage to those brave Americans who stormed ashore at Omaha Beach and gave their lives for the freedom of others. The wonder of it is that the Americans are willing to do it again," Mr. Nano said.

And of course, it was the U.S.-led effort of NATO to rein in Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic and his ethnic cleansing campaign in Kosovo that proved to the world that, in the name of freedom, the United States was willing to fight for the freedom of the oppressed, regardless of religious belief.

So it is with Iraq. The importance of the American-led effort to liberate Iraq and establish a democratic government for the first time in this country's history cannot be underestimated. It is not the first time the United States has faced suicide bombers trapped in a cult of death. The Japanese kamikazes sought to do to the Americans toward the end of World War II what the terrorists are attempting in Iraq today. The kamikazes failed then, the terrorists will fail now. Japan became a democracy and so will Iraq.

Tarifa brings his essay to a moving conclusion:

The difference between the United States and the Islamic terrorists is this: The terrorists export death. The Americans export freedom.

The surprise is not in Albania's decision to send more troops to fight for freedom in Iraq. The surprise would have been if Albania did not.

These are powerful words. Who, in 1970, at the height of the cold war between America and totalitarian communism, would ever have thought an Albanian spokesman would be writing columns like this? Who, we might ask, is writing columns like this today about, say, France?

Biting Off More Than You Can Chew

You might recall the news reports of an MP unit that was ambushed in Iraq last week and how they handled the fight. The After Action Report is here and it makes very interesting reading. It describes the engagement in considerable detail and concludes with this:

Those seven Americans (with three wounded) killed in total 24 heavily armed enemy, wounded 6 (two later died), and captured one unwounded, who feigned injury to escape the fight. They seized 22 AK-47s, 6x RPG launchers w/ 16 rockets, 13x RPK machineguns, 3x PKM machineguns, 40 hand grenades, 123 fully loaded 30-rd AK magazines, 52 empty mags, and 10 belts of 2500 rounds of PK ammo.

After reading the whole thing there's little wonder the insurgents have turned their attention to marketplace crowds and elementary schools.

That's Rich

Frank Rich of the NYT offers up a buffet of anti-Christian delicacies for the Christophobes among us to savor. Rich applies the broadest of brushes, painting both the deserving and undeserving as hypocrites and frauds. He's an equal opportunity slanderer. You don't have to be really guilty of any moral fault to fall prey to his self-righteous inquisitorial judgments, you need only be a Christian trying to do what you believe to be right.

For Rich, being a Christian is prima facie dispositive of guilt, and he's far from alone. Thursday night on Scarborough Country lawyer Jeffrey Feiger dismissed the testimony of a doctor in the Terri Schiavo matter ostensibly because the man was a Christian.

The Left despises Christians, although it doesn't scruple to exploit them if the believers take positions of which the Left approves. As soon as someone takes a stand for life, or traditional sexual standards, or traditional marriage, however, or as soon as someone expresses doubts about Darwinian orthodoxy, the Left's big guns are quickly brought to bear on the hapless soul who is subjected to a barrage of vituperation and contempt. For Rich, to take a stand against the tide of our culture is to prove oneself to be an "extremist", a "fundamentalist", a jihadist, the American equivalent of the "Taliban", a "bullying mob", a theocrat, and, of course, a hypocrite and a fraud.

The Left demands tolerance of everything and anything, no matter how degenerate or dysfunctional, except conservatives, Republicans, and Christians. Combine them all in one person and it becomes a burden too great for even great-souled liberals like Frank Rich to bear.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Resurrection Day

Jon Meacham of Newsweek, perhaps chastened by the criticism he received following his foray into Christian theology over Christmas, pens a much less offensive column about the Resurrection of Jesus in the current issue. He notes that the tomb of Christ was almost certainly empty that first Easter morning. If it were not, he observes, the opponents of Christ had only to produce the body to abort the religious turmoil that the sect of Christians was beginning to arouse. This they did not do, a startling historical fact, really, which leads us to the obvious conclusion that they couldn't do it. This leads us in turn to ask why not.

No naturalistic explanation of the empty tomb makes sense. The most common of these is that the disciples stole the corpse, but this hypothesis is credible only if one assumes a priori that non-natural explanations are impossible. To believe that the disciples stole the body one must believe that a band of terrified fishermen overpowered an armed military guard, a crime for which they were never arrested or charged, stole the cadaver, and eventually underwent torture and martyrdom for preaching around the world what they knew to be a lie. People will die for a lie they believe to be true, but only men suffering from some form of dementia would die for a lie they knew to be a lie, and there's no reason to think these men were demented.

Surely, if the authorities believed the disciples had stolen the body they would have brought irresistibly persuasive techniques to bear to coerce them into divulging its whereabouts. Yet there's no indication whatsoever that this was even attempted.

The skeptic says, as was noted above, that no matter how implausible a given naturalistic explanation may be it is still more believable than the claim that a man rose from the dead. This objection, however, rests on the assumption that there is no God, an assumption that is much easier to make than to defend. If, contrary to the skeptical view, it is possible that God exists then miracles are indeed also possible, and if they are possible, we have to examine the evidence for an alleged instance of one, especially one as significant as the resurrection of Jesus, to determine whether it is, in fact, credible. The evidence for the historical, physical revivification of Christ, many scholars have concluded, is at least as powerful as that for any other event in antiquity.

Other attempts to avoid the conclusion that a miracle actually occurred are equally unimpressive. Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code adopts a version of the swoon theory, that after some thirty six hours without medical care, Jesus somehow recovered from his wounds, including the spear thrust, with sufficient vigor to roll away the heavy stone blocking the tomb. He accomplished this astonishing feat without being detected by the Roman guard, and subsequently appeared to the disciples and dozens, even hundreds, of others, looking so hale and hearty that they believed that he had conquered death and was the very Son of God.

Even if something like this could have happened, the disciples would have known that Jesus had not "risen from the dead" in any theologically significant sense. He would have eventually died (or, as Brown has it, absconded to France with his beloved Mary Magdalene), and his dead body would be proof that he was not the Messiah. This, then, brings us back to the question above: Why would so many have been willing to be tortured and martyred for a man they would have realized was a false messiah?

Skeptics scoff at miracles, but the most important miracle in the history of Christendom is one which defies any attempt to explain away. The most plausible explanation for the empty tomb, unless one holds an a priori commitment to atheism, is that God actually did raise Jesus from the dead just as we are promised that we will be. Because death did not result in the annihilation of His being we have the hope that neither will it result in ours.

This is the wonderful significance of the event Christians celebrate every Easter. Happy Resurrection Day.

How the Jews Saved Civilization

Kathryn Lopez of NRO interviews David Klinghoffer about his new book Why the Jews Rejected Jesus. It's a fascinating interview. A couple of excerpts:

Klinghoffer: I...hope that my book will remind believing Christians of the most important thing we have in common: a belief that there is such a thing as religious truth in the first place. That idea is under attack from the secular left. In this sense, my book is a battle cry on behalf of both Jews and Christians.

NRO: How can the whole of Western Civilization rest on the [Jewish] rejection of Jesus (as Klinghoffer claims in his book)?

Klinghoffer: The earliest Christian church was initially hobbled by insisting that new converts adhere to Jewish law - keep kosher, be circumcised, etc. For an adult man to be circumcised was a bummer, let me tell you. The decision was made, however - at a church council in Jerusalem in 49 - to jettison Jewish law as a requirement for new Christians. This was done at the apostle Paul's insistence, and he explains in Acts that since the Jews were rejecting his presentation of Jesus as savior and messiah, the Christian message would now be taken to the gentiles. Dispensing with Jewish practices like circumcision made this possible. Had the Jews not rejected Paul's preaching about Jesus, the church likely would have held on to those laws. Had it done so, the church would have remained hobbled, and could hardly have become the world-bestriding institution it is today. Jewish Christianity would have remained a sect in Judaism, and probably would have died out along with other such sects in 70 when the Temple was destroyed by Rome and the Jews scattered. In that case, there would be no Christian civilization, and, among other things, no America as we know it - a country whose founding was deeply influenced by Christian faith. There is a possibility that we would all be Muslims.

NRO: Besides maybe converting us, what would you like the Christian reader to get from your book?

Klinghoffer: I don't want to convert you, Kathryn, and I know I couldn't do so no matter how I tried. People believe what we believe for reasons that transcend argument. We believe because we have a certain kind of relationship with God, a certain spiritual experience. The arguments come later. What I want to do for the Christian reader is satisfy your curiosity. Jews, especially those who like me work and socialize with committed and conservative Christians, are asked why we don't share their faith in Jesus. Or Christians wants to ask, but stop themselves. The question is meant sincerely and seriously. It deserves an answer.

Klinghoffer: If you look at the top 20 political issues today, as I will in [my next] book, it turns out there's much stronger support in the Bible from the conservative side in almost every case. The reason has to do with the question of whether people are morally accountable for their actions. The conservative view assumes we are free and responsible, which liberals don't. That same assumption undergirds the Bible everywhere. How else could God issue us commandments?

Klinghoffer is a Jew who doesn't resent being surrounded by expressions of Christian devotion and indeed believes that the best for Judaism is a healthy, vibrant Christian orthodoxy. As you might expect, he's not fond of Abe Foxman or the Anti-Defamation League.

Mendacious Mullahs

The Wall Street Journal has an excellent overview by Carla Anne Robbins of the reasons for U.S. concern over Iran's nuclear weapons program. It is a history of Iran's deception and dissimulation that the world needs to be made aware of.

Friday, March 25, 2005

The Meaning of Good Friday

I sit at my computer on this Good Friday listening to Bach's St. Matthew's Passion and Henryk Gorecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs looking forward to this evening when I have a "date" with my daughter to watch Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ, and I wonder. I wonder if I, or anyone, can possibly understand the significance of Good Friday. Can I ever comprehend what it means that God, the creator of worlds, would care enough about me to endure what He did, so that I could have the hope that death does not have the final word about human life.

My existence, the existence of each of us, is astonishing enough. That mere matter could be so arranged as to generate a consciousness, a self-awareness, a rational mind, is, when one thinks about it, a truly amazing thing. That this consciousness might survive death in another reality, another world, is even more astounding. For some it's too astounding to be credible.

And yet if it's true...if it's in fact true that our eternal survival is a gift from God, purchased by Jesus Christ at a cost we may never be able to fully appreciate, it is a breath-taking, ineffable truth.

Some people think the Christian narrative is simply the apotheosis of an ancient myth, that a truly sophisticated, omniscient God would have found some way other than a primitive blood sacrifice to usher us into eternal joy. I don't know if there were other means at God's disposal or not, but it seems to me that the way the Bible tells us He chose is perfect for what He wanted to accomplish.

In the Christian account, God made us as an object of His love. He desires to live in a love relationship with us, but for whatever reason we often want no part of such a relationship. It's too confining, it involves too much self-abnegation, it entails too much of a constraint on our Dionysian appetites, it's too much of an affront to our pride, reason and dignity. Confident in our independence, we don't need God. In our autonomy we distort God's purposes and design plan for human life in order to suit and pursue our own selfish ends.

Nevertheless, God would not be dissuaded or put off. He persists in His relentless attempts to show us that all of our rationalizations for demanding our Promethean emancipation are just so many childish and foolish masks we put on to conceal the fact that we just don't want Him in our lives. He chooses to woo us to Himself not with threats or fear but with love. He chooses to demonstrate in an extraordinarily vivid way that His love for us is deeper than we could ever imagine.

To this end he does something totally unexpected and supererogatory. He becomes a man like one of us, shares in our humanity, our sufferings and joys, and ultimately endures the pain and terror of crucifixion. His life and death is the price that He is willing to pay, for reasons that we cannot understand this side of eternity, to secure eternal life and to make it available to everyone. He didn't have to do it, He could have left us alone to destroy ourselves and our planet, to fade into the cosmic oblivion that rejection of our Creator would have warranted. But because He did do it, He shows us not only that He is not simply some abstract deity, too transcendent to matter, but that He is personal, immanent, and that His love is not just a theoretical exercise, it has consequences which can change a life now and forever.

Charles Dickens captures something of the Divine love in the climax of his Tale of Two Cities when he has Sydney Carton, moved by his deep love for Lucie, smuggle himself into prison to take the place of Charles Darnay, the man Lucie really loves, knowing full well that his love is ultimately going to bring him to the guillotine. Carton substitutes himself for Charles and goes to the death to which Charles was sentenced in an expression of almost superhuman love.

Out of the depths of His love, God substituted Himself for us, enduring torture and humiliation at the hands of His own creation, and going to a death so that we could live. He asks of us in return only our love.

We are in the position of a man clinging by his fingers to the edge of a cliff and slowly, inexorably losing his grip. The abyss of nihilism, of meaninglessness, emptiness and death, lies far below, but because of the cross there's a chance to be rescued. God stands above the struggling man, kneeling down and holding out His hand, urging the man to seize it. It's up to the man about to die, it's up to us, to accept the rescue that God offers. God has done all He can to persuade us, but He won't force us to grasp His hand. He won't override our will. He allows us to make the final decision whether to live or die.

That, at any rate, is the best I can do to explain my own wholly inadequate understanding of the Christian story and the meaning of Good Friday.

Thursday, March 24, 2005


Michelle Malkin offers further evidence, if any were needed, that the MSM in this country is either incompetent or dishonest or both. She looks at the recent ABC poll that shows large numbers of people supporting Michael Schiavo's wish to kill his wife and asks if maybe the poll question wasn't a smidgeon disingenuous:

However you feel about the Terri Schiavo case, one fact is indisputable: The mainstream media (MSM) coverage of the matter has been abysmal. On a fundamental matter of life and death, the MSM heavyweights have proven themselves utterly incapable of reporting fairly. Take a widely publicized ABC News poll released on Monday that supposedly showed strong public opposition to any Washington intervention in Terri's case. Here is how the spinmasters framed the main poll question:

"As you may know, a woman in Florida named Terri Schiavo suffered brain damage and has been on life support for 15 years. Doctors say she has no consciousness and her condition is irreversible. Her parents and her husband disagree on whether or not she should be kept on life support. In cases like this who do you think should have final say, (the parents) or (the spouse)?"

A follow-up question asked:

"If you were in this condition, would you want to be kept alive, or not?"

The problem is that, contrary to what ABC News told those polled, Terri Schiavo is not on "life support" and has never been on "life support." The loaded phrase evokes images of a comatose patient being artificially sustained by myriad machines and pumps and wires. Terri was on a feeding tube. A feeding tube is not a ventilator. Terri can breathe just fine on her own. And as many of her medical caretakers and parents have argued, if given proper rehabilitation, Terri could learn to chew and swallow on her own as well. She is disabled, not dead.

But ABC News did not see fit to inform either the poll takers or its viewers of the truth. Instead, it misled them -- and the result was a poll response that produced -- voila! -- "broad public disapproval" for any government intervention to spare Terri from slowly starving to death. Blogger Ed Morrissey of Captain's Quarters noted: "Either ABC is completely incompetent in conducting research, or they have attempted to fool their viewers and readership with false polling that essentially lies about the case in question. Since when does ABC conduct push polling for euthanasia?"

Imagine how the poll results might have turned out if ABC News had made clear to participants that Terri is not terminally ill. Not in excruciating pain. Capable of saying "Mommy" and "Help me." And of "getting the feeling she's falling" or getting "excited," in her husband's own testimony, when her head is not held properly.

Imagine how the poll results might have turned out if ABC News had informed participants that in a sworn affidavit, registered nurse Carla Sauer Iyer, who worked at the Palm Garden of Largo Convalescent Center in Largo, Fla., while Terri Schiavo was a patient there, testified: "Throughout my time at Palm Gardens, Michael Schiavo was focused on Terri's death. Michael would say 'When is she going to die?' 'Has she died yet?' and 'When is that bitch gonna die?'" Now, if you were in this situation, would you want to be kept alive, or not?

Not to pick on ABC News, but, well, let's. In an attempt to embarrass Rep. Dave Weldon (R.-Fla.) who noted that withdrawing food and water from someone like Schiavo was extremely rare, ABC's Jake Tapper last week featured this counter-quote from Prof. Bill Allen, of the University of Florida College of Medicine:

"Feeding tubes have been removed in the United States for many years, and it's been a common practice. This has happened in many cases, probably a hundred thousand times in this country."

"A hundred thousand times"? There have been a hundred thousand cases of non-terminally ill, non-brain dead individuals slowly starved and forced to die in this country? Tapper demanded no proof from his professor. Instead, he dismissed lawmakers as ignoramuses contradicted by "experts," cited the biased ABC News poll cited above, and tossed it back to Jennings with this slam: "Terri Schiavo and her family deserved better than the way Congress worked this week."

Meanwhile, contradicting the experience of every starved child in Africa and abandoned street animal at your SPCA shelter, the New York Times informs us: "Experts Say Ending Feeding Can Lead to a Gentle Death."

Little wonder that people hold the major news outlets in such low esteem. So many of them seem to have accepted Rather-fication.

Just Wondering

This is going to sound to some as though I've taken leave of my senses, perhaps, but I feel it needs to be said. In fact, I'm a little surprised that I haven't heard anyone else say it.

How many men, listening to the facts surrounding the tragic case of Terri Schiavo, have not wondered what they would do if they were the father of a girl whose husband was doing to her what Michael Schiavo is doing to Terri? Suppose a man is convinced that it was an act of physical violence at the hands of her husband that put his daughter into this terrible condition. Suppose the father is convinced that in the years following, the husband has treated his daughter callously and cruelly, exploiting her condition for financial gain and then abandoning her to start another family. Suppose the husband refuses to relinquish custodial authority over the daughter so that he can retain the right to insist that she be killed. Suppose the father loves his daughter deeply and both father and mother are distraught at what has been, and is being, done to her. Suppose, finally, that the courts side with the husband and refuse to save the life of this man's precious "little girl" opting instead to let the husband kill her through a long slow process of starvation and dehydration. I don't know that all of these suppositions actually obtain in the Schiavo case, but suppose they did.

I don't wish to sound overly Clint Eastwoodian, but how many men have had the thought cross their mind in recent days that if their daughter were in such straits the contemptible husband would have long ago been given an ultimatum: If she dies, he dies.

The threat alone might effect a better circumstance for the suffering woman, but, on the other hand, perhaps the husband would be unmoved. In that event, I wonder how many fathers could stand by and watch another man who has no love whatsoever for their daughter, who only wishes her to be gone, coldly starve her to death. How many men would stand by helplessly watching their little girl's life ebb away knowing she could be saved if her killer's life were taken? What are the moral implications of such an act? If it would be wrong, precisely why would it be wrong?

Surely it is not an option open to a Christian, but then why isn't it? A Christian might enjoin us to ask what would Jesus do, but that's a poor guide in the present situation. Jesus would probably heal the woman. The father can't. A Christian might say that violence is not a legitimate option, but that's only true if one is a pacifist. What is the salient difference, given all our suppositions, between what is happening to the daughter in this instance and the case of a man using deadly force to protect his family?

Perhaps it could be argued that eliminating the odious son-in-law, so far from being an act of unjustifiable violence, would be, in fact, an expression of deep self-sacrificial love. At the cost of spending the rest of one's life in jail, or maybe even incurring the death penalty, one could insure by one's action that custody of the impaired woman would revert to the family who could then give her proper care and possible rehabilitation.

There's an outside chance that a jury wouldn't even convict a father who so acted to save his daughter's life, if it were the only recourse left to him. Jury nullification saved O.J., it might well work in favor of a man willing to sacrifice his freedom and risk execution in order to see his daughter's life saved. Indeed, we should ask ourselves whether, if we were on the jury, we honestly think we could vote to convict in such a case.

Just wondering if this solution ever occured to anyone else.

Women's Champion

Which is a better measure of a president's commitment to the rights and status of women, guaranteeing them the unfettered right to kill their unborn children or liberating 25 million women from tyranny in Afghanistan and Iraq and appointing women to positions of power and influence in government?

As long as liberal democrats think the answer is the former they'll continue to see their support among women erode until all that's left in their camp are a few embittered members of NOW and a motley collection of radical professors.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Atheism and Christian Salvation

Christianity Today has a piece by Alistair McGrath which he excerpts from his book The Twilight of Atheism. McGrath argues that atheism reached its zenith sometime before WWII and has been in decline ever since. The reason for its appeal is disapproval of the moral temper of Christianity, but Christians have done a much better job of representing Christ to the world in the last sixty years than atheists have in presenting a plausible alternative. McGrath says:

The failure of atheism to capture the public imagination in the West reflects its failure to articulate a compelling, imaginative vision of a godless future that is capable of exciting people and making them want to gather together to celebrate and proclaim it.

Listen to John Updike: "Among the repulsions of atheism for me has been its drastic uninterestingness as an intellectual position." I have to confess that I now share his catatonic sense of utter tedium when I reread some of the atheist works I once found fascinating as a teenager. They now seem simplistic, failing to engage with the complexities of human experience, and seriously out of tune with our postmodern culture.

The battle, however, is far from won:

The moral passion of atheism, especially when set alongside the laziness and complacency of European state churches in the 18th century, cannot be dismissed.

In the end, debates about whether God's existence can be proved remain marginal. The central issue is moral and imaginative. The most fundamental criticisms directed against Christianity have to do with the moral character of its God. They often focus on the issue of eternal punishment.

"Eternal punishment must be eternal cruelty," said secular humanist orator Robert G. Ingersoll (1833-1899), "and I do not see how any man, unless he has the brain of an idiot, or the heart of a wild beast, can believe in eternal punishment."

We cannot assert eternal damnation and expect Western culture to nod approvingly. This culture is not predisposed to reject Christian doctrines as a matter of principle; rather, it is surprised by what seems a massive retreat from society's fundamental notions of decency and evenhandedness. Atheism arises mainly through a profound sense that religious ideas and values are at least inferior to, and possibly irreconcilable with, the best moral standards and ideals of human culture.

In other words, Western culture finds implausible and repugnant the conviction, widely held among evangelicals, that no matter how much in love with God a person might be, if he or she has not accepted Christ as Lord, God rejects them, and they are eternally damned. McGrath, in fact, believes this doctrine to be the major reason why people who become atheists abandon theism.

I'm not sure he's right about this. I think that most people who reject theism simply don't want there to be a God even remotely like the God of the Bible and wouldn't embrace Him regardless of what the Church taught about salvation.

Even so, McGrath is doubtless correct that there are many who find Christian exclusivism morally incomprehensible if not repellant and reject the Gospel because of it. It is on behalf of these that the Church, in our view, should revisit its thinking on this very important issue. If the doctrine is clearly and unambiguously taught by scripture then so be it, but if scripture admits of other ways of thinking about what it means to be saved and what it means to be lost, then it would be a worthwhile project to reconsider some of the arguments, some of the exegesis, and some of the theology involved in deciding exactly what God's plan of redemption involves.

Scripture may be inerrant, but our understanding of it surely is not.

Here We Go Again

ABC has run a story that claimed that Republicans were using the Schiavo tragedy to further their political agenda, and they adduced as evidence an alleged "talking points memo" that they claimed had been circulating among Republicans in congress. The memo was said to have contained claims as to how the issue would benefit Republicans and hurt Democrats.

Well, a lot of questions have been raised about the origin of this document and PowerLine has been right on top of it. It looks suspicious. Check them out to get brought up to speed on what may turn out to be yet another black eye for media trustworthiness.


There's a not so quiet groundswell building in the blogosphere, just beneath the MSM radar, concerning the practice of rendition or returning suspected terrorists and sympathizers to their country of origin for interrogation. There are certain advantages to this practice, but there are numerous legitimate concerns as well. There have also been tragic mistakes and abuses.

For insight into why rendition is done see Michael Ignatius' column in the WaPo. There is much to dislike about Ignatius' piece, but he does explain the rationale for rendition fairly.

For a tragic illustration of the potential for abuse of rendition and why many are calling for restricting it or eliminating it see here.

We imagine that we'll be hearing a lot more about this issue in the weeks and months ahead.

Flying By the Seat of Their Pants

There's a revealing special airing on HBO on March 31st that will be of "must see" interest to any Air America fans out there. Drudge has the inside scoop on the documentary.

American Justice

A story in The Guardian points out that Jeff Weise, the 16 year-old who went on a killing spree in his Red Lake, Minnesota high school was, according to those who knew him from his posts on a Nazi web site, fairly mature given his age.

"We knew [Weise] briefly through 34 posts he made on the forum. He expressed himself well and was clearly highly intelligent and contemplative, especially for one so young," the site's administrator said in statement posted today on

Perhaps he is as mature as many twenty year olds. But even though he killed wantonly and cruelly his crime did not rise to the level of a capital offense.

One of his victims was 14 and four were aged 15. At least three were girls. A student, Sondra Hegstrom, heard shooting from an adjoining classroom, she told the local newspaper, The Pioneer.

"You could hear a girl saying, 'No, Jeff. Quit! Quit! Leave me alone. Why are you doing this?' Boom, boom, boom, and then no more screaming," she said.

Horrific, but nevertheless, due to the wisdom of Anthony Kennedy and four fellow Supreme Court justices, if Weise hadn't taken his own life he would never have had to worry that it would be taken from him. Killers under 18 are not mature enough to be fully responsible for their actions Justice Kennedy opines in Simmons.

What Weise did would not have warranted punishing him with death. No matter how many fourteen year-olds he would have murdered, the loss of their lives is not sufficient to justify the taking of his. Their loss just isn't significant enough to merit the imposition of the severest punishment. Weise's life has more value in the eyes of the law than do the lives of his victims.

Meanwhile in Florida, other judges deem it perfectly appropriate to let a woman starve to death just because her husband, whom there is reason to believe may be directly responsible for her condition, wants her dead.

What a country.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Logic of Choosing Life

Cheat Seeking Missiles sums up Terri Schiavo's case pretty well:

The logic of this case is so simple, and so defies the howls of the Left, that it's a wonder they're letting themselves be cast as ghouls of death. It all comes down to this:

If Terri is in as bad a shape as her husband says she is, she doesn't know and wouldn't care whether she is alive or not, so why not let her parents care for her if they want to?

And if she is not in as bad a shape as her husband says she is, why in the world would you kill her instead of transferring responsibility for her care to people who love her and will support her?

Good question. Here's another: Why are liberals so determined to have this woman killed?

More Upbeat News From Iraq

A friend passes on this list of things we probably didn't know about Iraq gleaned, it says here, from the Department of Defense website:

Forty seven countries have re-established their embassies in Iraq.

The Iraqi government employs 1.2 million Iraqi people.

Thirty one hundred schools have been renovated, 364 schools are under rehabilitation, 263 schools are now under construction and 38 new schools have been built in Iraq.

Iraq's higher educational structure consists of 20 Universities, 46 Institutes or colleges and 4 research centers.

Twenty five Iraq students departed for the United States in January 2004 for the re-established Fulbright program.

The Iraqi Navy is operational. They have five 100-foot patrol craft, 34 smaller vessels and a naval infantry regiment.

Iraq's Air Force consists of three operation squadrons, 9 reconnaissance and 3 US C-130 transport aircraft which operate day and night, and will soon add 16 UH-1 helicopters and 4 bell jet rangers.

Iraq has a counter-terrorist unit and a Commando Battalion.

The Iraqi Police Service has over 55,000 fully trained and equipped police officers.

There are 5 Police Academies in Iraq that produce over 3500 new officers each 8 weeks.

There are more than 1100 building projects going on in Iraq. They include 364 schools, 67 public clinics, 15 hospitals, 83 railroad stations, 22 oil facilities, 93 water facilities and 69 electrical facilities.

Ninety six percent of Iraqi children under the age of 5 have received the first 2 series of polio vaccinations.

Over 4.3 million Iraqi children were enrolled in primary school by mid October.

There are 1,192,000 cell phone subscribers in Iraq and phone use has gone up 158%.

Iraq has an independent media that consist of 75 radio stations, 180 newspapers and 10 television stations.

The Baghdad Stock Exchange opened in June of 2004.

Two candidates in the Iraqi presidential election had a recent televised debate recently.

If this is the first you've heard about these achievements you might ask your local MSM news outlet why they so assiduously publicize every car bombing in Iraq but never seem to get around to letting us know this sort of information.

Interpreting Media Casualty Reports

Instapundit links us to a note from Arthur Chrenkoff about how to read the casualty reports coming out of Iraq. It turns out that we must read beyond the headline. If we do we learn that over half of the reported casualties are insurgents. Chrenkoff writes:

Aren't you glad that you read more than the headline

"45 killed in insurgent attacks" or indeed the opening paragraph

"At least 45 people have been killed in insurgent attacks across Iraq as Washington defended its decision to go to war on the second anniversary of the US-led invasion." of this Agence France-Presse story. Because when you get to the second paragraph, you read:

"Twenty-four Iraqi insurgents were killed and six coalition soldiers wounded in a firefight in a Baghdad suburb overnight, the US military said."

That is, more than half of the people killed in insurgent attacks were the insurgents themselves. Actually, when you read on, you discover that another five insurgents died in two separate attacks, which means that the number is really 29 out of 45.

It's tragic that 15 Iraqis and one American have also died yesterday, but there is a very important implication flowing from all this: terrorism and insurgency rely for their effectiveness and survival on the ability to inflict mass casualties, preferably in a spectacular fashion, while sustaining minimal losses themselves. The arithmetic in Iraq, and everywhere else, is simple: there are hell of a lot more ordinary Iraqis (including Iraqi security forces) out there than there are terrorists. Hence, terrorists cannot afford to be dying at the same, or greater, rate than their target population.

But they are, of course, which is why the insurgency may well be dying.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Unfit for Life

This story from the Guardian reports that two doctors approved a late term abortion because the child suffered from a cleft palate. Charges were brought and dropped.

Of course, in this country charges would not have even been brought because a woman can abort her child at any time for any reason. Even so, we have a question for the doctors in England. If the child had been born with the cleft palate would they have agreed to kill it if the mother requested it? If not, why not? If having this particular defect was reason enough for them to think the child should be killed before it was born, wouldn't it be equally sufficient to justify killing the child after it was born?

Peter Singer the Princeton bioethicist who has achieved much notoriety for his advocacy of infanticide divides into three groups the newborns for whom decisions about ending life might be made.

The first consists of infants who would die soon after birth even if all existing medical resources were employed to prolong their lives.

In the second group are infants who require intensive care, such as a respirator, to keep them alive, and for whom the expectations regarding their future are "very grim." These are infants with severe brain damage. If they can survive beyond intensive care, they will still have a very poor quality of life.

The third group includes infants with a "hopeless prognosis" and who also are victims of "unbearable suffering." For example, in the third group was "a child with the most serious form of spina bifida," the failure of the spinal cord to form and close properly. Yet infants in group three may no longer be dependent on intensive care.

It is this third group, Singer says, that creates the controversy because their lives cannot be ended simply by withdrawing intensive care.

Whatever one's assessment of Singer's distinctions if we are coming to the point where a cleft palate warrants inclusion in the third group then the culture of death is even further advanced in its march through the western world than we had thought.

Parenthetically, here's an interesting piece on Peter Singer's unwillingness to draw the full implications of his ethics in his own life.

The Hidden War in Iraq

The March 20 installment of Strategy Page has some interesting commentary on the war being fought in the Sunni neighborhoods against al Qaida. The Strategy Page folks discuss the players and what their various motives. Give it a look.

Kerry's Form 180

Mickey Kaus at Slate reports that John Kerry is planning on finally signing the Form 180 that he refused to sign during the campaign and which would have released his full Vietnam service record. Kaus says:

Kerry's military records, when fully opened, better show something at least mildly embarrassing! If they're completely innocuous, why couldn't Kerry have signed Form 180 a year ago and cleared up many of the rumors that helped sink his candidacy (and his party)? ... Kerry's belated action could raise as many questions as it answers!

This really is strange. Why now?

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Iraqis Are Optimistic

According to polls Iraqis are upbeat about their future:

The survey of 1,967 Iraqis was conducted Feb. 27-March 5, after Iraq held its first free elections in half a century in January. According to the poll, 62% say the country is headed in the right direction and 23% say it is headed in the wrong direction. That is the widest spread recorded in seven polls by the group, says Stuart Krusell, IRI director of operations for Iraq. In September, 45% of Iraqis thought the country was headed in the wrong direction and 42% thought it was headed in the right direction. The IRI is a non-partisan, U.S. taxpayer-funded group that promotes democracy abroad.

No doubt the Left is as downcast about this poll as the Iraqis are enthusiastic. Will Bush get any credit from his critics for this turnaround or will their response to news like this be more like: "Bush slips in a hog pen and comes up smelling like rose water" We'll see.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

What is a Soul?

A former student who is studying theology wrote not long ago to ask my opinion on the nature of the soul. I'm not a theologian, and I freely acknowledge that my guess is no better than anyone else's, but rushing in where wise mean fear to tread, this was my reply:

Some people think of the soul as a sort of "ghost in the machine", as Gilbert Ryle dismissively described the dualistic view of mind. Some people identify the soul with the mind. Some say the soul is our personality plus our body. In other words, for them the soul is the entire self.

It certainly could be that any of these is indeed what our soul is, although I think that if we include the body in the concept we run into a difficulty since bodies age and deteriorate. We might wonder whether our soul is what we are at ten years of age, or seventy, or at death. Despite the difficulty, however, I'm not discounting the idea.

My own view, though, is that our soul is really the totality of information which describes us: our personality, our life history (whether remembered or not), our values, knowledge, character, aspirations, etc. This information is not "in" us in any way, but rather it resides in the mind of God, like a file in a vast database, and is thus eternal. When our bodies die, this information, or at least some of it, is instantiated in another format (a body or body-like entity) in another world so that we are capable of experiencing another existence. We can think of it as a kind of download of information which creates the phenomena of "body" much like the software we load onto our computers creates the images we see on our screens.

This view is compatible with both materialism and substance dualism since regardless of which, if either, is true it has no bearing on the existential status of the soul. If it should turn out that mind is just the word we use to describe the functioning of the brain then the existence of the soul is no more jeopardized by that discovery than if it turns out, as I think it would, that the mind is something related to, but other than, the brain.

Even many materialists would acknowledge that a complete description of every person exists, although they could certainly add that the description is inaccessible and useless. They would doubtless point out that such a soul only exists in the same sense that numbers or logical relations exist even if there were no minds to apprehend them. They would exist but be utterly useless. The set of propositions which gives an exhaustive description of someone still exists after a person's body dies but would only be useful if it could be somehow conjoined with consciousness and another "body" of some sort. The possibility of this happening most (though perhaps not all) materialists would deny.

On the other hand, if there really is an omniscient God, then when my body dies, all is not lost. I, the set of propositions which describes the essential me, the information that comprises my identity, continue to exist in the mind of God. I may have no conscious awareness of my existence, it may be like being placed into a deep coma, but I exist nonetheless. I am not gone. If and when God decides to download the information (or the greater part of it) to some "body", the file marked with my name and containing a complete description of my self, infused with a spark of consciousness (mind?), becomes a revivified person. At that point I will have been resurrected, returned to life.

This has been the grand hope of Christianity and other theistic religions down through the ages, and it is this hope, this opportunity, that God held out to the world in prototype on the first Easter when He raised Christ from the dead.

On Tipping Points

I've read several articles lately that mention the possibility of March 16 being a "tipping point". This is a term given to an event or events that mark a significant point in time where, in hindsight, it becomes apparent that things will no longer be what they were.

Here's one of them from Morgan Stanley's Stephen Roach.

Tipping points are a great concept, but virtually impossible to identify ahead of time -- let alone when they are occurring. It is only with the great luxury of hindsight that we can look back and know that the proverbial bell has rung. In my view, March 16, 2005 could end up in the running as a possible tipping point for America. Suddenly, the US has taken on a very different aura in an increasingly unbalanced world: The confluence of a record current account deficit, a disaster from General Motors, and yet another new high for oil prices all speak of an increasingly precarious role for the global hegemon. World financial markets have barely begun to sniff that out.


But the message from overseas is that this game is just about over. One by one, Asian central banks -- America's financiers at the margin -- have dropped the not-so-subtle hint that they are saturated with dollar-denominated assets. From Korea and Japan to China and India -- not to dismiss Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Singapore -- there is a growing protest to massive dollar overweights in official reserve portfolios. The standard American response borders on arrogance: "What choice do they have?" The presumption is that the US has externally driven Asian economies over a barrel -- unwilling to accept a deterioration in export competitiveness that currency appreciation might bring. This misses a key cost-benefit tradeoff -- weighing the hit to exports against the fiscal cost of a portfolio loss on holdings of dollar-denominated assets. The bigger the build-up of dollar reserves, the more this tradeoff is likely to tip toward dollar diversification -- spelling the end of America's cut-rate foreign financing.

Trusting Without Proof

The service which provides us with a quotation each day from various philosophical sources sent this one from Thoreau's Walden the other day:

No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof.

We were just wondering what proof Thoreau had that no way of thinking can be trusted without proof.

Oh...This Can't Be Good

Following up on the troubles at General Motors, check this link where you will see that GM has $300 billion in debt. More importantly, you can also see that GM has a debt to equity ratio of over 10.

The significance of a debt to equity ratio as high as 10 can be found at this link to where we learn that:

A high ratio of 2 or more would expose the company to risk such as interest rate increases and creditor nervousness.

Foreign nations are plenty nervous and have been announcing that they will be selling U.S. bonds to diversify the holdings of their central banks: Russia, India, China, South Korea, and Japan.

Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan and the US are truly in a no-win situation. Greenspan must raise interest rates to stem inflation and make Treasury bonds more attractive to foreign countries. If he doesn't raise rates, the US will continue to lose the financing from foreign countries that has been fueling our economy. Yet if he raises rates, GM and others will go belly up. Note that for every one point that interest rates rise, refinancing GM's debt will cost an additional $3 billion in annual interest payments.

If GM fails, it would mean default on their debt of $300 billion dollars. That would make the Enron, World Com, and LTCM debacles look like a tea party in comparison.

Given the above, my initial reaction was to expect two possible outcomes, that GM would eventually file bankruptcy or they would become a takeover candidate by the likes of China. But after further consideration, I couldn't see a reason why any thinking investor would be interested in buying GM at any price with the excess baggage of $300 billion in debt. Upon further reflection it becomes apparent that it would be much more expedient to simply stand by and let GM enter into bankruptcy proceedings and then buy them at a discount. After bankruptcy, the stock holders lose everything and the bond (debt) holders might be lucky to get pennies on the dollar.

In any event, GM will be well worth watching as the end-game is sure to unfold over the next twelve months.

Room For Growth

According to a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, relatively few Americans are generally familiar with the phenomenon of blogging, in which individuals, ranging from famous to anonymous, post running narratives of their thoughts and observations on whatever interests them:

[F]ewer than one in six Americans (15%) read blogs regularly (at least a few times a month). Just 12% of Americans read blogs dealing specifically with politics this often. Among Internet users, the numbers are similarly low: 19% and 15%, respectively.

According to a December 2004 Gallup Poll, the percentage of Americans getting their news on a daily basis from the mainstream media is 51% for local television news, 44% for local newspapers, 39% for cable news networks, 36% for the nightly broadcast network news, and 21% for radio talk shows. By contrast, only 3% of Americans say they read Internet blogs every day, and just 2% read politics-focused blogs daily.

Blog readers are younger than the population at large. Although 17% of the public is aged 18 to 29, a quarter of all blog readers (those who read even occasionally) are in this age bracket. At the older extreme, 17% of Americans are 65 and older, but only 6% of blog readers are this old.

There's lots of interesting data at the link, but the article promotes a misconception. Many of the most popular blogs are not really news disseminators. They're not in the same category as newspapers and the evening news. They are more like the op-ed page of the paper or the commentary at the end of the news report. As such, the comparison of blogs to news outlets is a little like comparing hammers to screw drivers.

Power Line notes, too, that the low percentage of blog readers is actually a promising statistic since it indicates that there is still a vast untapped market out there for bloggers to tap into.

Memos From Our Troops

Instapundit posts a series of e-mails from readers connected in some way with servicemen serving in Iraq. They're worth reading. The whole link is good, the e-mails start several paragraphs from the top.

Friday, March 18, 2005

America's Has-Been Economy

Articles like the one below make me feel like I'm not "a voice crying in the wilderness". Or if I am, at least I'm not alone.

America's Has-Been Economy


A country cannot be a superpower without a high tech economy, and America's high tech economy is eroding as I write. The erosion began when US corporations outsourced manufacturing. Today many US companies are little more than a brand name selling goods made in Asia.

Corporate outsourcers and their apologists presented the loss of manufacturing capability as a positive development. Manufacturing, they said, was the "old economy," whose loss to Asia ensured Americans lower consumer prices and greater shareholder returns. The American future was in the "new economy" of high tech knowledge jobs.

This assertion became an article of faith. Few considered how a country could maintain a technological lead when it did not manufacture.

So far in the 21st century there is scant sign of the American "new economy." The promised knowledge-based jobs have not appeared. To the contrary, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a net loss of 221,000 jobs in six major engineering job classifications.

Today many computer, electrical and electronics engineers, who were well paid at the end of the 20th century, are unemployed and cannot find work. A country that doesn't manufacture doesn't need as many engineers, and much of the work that remains is being outsourced or filled with cheaper foreigners brought into the country on H-lb and L-1 work visas.

Confronted with inconvenient facts, outsourcing's apologists moved to the next level of fantasy. Many technical and engineering jobs, they said, have become "commodity jobs," routine work that can be performed cheaper offshore. America will stay in the lead, they promised, because it will keep the research and development work and be responsible for design and innovation. Alas, now it is design and innovation that are being outsourced. Business Week reports ("Outsourcing Innovation," March 21) that the pledge of First World corporations to keep research and development in-house "is now pass�."

Corporations such as Dell, Motorola, and Philips, which are regarded as manufacturers based in proprietary design and core intellectual property originating in R&D departments, now put their brand names on complete products that are designed, engineered, and manufactured in Asia by "original-design manufacturers" (ODM).

Business Week reports that practically overnight large percentages of cell phones, notebook PCs, digital cameras, MP3 players, and personal digital assistants are produced by original-design manufacturers. Business Week quotes an executive of a Taiwanese ODM: "Customers used to participate in design two or three years back. But starting last year, many just take our product."

Another offshore ODM executive says: "What has changed is that more customers need us to design the whole product. It's now difficult to get good ideas from our customers. We have to innovate ourselves." Another says: "We know this kind of product category a lot better than our customers do. We have the capability to integrate all the latest technologies." The customers are America's premier high tech names.

The design and engineering teams of Asian ODMs are expanding rapidly, while those of major US corporations are shrinking. Business Week reports that R&D budgets at such technology companies as Hewlett Packard, Cisco, Motorola, Lucent Technologies, Ericsson, and Nokia are being scaled back.

Outsourcing is rapidly converting US corporations into a brand name with a sales force selling foreign designed, engineered, and manufactured goods. Whether or not they realize it, US corporations have written off the US consumer market. People who do not participate in the innovation, design, engineering and manufacture of the products that they consume lack the incomes to support the sales infrastructure of the job diverse "old economy." "Free market" economists and US politicians are blind to the rapid transformation of America into a third world economy, but college bound American students and heads of engineering schools are acutely aware of declining career opportunities and enrollments. While "free trade" economists and corporate publicists prattle on about America's glorious future, heads of prestigious engineering schools ponder the future of engineering education in America.

Once US firms complete their loss of proprietary architecture, how much intrinsic value resides in a brand name? What is to keep the all-powerful ODMs from undercutting the American brand names? The outsourcing of manufacturing, design and innovation has dire consequences for US higher education. The advantages of a college degree are erased when the only source of employment is domestic nontradable services.

According to the Los Angeles Times (March 11), the percentage of college graduates among the long-term chronically unemployed has risen sharply in the 21st century. The US Department of Labor reported in March that 373,000 discouraged college graduates dropped out of the labor force in February--a far higher number than the number of new jobs created.

The disappearing US economy can also be seen in the exploding trade deficit. As more employment is shifted offshore, goods and services formerly produced domestically become imports. Nothink economists and Bush administration officials claim that America's increasing dependence on imported goods and services is evidence of the strength of the US economy and its role as engine of global growth. This claim ignores that the US is paying for its outsourced goods and services by transferring its wealth and future income streams to foreigners. Foreigners have acquired $3.6 trillion of US assets since 1990 as a result of US trade deficits.

Foreigners have a surfeit of dollar assets. For the past three years their increasing unwillingness to acquire more dollars has resulted in a marked decline in the dollar's value in relation to gold and tradable currencies. Recently the Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans have expressed their concerns. According to Bloomberg (March 10), Japan's unrealized losses on its dollar reserve holdings have reached $109.6 billion.

The Asia Times reported (March 12) that Asian central banks have been reducing their dollar holdings in favor of regional currencies for the past three years. A study by the Bank of International Settlements concluded that the ratio of dollar reserves held in Asia declined from 81% in the third quarter of 2001 to 67% in September 2004. India reduced its dollar holdings from 68% of total reserves to 43%. China reduced its dollar holdings from 83% to 68%. The US dollar will not be able to maintain its role as world reserve currency when it is being abandoned by that area of the world that is rapidly becoming the manufacturing, engineering and innovation powerhouse. Misled by propagandistic "free trade" claims, Americans will be at a loss to understand the increasing career frustrations of the college educated. Falling pay and rising prices of foreign made goods will squeeze US living standards as the declining dollar heralds America's descent into a has-been economy. Meanwhile the Grand Old Party has passed a bankruptcy "reform" that is certain to turn unemployed Americans living on debt and beset with unpayable medical bills into the indentured servants of credit card companies. The steely-faced Bush administration is making certain that Americans will experience to the full their counry's fall.

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.He can be reached at:

Brave New World

Judge George Greer has ruled that the feeding tube nourishing Terri Schiavo must be removed and she must be allowed to starve to death. Imagine for one moment that authorities ruled that food must be withheld from someone on death row, or from a suspected al Qaida detainee, until the prisoner starved to death. The left would be incandescent with rage. They would be screaming about the cruelty and inhumanity of the ruling. They would be shouting at the tops of their formidable lungs about egregious violations of human rights and the Geneva accords. Calls would go out from every organ of liberalism demanding the ouster or impeachment of every and any official who could be tied to this reprehensible decision.

But in the case of a completely innocent woman who is neither a criminal nor a terrorist, the Left is almost preternaturally silent. They seem perfectly content to let Terri Schiavo be killed through a long slow process of starvation and dehydration. Even worse, some democrats are allegedly attempting to exploit the tragedy of this woman and her family by turning it to partisan political advantage.

Rush Limbaugh said today that an editorial in a national newspaper (I missed the name of the paper) asserted that we are not actually killing Ms Schiavo by removing her feeding tube, we're simply allowing nature to take its course by not forcing her to live. This statement, if I heard it correctly, is uncommonly dumb even by liberal standards. If a mother refuses to feed her infant would that editorialist argue that the mother wasn't really killing the child, but was rather simply letting nature take its course? Anyone who doesn't wish to care for either the very young or the elderly need only withhold food from them and let them die and they bear no guilt. Welcome to our Brave New World.

The next time you hear someone from the Left say that capital punishment is cruel and unusual punishment and should be abolished, or that torturing a suspected terrorist violates his human rights and demeans us as a nation, ask this person where he or she was when an American judge unilaterally sentenced Terri Schiavo to starve to death while her parents stood by legally helpless. Anyone who is indifferent to Ms Schiavo's plight and that of her family has no moral credibility on any other human rights issue.

Italy's Staying

Contrary to recent reports, the Italians are not abandoning Iraq, or us, after all. The Left must be disconsolate:

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has sought to clarify his announcement on the withdrawal of Italian troops from Iraq. Mr Berlusconi says the timing of the troop withdrawal will depend upon Iraq's security situation.

Yesterday Mr Berlusconi announced Italy would begin a gradual pullout in September in line with public opinion and as agreed with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Mr Berlusconi told US President Bush in a telephone call that he wants to begin removing his country's 3,300 troops in September if possible, his office said.

Mr Berlusconi "reiterated to President Bush his wish to begin a gradual and progressive withdrawal of the Italian contingent in Iraq as quickly as possible, and if possible from September," his office said in a statement. Mr Berlusconi said he would not act unilaterally.

"If it's not possible, it's not possible, everything has to be agreed with the allies," he said. "We will do everything in a concerted manner."

When Mr Blair was asked about the Italian withdrawal in the House of Commons overnight, he said Mr Berlusconi's comments had been misinterpreted. Both leaders now agree their countries troops will remain in Iraq until Iraqi forces are ready to take their place.

Italian soldiers are based in the relatively peaceful area of Nasiriyah in southern Iraq, which is under British command. Italy has been one of US President Bush's closest allies in Iraq, where it is the fourth biggest troop contributor.

Quite clearly, Italy isn't Spain.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

China Syndrome

Bill Roggio at The Fourth Rail has a very interesting analysis of the future of Chinese/ American relations. He considers the prospects of a Chinese assault on Taiwan and finds them improbable. He also considers Chinese prospects in a conventional military conflict with the U.S. and finds them dismal. His arguments are compelling. Check them out.

Environmentalists Miss an Opportunity

The senate has voted 51-49 to open the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling. It's not, however, a done deal:

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who has fought for 24 years to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil companies, acknowledged it still could be "a long process" before a final drilling measure clears Congress. Lawmakers must agree on the final budget, something they failed to do last year, or Wednesday's vote would have been for naught.

Nevertheless, environmentalists have lost a superb opportunity to capitalize on what was, or is, inevitable: that drilling would take place in ANWR. Our preference would have been to leave ANWR alone, but given that the thirst for oil would not be quenched and no other practical solution to our energy problems is currently available or economically painless, environmentalists should have seen this coming.

What they should have done, instead of fighting extraction of ANWR's reserves with all their energies and resources, was cut a compromise years ago. They should have agreed to no longer stand in the way of drilling in ANWR if the Interior Department would guarantee that another (or several) large wildlife refuge would be created somewhere else in the United States and if guarantees could be put in place that the oil companies would leave ANWR as much like they found it as is technologically and economically feasible.

Because of the environmentalist's insistence on total victory on this issue those who care about conserving wild lands and natural beauty wind up with nothing when they might have preserved another new refuge from the depredations of developers. With foresight like this, it's no wonder the environmental movement is dying.

This isn't the only tactical mistake the environmentalists have made in this contest. For years they've fought oil drilling in ANWR, contending it would lead to "a spider web of drilling platforms, pipelines and roads that would adversely impact the calving grounds of caribou, polar bears and millions of migratory birds that use the refuge's coastal plain." No one knows if this is true, of course, but the experience we have in other places is that wildlife adjusts and in some ways even prospers. By staking their credibility on dubious arguments and indemonstrable assertions the environmentalists succeed merely in squandering their credibility.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. claimed that it is "foolish to say oil development and a wildlife refuge can coexist." But it is certainly as foolish to say that they can't. One of the jewels in the National Wildlife Refuge system is John Heinz refuge in Philadelphia which is bounded by Philadelphia International Airport, oil storage depots, a busy interstate highway and other scars upon the land. We ardently wish this weren't so, but as long as the refuge has been allowed to maintain something of a land buffer against encroachment the impact of these stressors seems to have been minimal.

Our dream is to see as much land as is possible permanently preserved from development, but sometimes one must take a step back in order to move forward. Yielding a relatively small tract of land in the midst of an inaccessible wilderness in order to acquire more critical habitat elsewhere would have been a fantastic trade-off, benefiting both wildlife and humans. Environmentalists had a chance to do this before the 2004 elections when the oil advocates were politically weaker, and they refused to do it. Now those who care about land preservation must take a step back at ANWR with no good prospect of any step forward anywhere else.

This was not the environmental movement's finest hour, but as Ted Stevens suggests above, perhaps they still have a chance to salvage a victory for preservation when lawmakers hammer out a final budget. Our suggestion is that the oil companies who will profit from ANWR oil be required to purchase and donate land in the lower 48 to the Department of the Interior for use as a refuge, or that their leasing fees be put to this purpose so that valuable wild lands can be incorporated into the National Wildlife Refuge system and preserved their for generations to come.

The Judicial Usurpation of Democracy

Viewpoint has been arguing ever since our first post last May that legalizing gay marriage will have the ultimate consequence of destroying the institution of marriage altogether. The rationale given for the recent decision by judge Richard A. Kramer of San Francisco County Superior Court overturning California's marriage laws provides all the confirmation of the validity of this concern that one could ask for.

According to the New York Times Judge Kramer stated that "the denial of marriage to same-sex couples appears impermissibly arbitrary," thus violating the equal protection clause of the state's Constitution. In other words, defining marriage as a bond between one man and one woman is unsupported by anything more than cultural habit and preference.

The fact is, of course, that any secular definition of marriage is going to be arbitrary. No matter how a legislature chooses to define marriage, if religion and tradition are ruled to be inadequate grounds for the definition, it can be based on nothing more than sociological fashion. Thus if marriage cannot be limited to one man and one woman because that would be an arbitrary restriction, on what grounds will we be able to limit marriage to just two people?

If the gender of the spouses is a matter of cultural caprice why is not the number of spouses? If two thousand years of tradition isn't enough to eliminate what is seen as the discretionary nature of heterosexual marriage, how will courts be able to uphold laws establishing marriage as a union of just two persons?

The answer is, of course, that they won't. If Judge Kramer's reasoning is accepted by the appeals courts the door will have swung wide open for redefining marriage any way some judge finds agreeable. There will certainly be no difficulty in finding courts sufficiently sympathetic to those who wish to push the social envelope by demanding the right to participate in group marriage. But when marriage means whatever anybody wants it to mean then it will really mean nothing at all and will cease to exist, at least in the form we recognize today.

The addled and myopic reasoning which afflicts Judge Kramer's opinion is not untypical of contemporary liberal jurisprudence, which is why it is imperative that conservative judges be appointed to the federal bench and Supreme Court. The Left knows its ideas, such as they are, would not prevail in state or national legislatures so it circumvents these by enacting its agenda through judicial fiat.

If Democrats are allowed to continue to obstruct and block President Bush's nominees, who are the only hope we have of turning back this "judicial usurpation of democracy", we will continue to get more sophomoric judicial opinions such as the vacuous judgment handed down by Justice Kennedy in the recent Simmons case and the witless nullity delivered by Judge Kramer in this one.