Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Hypocritical Phony

NewsMax.Com states that Senator George Voinovich's opposition to John Bolton is completely a matter of personal pique that has nothing to do with Bolton himself:

Voinovich's stated reason for opposing Bolton: "I know, some of my friends say, 'Let it go, George. It's going to work out,'" said Voinovich, the only Republican opposing the appointment. "I don't want to take the risk. I came back here and ran for a second term because I'm worried about my kids and my grandchildren. And I just hope my colleagues will take the time and...do some serious thinking about whether or not we should send John Bolton to the United Nations."

His kids and grandkids? Had the Senator been so worried about his children and Bolton's nomination, he might have shown up for most of the Foreign Relations Committee hearings about Bolton. But the Senator missed almost all the meetings.

The real reason Voinovich is angry was a series of TV ads played by a conservative group in Ohio criticizing the Senator for not backing Bolton early. Bolton and the White House had nothing to do with the ads. But insiders say Voinovich was so ticked off by the local pressure he vowed to get Bolton.

What a phony.

The Washington Times ran a little piece a week or so ago which gave the lie to Voinivich's concerns that Bolton's temperament ill-suits him for the role of ambassador to the U.N. It turns out that Voinovich is criticizing Bolton for behavior in which he himself has indulged in the past.

"In 1995 when he was governor of Ohio, he had a temper tantrum at an airport because his plane was kept on the ground while Air Force One was in the sky." John Podhoretz wrote in the New York Post on May 13 (Subscription required). "He ordered his pilot to take off, screaming at air traffic controllers all the while and daring them to 'shoot us down.'"

An AP report at the time quoted Voinivich as using profanity and defying the authorities to put him in jail. Voinivich was fined by the FAA for his behavior.

"Interpersonal skills are important. The way you treat other people - do you treat them with dignity and respect? Very important." This was Voinivich during the senate Foreign Relations Committee vote a couple of weeks ago.

What a hypocrite.

In God We Trust

The battle to scrub the public arena free of any hint that God might be lurking in some obscure crevice of our public life opens a new front in North Carolina:

The words appear on every dollar bill and US coin. They are displayed at the entrance to the US Senate and above the Speaker's chair in the House. But when local officials in North Carolina placed "In God We Trust" on the front of the Davidson County Government Center, they soon found themselves in federal court facing a complaint that they were violating the separation of church and state.

The display was mounted in 18-inch letters that passing motorists could see on nearby Interstate 85. "If you are going to get sued, you may as well get sued for big letters," says Larry Potts, vice chairman of the Davidson County Commission. The case is one of an array of church-state battles across the country seeking to establish a bedrock answer to a difficult constitutional question: To what extent may the government bring God into the public square?

It is more than crosses, creches, and menorahs. Last year the US Supreme Court considered whether repeating the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance violates the First Amendment's prohibition of government establishment of religion. And the justices are currently weighing the constitutionality of displaying the Ten Commandments on public property in Texas and Kentucky. Decisions in the Ten Commandments cases could come as early as Monday, or, at the latest, by the end of next month.

Legal scholars are hopeful the Ten Commandments opinions will provide a legal landmark, offering lower courts more precise guidelines to help judges resolve the growing number of church-state disputes. At the center of the debate is whether the Constitution demands strict separation between church and state or whether it provides leeway to permit government acknowledgment of America's religious heritage. Others go further, saying the First Amendment bars establishment of a government-backed church but says nothing about government efforts to promote religiosity and faith-based morality.

The Davidson County debate over "In God We Trust" started in 2002. That's when Rick Lanier suggested posting the phrase on the side of the government center. At the time, Mr. Lanier was a county commissioner and a member of a local ad hoc group called the US Motto Action Committee, which was offering to pay for the display.

Not everyone on the county commission thought it was a good idea. Critics said it would be viewed as an endorsement of religion. Some said the commission might get sued. Lanier noted that in 1956 Congress designated "In God We Trust" as the national motto. After nearly 50 years, he said, what judge would dare declare a local display of the national motto unconstitutional? The measure passed 4 to 2.

To Lanier and other supporters, the display was seen as a local response to the 9/11 terror attacks and an answer to a growing number of lawsuits seeking to remove any mention of God and religion from public life. "For the past three to four years we went from a gradual process with legal challenges from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and American Atheists to a fast-track effort to try to completely secularize our society," Lanier says. He adds, "If you secularize and take God and our religious heritage out of [our society], then we open the door even wider to moral corruption and tearing down the very fiber that built this country."

Two local lawyers who conduct business in the county building objected to what they saw as the use of public property to present a religious message. "It is the semantic equivalent of putting up a sign that says Davidson County believes in the Christian God," says Michael Lea, a Thomasville, N.C., lawyer who filed suit with Charles Lambeth to have the display removed.

"I am a Christian and have been on the governing board of the local church. It is not that I am anti-Christian," he says. "I just don't think it should be up on a government building."

Faced with the prospect of open-ended litigation costs, the county commission began to reassess its decision. But the US Motto Action Committee responded by gathering 18,000 signatures on a petition supporting the motto. The group also raised $10,000 from local churches and individuals to cover the legal defense. In May 2004, US District Judge William Osteen upheld the display. "The phrase 'In God We Trust' is not inherently religious, particularly when considered in light of its history as this nation's official motto," he wrote.

Messrs. Lambeth and Lea appealed. On May 13, the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., upheld the display. A reasonable observer would know "In God We Trust" is the national motto, not an endorsement of religion by Davidson County, the appeals panel ruled.

George Daly, a Charlotte civil rights lawyer, argued the case challenging the display. He says the Fourth Circuit got it wrong and he plans to file an appeal to the US Supreme Court. "You look up over the door and it says, 'We trust in God' - we, the government of Davidson County," Mr. Daly says. "That is direct government speech," he says, "and that is endorsement."

Daly adds, "The government, of course, endorses what the government says. I thought I passed the endorsement test hands down, but what the Fourth Circuit says is, 'No, no, no - everyone knows what the national motto is and that it is patriotic.'"

If the Supreme Court strikes down one or both of the Ten Commandments displays in question, that could make Daly's appeal much easier. Still, he faces another obstacle. "I just detect a great reluctance in the courts to want to allow religion to become the subject of a trial," he says. "But being a lawyer, I want a trial."

In addition to the Fourth Circuit, three other federal appeals circuits - the Fifth, Ninth, and 10th - have upheld the national motto against Establishment Clause challenges. Furthermore, the Sixth Circuit has upheld the constitutionality of Ohio's state motto: "With God, All Things Are Possible."

Davidson County isn't the only place posting the national motto on public property. The American Family Association (AFA) in Tupelo, Miss., has sponsored a campaign to display 11-by-14-inch "In God We Trust" posters in school classrooms and other public buildings. At least 18 states have passed laws supporting the posters.

"We have hundreds of thousands of posters in 18 states and not a single lawsuit filed. I think that speaks for itself," says Randy Sharp, an AFA spokesman. "Under a strict separation of church and state, even this type of endorsement of religion would not stand," says Rob Boston of the Washington-based group Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "But the courts have never adopted a standard that strict. They have always carved out an exemption for certain types of civil religion, and this is another example of that."

He adds, "We haven't been involved in a case like this or taken any of them on simply because it is usually an exercise in futility. The courts aren't going to declare something like this unconstitutional."

George Daly is, in my opinion, correct in that the government, by inscribing the offending words on the walls of public buildings and on our currency, is claiming, accurately or not, that the American people do, in fact, trust God to protect our nation, and that the government endorses that trust. To defend the inscription by trying to reduce it to a mere expression of patriotism is silly and disingenuous.

Where Mr. Daly is not correct, however, is in thinking that this violates the intent of the freedom of religion clause of the First Amendment. By expressing a sentiment such as the one carried by the statement in God we trust, the state is not establishing a religion nor is it interfering in the free exercise thereof. The state may be endorsing a theistic point of view but theism is not a religion. It has no clergy nor churches, it has no dogma nor sacred books. Nor is the government, by stamping its currency with these words, actively striving to establish a state religion of theism. Indeed, it is doing much less than the founders of this country regularly did in their writings, speeches, and other public pronouncements.

First Amendment jurisprudence has drifted so far from what the framers originally intended that it has become a parody of itself and the courts and lawyers which seek to totally secularize public life look like small-minded anti-religious bigots. Any mention of God by a public official is seen as a constitutional breach by the censors at the ACLU. Any acknowledgement of God which is in any way associated with tax dollars is cause for litigation. This is a ridiculous state of affairs which the founders could scarcely have foreseen nor desired, and it is time that our courts and legislators started acting like adults and reformulate the law so that it more accurately reflects what the fathers intended when they wrote the Bill of Rights.

The Most Beautiful Spot in the East

We're back from a Memorial day weekend at what is, in my judgment, the most beautiful place in the United States east of the Mississippi River - Acadia National Park in Maine. Like all of our National Parks, it is a public treasure and needs constant vigilance to protect and preserve it from those who see in such places little more than an opportunity for development and exploitation.

If political conservatism means anything it means having a strong predilection toward preserving and conserving our heritage - our values, our traditions, and our natural gifts. It is as sad as it is puzzling that more conservatives don't see conservation and preservation of land and natural beauty as logical consequences of the conservative ethos.

This is not to suggest that conservatives should not favor, say, drilling for oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, but it is to say that such exploitation, which would be enormously profitable to the oil companies, should only be permitted if those who benefit from it compensate future generations of Americans by purchasing other significant lands elsewhere for incorporation into the National Wildlife Refuge or National Park systems.

Indeed, there is much land around all of our National Parks, Refuges, and Seashores which still needs to be protected from development. Why not make preserving some of it part of the deal for drilling rights in ANWR?

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Keeping the Pressure On

For those interested in things military Belmont Club is almost always worth a visit. Wretchard's most recent post analyzes the significance of the increase in operational tempo of Coalition forces in Iraq. In his concluding paragraphs he writes:

The US ability to increase tempo effectively means that it has more troops, even though the actual number of personnel may remain the same. When 'toothpaste' is corralled faster than it can ooze, using the metaphor of the Iraq expert Toby Dodge, the insurgency will be forced into lower and lower energy states. The surprising thing about this up-tick in tempo is that there are actually fewer American troops in Iraq today than three months ago: it stands at 138,000, down from February's high of 155,000. The downside of increasing tempo means US troops are working at a faster clip and are exposed to more combat situations.

But high tempos may also cause a gradual breakdown in the enemy response times which may save lives in the long run. Historically, the winning force has sought to speed up operations once it felt the measure of the enemy. One of the best examples was the US Navy practice of using the same ships under different admirals during the Pacific War. Ships would sail as the 3rd Fleet and after their mission pick up a new command group to re-sortie as the 5th Fleet: "the same team of horses with a different driver". The practice was hard on the USN sailors but catastrophic for the Imperial Japanese Navy because the blows arrived faster than they believed possible. Historically, an acceleration in operations has often marked a discontinuity in what seemed to be static situations. While not always the case, it often signals that a crisis is approaching. Things will become clear soon enough.

Faster operational rates also suggest that our intelligence has markedly improved. We know who and where the targets are to a greater extent than we did six months ago and we're not giving them time to catch their breath. It's also a sign that Iraqi troops are much more competent and numerous than they were six months ago and are able to shoulder much more of the load. All of this is very good news, indeed.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

The Wrong Man's Values

The New York Times is in a bit of a snit that the President is, in their view, imposing his moral convictions concerning the humanity and worth of human embryos on the rest of us:

[The President's] actions are based on strong religious beliefs on the part of some conservative Christians, and presumably the president himself. Such convictions deserve respect, but it is wrong to impose them on this pluralistic nation.

These blastocysts, as they are called, bear none of the attributes we associate with humanity and, sitting outside the womb, have no chance of developing into babies. Some people consider them clumps of cells no different than other biological research materials. Others would grant them special respect but still make them available for worthy research. But Mr. Bush is imposing his different moral code on both, thereby slowing research that most consider potentially beneficial.

There is so much nonsense contained in these two paragraphs that it almost takes one's breath away.

First, the claim that GWB is imposing his moral beliefs upon others is absurd. Bush isn't forcing people to accept his view of the status of the embryo. He's simply saying that if you wish to destroy incipient human beings that's your business, but you can't expect taxpayers to compensate you for it.

Second, the Times complains that different people view the status of human embryos differently and that Mr. Bush is [unfairly] imposing his views on all of them. But someone's views must prevail in the debate over how these embryos are to be regarded by the federal government. Is the Times' problem that someone is imposing his views, or that the wrong person's views are being imposed?

Third, even if the President were "imposing" his beliefs about morality on others why would that be wrong? If one has the political power and constitutional authority to impose one's beliefs why, precisely, is it wrong to do so? Would the Times hesitate for one moment to impose its beliefs upon the nation were it to have the power to effect such a catastrophe?

In a secular society such as the Times yearns for the U.S. to be, right and wrong are merely functions of whatever the law allows. There is no appeal to some objective moral standard because secularists do not permit any such standard to be brought into play. Thus, whatever a man can legally do he has a "right" to do. In the secular state if Bush has the constitutional authority to impose his values on the rest of us then he has the right to do so, and the Times' complaints are just so much sour grapes.

The Decline of Amnesty International

Amnesty International's recent condemnation of the United States shows how ideologically blinkered that organization is. Amnesty calls for the arrest of several high administration officials should they stray into another country as did former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet who was arrested in London in 1998.

"If the U.S. government continues to shirk its responsibility, Amnesty International calls on foreign governments to uphold their obligations under international law by investigating all senior U.S. officials involved in the torture scandal," William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said.

"If those investigations support prosecution, the governments should arrest any official who enters their territory and begin legal proceedings against them," he added. "The apparent high-level architects of torture should think twice before planning their next vacation to places like Acapulco or the French Riviera..."

Torture and other grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions amount to crimes against humanity and therefore all states have a responsibility to investigate and prosecute people responsible for them, Amnesty said in its 308-page report.

George Bush is among a dozen former or current U.S. officials who should be probed by foreign governments....Others on the Amnesty list of potential targets for investigation and prosecution include Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief George Tenet.

Perhaps we just don't remember but has Amnesty ever called for the arrest of Fidel Castro, or, prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom, of Saddam Hussein? Have they ever called for the arrest of any of the murderous tyrants in black Africa or of Kim Jong Il in North Korea? We don't recall.

Nor have they ever urged the arrest of any of the potentates in the Islamic world which is odd since part of the indictment against the United States is that it practices rendition of prisoners, i.e. we send them to their country of origin in the Mideast to be interrogated. This is severely criticized by organizations like Amnesty because everyone knows what happens to people in the prisons of Islamic countries. Well, if that's all true, why isn't Amnesty putting out an APB on the leaders of Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, etc. for the appalling abuses of human rights that occur regularly in those countries? Their focus on the United States seems to suggest an ideological antipathy that ill-becomes an organization which is supposed to be non-ideological.

Nor does Mr. Schulz seem to understand the implications of what it is he's urging some hapless country to do. He's calling for, say, Belgium, to arrest President Bush should GWB ever wander into Brussels. Has Mr. Schulz tried to imagine what would ensue if a foreign nation took into custody the President of the United States? Either the executive director of AI is a complete fool or he's deliberately trying to instigate a military conflict between the U.S. and whatever nation is naive enough to heed his advice.

Amnesty International is an organization which could do much good around the world, and it's therefore especially unfortunate that its manifest bias and ridiculous recommendations are turning it into a discredited and irrelevant voice in world affairs today.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Left Lane Hogs

From time to time the thought has occurred that I am the only person still alive who believes that the left lane of an interstate highway is for passing only. Apparently, however, there are others out there who think the same way and who are growing weary of both the rudeness and the hazard posed by drivers who drive in that lane but don't pass anyone. This article talks about two states that are doing something about it. Some highlights:

Some good news: Left lane hogs are finally getting the attention they deserve from traffic cops -- and traffic laws.

In at least two states -- Colorado and Florida -- cops are begiining to target drivers who squat in the far left lane and refuse to move right to let faster-moving traffic get by. For decades, these drivers have been allowed to create rolling roadblocks and interrupt the smooth (and therfore safe) flow of traffic with virtual impunity because "faiure to yield" laws were either not on the books -- or not enforced. And twenty-plus years of ddumbed-down, politicized "driver's education" and "safety" campaigns had effectively propagandized the populace into believing their was only one cardinal sin -- "speeding."

In Colorado, state police have written more than 500 tickets to left lane hogs since the beginning of the year; in Florida, a bill is on the legislative docket that would impose a $60 fine and four DMV "demerit points" on the driving record of motorists who refuse to allow faster moving traffic by.

Twenty years ago, this would have been an unthinkable violation of the politically correct orthodoxy that only "speed kills" -- and therefore only enforcing speed limits (no matter how absurd or contrived) matters.

But in fact, people who refuse to move right represent a major traffic safety hazard -- whether "they doing the speed limit" (as they often bleat in self-righteous high dudgeon) or not.

By refusing to allow other motorists to get by, the left lane dawdler causes traffic to back up unnaturally; drivers then angrily jockey for position -- and typically are forced into making a passing attempt in the right lane to get around the hog -- who seems to get some sort of weird passive-aggressive satisfaction from his obstinacy.

The situation is frustrating, distracting -- and very unsafe. In fact, the lack of reflexive lane courtesy in this country is arguably the biggest single safety problem we have -- not "speeding."

It will take time for the facts about the danger of left lane hogging to sink into the general consciousness -- the consequence of 20-plus years of neglect and outright disinformation peddled by know-nothing "safety" advocates. But, at last, things are beginning to change for the better.

Now if they can do something about two other pet peeves I'll be a much happier driver. The first is people who zoom ahead of merging lines of traffic and then cut in at the bottleneck, essentially slowing down the progress of everyone who has already merged. This is an act of incivility so rude as to merit, in my mind, severe flogging.

The second is drivers who make left-hand turns from well to the right of the median, thereby preventing traffic behind them from passing them to their right. Related to this is the driver who wishes to turn left at an intersection but who, while waiting for oncoming traffic to clear, doesn't move into the intersection to make the turn. This causes traffic to pile up behind the turning car, and if there's a traffic light at the intersection the backed up traffic often has to wait another light cycle before they can proceed.

All of us make thoughtless mistakes on the highway from time to time, but some people just never ask themselves what effect their driving has on everyone else. Their obliviousness is inadvertent, of course, but it's nevertheless inconsiderate and discourteous.

The Embryonic Stem Cell Debate

The controversy surrounding the use of federal funds to subsidize embryonic stem cell research is culminating in legislation which the president has promised to veto.

It should be noted that research on or with embryonic stem cells is not illegal. The president has simply said that tax dollars will not be used to subsidize what many regard as a deliberate taking of human life.

This position is based upon an important principle: Human life should never be created simply to farm its tissues. We agree with that principle. To permit tissue farming would place us on a slippery slope where ultimately babies could be conceived simply to allow for the sale of their tissues and organs.

Parenthetically, it's curious that Pro-Lifers who oppose the extraction of stem cells from surplus embryos produced at fertility clinics aren't more vociferous in their opposition to the work of those clinics. The clinics fertilize a number of ova in order to insure that at least one will be viable. If it is, then the others are discarded. It's hard to understand why those who oppose abortion from the moment of conception have not been more fervent in their objections to this practice. The fact that they haven't been suggests that there is perhaps some ambiguity in the thinking of at least some of them concerning the deliberate disposal of excess embryos.

Viewpoint's opinion, ill-informed as it probably is and subject to revision upon further argument, is that the government should neither underwrite nor permit the production of embryos solely for the purpose of harvesting tissue. In the age of Roe it may be hard for government to prohibit such a practice, but certainly it can refuse, as GWB has done, to finance it.

It should in any case, however, remain legal to produce embryos in fertility clinics, even though those embryos may subsequently be destroyed, since they are not being produced solely for the purpose of providing cells or tissue. Fertility clinics should be monitored to insure that they're not producing more zygotes (fertilized ova) than is consistent with standard industry practice, and they should be permitted to donate those extraneous embryos to researchers working on stem cells. They should not, however, be permitted to sell them for profit and the government should require a strict accounting of the clinics' practices along these lines.

Nor should the federal government subsidize research on embryonic stem cells (although research on other stem cell lines could, and perhaps should, be subsidized) through grants and other tax-based sources of support. Rather, financing for this work should be sought from private foundations and individual donors.

An article in The Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal shows that this is already well underway:

So what's happened, research-wise, since 2001? Given the rhetoric of some of the President's critics, you might think the answer is nothing. In fact, federal funding for all forms of stem-cell research (including adult and umbilical stem cells) has nearly doubled, to $566 million from $306 million. The federal government has also made 22 fully developed embryonic stem-cell lines available to researchers, although researchers complain of bureaucratic bottlenecks at the National Institutes of Health.

At the state level, Californians passed Proposition 71, which commits $3 billion over 10 years for stem-cell research. New Jersey is building a $380 million Stem Cell Institute. The Massachusetts Legislature has passed a bill authorizing stem-cell research by a veto-proof margin, and similar legislation is in the works in Connecticut and Wisconsin.

Then there's the private sector. According to Navigant Consulting, the U.S. stem-cell therapeutics market will generate revenues of $3.6 billion by 2015. Some 70 companies are now doing stem-cell research, with Geron, ES Cell International and Advanced Cell Technologies being leaders in embryonic research. Clinical trials using embryonic stem-cell technologies for spinal cord injuries are due to begin sometime next year.

President Bush has taken a stand on this matter that appalls his critics, but seems nevertheless to be a perfectly reasonable position, one which does not preclude those who disagree with him from doing research on embryonic stem cells nor from contributing as much to that work out of their own pockets as they desire.

Editorial Judgment

It's easy to get somewhat discouraged when trying to discuss the controversy surrounding Darwinism and Intelligent Design because it's a complicated issue and some of the concepts are not easily made understandable to lay-people. It's even more discouraging when the local media choose to edit your attempts to explain so as to render them almost incomprehensible.

Recently, a representative of the Ayn Rand Institute named Keith Lockitch had a piece published in the local newspaper which was critical of ID. I wrote a reply to Dr. Lockitch's column which I posted here and forwarded to the paper for publication.

This, however, is what appeared in the paper after suffering the ministrations of the paper's editor.

Oh, well.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

GOP Gets Sucker-Punched, Again.

The new-found senate comity lasted less than 48 hours before the Democrats voted almost unanimously to prevent John Bolton from receiving a confirmation vote on his appointment to the post of ambassador to the U.N. Four of the seven Democratic senators who agreed not to employ a filibuster unless there were "extraordinary circumstances" have chosen nevertheless to invoke a filibuster on the Bolton nomination.

It's true that the filibuster compromise only applied to judicial nominations, but the whole deal was predicated upon good will and trust in the other side's willingness to abide by the spirit of the agreement. It seems that a lot of the air has leaked out of the spirit of the agreement in the last two days.

Senator Frist is no doubt feeling vindicated; Senator McCain has egg on his face. Senator McCain better get used to it. This surely won't be the last time his Democratic friends let him down.

The Rainbow Party

When next you're at a social gathering and someone remarks that they just don't understand why parents would homeschool their children and thereby deprive them of the socialization opportunities that attach to a public school education you might casually mention The Rainbow Party by Paul Ruditis. The Rainbow Party is geared to Middle School aged kids and Ruditis hopes that teachers will use it to instruct their students in the arcana of human sexual behavior.

Michelle Malkin writes about the book in the Jewish World Review:

Here's a rich irony: I'm writing today about a new children's book, but I can't describe the plot in a family newspaper without warning you first that it is entirely inappropriate for children.

The book is "Rainbow Party" by juvenile fiction author Paul Ruditis. The publisher is Simon Pulse, a kiddie lit division of the esteemed Simon & Schuster. The cover of the book features the title spelled out in fun, Crayola-bright font. Beneath the title is an illustrated array of lipsticks in bold colors.

The main characters in the book are high school sophomores supposedly typical 14- and 15-year-olds with names such as "Gin" and "Sandy." The book opens with these two girls shopping for lipstick at the mall in advance of a special party. The girls banter as they hunt for lipsticks in every color of the rainbow:

"Okay, we've got red, orange, and purple," Gin said. "Now we just need yellow, green, and blue."

"Don't forget indigo," Sandy said as she scanned the row of lipstick tubes.

"What are you talking about?"

"Indigo," Sandy repeated as if that explained everything. "You know. ROY G. BIV. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet."

"That's seven lipsticks. Only six girls are coming. We don't need it."

What kind of party do you imagine they might be organizing? Perhaps a makeover party? With moms and daughters sharing their best beauty secrets and bonding in the process?

Alas, no. No parents are invited to this get-together. A "rainbow party," you see, is a gathering of boys and girls for the purpose of engaging in group oral sex. Each girl wears a different colored lipstick and leaves a mark on each boy. At night's end, the boys proudly sport their own cosmetically-sealed rainbow you-know-where bringing a whole new meaning to the concept of "party favors."

In the end, the kids in the book abandon plans for the event and news of an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases rocks their school. But the front cover and book marketing emphasize titillation over education, overpowering any redeeming value the book might have. Indeed, according to Publisher's Weekly, the bound galleys sent to booksellers carried the provocative tagline, "don't you want to know what really goes down?"

The author and publisher of the book seem to have persuaded themselves that they are doing families a favor. Simon & Schuster did not return my call seeking comment, but Bethany Buck, Ruditis' editor, told USA Today the intention was to "scare" young readers (uh-huh) and Ruditis told Publisher's Weekly:

"Part of me doesn't understand why people don't want to talk about [oral sex]," he said. "Kids are having sex and they are actively engaged in oral sex and think it's not really sex. I raised questions in my book and I hope that parents and children or teachers and students can open a topic of conversation through it. Rainbow parties are such an interesting topic. It's such a childlike way to look at such an adult subject with rainbow colors."

Teenage group orgies are "an interesting topic?" Is Ruditis out of his mind? We can only pray Simon & Schuster keeps him away from the preschool "Rubbadubbers" books.

In a small sign that decency and common sense still survive in the marketplace, a number of children's book sellers are refusing to stock "Rainbow Party." But as Ruditis's comments indicate, it's just a matter of time before the book ends up on public school library shelves in the name of "educating" children and helping them "deal with reality." The teen lit market is now awash in sexually explicit books that would require brown-paper wrapping if sold at 7-11; their authors are being hailed as "edgy."

For once, radio shock jock Howard Stern has my sympathy. When Oprah Winfrey aired a show last year in which a guest joked bawdily about teenage "rainbow parties" under the guise of enlightening parents, Stern pointed out the regulatory double standards. Why should he be punished for indecent broadcasts while Oprah escaped scrutiny for equally explicit and exploitative content?

Stern is in the wrong line of work. If you want to peddle smut with society's approval, children's books and sex ed is where it's at.

It is just astonishing that people like Ruditis can get a major publisher to publish this book and then actually think that such a story is somehow good for children to read and that it should be used by parents and teachers to teach about sex. The guy must be out of his mind.

Intelligence Coup in Iraq

Captain's Quarters links us to a remarkable story in the London Press:

BEIRUT: A Syrian intelligence officer detained in Baghdad has admitted to launching the missile attack on the late premier Rafik Hariri's Future Television in June 2003, according to Al-Rai al-Aam Kuwaiti newspaper. In an article published on Wednesday, the newspaper said Hussein Ahmad Tah, 32, was arrested by Iraqi police when he was attempting to assassinate employees in an Iraqi public institution. Following his arrest, Tah decided to admit to his previous crimes, among which is the Future TV bombing. Tah said he worked for Syrian intelligence services, adding that he worked for a long time in Lebanon where he perpetrated several attacks. He then moved to Iraq, where he committed several attacks against mosques and Iraqi civilians.

Security sources in Iraq said that Tah recounted the details of the attack on Future TV. The television station, situated near Raouche in Beirut, was attacked on June 15, 2003, resulting in the destruction of one of the newsrooms. No casualties were reported. The attack was considered as a message to then-owner of the station, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Sources said the car used to perpetrate the crime was stolen in 1997 and hidden in a garage until the date of the attack. A previously unknown group called Jamaat Ansar Allah had held itself responsible for the attack in a statement issued the next day. However, Tah told Iraqi police that the group did not exist and that he had written and issued the statement.

If this story turns out to be true it almost forces some sort of action against Syria and Bashar Assad. Syria has been indolent in stopping terrorist migration into Iraq and is apparently energetic in plotting mischief in Lebanon and Baghdad. Tah's confessions almost certainly implicate Syria in the death of Hariri.

Assad must feel like he's in his last days as president and perhaps even as a living organism. In order to save himself it's likely that Assad will make some gesture of cooperation with the United States in the war on terror, perhaps by handing over some terrorist major domos hiding out in Syria. The question is whether he's strong enough to get his security apparatus and military to go along.

The Illusions of Adulthood

Today's Philosophical Quotation tells us that the 19th century philosopher Auguste Comte once remarked that, "Religion is an illusion of childhood, outgrown under proper education."

With due respect to Comte, it's probably more accurate to say that the religion of one's childhood is often exchanged for another religion when one becomes an adult. Indeed, Comte is himself a prime example, having attempted in his later years to develop a religion based on humanism and positivist science.

When Comte was fourteen he abandoned the French Catholicism of his parents and embraced atheism, but he evidently lacked a "proper education" because he never outgrew his need for the numinous. His goal eventually became to develop a new atheistic religion, a new faith based on the apotheosis of man. A humanistic clergy would be needed, he believed, to replace the Catholic clergy. Comte proposed that these be taken from a scientific-industrial elite that would announce the invariable laws of a new social order. This clergy of elites, the technocrats, was necessary to meet the problems which ensued from the collapse of the ancien regime as well as those created by the growth of an industrial society.

With his attempt to found his own religion Comte drifted away from his philosophical and scientific interests toward mysticism. He appointed himself the high priest of his new faith which had its holy days, its calendar of saints -- Adam Smith, Frederick the Great, Dante, Shakespeare and others -- and its positivist catechism. It was a non-theistic religion of man and society, an illusion, to be sure, of adulthood.

For another example of the difficulty even atheists have of escaping their need for the religious see here.

As G.K. Chesterton said, "When a man ceases to believe in God, he doesn't believe in nothing. He believes in anything."

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Another Leftist Travels the Damascus Road

An erstwhile lefty explains why he has chosen to defect in a remarkable essay in the San Francisco Chronicle. Some excerpts:

I'm leaving the left -- more precisely, the American cultural left and what it has become during our time together.

I choose this day for my departure because I can no longer abide the simpering voices of self-styled progressives -- people who once championed solidarity with oppressed populations everywhere -- reciting all the ways Iraq's democratic experiment might yet implode.

My estrangement hasn't happened overnight. Out of the corner of my eye I watched what was coming for more than three decades, yet refused to truly see. Now it's all too obvious. Leading voices in America's "peace" movement are actually cheering against self-determination for a long-suffering Third World country because they hate George W. Bush more than they love freedom.

A turning point came at a dinner party on the day Ronald Reagan famously described the Soviet Union as the pre-eminent source of evil in the modern world. The general tenor of the evening was that Reagan's use of the word "evil" had moved the world closer to annihilation. There was a palpable sense that we might not make it to dessert.

When I casually offered that the surviving relatives of the more than 20 million people murdered on orders of Joseph Stalin might not find "evil'" too strong a word, the room took on a collective bemused smile of the sort you might expect if someone had casually mentioned taking up child molestation for sport.

My progressive companions had a point. It was rude to bring a word like "gulag" to the dinner table....I look back on that experience as the beginning of my departure from a left already well on its way to losing its bearings.

Stated simply: The force wielded by democracies in self-defense was declared morally equivalent to the nihilistic aggression perpetuated by Muslim fanatics.

Susan Sontag cleared her throat for the "courage" of the al Qaeda pilots. Norman Mailer pronounced the dead of Sept. 11 comparable to "automobile statistics." The events of that day were likely premeditated by the White House, Gore Vidal insinuated. Noam Chomsky insisted that al Qaeda at its most atrocious generated no terror greater than American foreign policy on a mediocre day.

All of this came back to me as I watched the left's anemic, smirking response to Iraq's election in January. Didn't many of these same people stand up in the sixties for self-rule for oppressed people and against fascism in any guise?

I'll admit my politics have shifted in recent years, as have America's political landscape and cultural horizon. Who would have guessed that the U.S. senator with today's best voting record on human rights would be not Ted Kennedy or Barbara Boxer but Kansas Republican Sam Brownback?

He is also by most measures one of the most conservative senators. Brownback speaks openly about how his horror at the genocide in the Sudan is shaped by his Christian faith, as King did when he insisted on justice for "all of God's children."

This past January, my liberalism was in full throttle when I bid the cultural left goodbye to escape a new version of that oppressiveness. I departed with new clarity about the brilliance of liberal democracy and the value system it entails; the quest for freedom as an intrinsically human affair; and the dangers of demands for conformity and adherence to any point of view through silence, fear, or coercion.

True, it took a while to see what was right before my eyes. A certain misplaced loyalty kept me from grasping that a view of individuals as morally capable of and responsible for making the principle decisions that shape their lives is decisively at odds with the contemporary left's entrance-level view of people as passive and helpless victims of powerful external forces, hence political wards who require the continuous shepherding of caretaker elites.

The author of this piece is a writer by the name of Keith Thonmpson. You'll want to read the whole thing.

The New Fusionism

Joseph Bottum has a piece in the current First Things entitled The New Fusionism in which he dissects the coalition that comprises contemporary conservatism. Of the three distinct spheres of political life that define one's ideology - social, foreign policy, and economic - Bottum focuses on the first two. He stresses that those who are pro-life in the social sphere (many paleo-cons) have joined with those (mostly neo-cons) who are supportive of the administration's prosecution of the global war on terror to form an alliance that has reversed the defeatism of the post-Vietnam era. Economic concerns have largely been subordinated to the higher imperatives of remoralizing the nation by defeating the culture of death at home and defeating the violent enemies of Western civilization abroad. Here are a few highlights:

Down somewhere in the deepest understanding of what America is for-somewhere in the profound awareness of what it will take to reverse the nation's long drift into social defeatism-there are reasons that one might link the rejection of abortion and the demand for an active and moral foreign policy. Things could have fallen into different patterns; our current liberal-conservative divisions are not the only imaginable ways to cut the political cake. But neither are they merely accidental.

The opponents of abortion and euthanasia insist there are truths about human life and dignity that must not be compromised in domestic politics. The opponents of Islamofascism and rule by terror insist there are truths about human life and dignity that must not be compromised in international politics. Why shouldn't they grow toward each other? The desire to find intellectual and moral seriousness in one realm can breed the desire to find intellectual and moral seriousness in another.

But taking the word in both the old sense and the new, we should note at least one visible change: The people called neoconservative are much more opposed to abortion than they were even ten years ago. The shift has occurred across the spectrum. The ones who started out solidly pro-choice are now uneasy, the ones who started out uneasy are now more uneasy, and the ones who started out quietly anti-abortion are now strong pro-lifers.

Maybe it was all the time spent with Catholics, or maybe it was the rise of the worries about biotechnology that Leon Kass and others have brought to light, but-whatever group we use the word to encompass-the neoconservatives have generally grown in their alliance with the social conservatives to accept a central place for the pro-life position in any theory of conservatism.

Meanwhile, the social conservatives have grown up, too. When the Evangelicals burst on the political scene in the 1970s, they hardly knew what the words "foreign policy" meant. But now "one cannot understand international relations without them," as Allen Hertzke observed in Freeing God's Children, his 2004 report on American religious impact around the world. From the Virginia congressman Frank Wolfe to the Kansas senator Sam Brownback, the religious conservatives in Washington have led the fight against international sex trafficking and a host of other human-rights abuses.

They achieved real results in southern Sudan, and they are straining to find similar traction in the Darfur region of western Sudan. Far beyond their Democratic counterparts, they have demonstrated seriousness about human rights in North Korea and China. "Members of the Christian right, exemplified by Mr. Brownback," the left-leaning columnist Nicholas Kristof reluctantly admitted in the New York Times this Christmas, "are the new internationalists, increasingly engaged in humanitarian causes abroad."

And then there's Israel. "No one outside the Jewish community has been more supportive of Israel than U.S. evangelical Christians," the Jerusalem Post bluntly noted in 2002-

In the new fusionism of the pro-life social conservatives and the foreign-policy neoconservatives, a number of traditional issues seem, if not to have disappeared, then at least to have gotten muted along the way. Where exactly is tax reform and social security and the balanced budget in all this? Where is much concern for economics, which once defined the root of American conservatism?

Perhaps they are missing because, however important, they do not bear hard on the immediate question of social defeatism-on the deep changes that might reawaken and remoralize the nation. The one thing both the social conservatives and the neoconservatives know is that this project comes first.

The article is very good and can be read at the link.

Desecrating the Koran

If American troops have gratuitously beaten, tortured and murdered enemy soldiers they must be prosecuted. They have tarnished the military, besmirched their country, and violated the law of God. Such crimes cannot be allowed to go unpunished. Having said that, it must be asked why there is such a kerfuffle over alleged "desecration" of the Koran. It is not that we think it acceptable to treat this book disrespectfully, but distinctions need to be made.

Let's start with a question. What exactly is wrong with mistreating the Koran? Is the offense spiritual? Is it moral? Or is it merely political? Unless one believes that the Koran really is the word of God then it's hard to see how it could be spiritually offensive to treat it with contempt. Nor is it easy to see how flushing a book down a toilet (Has anyone asked whether this is even possible)could be immoral, even if it enrages the devout. After all, people are enraged by those who burn the flag and profanate the Bible, but that such acts are immoral seems a hard case to make in a secular society.

That leaves us with political offense. It is argued that it's wrong to mistreat the Koran because such behavior does not endear us to the world's Muslims, and, of course, here we agree. We should be sensitive to the religious sensibilities of those whose hearts we wish to win over, and our troops should for pragmatic reasons be ordered to treat the Koran in a reasonably dignified manner out of respect, not so much for the prisoners, who may indeed be detestable human beings, but for the multitudes of Muslims who are watching how we conduct ourselves. If soldiers violate this order they should be punished, but their punishment should be a consequence of defying an order. It should not be because their conduct is inherently despicable.

It will not do to reply that Muslims hold Christianity in contempt and therefore they have no claim on our respect. First, if we are Christians we are prima facie obligated to treat others with dignity, respect, and kindness. That means respecting, to the extent practicable, their most deeply held beliefs even if they don't respect ours. Second, it may be true that they do not respect Christian belief, but then they're not particularly eager to win our affections either. We are eager to win theirs. Without the support of the world's Muslims we'll never prevail in the war on terror, and we won't have that support if our troops don't display a modicum of deference to their most profound convictions.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Ongoing OPs

Bill Roggio writing for Winds of Change updates us on some of the ongoing military operations in Iraq. Here's part of his post:

Security operations continue in the wake of Operation Matador. In the vicinity of Abu Ghraib, just west of Baghdad along the Euphrates River, a joint Coalition - Iraqi operation dubbed Squeeze Play is under way. The assault force is comprised of 4 battalions of Iraqi infantry, 3 battalions of Iraqi Special Police Commandos and elements of the 10th Mountain Division's Task Force 2-14. This is an Iraqi-heavy operation and has yielded great success on the first day. Over 285 terrorists have been detained.

In the Kerbala province (south of Baghdad), a brigade of Polish and a brigade of Iraqi infantry execute Operation Peninsula and round up 184 terrorists and uncover a significant weapons cache.

Operations continue in the Mosul region, one of the insurgency's major rat lines from Syria. In the latest news, 18 suspects have been detained.

There's much more at the link.

Meanwhile, the 28th edition of Arthur Chrenkoff's Good News From Iraq is up. It's an outstanding summary of what's being done to create a viable society in Iraq with emphasis on the news from the last two weeks.


Pat Buchanan notes that if President Bush had nominated John Paul II to a federal judgeship he would have been filibustered by Senate Democrats who would have fought to kill his nomination on the grounds that his pro-life Catholicism places him too far out of the mainstream.

David Limbaugh asks why John Bolton's criticism of the United Nations should make him any more unsuited to serve as our ambassador to that august body than the criticism of leftist Democrats of the United States makes them unsuited to hold political office.

Good observations, both.


Joe Knippenberg at No Left Turns offers some advice to the Republicans in the wake of the filibuster "compromise".

If I were doing the spinning on the Republican side, here's some of what I'd say. Democratic happiness over this deal gives the lie to the rhetoric of extremism they have used to smear three worthy nominees--Priscilla Owen, William Pryor, and Janice Rogers Brown--and which they will of course use to smear others. Their principal goal all along has been simply obstructionist, not a matter of principle. Since their charges of extremism were in this case so lightly abandoned, no one ought to take them seriously again. Let's portray the Democrats as they are: not principled defenders of judicial activism (a position we'd love to debate and put in its place), but opportunistic and unprincipled partisans, willing to go to any lengths to stymie a President, for whose person and office their contempt knows no bounds. We have for the moment preserved the forms, but not the substance, of Senate procedure. We will hold the Democrats to their side of the agreement, which we think will take some doing, given their record. And we will continue to remind them of the "flexibility" they displayed today regarding their judgments of judicial extremism. If a judge like Janice Rogers Brown, someone who allegedly would have taken us back to the 19th century, deserves an up-or-down vote, so does any conceivable Supreme Court nominee.

Of course, this would be to tell the truth and telling the truth can be nasty and the last thing Republicans want is for the media to portray them as "mean".

Meanwhile, Captain's Quarters deconstructs the deal and comes to this conclusion:

In short, this could be merely objectionable and not a debacle, depending on how the GOP signatories interpret "extraordinary circumstances". One must suspect that this has already been defined confidentially within the group, and like Sean Rushton surmises, ideology doesn't play a part in it any longer. Under no circumstances can this be seen as a good deal for the Senate majority or for Constitutional rule. The net effect is that an even smaller minority in the Senate has hijacked the confirmation process than we saw during the filibusters -- and like all tyrannies, we can only hope for benevolent despotism rather than disaster.

And we can thank Bill Frist for his lack of leadership and resolve for taking a majority and turning it into a minority. Not One Dime for the NRSC as long as Frist remains majority leader, or for the Seven Dwarves ever. Patterico is on board with that pledge as well.

Captain Ed is harder on Frist than I think the majority leader deserves. I'm not sure that anyone could have kept those seven Republican senators in line. Nevertheless, I agree with the sentiment that the rank and file need to send a message to the party by withholding their contributions. In our opinion, there should be no donations until all of Bush's Supreme Court nominees are confirmed, and anyone who calls to solicit contributions should be emphatically told why their wasting their time.


Froma Harrop of The Providence Journal makes a persuasive case for the Central American Free Trade Agreement. She argues that the jobs which would be lost are going to be lost anyway. It's much to our interest that they migrate to Central America than that they go overseas to China and India. Here are a few highlights from her piece:

Some labor critics point to NAFTA as a reason to shoot down CAFTA. The 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement covered the United States, Canada and Mexico. Foes of these accords note, for example, that there were 127,000 textile and apparel jobs in South Carolina before NAFTA. Now there are 48,000.

The truth is the United States was bleeding these kinds of factory jobs decades before NAFTA. And it's unclear how large a part NAFTA has played in the years since.

It costs $135 to make 12 pairs of cotton trousers in the United States. It costs $57 to make the trousers in China and ship them here. It costs $69 to do so in other parts of the world.

Americans would be better off if their imports came from Managua, rather than Guangdong. After all, our Latin neighbors are more likely to buy the things we have to sell. That's why farmers producing beef, pork and corn are all for these treaties. So are U.S. companies that make machinery, especially for construction.

CAFTA partners would include very poor countries with fragile democracies. More trade with the United States could stabilize them -- and reduce the pressures on their people to come here illegally. And if the workers make more money, they'll be able to buy more American goods.

There's more at the link. We don't know whether she's right about all this, but it certainly does seem clear enough that American workers making $20 an hour are not going to be able to compete with those making a dollar an hour. Perhaps we can protect our jobs with tariffs, but it's not clear that that is a viable long term strategy. It simply builds anti-American resentments and invites retaliation, which hurts our exporters and consumers.

Maybe some of our readers have a helpful thought or two on this.

Monday, May 23, 2005

GOP Follies

What are the pros and cons of the "compromise" on judicial filibusters? The only benefit from a Republican point of view that I can see is that should they ever find themselves in the minority again they may have recourse to the filibuster, but this is bitter solace. If it's wrong for the Democrats to filibuster judicial nominees now it would be wrong for Republicans to do so in the future.

The liabilities, however, are several. It's now almost certain that at least two of Bush's nominees will not be voted on by the senate, which is a gross unfairness. Every nominee deserves a vote. That should have been a non-negotiable principle, but McCain, Warner and the other Republicans caved on it.

There is still the possibility that a future nominee will be filibustered and that the Republicans will invoke a rule change, but after this deal it becomes psychologically more difficult to pull that off.

Moreover, by kicking the can down the road, the Republicans have risked serious difficulties after 2006 should the Democrats pick up a couple of senate seats in that election. They still wouldn't be in the majority, but a gain of a couple of seats would make a rule change much more difficult to pass were it to become necessary, which it almost certainly will.

The Democrats managed to out-maneuver the doppy Republicans yet again. The Dems have essentially given up nothing that they wouldn't have lost anyway and have effectively secured a Republican promise that the GOP will not prevent a filibuster on the two nominees the Dems feel they can safely oppose without looking bad in the eyes of their constituents. This deal is not a compromise. The Republicans gained nothing, and the Democrats get to block at least two of Bush's nominees.

In my humble opinion, John McCain has just forfeited his chances of gaining the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. Bill Frist, I think, is relatively unscathed. It's true that he appears ineffective in being unable to impose party discipline on the moderates, but his opposition to this "compromise" will work to his advantage with the Republican base in the 2008 primaries.

World Population Trends Down

Richard Neuhaus discusses the latest demographic projections in an essay in the March issue of First Things and they really are quite startling. He writes:

Consider the demographic evidence: Global fertility rates are 50 percent lower than in 1972-2.9 children per woman, down from six children per woman. They continue to fall at an increasing pace. For population to remain stable, the fertility rate must be 2.1 in nations with relatively low infant mortality and proportionately higher than 2.1 where greater numbers of children die in childhood from communicable diseases or malnutrition.

Philip Longman, author of the new book The Empty Cradle, writes in Foreign Affairs (May/June 2004): "All told, some fifty-nine countries, comprising roughly 44 percent of the world's total population, are currently not producing enough children to avoid population decline, and the phenomenon continues to spread. By 2045, according to the latest UN projections, the world's fertility rate as a whole will have fallen below replacement levels." In Fewer: How the New Demography of Depopulation Will Shape Our Future, sociologist Ben Wattenberg states: "Never in the last 650 years, since the time of the Black Plague, have birth and fertility rates fallen so far, so fast, so low, for so long, in so many places."

The average fertility rate in Western Europe is a dismal 1.4 children per woman, ranging from 1.8 in Ireland and France to 1.2 in Italy and Spain. This is what a 1.4 fertility rate means for Germany: "Germany could shed nearly a fifth of its 82.5 million people over the next forty years-roughly the equivalent of all of east Germany, a loss of population not seen in Europe since the Thirty Years' War" which ended in 1748. Western Europe is losing approximately 750,000 people a year.

President Vladimir Putin calls Russia's population loss of 750,00 people a year a "national crisis." The yearly loss could increase to three million or more by 2050. And it is estimated that "Bulgaria will shrink by 38 percent, Romania by 27 percent, Estonia by 25 percent."

According to U.N. estimates, over the next four decades, Japan will lose a quarter of its 127 million people.

"Mexican fertility rates have dropped so dramatically, the country is now aging five times faster than is the United States. It took fifty years for the American median age to rise just five years, from thirty to thirty-rive. By contrast, between 2000 and 2050, Mexico's median age, according to UN projections, will increase by twenty years, leaving half the population over forty-two."

The U.S. fertility rate dropped to a low of 1.7 children per woman in 1975, but rose to 1.99 where it currently is, largely as a result of the slightly higher birthrates among Latino immigrants. However, the population in the U.S. sixty-five years and older is expected to double by 2035.

So, why are birthrates dropping?

To start with, forty-six million abortions occur annually, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute. More or less "effective" artificial contraception and widespread sterilization have greatly reduced birthrates, especially in those developing countries where coercion is used to reach population targets. UN data report that 62 percent of women of reproductive age who are married or "in union" are using some form of artificial birth control.

But economic and "lifestyle" factors also can affect a family's decision to have fewer children, for example:

Migration of families from farming areas-where children's labor benefits the family-to urban centers where there's no immediate economic incentive for having children.

Women's access to paying jobs in urban areas, and the reality that many have to work to help support the family.

The continually rising cost of raising children: in the U.S., over $200,000 to age eighteen, excluding college, according to the Department of Agriculture.

High taxation, reducing the family's disposable income.

Young people spending more years in higher education to meet the demands of a more highly skilled workforce, which delays the average age of marriage and increases their education debt.

The later average age of marriage, resulting in lower fertility among women and a shortened period of child-bearing in marriage.


Sexually transmitted diseases which can impair fertility are at epidemic levels due to multiple partners.

Materialism and consumerism, fueled by advertising and television.

Radical feminist ideology that measures women's worth solely by the acquisition of money and power, and denigrates their contributions to family life.

Neuhaus thinks that declining birth rates are a bad thing. We're not so sure (whether the reasons for the decline are bad is a different question). There are certainly some negative consequences (e.g. a smaller population of young workers to care for a larger population of elderly and proportionately fewer people developing the innovations that make life better), but on balance it's not clear that population numbers commensurate with mid-twentieth century levels would be calamitous either economically or environmentally. Indeed, lower populations would place far less stress on natural resources. Moreover, there must be some upward limit on how many people the planet can sustain before war, pestilence, and famine cause the population to crash. It seems to us better that such a limit never be approached.

The biggest drawback to a declining population in the West would be the disadvantage it would place western civilization in vis a vis third world peoples, and especially the Islamic world, if their birth rates do not also decline. If the drop is universal and not too precipitous, however, it's not clear to us why it should be cause for alarm.

Real Martyrs

When it comes to sheer savagery in the name of religion Muslims do not have a total monopoly as this story illustrates:

BHUBANESWAR, India (Reuters) - The high court of Orissa on Thursday cancelled the death sentence handed to Hindu extremist Dara Singh for the killing of an Australian missionary and his two sons six years ago, and instead ordered life imprisonment, lawyers said.

The high court also acquitted 11 people sentenced to a life term by a lower court for burning alive Graham Staines and his two children in a remote village in the state.

Judges Sujit Burmon Roy and Laxmikant Mohapatra gave no reason for commuting the death sentence on Dara Singh and the acquittal of the others. The judges retained the life sentence on another man convicted of involvement in the killings in 1999.

A mob attacked Staines and his sons Philip, 10, and Timothy, 6, as they slept in their jeep in a remote village in Orissa. They torched the vehicle and killed all three.

Singh pleaded innocent and appealed against the lower court's decision to hang him and sentence 12 other men to life imprisonment.

The Staines' killings followed a wave of attacks on Christians blamed on Hindu radicals fighting conversions, and underscored tension between India's Hindu majority and religious minorities.

What ever happened to the spirit of Mahatma Ghandi?

One of the amazing things about stories like this is that Christian young people are lining up to go to places like Orissa despite the violence and danger they'll face. They're incredibly courageous and the contrast they create with those who are willing to die only if they can kill others is stark.

Indeed, this is the essential difference between Christianity and many other religions. Christianity enjoins us to love people into the Kingdom of God, other religions enjoin their votaries to kill people who resist accepting their "truth".

ABC News on the Filibuster

ABC News did a blurb on the radio the other night about the rules change vote expected to occur in the senate and mentioned that although liberals want to use the filibuster now, it was conservatives who used it back in the sixties to try to block liberal civil rights legislation.

This was deceptive for two reasons. First, the earlier filibuster was employed to block legislation, not judicial nominees. Legislation is what the filibuster was originally intended to be used for. More egregiously, what the ABC reporter fails to tell his listeners is that those who tried to block civil rights legislation were largely Democrats. Robert Byrd, William Fulbright, Al Gore, Sr. and others resisted advances in civil rights by using the filibuster. To call these Democrats conservatives is ludicrous.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Howard Dean

Howard Dean referred to the filibuster on Meet the Press today as a protection of the rights of the minority. This is a silly claim for several reasons:

1. Minority rights as protected by the constitution have to do with civil rights of the American people not political parties.

2. Nothing the Republicans propose to do violates any right of the Democrats guaranteed by the constitution.

3. We have been oft reminded by Democrats and their surrogates that the number of citizens represented by Republicans in the senate is actually substantially less than the number of citizens represented by Democrat senators. This being the case, if a senate rule is to protect the minority, then it should protect the interests of those who are represented by Republican senators.

There was much else in Dean's appearance for which he could be faulted. For example, he repeatedly blasted Tom Delay in harsh language for the House Majority Leader's alleged ethical shortcomings. Dean then went on to criticize Rush Limbaugh for Limbaugh's criticisms of the ethics of Democratic politicians. He argued that Limbaugh certainly has had his own ethical problems, as we all do, Dean noted, and that no one who has ethical shortcomings should criticize the lapses of others. Well, if we all have ethical faults then Mr. Dean has ethical faults, so, by his own logic, why is he criticizing Tom Delay?

He also sought to make political hay from the Terri Schiavo case. He criticized Republicans for intruding into an intensely personal matter that should have been off-limits to government officials. Mr. Dean misrepresented the problem here, however. It wasn't that Terri's family wasn't left alone by government, it was that one branch of government, the courts, actively prevented her family from protecting and caring for her. The debate in the Schiavo affair was about who should have the right to determine Terri's fate, a man who was her husband in the purely legal sense only, who advanced a highly suspicious claim to know Terri's wishes about life and death, and who had demonstrated no real concern for Terri's well-being over the years, or her parents and siblings who stood by her throughout the whole ordeal and stood to gain nothing at all from their fight to protect Terri except to keep their loved one alive.

It wasn't that politicians were sticking their nose into private family matters, it was that Terri's family urged politicians to get involved when the judiciary refused to save Terri's life. I think we should be proud of those who responded to that desperate plea for help rather than ignore it, as Mr. Dean would have had them do.

Mr. Dean also accuses the Republicans in general, and the president in particular, of being dishonest. Tim Russert ran a clip in which Dean says that he "hates Republicans" and states by inference that they're "evil." Yet, during the show an ad by People For the American Way was run which accused the Republicans ("the radical right") of placing the constitution "under attack" and wanting to "break senate rules" in order to impose their will on the country. If Mr. Dean wanted to point out dishonesty, he could have called the viewer's attention to the mendacity of this ad. The majority party in the senate has the constitutional right to change the rules of the senate and, indeed, the Democrats have done so themselves in the past. There is no threat to the constitution in either what the Republicans are trying to do to secure an up or down vote for GWB's judicial nominees on the senate floor or in the kind of judges GWB has nominated. They are nominees who believe that the constitution should not be interpreted according to current political fashion, and are much more respectful of the authority of this document than are the men and women whom the Democrats wish to have placed on the federal bench and the Supreme Court.

If there is a threat to the constitution it is to be found in the sort of judges who espy in the words of that document rights that clearly are not there. The Democrats will not vote to seat anyone who does not accept the right to an abortion, for example, but that right is nowhere in the constitution. The Democrats also approve of the creation of a right not to be executed if one is under the age of 18 notwithstanding that the constitution is silent about such matters.

The reason why Democrats are so hostile to Bush's nominees is precisely because they fear that his judges will be strict constructionists who will rule according to what the constitution says and not according to the tastes and dictates of the New York Times. It is liberal jurists who threaten the integrity of the constitution and whose rulings have created so much dissatisfaction and divisiveness in this country. Hopefully, on Tuesday we'll see the beginning of the end of that threat.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Machiavelli Must be Smiling

Kausfiles quotes James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal who gives two very good reasons why Democrats might postpone a fight over the filibuster rule:

If the Democrats gain Senate seats next year--or even before the election, through the death or retirement of a Republican from a state with a Democratic governor--the filibuster may suddenly lose its "nuclear" vulnerability.

Further, some Democrats have been acting against their own political interests by obstructing Bush nominees (cf. Tom Daschle). Freeing them to vote for cloture could help their re-election chances, which would be in the long-term interests of the Democrats.

Kaus speculates that the Republicans could force a rules change vote by voting against cloture. This, it seems to us, however, would be too cynical to be worth doing. If some Republican Senators were to attempt to force a showdown on a rules change vote by causing the cloture vote to fail, they would risk antagonizing the half-dozen or so "moderate" Republican senators. These then might, in a fit of pique, decide to vote with the Democrats to reject the motion to change the rule, and the whole thing would blow up in the Republicans' faces.

Washington politics is Byzantine, but it's probably not that Byzantine.

Our Administration Barks

I find it interesting to watch our present administration as they attempt to blame other countries for problems that are clearly the fault of the current and past administrations.

Specifically, while the administration and congress blusters to China with threats of tariffs if they don't let their currency float against the dollar Dr. Allan Greenspan has this to say.

From the link:

A move by China to revalue its currency "does not follow that that will lower our overall trade balance," Greenspan said. "Indeed, it's probably quite unlikely."

That's because companies are likely to turn to other countries, such as Thailand or Malaysia for goods, rather than U.S. producers. "So essentially what we will find is we're importing from a different area, but we will be importing the same goods," Greenspan said.

As Dr. Greenspan points out, the only thing that will help the US trade deficit is for Americans to buy less imports and more American products. Not very likely, especially given that America doesn't manufacture much of anything anymore.

It is interesting to note that Dr. Greenspan realizes that Americans will buy from any other country rather than from American manufacturers.

As I see it, there are either of two scenarios that are likely to unfold: American jobs and manufacturing will continue to be exported and the trade deficit will continue to grow until foreign countries cut off our credit - Mr. America, your card has been declined, or there simply won't be enough people in this country able to buy anything from anywhere because they have lost their jobs and are broke. In either case, the exportation of jobs and manufacturing will not stop until a state of equilibrium has been attained. I've mentioned this before. It means the average income and standard of living of Americans will decline as the average income and standard of living of their counter-parts in China, Mexico, etc., increases. This process is well under way. Welcome to the New World Order.

Not only are jobs and manufacturing being exported but also the R&D is being outsourced. This means that products will and are being completely developed overseas from concept to finished product and then imported and sold under an American label while the American companies lay off "non-essential" personnel to save costs and boost their stock price. But the day will come when those doing all the work realize they can go direct to the American consumer and the rest of the world as well, and cut out the middle man i.e. the American corporation who bought into the whole idea of outsourcing leaving them with no reason for being. Now that's the definition of justice.

The Demarcation Problem

One of the oft heard criticisms of Intelligent Design theory is that it is putatively non-scientific, i.e. it doesn't meet the criteria of an acceptable scientific hypothesis. Design or creationist theories have been alleged to be necessarily unscientific for a number of reasons: they do not explain by reference to natural law, they invoke unobservables, they are not testable, they do not make predictions, they are not falsifiable, they provide no mechanisms, they are not tentative, and they have no problem-solving capability.

Philosopher of science Stephen Meyer addresses the first three of these alleged short-comings in an article at the Discovery Institute's website. The essay is lengthy and somewhat technical, but it's an excellent analysis of the problem of trying to determine what constitutes science and what does not. In the philosophy of science this is called the Demarcation Problem, and, as many philosophers have noted, trying to find the boundaries of science is often counterproductive and is in any event a devilishly difficult task.

Before concluding that Intelligent Design is not science and Darwinism is, one should read Meyer's article. It would also be good, for the individual of a philosophical/scientific turn of mind, to read Del Ratszch's Science and its Limits and William Dembski's Design Revolution.

And Throw Away the Key!

Here's a switch. The ACLU is actually trying to get the authorities to put lawbreakers into jail. Surprised? Well, the surprise might fade some when you hear that the criminals are not cop-killers or child molestors. No. It turns out that the villainous rogues the ACLU is so concerned about incarcerating are school administrators and teachers who are defying a court imposed ban on school prayer:

NEW ORLEANS - Teachers and administrators in Tangipahoa Parish continue to violate a court-imposed school prayer ban, according to the ACLU, which on May 18 asked a federal judge to send them to jail.

For the fourth time in less than two months, the ACLU has formally notified the judge that school officials are flouting the prayer ban, imposed to settle a lawsuit the civil liberties group filed for a parent in 2003.

This time, the group says, an elementary school teacher in Tangipahoa Parish repeatedly held prayers in her fourth grade class, encouraged students to bring their Bibles to school, held Bible study classes in the cafeteria of D.C. Reeves Elementary School, and admonished students who didn't show up for the class.

In addition, the ACLU cites a prayer it says was recently given at Amite High School, over a loudspeaker, at an awards banquet. The prayer ended with the words "In Jesus' name we pray," violating the ban; the principal of the school sat silently by.

"The consent judgment is repeatedly violated by these individuals because they do not believe anything will happen to them," the ACLU said in the court filing. "Their refusal to comply with the consent decree should and must result in their removal from society."

The ACLU expends vast resources to keep criminals, even felons, out of prison, but strives to bring the hammer down on Christians who choose to practice civil disobedience. Wonderful folks, those lawyers at the ACLU.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Ideological Taxonomy

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press has an interesting test that will pigeon-hole your ideological predilections for you. As with all such tests, some of the questions are irritating because neither of the options given accurately describe one's position, but even so, the overall results seem pretty accurate. Once the test is completed a link takes you to a page which describes the typical person in your political niche, of which there are about seven or eight.

Viewpoint, it turns out, falls into the "Enterpriser" category.

Use it and They Lose it

Republicans have called for cloture on the debate over the nomination of Priscilla Owen. A cloture petition requires the approval of 60 of 100 senators, to end debate on Owen's nomination. Under Senate rules that petition must rest two days while the Senate is in session and will thus come up for a vote on Tuesday.

If five Democrats do not join with the Senate's 55 Republicans to give the GOP the 60 votes they need to proceed to an up-or-down vote for Owen, Senator Frist will probably carry through with his threat to change the rule and ban the use of judicial filibusters in the Senate. That vote, known alternately as the nuclear or constitutional option, is likely to occur on Tuesday.

Frist will need 50 senators to vote for the rule change in order for it to carry. He'd win a tie since Vice-president Cheney would vote as president of the Senate to break the deadlock. Assuming he has the votes, and it's highly doubtful he would move to vote on a rule change if he didn't, Bush's nominees will be confirmed, beginning with Owens on Tuesday.

Ironically, the only way the Democrats can stop the ban on the filibuster is to give Frist his 60 votes for cloture on Tuesday. If they do, then the vote to change the rule will not come up until at least the next nominee is considered. In other words, the Dems are in the position of being able to save their chief weapon of judicial obstructionism only by choosing not to use it.

Cheap Ethics

A recent Zogby poll of 18 to 24 year olds finds that:

Young Americans entering the workforce overwhelmingly value honesty and integrity, with 92% saying they believe that doing the right thing is more important than getting ahead in their careers-but there is also a strong undercurrent of competing values, placing loyalty to friends, love and getting ahead personally above honesty in business dealings.

In addition to the 34% who say that doing the right thing can be too costly, another three-in-ten (31%) say ethics are important as long as they do not compromise personal goals.

In other words, doing the right thing is important for a significant fraction of this age group only so long as it doesn't get in the way of their ambitions. Lying is wrong, for example, except when it's necessary to advance oneself or to keep out of trouble. Such devotion to integrity is not very encouraging.

Ethicist Michael Josephson reminds us that, 'Ethics is having the character and the courage to do the right thing even when it costs more than we want to pay.' If we want to build long-term trusting relationships, each of us should strive to make a stronger commitment to practice the kinds of ethical values many of our grandparents have lived by - honesty, integrity, loyalty, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship."

The difference is that our grandparents believed that Josephson's virtues were objectively right, that they were grounded in something beyond ourselves. For many today virtue is entirely subjective and grounded in nothing more than our own feelings. Given that view, there really is no reason to embrace the virtues when they run counter to our own wants and desires.

There's much more on the survey at the link.


Ed Whelan at NRO poses the following scenario:

Imagine, if you will, that a Democrat President nominated a judge whose constitutional and policy views were, by any measure, on the extreme left fringes of American society.

Let's assume, for example, that this nominee had expressed strong sympathy for the position that there is a constitutional right to prostitution as well as a constitutional right to polygamy.

Let's say, further, that he had attacked the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts as organizations that perpetuate stereotyped sex roles and that he had proposed abolishing Mother's Day and Father's Day and replacing them with a single androgynous Parent's Day.

And, to get really absurd, let's add that he had called for an end to single-sex prisons on the theory that if male prisoners are going to return to a community in which men and women function as equal partners, prison is just the place for them to get prepared to deal with women.

Let's further posit that this nominee had opined that a manifest imbalance in the racial composition of an employer's work force justified court-ordered quotas even in the absence of any intentional discrimination on the part of the employer. But then, lo and behold, to make this nominee even more of a parody of an out-of-touch leftist, let's say it was discovered that while operating his own office for over a decade in a city that was majority-black, this nominee had never had a single black person among his more than 50 hires.

Imagine, in sum, a nominee whose record is indisputably extreme and who could be expected to use his judicial role to impose those views on mainstream America. Surely such a person would never be nominated to an appellate court. Surely no Senate Democrat would support someone with such extreme views. And surely Senate Republicans, rather than deferring to the nominating power of the Democrat President, would pull out all stops-filibuster and everything-to stop such a nominee.

Well, not quite. The hypothetical nominee I have just described is, in every particular except his sex, Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the time she was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1993.

President Clinton nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg on June 22, 1993. A mere six weeks later, on August 3, 1993, the Senate confirmed her nomination by a 96-3 vote.

(The source for the information in the second through fourth paragraphs is "Report of Columbia Law School Equal Rights Advocacy Project: The Legal Status of Women under Federal Law," co-authored by Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Brenda Feigen Fasteau in September 1974. The information in the fifth paragraph can be found in the transcript of Ginsburg's confirmation hearing.)

Democrats don't see jurists like Ginsburg as "extreme", of course, because they agree with her. An extremist, in their lexicon, is anyone more conservative than they are, which is probably 80% or more of the nation and probably every man who as ever served as president of this country.

Purging Religion From Public Life

Here are four posts from Tongue-Tied which show just how unwilling some people are to honor and celebrate the diversity which makes us a great nation, at least when the diversity takes the form of Christian displays and themes:

Florida Today is reporting that the family of one graduating high school senior in that state wants its child's graduation moved from a local chapel to a more secular venue.

The parents of a Palm Bay High School student, with the help of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, are threatening to sue unless the school district covers up all religious symbols at Calvary Chapel in West Melbourne for the ceremony. Barring that, they say they want the ceremony moved.

"Nobody wants this graduation to be disrupted," said Alex Luchenitser, senior litigation counsel for AUSCS. "We just want this to take place in a way that all students feel comfortable, no matter what religion they believe in."

School officials say moving the ceremony would disrupt three more public school graduations scheduled at the church, and have said they will not change their plans.

How many Christian students, do you suppose, would feel uncomfortable were the graduation ceremony held in a Synagogue? Why is it that the only people who seem to be tolerant of other peoples' expressions of faith are Christians? Just asking.


A weekly newspaper in Richmond, Va. has come across what it calls a "blooming violation" of the clause requiring separation of and state - a bed of azalea bushes in the shape of a cross on public property.

Style Weekly says the display in Bryan Park dates back more than half a century, but a local gadfly says the 12-by-20 foot show of spring color is long past its prime.

"You can understand in the sensibilities of the time 40 or 50 years ago," says Mike Sarahan, a former attorney with the city of Richmond. "But in the sensibilities of our time, in a multicultural and interfaith society, we should be more attuned" to the meaning such symbols evoke, he says.

Yes, and since the cross is often referred to as a tree in Christian hymns and writings, in light of our present sensibilities and our multicultural and interfaith society (whatever that means), we should demand that every tree in our public parks be removed forthwith.


Malcontents in Arkansas are pressuring the University of Arkansas to bar a Christian group from using Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville for one of their meetings because they don't like what the group stands for, according to the Northwest Arkansas Times.

Various groups in the area say the Promise Keepers, an group of predominantly evangelical Christian men dedicated to preserving morality and family values, are intolerant and shouldn't be allowed to use campus facilities.

Melanie Dietzel, president of the local chapter of the National Organization for Women, insists that she is for freedom of speech and faith but "not when it's something designed to hurt other people ... (the Promise Keepers') rhetoric is certainly hurtful to people and I don't think that's something the university should encourage."

Evidently, swearing fidelity to, and respect for, one's spouse is hurtful rhetoric, but one wonders who is being hurt by it. The only people we can think of would be the women these men would otherwise be philandering with.


Officials in Washington State are trying to determine whether a Bible verse can be considered offensive after a nimrod complained about one such verse on a vanity license plate, according to KOMO-TV.

Jane Milhans of Tacoma has had a plate reading "John 3-16" for some 21 years without a complaint, but a woman recently called the state to say it was an illegal endorsement of religion by the state.

The woman's complaint read in part: "I was offended that I have to be 'prayed over' by a license plate... What happened to keeping church and state separate?"

Milhans will now have to defend her plate in front of a review committee, which will decide next month whether she can keep it.

UPDATE: The state has decided that Milhans can keep her plate.

That's a relief. It would be an additional relief to read that the woman who filed the complaint is receiving the psychiatric care she obviously requires.