Saturday, April 30, 2005

Must Reading From Antal E. Fekete

Note that Mr. Fekete's article is a rebuttal to Paul Krugman who wrote , The Gold Bug Variations - The Gold Standard and the Men Who Love It

Mr.Fekete has challenged Mr. Krugman to open the columns of The New York Times to an impartial discussion of the future of the irredeemable dollar but has received no reply. If one were to read Mr. Fekete's response in its entirety, or even the article linked here, there's little wonder as to why.

From the link

What the United States did in 1971 was defaulting on its gold obligations to foreign creditors, the biggest act of bad faith in history theretofore. This default, and the making of the dishonored debt money, was the cause of the destabilization of interest rates, as well as the explosive growth in the volatility of prices that have been plaguing the world ever since and causing ever greater economic distress. Krugman's euphemism in calling the greatest default ever "the abandoning of the stabilization policy of the gold price", and calling the promotion of the dishonored paper as money "a measure designed to prevent deflation and the decline of prices" is doublespeak, the hallmark of dismal monetary science. Krugman suggests that an equilibrium now obtains that didn't before. What we have is not an equilibrium; rather, it is a burgeoning disequilibrium, one that will continue its devastating course.

We must remember that the financial annals do not record a single case in which a default has not been followed by a progressive increase in the discount on the paper of the defaulting banker, until it reached 100 percent - possibly several years or even decades later. Obviously, the defaulting banker would try to slow down the process by hook or crook. However, ultimately economic law was to prevail and the remaining value of the dishonored paper would be wiped out.

There is no reason to believe that the dollar default will end differently. Suppose that the price of gold is $420. Let us calculate the discount on the dollar.The gold value of the dollar has been reduced from 1/35 to 1/420 = 1/12ᅲ35. Therefore the loss is (1/35)(1 1/12) = (1/35)(11/12) = (1/35)0.9166... In percentage terms the loss, also known as discount, is 91.66 percent. Not yet 100, but close enough. Small comfort, as the last 8.33 percent of the loss, coincident with the death-throes of the dollar, is likely to be most violent and painful, revealing the full extent of the devastation. Remember, the loss affects not only cash holdings, but all dollar-denominated assets, including bonds, annuities, pensions, insurances, endowments, etc. As the discount on the dollar approaches 100 percent, the dollar price of gold will approach infinity. To assert that the dollar is going to escape this fate is tantamount to asserting that the laws of economics and logic have been turned upside down, and the penalty for default has been replaced by reward in perpetuity.

I urge all of our viewers to re-read that last paragraph several times...particullary the part where he says:

"As the discount on the dollar approaches 100 percent, the dollar price of gold will approach infinity."

The Vatican's Best, 1895-1995

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of film in 1995 the Vatican came out with a list of the most important movies of the previous century. The list was divided into three categories: Values, Religion, and Art with fifteen films in each. Aficionados will quibble with some of the selections (Bergman's Wild Strawberries?) and some of the omissions (Bergman's Winter Lights?), but it is an excellent reference for parents who wish to expose their children to good movies, although, to be sure, not all of the films are appropriate for children. Also, many of the films are foreign and may not be accessible to English-only viewers.

These are the top fifteen films in the Religion category:

Andrei Rublev * Andrei Tarkowsky (1969, USSR)
The Mission * Roland Joffe (1986, UK)
La passion de Jeanne d'Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc) * Carl T. Dreyer (1928, France)
La vie et la passion de Jesus Christ (Life and Passion of Christ) * Ferdinand Zecca and Lucien Nonguet (1905, France)
Francesco, giullare di Dio (The Flowers of St. Francis / Francis, God's Jester) * Roberto Rossellini (1950, Italy)
Il vangelo secondo Matteo (The Gospel According to Matthew) * Pier Paolo Pasolini (1964, France/Italy)
Therese * Alain Cavalier (1986, France)
Ordet (The Word) * Carl T. Dreyer (1955, Denmark)
Offret - Sacrificatio (The Sacrifice) * Andrei Tarkowsky (1986, Sweden/UK/France)
Francesco * Liliana Cavani (1989, Italy/Germany)
Ben-Hur [A Tale of the Christ] * William Wyler (1959, USA)
Babettes gustebud (Babette's Feast) * Gabriel Axel (1987, Denmark)
Nazarin * Luis Bunuel (1958, Mexico)
Monsieur Vincent * Maurice Cloche (1947, France)
A Man for All Seasons * Fred Zinnemann (1966, UK)

The rest of the list and commentary by Steven Greydanus can be found here.

Screwtape Revisited

Megan Cox Gurdon, in an article at NRO last March, revisits C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters in order to update the cast of characters and let us in on what they have been up to. It's very clever. Here are a few excerpts:

They drink, and put down their glasses. Screwtape looks hard at his nephew, his fingers moving the stem of his glass back and forth along the polished surface of the desk.

"I wonder, young Mildew, if you understand why I have been promoted - one might say exalted, even - to such heights?"

"I have heard," Mildew begins, and blushes. "The fact is, Uncle, I have heard things that seem impossible. Is it really true that you have found a way to get them to eat - "

" - their young?" Screwtape interrupts with a hungry smile. "Yes. Yes! I have found the key, the key, my boy, to unlocking the worst in the human heart. Oh, massacres are entertaining enough, and reasonably productive. Rapine and thieving and savagery and the usual nonsense go a good distance to wrecking men's souls, but not in sufficient numbers. Not for us to win for good - that is, ha-ha, for ill. We must forever be stoking grievances, feeding pride, and constantly thrusting and parrying with the Enemy and his agents. No, the beautifully corrupting key that I have found is vanity."

"Do you think," says the uncle witheringly, "that people who believe that life on earth is the only one they have, that once they die there is nothing, that there are no consequences to their choices - one of Our Father Below's most successful slogans, by the way, choice - do you think, my boy, that they will hesitate if we give them the chance to cut and sew their medical destinies for the mere price of another's life? As Our Father pointed out to the Enemy during that unfortunate incident involving the man Job, "A person will give up everything in order to stay alive."

Read the whole thing. You'll enjoy it.

Rising Tide of Anti-Christian Hatred

Stanley Kurtz at NRO has a must-read article on the rise of anti-Christian bigotry which cites the May issue of Harper's as exhibit A. Here's a taste:

For a very long time now, secular liberals have treated conservative Christians as the modern embodiment of evil, the one group you're allowed to openly hate. Although barely noticed by the rest of us, this poison has been floating through our political system for decades. Traditional Christians are tired of it, and I don't blame them. That doesn't justify rhetorical excess from either side.

But the fact of the matter is that the Left's rhetorical attacks on conservative Christians have long been more extreme, more widely disseminated, and more politically effective than whatever the Christians have been hurling back. And now that their long ostracism by the media has finally forced conservative Christians to demand redress, the Left has abandoned all rhetorical restraint.

Meanwhile, as Harper's levels vicious attacks on conservative Christians, the California assembly has passed a bill designed to prevent politicians from using "anti-gay rhetoric" in their political campaigns. Opposition to same-sex marriage itself is considered by many to be "anti-gay." So has public opposition to same-sex marriage been legislatively banned? Conservative Christians have good reason to fear cultural ostracism. The mere expression of their core religious views is being legislated against.

The courts have banned traditional morality as a basis for law and have turned instead to secular Europe for guidance. Traditional Christians can't even set up a college in New York City. And now Harper's is calling them evil fascists.

Judicial imposition of same-sex marriage has poured fuel on the fire. When Frank Rich compares conservative Christians to segregationist bigots, when Chris Hedges compares conservative Christians to evil fascist supporters of Hitler, its the Christian understanding of homosexuality that's driving the wild rhetoric. None of the American Founders would have approved of same-sex marriage, yet suddenly we're expected to equate opposition to gay marriage with Hitler's genocidal persecutions.

The secular left sees Christian conservatives as the only obstacle standing in the way of their achievement of total cultural hegemony, and, as Jesus promised, they hate them for it. Unless those Christians who are indifferent to, or unaware of, the festering antipathy which has grown quickly to a boil since last November, wake up, pay attention, and start exercising their political rights and power, the situation will doubtless continue to worsen. One lesson of 20th century history is that haters always continue to push until they meet strong opposition. If they don't encounter that resistance their hatred attains a momentum which becomes very difficult to stop and which ultimately results in violence.

It's odd that the current tide of anti-Christian bigotry, whose virulence is unique in our history, has gone largely unremarked in the MSM. Or at least it should be odd.

Friday, April 29, 2005

A Party <i>In Extremis</i>

Democrats are devaluing one of the more effective epithets in their considerable arsenal of political slurs by extravagant over-use of the word. Their fondness for it has resulted in the fact that few people listen to them any more when they use it. The word is "extreme" and its variations.

President Bush's judicial nominations are "extremist". The Republican move to end the use of the filibuster to block those nominees is "extreme". Anyone who holds conservative religious views is an "extremist". Anyone who opposes gay marriage is an "extremist". The attempt to reform social security and to institute personal savings accounts is "extreme". Those who yearn for a return to traditional values of truth, commitment, loyalty, and hard work are on the "extreme" right.

After a while it starts to sink in that in the Democrats' lexicon anyone is an "extremist" who disagrees with them. The Democrats want to undo centuries of settled policy on marriage, sex, and family life, but it is those who see value in the traditional ways of looking at these things who are "extreme".

When everyone is an extremist the word ceases to move the listener. It loses its punch, and the Democrats just sound silly every time the try to tarnish another political opponent with it. Bereft of ideas, with no plan for the country to offer the American people, they are reduced to labeling as extremists a significant percentage, perhaps a majority, of the American people.

It's no wonder that they have themselves become a party in extremis.

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker

This may be of little interest to anyone else, but I thought it was wonderful news when I heard that biologists have discovered that a bird long thought to be extinct still survives in the swamps along the Mississippi river in Arkansas. The bird is a magnificent nineteen inch long black and white woodpecker called the Ivory-billed, and had last been seen in 1944. It has a three foot wingspan, and its large size made it especially vulnerable to the loss of habitat it suffered due to logging in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

There was hope that some of the birds had survived in Louisiana, but no one was able to confirm their existence. A team of ornithologists searching the Big Woods region of Arkansas, however, discovered the woodpecker there about a year ago but kept their find secret so as not to incite an influx of birders into the region. They finally submitted the results of their study of the Ivory-billed to Science which is going to publish their report in a future issue.

The Departments of Interior and Agriculture have already promised millions of dollars toward protecting and hopefully increasing the numbers of this beautiful creature. Like the recovery efforts which are restoring the populations of the California condor and the Whooping crane, it may be that similar efforts will make the Ivory-billed woodpecker another conservation success story.

Borking Bolton

Victor David Hanson places the arrow directly in the little black circle in this piece on the John Bolton nomination in the Jewish World Review. The resistance to Bolton has nothing to do with his credentials or abilities. It has everything to do with denying George Bush a successful nomination and protecting the U.N. from anyone who would hold its feet to the fire. Hanson writes:

The marathon confirmation hearings of John Bolton to be the American ambassador to the United Nations have become pathetic. Bolton is supposedly discourteous to subordinates. He was a hands-on-his-hips boss! Heaven forbid, he sometimes bellowed.

The "disclosure" of these supposedly hurtful flare-ups has little to do with Bolton's fitness to navigate in the United Nations, whose General Assembly includes miscreants from Iran, Cuba, North Korea and Zimbabwe. Otherwise, Bolton's occasional gruffness would be seen as a real asset in an international jungle where a murderous Syria sat on the Commission on Human Rights while member states perennially castigated democratic Israel as racist.

So the Bush administration wants to unleash a barking watchdog to patrol the United Nations, reeling from its multi-billion-dollar oil-for-food scandal, sexual misconduct among its operatives in Africa, and inaction as thousands perished in the Congo and Darfur. It tires of subsidizing an unaccountable organization that institutionalizes graft, excuses criminality and ignores genocide - but somehow regularly blames its chief democratic patron, the United States.

Bolton's critics apparently feel that such global organizations, for all their faults, nevertheless provide a useful brake on George Bush's exuberance abroad. And now they appear confident that their own barroom tactics will eventually wear down the patrician complacency of Bolton's strangely nonchalant supporters.

Those who roast Bolton prefer an ambassador who would not rock the boat of multilateralism, or, better yet, lack the zeal and skills even to try - and certainly would not employ Bolton's characterization of Kim Jong Il as a "tyrannical dictator." The last time we heard such provocative talk Ronald Reagan denounced the Soviet Union as an "evil empire" under the curious assumption that it was both evil and an empire.

The rest of the essay is even better. Hanson reminds us of the minimalist ethical standards of three of Bolton's foremost senatorial critics, Senators Boxer, Dodd, and Biden, and highlights the hypocrisy of such people as these preventing the confirmation of a man to an ambassadorship because his subordinates sometimes found him demanding.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Free Will v. Determinism

There's a good discussion on Evangelical Outpost about the perennial philosophical problem of free will vs. determinism. The discussion specifically addresses the difficulty in reconciling human freedom with God's sovereignty. The thread was triggered by a "tormented youth" who is seeking an answer to this conundrum, and there are a number of interesting responses in the comment section.

Liberal Humor

The left has demonstrated time and again that many of them suffer from an apparently incurable case of arrested development. Their political discourse is often characterized by an adolescent nastiness, and their attempts at humor are generally unfunny, tasteless, and incredibly juvenile. This report of a skit on the left-wing radio network Air America is just the latest example:

Government officials are reviewing a skit which aired on the network Monday evening -- a skit featuring an apparent gunshot warning to the president!

The announcer: "A spoiled child is telling us our Social Security isn't safe anymore, so he is going to fix it for us. Well, here's your answer, you ungrateful whelp: [audio sound of 4 gunshots being fired.] Just try it, you little bastard. [audio of gun being cocked]."

The audio production at the center of the controversy aired during opening minutes of The Randi Rhodes Show.

"What's with all the killing?" Rhodes said, laughing, after the clip aired.

Hilarious, isn't it?

Janice Rogers Brown

Now we know why the left is so desperate to keep the daughter of Alabama sharecroppers off the federal bench. The LATimes(free registration required) has an account of a talk Judge Janice Rogers Brown gave last Sunday. Here are some of the key points in the Times' report:

Just days after a bitterly divided Senate committee voted along party lines to approve her nomination as a federal appellate court judge, California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown told an audience Sunday that people of faith were embroiled in a "war" against secular humanists who threatened to divorce America from its religious roots, according to a newspaper account of the speech.

"There seems to have been no time since the Civil War that this country was so bitterly divided. It's not a shooting war, but it is a war," she said, according to a report published Monday in the Stamford Advocate.

"These are perilous times for people of faith," she said, "not in the sense that we are going to lose our lives, but in the sense that it will cost you something if you are a person of faith who stands up for what you believe in and say those things out loud."

The Advocate quoted Brown as lamenting that America had moved away from the religious traditions on which it was founded. "When we move away from that, we change our whole conception of the most significant idea that America has to offer, which is this idea of human freedom and this notion of liberty," she said.

She added that atheism "handed human destiny over to the great god, autonomy, and this is quite a different idea of freedom.... Freedom then becomes willfulness."

"No wonder the radical left opposes her," Gary Bauer, president of the advocacy group American Values wrote in an e-mail to supporters. "Janice Rogers Brown understands the great culture war raging in America. That is why the abortion crowd, the homosexual rights movement and the radical secularists are all demanding that Senate liberals block her confirmation."

Brown was first nominated by President Bush in 2003 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, an appointment considered a steppingstone to the U.S. Supreme Court. She has emerged as one of the president's most controversial judicial nominees - and one of the conservative movement's favorite examples of Democratic delays.

Democrats blocked Brown's confirmation by the full Senate, charging that she held extremist views that interfere with her ability to render objective judgments. She has a history of delivering provocative speeches.

Democrats have questioned speeches in which she called the New Deal the "triumph of our socialist revolution." She has described herself as a "true conservative" who believes that "where the government moves in, community retreats, civil society disintegrates.... The result is a debased, debauched culture which finds moral depravity entertaining and virtue contemptible."

Questioned in 2003 about her comments, Brown conceded that she was blunt when addressing conservative audiences. "I don't have a speechwriter," she said. "I do these myself. And it speaks for itself."

"It's so shocking that in the middle of this battle she would say such extraordinarily intemperate things," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Two religious leaders who heard Brown speak Sunday had only praise. The Rev. Michael R. Moynihan, pastor of a church in Greenwich, Conn., and an organizer of the Red Mass, said he was impressed with Brown.

"She caused all of us to reflect more profoundly on the intersection between law and morality, and on the role of religion in shaping those virtues and values, which are crucial to our democratic way of life," said Bishop William E. Lori, the head of the Bridgeport diocese, who invited Brown to address the group.

The Reverend Barry Lynn is "shocked" that the judge would say such outrageous things in the middle of her confirmation battle. He evidently can't comprehend that a judicial nominee would actually want people to know where she stood and what she thinks. He calls her remarks "intemperate" as though it were somehow scandalous to acknowledge what anyone who has one eye half open can plainly see, that we are in the midst of a struggle for the culture with those who wish to turn the United States into Sweden.

It's a peculiarity of this struggle that those who hold to views that have been commonplace in this nation for over two hundred years are labelled extremist by those who are eager to overturn traditional beliefs about religion, sexuality, marriage, and family.

Apparently, for such as Mr. Lynn statements of the obvious should have no place in our political discourse, and people who believe what Janice Brown believes are ipso facto unsuited to serve on the federal bench. The left recoils in sanctimonious horror from the accusation that they are deliberately seeking to exclude people from the judiciary based upon their religious beliefs, but anyone who can't see that this is so can look at a clear sky at noon and fail to see the sun.

Judge Brown said in her talk that "it will cost you something if you are a person of faith who stands up for what you believe in and say those things out loud." Indeed. Liberal Democrats and their groupies, like Barry Lynn, will do all they can to make you pay for being an uppity Christian. They are unwitting proof that what she says about the culture war is on the mark.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Clock is Ticking on Zarqawi

Bill Roggio at the Fourth Rail notes this about the ABC report on the near capture of Abu al-Zarqawi in February:

The fact that there is someone inside the Zarqawi network is what is startling. Al Qaeda in Iraq appears to have been penetrated, no small feat as al Qaeda is traditionally a very closed and secretive organization, admitting only the most ideologically pure of the Islamists within their ranks.

The mole is likely of Arab descent, perhaps an Iraqi, as genuine cover would be needed to break into al Qaeda's inner circle. This mole may be responsible for several of the arrests of high-ranking Zarqawi lieutenants over the past several months. While Zarqawi escaped, the mission was not a complete failure, as money, a computer and two close assistants were captured in the raid:

Finding the computer, said the official, "was a seminal event." It had "a very big hard drive," the official said, and recent pictures of Zarqawi. The official said Zarqawi's driver and a bodyguard were taken into custody.

The computer will likely have a huge amount of data on al Qaedas network, based on past findings of siezed hardware. Zarqawi's driver and a bodyguard are the real catches, as their job descriptions constantly put them at Zarqawi's side. These are men that would know the most intimate details of his professional life: his habits, routines, and methods of operation as well as knowledge about the group's leaders, safe houses, finances and areas of operation.

See here for more details on the contents of the computer.

Zarqawi will be captured or killed sooner or later. One wonders what effect this will have on the morale of terrorists throughout the Middle East and beyond. They will still slog on, to be sure. They will continue their demonic fascination with death, but will they find it increasingly more difficult to recruit new foot soldiers? Will they find it more difficult to raise money or to mount complex operations abroad? Will they find the hardships they have to endure less appealing than they did a year ago? There is a good chance that the capture of a "hero" like Zarqawi will be a significant blow to global terrorism. We pray that is the case.

Islamic Honor

Another honor killing among the followers of Mohammed. This one because the victim's photo was on someone's cellphone. Sounds reasonable, I suppose, if you're a Muslim:

A Jordanian man shot dead his divorced sister after seeing her photo on his friend's camera-equipped cellphone in the latest "honour" killing in the kingdom, hospital officials said Monday.

The unidentified man shot the 31-year-old mother twice in the head Sunday night and then turned himself in to police saying he committed the murder to "cleanse his family's honour".

The incident is the fifth example of a so-called honour killing in Jordan this year. Those found guilty usually face sentences of a maximum of one year in jail under Jordanian law.

Last month, a man stabbed his sister to death after finding out she had agreed an unofficial marriage with a man who subsequently disappeared.

At least 19 women lost their lives in honour killings in Jordan last year, according to the local press.

One year in jail for first-degree murder? Islamic notions of justice are as peculiar as their notions of honor.

Thanks to Little Green Footballs for the tip.

The Coming Theocracy

Michael Barone responds to the alarm raised by liberal Chicken Littles that the U.S. is headed for a theocracy. He dismisses this bit of paranoia as silliness. Several of his key points follow:

[W]hether the United States is on its way to becoming a theocracy is actually a silly question. No religion is going to impose laws on an unwilling Congress or the people of this country. And we have long lived comfortably with a few trappings of religion in the public space, such as "In God We Trust" or "God save this honorable court."

The real question is whether strong religious belief is on the rise in America and the world. Fifty years ago secular liberals were confident that education, urbanization, and science would lead people to renounce religion. That seems to have happened, if you confine your gaze to Europe, Canada, and American university faculty clubs. But this movement has not been as benign as expected: The secular faiths of fascism and communism destroyed millions of lives before they were extinguished.

America has not moved in the expected direction. In fact, just the opposite.

[T]he religions and sects that have grown are those that make serious demands on members; those that accommodate to secular critics and make few demands decline in numbers. The Roman Catholic Church continues to grow in America; the Assemblies of God and the Mormon Church grow even faster. But mainline Protestant denominations, which spend much effort ordaining gay bishops or urging disinvestment in Israel, lose members.

Who inherits the future? In free societies each generation makes its own religious choices, but people tend to follow the faith of their parents. Secular Europe, with below-replacement birthrates among non-Muslims, could be headed for a Muslim future, as historian Niall Ferguson suggests. In the United States, as pointed out by Phillip Longman in The Empty Cradle and Ben Wattenberg in Fewer, birthrates are above replacement level largely because of immigrants. But, as Longman notes, religious people have more children than seculars. Those who believe in "family values" are more likely to have families.

This doesn't mean we're headed toward a theocracy: America is too diverse and freedom loving for that. But it does mean that we're probably not headed to the predominantly secular society that liberals predicted half a century ago and that Europe has now embraced.

When listening to liberal caterwauling about the insurgency of the evangelical Ayatollahs it must be born in mind that, in their pinched view of the world, anyone who takes religious faith seriously is a threat to freedom, and anything other than a completely secular society is a theocracy. Liberals fear religious belief because people whose allegiance is to their God and their Church often feel quite independent of government and tend to see government as a usurper of their freedoms. This is why the left, whether in its extreme forms like communism or in its more moderate forms like democratic socialism, always seeks to banish religion from public life.

Any sign that religion may be experiencing a reinvigoration among the masses motivates the left to do and say whatever it can to discredit it. If there were only one person remaining who still believed in God the left would nevertheless consider him a portent of an impending theocracy that threatens us all.


The greatest threat Iran and North Korea pose to the United States is not that one of them will detonate a weapon over or in one of our cities, although that remains a terrible possibility, but that they will detonate a nuclear warhead high in the earth's atmosphere. This would cause little immediate damage but it would generate a pulse of electromagnetic energy, called an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) that would completely destroy almost all electrical and electronic equipment in the U.S. The consequences of this would be devastating. Iran appears to be preparing for just such an attack. Here are excerpts from a World Net Daily report on the threat:

WASHINGTON -- Iran is not only covertly developing nuclear weapons, it is already testing ballistic missiles specifically designed to destroy America's technical infrastructure, effectively neutralizing the world's lone superpower, say U.S. intelligence sources, top scientists and western missile industry experts. The radical Shiite regime has conducted successful tests to determine if its Shahab-3 ballistic missiles, capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, can be detonated by a remote-control device while still in high-altitude flight.

"An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack on the American homeland, said one of the distinguished scientists who testified at the hearing, is one of only a few ways that the United States could be defeated by its enemies - terrorist or otherwise," wrote Senator John Kyl in an article in the Washington Post a week ago, "And it is probably the easiest. A single Scud missile, carrying a single nuclear weapon, detonated at the appropriate altitude, would interact with the Earth's atmosphere, producing an electromagnetic pulse radiating down to the surface at the speed of light. Depending on the location and size of the blast, the effect would be to knock out already stressed power grids and other electrical systems across much or even all of the continental United States, for months if not years."

If electrical power is knocked out and circuit boards fried, telecommunications are disrupted, energy deliveries are impeded, the financial system breaks down, food, water and gasoline become scarce.

As Kyl put it: "Few if any people would die right away. But the loss of power would have a cascading effect on all aspects of U.S. society. Communication would be largely impossible. Lack of refrigeration would leave food rotting in warehouses, exacerbated by a lack of transportation as those vehicles still working simply ran out of gas (which is pumped with electricity). The inability to sanitize and distribute water would quickly threaten public health, not to mention the safety of anyone in the path of the inevitable fires, which would rage unchecked. And as we have seen in areas of natural and other disasters, such circumstances often result in a fairly rapid breakdown of social order."

"American society has grown so dependent on computer and other electrical systems that we have created our own Achilles' heel of vulnerability, ironically much greater than those of other, less developed nations," the senator wrote. "When deprived of power, we are in many ways helpless, as the New York City blackout made clear. In that case, power was restored quickly because adjacent areas could provide help. But a large-scale burnout caused by a broad EMP attack would create a much more difficult situation. Not only would there be nobody nearby to help, it could take years to replace destroyed equipment."

A warhead could be lobbed high enough into the atmosphere over the U.S. by any of a number of existing missiles available to the remaining members of the Axis of Evil. They can be launched from a freighter at sea and don't have to be particularly accurate to achieve their purpose.

Those who argued against the Bush administration's attempt to complete the construction of a missile defense on the grounds that missiles aren't a realistic threat turn out to be very wrong. Again. Let's hope that their error remains theoretical and not catastrophic.

Over the next few years we must resolve to do the following: We must not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons; we must continue to work surreptitiously to weaken the regime of North Korea; we must continue to build an anti-missile shield to protect us against the kinds of attack these nations are likely to mount; we must stockpile spare parts like transformers and other essential components of our electrical grid; and we must look for ways to insulate our electronic infrastructure.

If we fail to do any of these we'll leave ourselves in a position where a single warhead on a single missile could cause a degree of social upheaval and devastation that would far exceed any calamity ever to befall mankind. Once Iran and North Korea have the capacity to launch such an attack with a fair assurance of success they may choose not to, but we would be foolish in the extreme to count on that.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Syria Packs Up

Here's the AP story on the historic withdrawal by Syria from Lebanon. Not a word in it about the work of the Bush administration in bringing it about, just a vague reference to "international pressure", as if the Syrians might have buckled to the fearsome demands of Kofi Annan or the French.

The lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq continue to resonate among Middle East tyrants like Bashar Assad even if the Western press thinks these developments are simply instances of spontaneous generation. The media is trying so hard to avoid giving Bush any credit for the pullout that we wouldn't be surprised to soon see this headline: Syria Withdraws Despite U.S. Pressure.

It's Just a Matter of Time

Last February American troops came within a whisker of nabbing Abu al Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist who heads up the insurgency in Iraq. Zarqawi managed to escape, but his computer was seized and has apparently been a rich source of intelligence on his operation.

The details on how he managed to escape are in this interesting ABC News story.

The State of the Church

The Barna Group released their 2005 report on the state of the Church on April 11.

The data for 2005 were generated from a study in January based on a nationwide survey of a random sample of 1003 adults. That survey asked the same questions about religious practices and perspectives that Barna has been tracking in national surveys each January for the last fifteen years. Here are some of their more interesting results:

More than nine out of ten American adults engage in some type of faith-related practice during a typical week.

The survey found a small but noteworthy increase in Bible reading. Currently, 45% of adults read the Bible during a typical week, not including when they are at church. That figure represents a minimal increase over the past few years, but a significant rise from the 31% measured in 1995, the lowest level of Bible reading recorded by Barna in the past 15 years. The current statistic is still below the levels achieved in 1980s and early 1990s, but the report shows that the trend is upward.

Despite the media frenzy surrounding the influence of evangelical Christians during the 2004 presidential election, the new study indicates that evangelicals remain just 7% of the adult population. That number has not changed since the Barna Group began measuring the size of the evangelical public in 1994.

Barna surveys do not ask people to define themselves as "evangelical" but instead categorize people as such based on their beliefs. In this approach, evangelicals are a subset of "born-again" Christians. In addition to meeting the born-again criteria evangelicals also meet seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; contending that they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; stating that Satan exists; maintaining that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not by being good or doing good deeds; asserting that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; saying that the Bible is totally accurate in all it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. In this framework, being classified as "evangelical" is not dependent upon any kind of church or denominational affiliation or involvement.

When all of the atheists, agnostics and adults associated with non-Christian faith groups are combined, they are only half as numerous as the born-again segment (21% compared to 40% respectively). The remaining body of people, 39% of the nation's adult population, is what Barna categorizes as "notional Christians" - people who consider themselves to be Christian but not born-again. For more than a decade, the sizes of the born-again and notional segments have been roughly equivalent.

Given the criteria for being "evangelical" it's something of a surprise that evangelicals are only about 28% of all "born-again" Christians. It's also a bit surprising, to me anyway, that 40% of adults are in this latter group. That seems rather a large number given the dominant secularism of the culture. Perhaps there are many people who claim to be born-again whose lives, paradoxically, are relatively unaffected by their alleged rebirth.

How to Tell If You're a Liberal

Dennis Prager thinks that a significant fraction of those who call themselves liberal really aren't. Indeed, if they knew what it was that liberals believed they'd disassociate themselves from the Democratic party forthwith. He writes:

It is my belief that about half of the Americans who call themselves liberal do not hold the great majority of positions held by mainstream liberal institutions such as the New York Times editorial page, People for the American Way, and the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. So here is a test of this thesis to be given to anyone who believes he or she is a liberal. If you feel I have omitted a liberal position or have unfairly characterized any of them here, please email me at This is still a work in progress.

You say you are a liberal. Do you believe the following?

1.Standards for admissions to universities, fire departments, etc. should be lowered for people of color.

2.Bilingual education for children of immigrants, rather than immersion in English, is good for them and for America.

3.Murderers should never be put to death.

4.During the Cold War, America should have adopted a nuclear arms freeze.

5.Colleges should not allow ROTC programs.

6.It was wrong to wage war against Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War.

7.Poor parents should not be allowed to have vouchers to send their children to private schools.

8.It is good that trial lawyers and teachers unions are the two biggest contributors to the Democratic Party.

9.Marriage should be redefined from male-female to any two people.

10.A married couple should not have more of a right to adopt a child than two men or two women.

11.The Boy Scouts should not be allowed to use parks or any other public places and should be prohibited from using churches and synagogues for their meetings.

12.The present high tax rates are good.

13.Speech codes on college campuses are good and American values are bad.

14.The Israelis and Palestinians are morally equivalent.

15.The United Nations is a moral force for good in the world, and therefore America should be subservient to it and such international institutions as a world court.

16.It is good that colleges have dropped hundreds of men's sports teams in order to meet gender-based quotas.

17.No abortions can be labeled immoral.

18.Restaurants should be prohibited by law from allowing customers to choose between a smoking and a non-smoking section.

19.High schools should make condoms available to students and teach them how to use them.

20.Racial profiling for terrorists is wrong -- a white American grandmother should as likely be searched as a Saudi young male.

21.Racism and poverty -- not a lack of fathers and a crisis of values -- are the primary causes of violent crime in the inner city.

22.It is wrong and unconstitutional for students to be told, "God bless you" at their graduation.

23.No culture is morally superior to any other.

This is a pretty thorough catalogue of the views of modern liberals and of the beliefs of the average Democratic leader and activist today. It puts into bold relief a major reason why Democrats have been largely unsuccessful in electoral politics over the last two decades and reinforces one's fervent hope that they remain so.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Roe is the Root of All Evil

David Brooks traces the political hostility we're seeing in Washington today back to the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. He may well be right. Almost all of the most bitter battles have been between those who wish to defend and those who wish to overturn that decision. Brooks writes:

When [Justice Harry] Blackmun wrote the Roe decision, it took the abortion issue out of the legislatures and put it into the courts. If it had remained in the legislatures, we would have seen a series of state-by-state compromises reflecting the views of the centrist majority that's always existed on this issue. These legislative compromises wouldn't have pleased everyone, but would have been regarded as legitimate. Instead, Blackmun and his concurring colleagues invented a right to abortion, and imposed a solution more extreme than the policies of just about any other comparable nation.

Religious conservatives became alienated from their own government, feeling that their democratic rights had been usurped by robed elitists. Liberals lost touch with working-class Americans because they never had to have a conversation about values with those voters; they could just rely on the courts to impose their views. The parties polarized as they each became dominated by absolutist activists.

Unable to lobby for their pro-life or pro-choice views in normal ways, abortion activists focused their attention on judicial nominations. Dozens of groups on the right and left have been created to destroy nominees who might oppose their side of the fight.

Over the past four years Democrats have resorted to the filibuster again and again to prevent votes on judicial nominees they oppose. Up until now, minorities have generally not used the filibuster to defeat nominees that have majority support. They have allowed nominees to have an up or down vote. But this tradition has been washed away.

In response, Republicans now threaten to change the Senate rules and end the filibuster on judicial nominees. That they have a right to do this is certain. That doing this would destroy the culture of the Senate and damage the cause of limited government is also certain.

Harry Blackmun and his colleagues suppressed that democratic abortion debate the nation needs to have. The poisons have been building ever since. You can complain about the incivility of politics, but you can't stop the escalation of conflict in the middle. You have to kill it at the root. Unless Roe v. Wade is overturned, politics will never get better.

Brooks is certainly correct about this. Our politics will not improve until Roe is reversed and decisions about abortion are placed back in state legislatures where they belong, but Roe will not be overturned until more conservative judges are seated on the Supreme Court, and that won't happen until the filibuster of judicial nominees is ended.

In other words, Brooks' argument entails the conclusion that our politics will not grow more civil until the Republicans vote to change the Senate rule that allows a minority of senators to block a vote on the president's nominees. This seems paradoxical since such a vote, though necessary, will surely make our politics much more vituperative than they already are.

Squandering Power

Senator Joe Biden and WaPo columnist David Broder are calling for a compromise with the Republicans on the filibuster issue, a sure sign that the Democrats are in a position of political disadvantage. Sen. Mitch McConnell claims that the GOP has the necessary votes to get a rule change that would preclude filibustering judicial nominees. Majority Leader Frist has gotten over a wobbly spell and seems prepared to do whatever it takes to get the president's candidates an up or down vote in the full Senate.

Things are falling the Republican's way, but never underestimate the GOP's ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. How else do we explain this from Captain's Quarters, except as a timid reluctance to press their advantage?

Unfortunately, this vote [on changing the Senate rule on filibustering judicial nominees] will not take place now. The GOP had to schedule more pressing business before the recess in the first week of May. The emergency? The new highway bill. You all recall when we fought to expand the GOP majority in the Senate to get that highway bill passed, right? That legislation inspired all of us to donate money that could have gone to family vacations and to assist others in our community to the National Republican Committee instead in 2002 and 2004 ... right? That's what Frist and the GOP leadership expects you to believe now, apparently.

If there's a way to squander political strength the Republicans can be counted upon to find it. They are masters of the art of losing gracefully. They think of themselves as a natural minority party and are as surprised as anyone to find themselves with fifty five members in the Senate. Now that they're there they'd be perfectly happy to let the Democrats take over, but of course they can't actually do that, so they do the next worst thing which is to let the Democrats call the shots on everything that really matters.

If Democrats accuse John Bolton of being mean to underlings then the Republicans pause to reconsider his nomination as ambassador to the U.N. If Tom DeLay is accused of doing what Democrats have long done as a matter of course and which is apparently not a violation of House ethics then Republicans stroke their chins and nod sagely that perhaps DeLay should indeed be dumped. If Democrats think it unconscionable that Bush's judges get a straight up or down vote on the floor of the Senate, well, then, far be it from the Republicans to insist otherwise. That would be needlessly confrontational. If the Republicans find themselves in the unaccustomed position of enjoying political momentum, as they seem to be on the filibuster issue, then the gentlemanly thing to do is put off the vote until the Democrats have a chance to recover their footing enough to kick the GOP in the pants on the vote.

Viewpoint predicts that if Republicans do not vote to change the Senate rules on filibusters there will be a hemorrhage of membership from the rank and file of the party of historic proportions. Financial support will evaporate overnight and Republicans will get steamrollered by the Democrats in 2006 and 2008.

Surely, Republican leaders understand that a party that declines to use the perquisites of power that attach to the majority do not deserve to be, nor will long remain in, the majority. Unfortunately, the prospect of being returned to minority status probably suits the Republicans just fine.

Victor Davis Hanson on the Middle East

Victor Davis Hanson offers five lessons we should take from our experience in the Middle-East since 9/11. Here's #5:

Do not look for logic and consistency in the Middle East where they are not to be found. It makes no sense to be frustrated that Arab intellectuals and reformers damn us for removing Saddam and simultaneously praise democratic rumblings that followed his fall. We should accept that the only palatable scenario for the Arab Street was one equally fanciful: Brave demonstrators took to the barricades, forced Saddam's departure, created a constitution, held elections, and then invited other Arab reformers into Baghdad to spread such indigenous reform - all resulting in a society as sophisticated, wealthy, free, and modern as the West, but felt to be morally superior because of its allegiance to Islam. That is the dream that is preferable to the reality that the Americans alone took out the monster of the Middle East and that any peaceful protest against Saddam would have ended in another genocide.

After all these years, do not expect praise or gratitude for billions poured into Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, or Palestine or thanks for the liberation of Kuwait, protection of Saudi Arabia in 1990, or the removal of Saddam - much less for American concern for Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Somalia, the Sudan, or Afghanistan. Our past sins always must be magnified as much as our more recent benefactions are slighted.

In response, American policy should be predicated not on friendship or the desire for appreciation, but on what is in our national interest and what is right - whose symbiosis is possible only through the current policy of consistently promoting democracy. Constitutional government is not utopia - only the proper antidote for the sickness in the Middle East, and the one medicine that hateful jihadists, dictators, kings, terrorists, and theocrats all agree that they alike hate.

There is much wisdom in this as well as the rest of the prescriptions in his article. We hope that Washington is listening.

Justice for Hasan Akbar

Here's an update on the case of Hasan Akbar, the soldier who in the early days of OIF killed two of his fellow soldiers and wounded fourteen in Kuwait:

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) - An Army sergeant was convicted Thursday by a military jury of premeditated murder and attempted murder in a grenade and rifle attack that killed two of his comrades and wounded 14 others in Kuwait during the opening days of the Iraq war.

Hasan Akbar, 34, now faces a possible death penalty, which the same 15-member jury will consider at a hearing that begins Monday.

Prosecutors say Akbar told investigators he launched the attack because he was concerned U.S. troops would kill fellow Muslims in Iraq. They said he coolly carried out the attack to achieve "maximum carnage" on his comrades in the 101st Airborne Division.

The verdict came after only 2 1/2 hours of deliberations following seven days of testimony in the court-martial - the first time since the Vietnam era that an American has been prosecuted on charges of murdering a fellow soldier during wartime.

There's more on the story at the link.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Liberal Legerdemain

It's always fun to watch the liberal media in action in much the same way that it's fun to watch a card cheat pull off his amazing sleight of hand in the service of his skulduggery.

PowerLine has a fine analysis by Dafydd ab Hugh of the recent ABC report of Henry Hyde's comments about the Clinton impeachment in which Hyde is charged in the headline with saying something he clearly doesn't say. The headline reads (or did read, since it has since been modified) that Clinton impeachment was retaliation for Nixon, says retiring congressman.

Here's Dafydd's commentary on what Hyde actually said:

A transcript of a video report that appeared on an ABC affiliate makes a rather startling claim. Upon careful parsing, however, there appears to be an awful lot of gravy for so little pot roast. Here is the screaming headline:

Clinton impeachment was retaliation for Nixon, says retiring congressman by Andy Shaw.

By the time we get [to the story], an element of doubt has begun to creep in:

Republican Congressman Henry Hyde made some surprising comments Thursday on the impeachment hearings of President Bill Clinton. He now says Republicans may have gone after Clinton to retaliate for the impeachment of Richard Nixon.

Note how "was retaliation" has transubstantiated into "may have" been retaliation. Doubt and certainty are locked in an epic battle for all time (like the two guys in the Star Trek episode). But reading a bit further, doubt starts to get the upper hand:

The veteran DuPage County congressman acknowledged that Republicans went after Clinton in part to enact revenge against the Democrats for impeaching President Richard Nixon 25 years earlier.

In part? How much part? One part principle to three parts revenge? Or one part revenge to four parts sloe gin? And at last, if we persevere long enough, we finally come to the actual words that Hammerin' Hank Hyde actually used to Mr. Shaw:

Andy Shaw asked Hyde if the Clinton proceedings were payback for Nixon's impeachment.

"I can't say it wasn't, but I also thought that the Republican party should stand for something, and if we walked away from this, no matter how difficult, we could be accused of shirking our duty, our responsibility," said Hyde.

Well! It's certainly hard to imagine a stronger indictment of Republican perfidy than that! The sudden upthrust of principle after all renders utterly absurd the next paragraph... which makes it quite plain that Mr. Shaw began with his conclusion and worked backwards to his evidence, then forgot to work forward again and bring his snarky commentary into line with the best quote he could get out of old Henry:

Hyde's comments reflect what Democrats have been saying for years about the Clinton impeachment. It will be interesting to see what happens when Hyde's comments hit the national media.

Yes siree... for years and years Democrats have insisted, against an army of naysayers, that the Republican Party should stand for something and shouldn't walk away from its responsibility to impeach Bill Clinton. By golly, I think the Dems deserve a round of applause and perhaps a lump of sugar for finally proving their case!

No sermon would be complete without its homily; no symphony would seem finished without a grace note. Shaw understands the requirements of his chosen profession, so he finishes out with the following:

Hyde's style will be missed in Washington, as well as his sense of civility, even though a lot of people will not miss his rigid ideology.

PowerLine adds this observation:

Somehow I have a feeling the "rigid ideology" at work here is Andy Shaw's. Turns out he was the one that introduced the concept of "payback" for Nixon's impeachment--a mere 25 years earlier--and Hyde responded politely, while making the point that the impeachment issue was one of principle. What a scoop!

As we mentioned above, the media lefties are a real caution. They never let the facts get in the way of their prejudices nor of a good column. Having discovered that which eluded the alchemists of old, they have the uncanny ability to transmute the base metal of "I can't say that it wasn't" into the precious journalistic gold of a scandalous admission. These media David Copperfields can make juicy stories appear right out of thin air. Their skillful prestidigitation is enough to take one's breath away. You can't help but admire it.

CFN Offers Lousy Trade (Pt. III)

This is the third in our series of posts on the Center For Naturalism's (CFN) statement of beliefs as found on their web site. The previous two posts can be read here and here.

CFN makes a number of assertions which seem problematic. Let's begin with this one:

[B]ecause it discounts the existence of the soul and survival after death, naturalism increases the value we place on this, our only life, and the world we inhabit now. Such values support an environmental ethic of wise use, sustainability, and population control that will keep the earth habitable for future generations of all creatures.

The problem with this is that the metaphysical view called naturalism renders all values arbitrary. The naturalist, who believes that this life is all there is, can offer no reason why one shouldn't be a nihilist and reject all values. Nor can they offer a reason why one shouldn't embrace egoism and place one's own selfish interests and pleasures above all else. Why would either be wrong? Why not try to get as much from the earth while we can and let future generations fend for themselves? What is it about naturalism that impels us to care about our descendents? If death is final, there is no reason whatsoever why anyone should care what happens to the world after one's own demise. The only way a naturalist could gainsay this would be by referring to some objective standard of morality, but such standards do not exist if naturalism is true.

CFN also states that:

Because naturalism doubts the existence of ultimate purposes either inherent in nature or imposed by a creator, values derive from human desires and preferences, not discoverable absolutes. To the extent that there is a shared human nature, values are common across cultures, but to the extent cultures differ, so will values. There is no finally correct way to behave, nor are there finally justifiable goals, but only the desires and intentions that currently constitute us, all of which may change as human nature and cultures change. Although values do not have a foundation outside ourselves, we cannot escape having them, since they constitute us as motivated creatures.

We can't help having values just like we can't help having preferences in flavors or colors or music, but it doesn't follow that these preferences are in any way morally significant or binding on ourselves or others. All values in a naturalistic world are ultimately arbitrary and subjective. There is no right or wrong, there are only differences in how people feel about certain behaviors. CFN acknowledges here that naturalism is incompatible with any non-arbitrary morality. It, in fact, offers no basis for any morality whatsoever.

They go on to claim that:

A naturalistic understanding of the causes of criminality helps undercut retributive attitudes favoring the death penalty and punitive prison conditions, while building support for alternative sentencing and policies that address the conditions which generate crime and recidivism. Realizing that but for the luck of circumstances, any of us could be standing in the criminal's shoes, generates compassion for offenders as well as for victims.

However, consideration of the criminal's crime often generates deep contempt and a desire for retribution. Why is the feeling of compassion to be preferred to the feeling of contempt or hatred? Why does CFN arbitrarily favor mercy over retribution? In a naturalistic world there is no basis for choosing between them. If one man prefers compassion and another prefers retribution, neither is right and neither is wrong. For CFN to assume that one is good and the other evil is totally unwarranted on the basis of CFN's assumptions about the world. The folks at CFN are here simply revealing that they would like to turn their subjective preferences into universal social policy.

CFN tries hard to mask the unremitting bleakness of a naturalistic worldview by wrapping it in pretty paper, but the attempt is doomed to fail as soon as one starts to examine the package closely. Naturalism will never be able to supplant Christianity because Christianity is the source of all that makes life meaningful, beautiful, and endurable (See here).

Naturalism would take this source away and offer nothing in its place except a barren and sterile nihilism. Some trade.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Modern Barbarians

The religion of peace recently held a conclave in Tehran. Here's part of the report of the proceedings:

More than 400 men, women, and children gathered at a meeting in Tehran on Wednesday to pledge their commitment to carry out suicide bomb attacks against both Israelis and Americans in Iraq. "Some 440 volunteers, most of them women, signed up today," said Mohammad Ali Samadi, spokesperson for the Headquarters for Commemorating Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement.

Ah, yes. The word woman in fundamentalist Islam is evidently just another word for having nothing left to lose. Where are the macho Iranian men? Aren't they eager to give their all for Allah? How many Iranian mullahs, we wonder, are prepared and eager to make the same sacrifice they are enjoining upon their women and children? The mullahs' message to the faithful is let's you and him fight.

The ceremony... included the showcase of video footage depicting Israeli soldiers being killed in suicide attacks....

It is apparently totally appropriate in Islam to encourage children to watch such gruesome images and to urge them on to murders of their own. In this country that would be child abuse. Of course, it should be considered child abuse in Iran as well, except that they're so blinded by their religious fanaticism and hatred that all they care about, their only goal in life, is to kill people who don't share their religion. We would do well to keep in mind that these people are striving mightily to build the ultimate suicide bomb.

Each of the group's 400-plus new recruits -- some of whom donned headbands with the inscription 'there is no God but Allah' -- were confronted with a difficult choice: to train for suicide attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq; to train for suicide attacks against Israelis; or to assassinate British author Salman Rushdie, the author forced into hiding after the late Ayatollah Khomeini ordered Muslims to kill him.

One wonders which of those options was most attractive to the attendees. Our hearts and prayers go out to Mr. Rushdie who once asked, "What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist." For his freedom of expression Rushdie has spent the last fifteen years, and may spend the rest of his life, hiding from those who think the best way to deal with distasteful opinions is to kill the person who voices them.

Once more now with conviction, repeat after me: All cultures are equally "valid". No cultural narrative is superior to any other. All cultural norms are relative.

Mysterious Corpses

The media have provided only sketchy explanations of the mysterious discovery of dozens of bodies found floating recently in the Tigris river in Iraq.

California Yankee tries to make sense of the reports and in the process tells us a couple of things we didn't know:

First there were reports that as many as 200 people were being held hostage in the mixed Sunni-Shia village of Madain. Iraqi government security forces backed by US troops arrived in strength on Monday. They encountered no resistance and found no trace of hostages or hostage-takers. There followed articles that the hostage reports may have been exaggerated.

Yesterday there were reports that 50 bodies had been pulled from the river. This of course was thought to confirm the original hostage story. The BBC reports that the story is even more complicated. The 50 plus bodies didn't show up all at once:

They said they had started to appear in the al-Suwayra stretch of the Tigris nearly two months earlier, on 27 February. On the first three days, 27 bodies were retrieved, while during and after the supposed hostage crisis only six corpses were pulled from the river. But in the 26 days between 26 March and 20 April, there was a steady flow of cadavers. A total of 33 were retrieved during that period, an average of just over one a day.

The police statistics said that of 60 bodies 56 were men, two women and two children. Fifty-three had died of gunshot wounds, five had their throats cut and two were beheaded. Only seven of the corpses were identified by relatives. So the identity of the bulk of the victims is still not clear. It's not known whether the victims are all Shia Muslims, abducted and murdered by Sunni militants. The killing may not have been one-sided. We may never know.

It sounds as though these unfortunates may have been victims of a war that's being waged within the war. They may well be victims of clan and tribal retributions for offenses which perhaps have little or nothing to do with the larger struggle in Iraq.

From John Hathaway

Ya gotta luv this guy...

From the link.

It is against such a backdrop that the euro price of gold should surpass the trading range of the past two years. A breakout in euros will serve notice to the market that gold is not a subset of the weak dollar play. Once it has crossed this threshold, gold will begin to attract capital from assets parked in all currencies and asset classes including commodities and high yield credits, the two most recent investment bubbles. The bull market in gold, which commenced in August of 1999, will shed its stealth mode. Its pace will quicken and become difficult to ignore. We stand at the end of the beginning of the first leg in a multi year bull market in the metal. The significant accumulation that has occurred during the past five years will not yield easily to the sharply higher prices that lie ahead, because those price gains will be spurred by financial market developments that make gold's appeal quite obvious, even to its detractors.

Kudos to John Ruiz Dempsey

It's about time somebody takes a stand against a system designed to impoverish and enslave the citizens of a country. Obviously someone is sick and tired and isn't going to take it anymore.

Visit this link for details.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Stifling Intellectual Inquiry

Richard Neuhaus has an excellent little essay on the Intelligent Design/ Darwinism debate in the April issue of First Things. Here are a couple of paragraphs of an article that should be read in its entirety:

That evolution is a theory is a fact, unless somebody has changed the definition of theory without notifying the makers of dictionaries. The "search for knowledge" and "the pursuit of science," one might suggest, will suffer grievously if we no longer respect the distinction between theory and fact.

To argue that skepticism about the theory of evolution is inadmissible if it is motivated by religion is simply a form of antireligious bigotry. It is a fact that many devout Christians, many of whom are engaged in the relevant sciences, subscribe to the theory of evolution. It is also a fact that some scientists who reject religion also reject evolution, or think the theory highly dubious. That is the way it is with theories.

To simply equate evolutionary theory with science is a form of dogmatism that has no place in the pursuit of truth. The problems with that approach are multiplied by the fact that there are such starkly conflicting versions of what is meant by evolution. The resistance to the theory is almost inevitable when it is propounded, as it often is, in an atheistic and materialistic form.

Atheism and materialism are not science but ideologies that most people of all times and places, not just "red state" Americans, deem to be false. Proponents of "intelligent design" and other approaches, who are frequently well-certified scientists, contend that their theories possess greater explanatory power.

Some school boards have very modestly suggested that students should know that evolution is not the only theory about the origin and development of life. What they want students to know is an indisputable fact. There are other theories supported by very reputable scientists, including theories of evolution other than the established version to which students are now bullied into giving their assent.

On any question, the rational and scientific course is to take into account all pertinent evidence and explanatory proposals. We can know that the quasi-religious establishment of a narrow evolutionary theory as dogma is in deep trouble when its defenders demand that alternative ideas must not be discussed or even mentioned in the classroom. Students, school boards, and thoughtful citizens are in fully justified rebellion against this attempted stifling of intellectual inquiry.

On the matter of taking into account all pertinent evidence and explanatory proposals one often hears the objection that if we are going to be fair in introducing alternative explanations into the classroom we will have to give time to a menagerie of ideas from pantheistic to animistic creation stories and everything in between. This is, of course, a transparently disingenuous attempt to justify continuing the monopoly enjoyed by the materialistic explanation.

The fact is there are not an indefinite number of alternative explanations which would have to be accommodated. There are precisely two genuine options in this debate. Life either arose by purely mindless, mechanistic processes, or it's appearance involved some degree of intelligent input. These two disjuncts exhaust all the possibilities. Nothing else need be discussed.

Nor is it correct to assert that one of these alternatives is a scientific hypothesis and the other is religious. They are both metaphysical explanations. Neither of them is ultimately provable or disprovable by any empirical test. If one is to be excluded they should both be excluded, if one is to be presented in public school classrooms they should both be presented in public school classrooms. There is no reason why the materialist theory should be privileged over it's competitor.

This is all that most people who are trying to get Intelligent Design acknowledged in high school biology classes are asking. They wish to see students genuinely challenged to think through the two contrasting theories and be allowed to decide for themselves which one best accounts for the evidence. Do living things show indications of having been intentionally designed or do they instead appear to have resulted from mindless, purposeless physical laws plus serendipity?

The guardians of the entrenched materialist orthodoxy know very well which possibility will have the greatest intellectual and philosophical allure for students, and that's precisely why they are so determined to prevent the comparison.

Recognizing Stroke

A friend passed this along and I thought it was worth sharing with our readers:

Susie is recuperating at an incredible pace for someone with a massive stroke all because Sherry saw Susie stumble which prompted her to ask Susie to perform the critical three tasks listed below.

This literally saved Susie's life. Suzie was unable to do any of the three so Sherry called 911. Even though Suzie had normal blood pressure readings and did not appear outwardly to be having a stroke, as she could converse to some extent with the Paramedics, they took her to the hospital right away.

Sometimes symptoms of a stroke are difficult to identify. Unfortunately, the lack of awareness spells disaster. The stroke victim may suffer brain damage when people nearby fail to recognize the symptoms. Now doctors say a bystander can recognize a stroke by asking the person to perform three simple tasks:

1. Ask the individual to SMILE.

2. Ask him or her to RAISE BOTH ARMS.

3. Ask the person to SPEAK A SIMPLE SENTENCE.

If he or she has trouble with any of these tasks, call 911 immediately and describe the symptoms to the dispatcher.

After discovering that a group of non-medical volunteers could identify facial weakness, arm weakness and speech problems, researchers urged the general public to learn the three tasks.

They presented their conclusions at the American Stroke Association's annual meeting last February. Widespread use of this test could result in prompt diagnosis and treatment of the stroke and prevent brain damage.

The chances are good that someone we know, or we ourselves, will someday suffer a stroke. Recognizing the symptoms could make all the difference in the extent to which the victim recovers.

Yet Another Travesty

The consumer price index for last month was .6%. The CPI is a measure of inflation of the U.S. dollar. In other words, it means that on an annualized basis, we are losing 7.2% purchasing power of every dollar we earn.

I could rant with megabytes of tirade about this but in order to save bandwidth I have opted for a quote from one who articulated this travesty more succinctly than I ever could...

Whenever destroyers appear among men, they start by destroying money, for money is men's protection and the base of a moral existence. Destroyers seize gold and leave to its owners a counterfeit pile of paper. This kills all objective standards and delivers men into the arbitrary power of an arbitrary setter of values. Gold was an objective value, an equivalent of wealth produced. Paper is a mortgage on wealth that does no exist, backed by a gun aimed at those who are expected to produce it. Paper is a check drawn by legal looters upon an account which is not theirs: upon the virtue of the victims. Watch for the day when it bounces, marked: 'Account Overdrawn.'

Ayn Rand

And who will declare our account overdrawn? The rest of the world who has been accepting U.S. dollars that we print at our leisure in exchange for their goods and services.

Ok, so at this rate a dollar next year is going to buy 7.2% less goods and services than it would today or, to look at it another way, it will cost $1.08 to purchase the same goods and services next year as a dollar would buy today. And that's if the rate of inflation doesn't rise further! What is one to do? As Ayn Rand said above, the destroyers seize gold...and so should you. I've posted this link before to Dr. Alan Greenspan's now infamous dissertation and it seems more relevant today than ever.

Govern yourselves accordingly.

The Relativization of Truth

David Klinghoffer, writing at NRO, laments that no Jewish leader is articulating the pernicious evils of relativism like Joseph Ratzinger did in his homily the other day prior to being elected pope:

On Monday, as the cardinals were about to enter upon the awesome task of choosing a new pope, Ratzinger delivered a sermon that sounded a striking call to resist relativism and secularism....Ratzinger powerfully insists that there is...truth and that his church is in possession of it.

His words, which will become famous, are worth contemplating: "Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and 'swept along by every wind of teaching,' looks like the only attitude acceptable to today's standards. We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires."

It's one of the melancholy facts about Jewish life in modern America that the closest thing we have to a leading moral authority, representing us as Jews to the world, is not a rabbi or any spiritual exemplar. Rather, ... it is most likely to be someone from one of the anti-defamation organizations, most likely Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League.

As Foxman himself has said, "It is pure arrogance for any one religion to assume that they hold 'the truth.'" Presumably this would apply to Judaism too.

Alas, the ADL's viewpoint is all too commonly encountered in our community, as I have been reminded from the very recent personal experience of publishing a book that argues for the truth of Judaism. Although my book, Why the Jews Rejected Jesus, a history of the Jewish-Christian debate about Jesus, can be seen as a critique of Christianity, I've found that in speaking to mixed groups of Jews and Christians, it is often the Jews who take umbrage at being told their religion is true while the Christians genially accept that is entirely appropriate for a Jew to argue in this way.

What's going on? Only that Christians, including traditional Catholics like Joseph Ratzinger, perhaps more than many Jews today, appreciate the deepest assumption that our two religions share: the assumption that there is a truth out there, a singular truth, to be found and embraced.

The belief that there "is a truth out there" is a decidedly un-postmodern notion. In the po-mo world truth has been relativized to one's cultural and social circumstances so that what is true for people in one cultural setting is not necessarily true for people in another. Perhaps the greatest danger of this is that if it applies to cultures it also applies to individuals. In other words, once we abandon the idea of "truth out there", i.e. objective truth, truth becomes intimately personal. It becomes a matter of whatever is true for me, whatever has purchase on my commitments.

When truth, particularly moral truth, has been subjectivized no one's truth is any better than anyone else's because there is no longer a standard to which we can compare them. When no one's moral truth is better than any one else's everyone's morality is equally "valid". At that point we have moral paralysis. All moral disputes reduce to matters of personal taste or preference. Nobody's wrong if everybody's right. If that is so, however, then none of us can say that the holocaust was evil, or that rape, or child molestation, or chattel slavery are evil. The most we can say about those horrors is that we don't like them.

When morality is subjectivized there is no reason why we should care about society, or virtue, or the well-being of others. There is no reason why we shouldn't adopt a thoroughgoing egoism, an ethic of putting our own interests first all the time. And if egoism is a legitimate way to live one's life then so too is the philosophy of might makes right. If I can impose my will on another to achieve my interests there is no moral reason why I should not do so even if my doing so brings harm to the other person.

In other words, the relativization of truth leads to a moral hell, a war of every man against every man, a world where we can trust others only to do what's in their own interests. That's the world we'll create if secularism ever prevails completely in this country. Indeed, it's the world we find today in much of our social experience. Pope Benedict XVI obviously sees this. It's a shame that more religious leaders in more Christian and Jewish churches and synagogues don't.

We Didn't Start the Fire

The Washington Post has an article in which senator Ted Kennedy and his Democratic colleagues explain why judge Janice Rogers Brown is unsuited for the federal judiciary:

Kennedy and others recited the most controversial of Brown's and Owen's statements and rulings. For instance, Brown said in an April 2000 speech, "where government moves in, community retreats, civil society disintegrates and our ability to control our own destiny atrophies. . . . The result is a debased, debauched culture which finds moral depravity entertaining, and virtue contemptible."

You might think that judge Brown, an African American woman, shares a lot of common philosophical ground with Alexis de Tocqueville and other luminaries in the pantheon of great thinkers in political theory, and that such an individual would be an asset on the federal bench. Such a presumption, however, would put you at odds with Senator Kennedy and his cronies who have probably never heard of Tocqueville, much less read him, and who fervently wish to deny her the opportunity to serve precisely because she says things like this.

This is small-mindedness of the first magnitude. Because this judge believes that big government saps local initiative, a belief which one would think is empirically obvious to all but the most obtuse observers, the liberals are outraged. In their indignation that anyone would have the temerity to challenge the benefits of governmental micro-management they plan to filibuster her nomination, which will force the Republicans to change the rules in the senate to stop the filibuster and allow for a vote on her nomination on the senate floor. This in turn will provoke the Democrats, they've assured us, to shut down the nation's business.

Democrats are so obsessed with defeating George Bush's agenda that they're willing to sacrifice the welfare of the nation to accomplish it. This may turn out, however, to be an act of political self-immolation. If the Republicans do the right thing, stick to their principles, and stand resolutely behind the President's nominees, the Democrats' irrationality may ignite a blazing auto de fe which will reduce them to minority status for a generation. If so, it'll be fun to watch. No doubt they'll fuel the pyre themselves with never-opened volumes of Democracy In America.

Addressing Blasphemy

Little Green Footballs directs us to this story out of Pakistan:

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A Pakistani man accused of desecrating the Koran was shot dead Wednesday after being chased by an angry crowd.

Ashiq Nabi, in his thirties, was accused of being disrespectful to Islam's holy book and had been in hiding since Monday, a senior police official said.

"Today, a mob spotted him and shot him dead," said Mazahar ul Haq, police chief of Nowshera town, about 100 km (62 miles) west of the capital, Islamabad.

Blasphemy, including desecrating the Koran, is a capital offence in deeply Islamic Pakistan and carries the death sentence, but convictions have always been turned down by high courts because of a lack of evidence.

Witnesses said the man was chased through fields and climbed a tree to get away from an angry crowd of up to 500 men. When he refused to come down, someone shot him dead, they said.

Human rights activists want the blasphemy law to be struck off the books saying it is often abused by people to settle personal disputes or religious rivalry.

Indeed. While we all pause a moment to celebrate multicultural diversity perhaps someone can explain to us again the moral equivalence of all cultures.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Sider and Osteen

Christianity Today has an interview with Ron Sider that should be required reading for everyone who identifies him or herself as an evangelical Christian. Sider has for thirty years or more been calling Christians to live lives consistent with the Gospel, to eschew the materialistic excess of our culture, to care for the poor, and to share in each other's sufferings. The CT interview is well worth reading.

By contrast, I'm currently reading Joel Osteen's best-seller Your Best Life Now, and although I don't question Osteen's sincerity, and I certainly don't question his success (He's taken a church from 7000 members to close to 30,000 in about six years, if that's a measure of success), I really wonder whether his concept of God's will for our lives is accurate. According to Osteen God wants us to be materially successful and wealthy and He yearns to shower us with miracles great and small. Osteen believes that being aware of "God's favor" confers some special status on us that gives the believer who is conscious of it a sort of immunity to troubles which afflict those who fail to claim God's favor. Osteen seems to claim a special skill at divining the mind of God, insisting several times on every page that he knows what God wants, thinks, wishes, wills, and is going to do for those who claim His favor.

I have a difficult time accepting all of this. I don't know that God particularly wants us to be wealthy so much as that we be faithful. There's no Biblical precedent for thinking that wealth should come with one's status as a child of God, but there is Biblical warrant for expecting that persecution and other afflictions will beset us.

Nor do I think God summons up supernatural interventions to secure for us a parking space at the mall, as Osteen informs us God did for him. How must Osteen's claim that God answered his prayer for a parking space sound to a mother who has prayed her eyes out for a dying child to be made well only to have God not grant the request? Miracles are not trivial events dispensed by God like candy thrown from the divine carriage to poor waifs in the street. They are momentous and purposeful, at least those recorded in the New Testament are, and we have no reason to think that God works miracles more promiscuously today than He did then.

Osteen is surely correct in urging us to maintain a positive outlook on life, but his theology would be alien to people like Dietrich Bonhoffer who wrote The Cost of Discipleship, his portrayal of the Christian life seems coarsely materialistic, and he makes God, whether intentionally or not, into a cosmic Santa Claus.

Ron Sider seems to us a much more authentic voice on the matter of how Christians should live their lives. We recommend him to our readers.

Killing Innocents

Richard John Neuhaus asks good questions about whether it is ever right to take innocent life in a piece called Speaking About the Unspeakable in the March issue of First Things. After spending a few paragraphs on the topic of torture (See our commentary here), he writes:

There is a related development that has also not received the attention it would seem to deserve. It is a generally accepted moral maxim that it is always wrong to deliberately take innocent human life. Yet after September 11 it is the policy of our government to shoot down hijacked airplanes, thus killing the innocent passengers, if there is reason to believe that, as in the case of the World Trade Center, the hijackers intend to use the plane as a weapon. One can, of course, stretch the rule of "double effect"-the distinction between what is directly willed and what is only indirectly willed-but it is a stretch that teeters on the edge of simplistic intentionalism.

Father Neuhaus is calling, in this brief essay, for more attention to be paid to these matters by Christian ethicists and moral theologians, and his plea is certainly timely, as we noted in our comments on his post on torture.

The moral agony involved in the scenario Fr. Neuhaus offers for our consideration is perhaps mitigated somewhat by the fact that the passengers on the plane will likely die in any event. The question is whether they will be killed by crashing into a skyscraper at the hands of the terrorists or by crashing into the earth at the hands of an Air Force pilot. It is a choice fraught with anguish, certainly, but if there is reason to believe that the hijackers will murder even more people, and the only way to stop them is to shoot down the airliner, then it seems that shooting it down is the morally right thing to do. Even so, the morally right thing, in a case like this, seems almost heinous.

A more vexing question, though, is whether it is ever right to deliberately target innocent civilians in a time of war. It is vexing because the occasion for it arises with much greater frequency than does the occasion for shooting down hijacked airliners and the temptation to do it must be very strong on at least some of those occasions. Although targeting civilians violates just war theory, it has been done by virtually every nation ever to fight a war in modern times, including the United States.

The moral dubiousness of the Hiroshima bombing, to take but one example, does not derive from our use of a nuclear weapon, but rather from the fact that we deliberately targeted the civilian population for death. More people died from our use of conventional ordinance in the incendiary raid on Tokyo than died from our use of a fission bomb at Hiroshima, but both raids targeted civilians, and that's what makes them morally problematic. Had we dropped the bomb on the Japanese fleet out at sea or on massed troops on Iwo Jima, there would have been little reason to question the decision (In hindsight, of course, we can see that using the weapon crossed a threshold that might have been better left uncrossed), but if there was adequate justification for the wholesale incineration of civilians in Tokyo, Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, I for one don't know what it was.

There may be situations in war in which intentionally killing non-combatants may be for some reason necessary (although I can't think offhand what such circumstances would be), but we should never allow ourselves to return to the WWII mind-set which permitted us to kill innocent children and women with so little distress in our own souls. President Truman is said to have stated that he never gave the use of the bomb a second thought once the decision to use it was made. If that is so, it's a very difficult thing to understand, and very troubling.

Christians have written much about just war theory, but, as Fr. Neuhaus suggests, perhaps there is a need for them to write much more.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Looking For the Big Win

Bill Roggio at The Fourth Rail has more on the battle at Camp Gannon that we cited in a post a couple of days ago. Here's an excerpt:

Marines responded to the attack by deploying their "Rapid Reaction" force and calling in air assets; "The unit summoned F-18 fighter jets and Cobra helicopter gunships; the Cobras fired machine guns and Hellfire missiles at what an after-action report described as vehicles transporting weapons." Al Qaeda cannot maintain the initiative against such flexibility and firepower, and were forced to break contact, suffering heavy casualties while failing to achieve their objective. It is no wonder the communiqu�s issued by al Qaeda provided little details on the assault, as there is very little to tout.

According to the Washington Post, "19 insurgents were killed and 15 were wounded during 24 hours of fighting." The size of the assault force is estimated between 40 to 100 fighters (the high number likely representing the support teams), putting the casualty figures at anywhere from 34 to 85%. These are stunningly high numbers.

Al Qaeda devoted significant resources to this assault, and the massing of force at the company level requires time, training, effort and material. The fire truck used in the assault was known to have been missing for months; this vehicle was husbanded for a significant attack. These resources were sacrificed as Camp Gannon has strategic significance to the insurgency.

The fact that the insurgents are using frontal attacks in relatively large numbers suggests that they believe they must gain a significant battlefield victory to reverse the psychological flow of momentum which has favored the Iraqi security forces and the coalition troops since the January 30th election.

Their hope, apparently, is that a major defeat of the Americans will re-energize their sagging morale and make them look again like heroes and winners in the eyes of a populace which they have badly alienated by their indiscriminate murders. As long as the insurgents were killing Americans the citizenry viewed them either positively or with indifference, but as the civilian casualties of their suicide bombs piled up, the Iraqi people have grown very hostile toward them, especially since so many of the insurgents are now foreigners.

A big win would help them, but they'll have to do much better than their last several efforts.