Sunday, July 31, 2005

Heaven Knows

Niall Ferguson, a professor of history at Harvard, sounds the tocsin and wonders what has happened to Christianity in the land of Wesley and Whitefield, Lewis, Tolkein, Chesterton and Stott. The concern he voices is remarkable in no small part because Ferguson identifies himself as a materialist. His lack of belief notwithstanding his article is titled, Heaven knows how we'll rekindle our religion, but I believe we must:

Contrary to popular belief, it was not G. K. Chesterton who said: "When men stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing. They believe in anything." But he should have said it. Chesterton - who is nowadays best remembered, if at all, for his Father Brown stories - viewed atheism with the utmost suspicion. Those who disbelieve in God on supposedly rational grounds, he argued, merely become prey to pseudo-religions and superstitions. His neatest formulation was probably in The Miracle of Moon Crescent when he wrote: "You hard-shelled materialists [are] all balanced on the very edge of belief - of belief in almost anything."

I am a hard-shelled materialist myself, I suppose. But I was reminded of Chesterton last week by a report of a conversation between one of the would-be Islamikaze bombers, Muktar Said-Ibrahim, and a former neighbour of his in Stanmore, the suburb of north London where he grew up. "He asked me," Sarah Scott recalled, "if I was Catholic because I have Irish family, and I said I didn't believe in anything, and he said I should. He told me he was going to have all these virgins when he got to Heaven if he praises Allah. He said if you pray to Allah and if you have been loyal to Allah you would get 80 virgins, or something like that."

Now it is the easiest thing in the world to make fun of the notion, apparently a commonplace among jihadists, that a suicide bomber who successfully blows up a decent number of infidels is rewarded in heaven with 80 virgins. (I personally can think of nothing more terrifying than 80 virgins; I can just picture the belles of St Trinian's running amok.) But is it, I wonder, significantly stranger to believe, like Sarah Scott, in nothing at all?

Miss Scott's recollected conversation with Said-Ibrahim is fascinating because it illuminates the gulf that now exists in this country between a minority of fanatics and a majority of atheists. "He said," she recalled last week, "people were afraid of religion and people should not be afraid." I am not sure that British people are necessarily afraid of religion, but they are certainly not much interested in it these days. Indeed, the decline of Christianity - not just in Britain but right across Europe - stands out as one of the most remarkable phenomena of our times.

There was a time when Europe would justly refer to itself as "Christendom". Europeans built the continent's loveliest edifices to accommodate their acts of worship. They quarrelled bitterly over the distinction between transubstantiation and consubstantiation. As pilgrims, missionaries and conquistadors, they sailed to the four corners of the earth, intent on converting the heathen to the true faith. Now it is we who are the heathens.

According to the Gallup Millennium Survey of Religious Attitudes, barely 20 per cent of West Europeans attend church services at least once a week, compared with 47 per cent of North Americans and 82 per cent of West Africans. Less than half of western Europeans say God is a "very important" part of their lives, as against 83 per cent of Americans and virtually all West Africans. And fully 15 per cent of western Europeans deny that there is any kind of "spirit, God or life force" - seven times the American figure and 15 times the West African.

The exceptionally low level of British religiosity was perhaps the most striking revelation of a recent ICM poll. One in five Britons claims to "attend an organised religious service regularly", less than half the American figure. Little more than a quarter of us say that we pray regularly, compared with two thirds of Americans and 95 per cent of Nigerians. And barely one in 10 of us would be willing to die for our God or our beliefs, compared with 71 per cent of Americans.

Of course, these surveys make no distinctions between creeds, so they almost certainly understate the decline of British Christianity. Last year, do not forget, it was revealed that, in an average week, more Muslims attend a mosque than Anglicans go to church. Small wonder our talented but frustrated local minister has just announced that he is leaving the Church to become a lawyer: a true sign of the times.

The de-christianisation of Britain is in fact a relatively recent phenomenon. For most of the first half of the 20th century, Anglican Easter Day communicants accounted for around 5 to 6 per cent of the population of England; it was only after 1960 that the proportion slumped to 2 per cent. Figures for the Church of Scotland show a similar trend: steady until 1960, than falling by roughly half. As those figures suggest, British Protestants were not especially observant (compared, for example, with Irish Catholics), but until the late 1950s established church membership, if not attendance, was relatively high and steady.

Prior to 1960, most marriages in England and Wales were solemnised in a church; then the slide began, down to around 40 per cent in the late 1990s. Especially striking is the decline in confirmations as a percentage of children baptised. Fewer than a fifth of those baptised are now confirmed, around half the figure for the period from 1900 to 1960. For the Church of Scotland the decline has been even more precipitous.

Some of the greatest British writers of the 20th century anticipated this decline. Evelyn Waugh knew, once he had finished his wartime Sword of Honour trilogy, that he had written the epitaph of a particular ancient kind of English Catholicism. C S Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters in the hope that mocking the Devil might keep him at bay. Both sensed, understandably enough, that the war posed a grave threat to Christian faith. Yet it was not really until the 1960s that their premonitions of secularisation came true.

Why have the British lost their historic faith? Like so many difficult questions, this seems at first sight to have an easy answer. But before you blame it on "The Sixties" - the Beatles, the Pill and the mini-skirt - remember that the United States had all these earthly delights too, without ceasing to be a Christian country. To be frank, I have no idea what the answer is. But I do know that it matters.

Chesterton feared that, if Christianity declined, "superstition" would "drown all your old rationalism and scepticism". When educated friends tell me that they have invited a shaman to investigate their new house for bad ju-ju, I see what Chesterton meant. Yet it is not the spread of such mumbo-jumbo that concerns me half so much as the moral vacuum our dechristianisation has created. I do not deny that sermons are sometimes dull and that British congregations often sing out of tune. But, if nothing else, a weekly dose of Christian doctrine will help to provide an ethical framework for your life. And I certainly do not know where else you are going to get one.

Over the past few weeks we have all read a great deal about the threat posed to our "way of life" by Muslim extremists like Muktar Said-Ibrahim. But how far has our own loss of religious faith turned this country into a soft target - not so much for the superstition Chesterton feared, but for the fanaticism of others?

Perhaps one reason for the difference between Europe and America is that America has a strong tradition of independent and non-liturgical churches, which Europe does not. Indeed, were it not for non-denominational or weakly affiliated congregations in the United States church attendance would look no less bleak here than there. Most of the religious dynamism, enthusiasm, growth and teaching in this country is found in congregations that are organizationally autonomous, or nearly so, and which are in any case certainly not under the oversight of the state.

These assemblies tend toward a high view of scripture and a theological and moral conservatism which has largely been abandoned among their mainline brethren, especially in their seminaries and among the church hierarchy. People want something solid to believe in, they want to belong to a church where the people and the pastor act as if they really believe what they say they believe and they're attracted to the non-traditional congregations that are sprouting up all across the American landscape which offer a stout set of convictions.

The religious or spiritual energy generated by these institutions and their congregants also seeps into more formal mainline churches by neighbors talking to neighbors and through the expansive literature being produced by pastors and lay leaders outside the mainline denominations. This intercourse injects a measure of vitality into more traditional congregations, especially at the lay level, which would otherwise become moribund.

I doubt there's anything much like this phenomenon in Europe, and it's probably the reason why Christianity in America, though not what it should be, is nevertheless considerably healthier than it is there.

Thought For Today

The development of microelectronic manufacturing technology has enabled researchers to produce ultra high purity materials. When gold was purified to the limits of the technology, it had the appearance of clear glass and was completely transparent.

This fact is a particularly interesting and a curious revelation if one considers a passage in the King James Bible that was written ~1,900 years ago: "...and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass" (Revelation 21:21).


Saturday, July 30, 2005

Freud's Absurdity

Sigmund Freud, writing about religion in The Future of an Illusion, asked, "Am I to believe in every absurdity? If not, why this one in particular?"

Even though he was talking about belief in God his question has resonance beyond its implicit criticism of theism. Consider, for instance, just a few of the absurdities that an atheist, like Freud, often chooses to believe:

He often chooses to believe that there are moral values that somehow transcend human subjectivity even though there's no basis for believing such things exist in a world without God. Unless there is a God the only morality that makes any sense is one based upon "might makes right."

He often chooses to believe that his daily existence has some meaning when in fact an eternal death nullifies all meaning and significance in life. Life can only have genuine meaning if physical death is not the end of one's existence.

He often chooses to believe that consciousness can arise out of brute material substance, as if a test tube full of the appropriate chemicals could produce a hope or a wish. There is no materialist explanation for human consciousness. It is a mystery. Why then is it less absurd to believe it somehow arises out of matter than to believe it somehow arises out of the mind of a Creator?

He often chooses to believe that even though everything in his philosophy tells him that we are just lumps of mud and blood, nevertheless we have dignity. On the contrary, human beings have no inherent dignity. Whatever dignity we possess is simply what we and others choose to confer upon ourselves.

He often chooses to believe that human rights somehow exist apart from the whims of the people in the state who wield power. He believes this even though any rights that the state chooses to grant its citizens are purely arbitrary and grounded in nothing more than human sentiment. We only have real rights to the extent they are granted to us by a transcendent moral authority.

He often chooses to believe that though this universe in which we live is so incredibly and exquisitely fine-tuned for life it is nevertheless just an accident of chance. He seeks to evade the powerful testimony of the universe's amazing physico-chemical properties by speculating that there are a near infinite number of worlds and that therefore at least one must have the astonishing collocation of properties, laws, and forces that this one has. He believes this despite the complete absence of any evidence for any world (universe) other than this one.

He often chooses to believe that the origin of life, the emergence of whole libraries of information contained within the walls of a microscopic cell, was a result of blind, unguided processes, as if feeding magnetic scrabble letters into a blender could eventually churn out the Encyclopedia Brittanica. Like consciousness, the origin of life is a complete mystery.

The Christian theist believes that the universe is not an incomprehensible coincidence, that consciousness is not an emergent property of matter, that life has meaning, human beings have worth, and morality and human rights are warranted because all these things are created by and/or grounded in an intelligent, personal God.

So we may ask Freud why it is more absurd to believe that there is an intelligent Creator than it is to believe that meaning, morality, the cosmos and life, human dignity and rights, all exist apart from any apparent or plausible ground or explanation for them. The fact is, it is the atheist who, in the light of what we know about the world today, must embrace absurdity.

Political Brilliance

Dick Morris thinks Bush is a political genius:

Who says President Bush isn't brilliant? His maneuver in appointing Judge John Roberts has completely throttled the Democrats in the highest-stakes game of his second term.

The key is that Bush has used the Democrats' opposition to his district and circuit-court judicial appointments against them and made it a ratification of the Roberts candidacy. Simply put, by choosing a judge whom the Democrats confirmed unanimously when he was nominated for the D.C. Circuit Court - and whom they did not filibuster - Bush has made the Democrats impotent.

The Democrats thought they were preparing for the Supreme Court battle when they hit on their strategy of filibustering Bush's judicial nominations. They saw these battles as spring training to get them in shape for the real fight that would come when Bush made his Supreme Court nomination.

Instead, their strategy has backfired massively. By lending such a high profile to their opposition to Bush's lower-court appointments, the Democrats have effectively denied themselves the ability to filibuster anyone of whom they have approved in the past.

When the Democrats singled out certain of Bush's appointees to the courts for filibusters and strident opposition, they, in effect, gave their seal of approval to those whom they did not filibuster. Their silence is like the classic case in Sherlock Holmes of the dog that didn't bark.

And when the Democratic Senators agreed to a voice vote on Roberts, in effect confirming him unanimously, their seal of approval was made even more explicit. Now, having voted for Roberts and having not filibustered his nomination, the Democrats cannot come back and suddenly discover reasons to oppose him.

Obviously, if Roberts says the wrong things at his confirmation hearings or abandons the wise strategy laid out by Ruth Bader Ginsburg in refusing to spell out her likely decisions on cases that will come before the court, then all bets are off. But if Roberts handles himself well and avoids explicitly committing himself on Roe v. Wade and other issues, Bush has succeeded in putting him over and dodging the bullet that seemed to be marked for him when Sandra Day O'Connor resigned.

Has Bush fooled the left or the right? Will Roberts be the reliable pro-life vote that the Christian right hopes, or will he be the judicial conservative, respectful of precedent - including Roe - that the left hopes? We won't know until after he takes his seat and casts his vote. But Bush has threaded his way through a minefield in selecting the most conservative judge who has already received recent Senate approval - and garnered a unanimous Democratic vote.

It is very interesting to see how Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) will vote on the Roberts nomination. Should she back him, she will be defying her core constituency - the abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America. For now, her vote for Roberts might win her points in moving to the center. But if Roberts votes against Roe, Hillary will have a very hard time explaining her support for him, especially if Sens. John Kerry (Mass.), Evan Bayh (Ind.) and Joe Biden (Del.) - her potential Democratic rivals in 2008 - vote against his confirmation.

On the other hand, if Hillary joins what is likely to be a small minority of Democrats in opposing Roberts, she is belying her supposed move to the center and showing that, when the chips are down, she will tack to the left. In posing such a dilemma for Mrs. Clinton, Bush has again shown his capacity for deft political maneuver.

Bush can just follow the Roberts playbook as future Supreme Court vacancies come up. Just appoint the most conservative available jurist whom the Democrats did not filibuster and he can escape political damage while appeasing his hard-right followers.

Bush is brilliant. There is no other way to read it.

Well, maybe. Now if we could only get him to say nu-clee-ar instead of nu-cu-lar.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Lost Liberty Project Update

Logan Clement of Freestar Media and the driving force behind the Lost Liberty Hotel project, has an e-mail update on the progress so far. Clement writes that the town of Weare's Selectmen oppose his plan to take the home of Justice David Souter by eminent domain but that the proposal can be placed on a ballot initiative if there are twenty five signatures endorsing the move:

The Weare New Hampshire Board of Selectmen has expressed complete opposition to The Lost Liberty Hotel Project. It seems they don't believe that Supreme Court Justice David Souter should be subject to the consequences of his own ruling. They claim to be defending property rights. However, while they are shielding Souter, thousands of other Americans who are fighting eminent domain proceedings enjoy no such shield. In fact ALL Americans are under threat of losing their home after the June 23 Supreme Court decision.

In New Hampshire citizens can bypass the Selectmen and make law directly. From what we've researched so far, it appears that it will take only 25 signatures to put on the ballot a measure to begin eminent domain proceedings to take Souter's land at 34 Cilley Hill Road and clear the way for the construction of The Lost Liberty Hotel. Several of our supporters in the town of Weare have mentioned that they plan to start this process. We want to help them by hiring the best attorney money can buy to draft the initiative in such a way that it can withstand attack from the Selectmen or other hostile parties.

All the pieces are coming together to make this project a success. Several real estate development companies have expressed an interest in leading this project forward. We also talked with engineers, attorneys, architects and other professionals who want to help. And of course financing it will be no problem as thousands of you want to own a piece of this living landmark. We are considering making some rooms in the Lost Liberty Hotel a timeshare so that hundreds of you can own a piece of it instead of just a few.

Clement's newsletter can be found here.

Can't Argue With Success

Debra Saunders gives credit to President Bush for the recent good news on the National Assessment of Educational Progress:

For years, nothing helped. America's children weren't reading as well as they should. An achievement gap showed black and Latino students trailing behind their white counterparts in reading and math. Educators and politicians agreed Something Must Be Done, but they made halting progress. Until now.

This month, the National Assessment of Educational Progress -- also known as the national report card -- released good news on long-term educational trends in America. Reading competency for 9-year-olds has reached its highest level since NAEP began measuring progress in 1971.

What is more, the achievement gap is narrowing. The gap between black and white 9-year-olds tested for reading was 44 points in 1971 to 26 points in 2004, while the gap between white and Latino students narrowed from 34 points in 1975 to 21 points in 2004. Half the gap-narrowing has occurred since 1999.

Of course, educrats are scrambling to make sure that no credit goes to President Bush or his No Child Left Behind program. The American Federation of Teachers issued a statement through an official, who noted that efforts that led to the higher scores predate the Bush presidency.

The AFT is right. The reforms that boosted scores predate the Bush presidency. That said, when he was governor of Texas, Bush had the good sense to jump on the right horse. He believed in pushing basic literacy, even if he wasn't as strong on phonics as I would have liked. He urged better testing to hold failing schools accountable. The approach paid off. When Bush was governor, black eighth-graders in Texas led the country in math and reading.

While Bush was on the right horse, some teacher groups and top educrats were leading a stampede of bad horses, carrying American children headlong toward ignorance. They eschewed phonics, dispensed with multiplication tables, denounced testing -- unless it gave credit for wrong math answers with clever essays -- and preferred failed bilingual education programs to English immersion programs for children learning English.

Look at any reform that has boosted student performance -- phonics, direct instruction, English immersion -- and the chances are, the educrats were against it. When parents revolted against whole language -- which teaches children to read language as a whole, without teaching them to decode words -- the educrats argued against a return to phonics, which they dismissed as "drill and kill."

When reformers pushed for tests that could show which curricula worked best, educrats denounced testing. If children steeped in phonics scored well on reading tests, they were not impressed -- it was because the children were brainwashed, not literate. And if whole-language learners scored poorly, well, it was because they were so creative.

When Bush and company demanded accountability, they complained that standards would hurt poor children -- as if under-educating poor and minority students didn't hurt poor and minority kids.

The educrat lobby in California opposed the switch from bilingual education to English immersion. Fortunately, California voters, not educrats, had an opportunity to switch to English immersion programs, and now more immigrant children have mastered English.

Over time, classroom teachers have seen their students make progress. Many have come to see the wisdom in emphasizing phonics -- it may be boring for teachers, but it helps kids learn to read better.

Bush packaged his approach under his promise to fight "the soft bigotry of low expectations." For years, educators blamed parents, demographics, money -- you name it -- for poor student performance.

Bush didn't want to hear the excuses -- and his Texas swagger paid off. As Hoover Institution fellow and sometime Bush adviser Bill Evers noted, "There's no doubt that high expectations and trying to hold the system accountable from top to the bottom is having an overall positive effect."

And so the educrats are left with weak criticisms. They complain that No Child Left Behind is underfunded -- even as Bush budgets money for the Department of Education. They argue that students have no motivation to apply themselves when they take tests -- and still the NAEP numbers are up. They note that NAEP high-school scores are flat without acknowledging that they opposed reforms that are helping more of today's 9-year-olds read.

There are good reasons to be leery of assessments based on standardized tests, but if the NAEP numbers do indeed reflect student improvement and are not just the consequence of teachers teaching to the test, well, one would be more than a little silly to argue with success.

Stopping the Contagion

Fareed Zakaria hits the bullseye with this piece of analysis in Newsweek. Zakaria notes that the ideological irrationality of the radical Islamists is similar to that of ideologues everywhere. He recounts a bit of history by way of illustration:

If you want to understand what motivates suicide bombers, watch the recent movie "Downfall." Based on eyewitness accounts, it chronicles the final days inside Hitler's bunker. In a particularly harrowing scene, Joseph Goebbels and his wife are given the opportunity to have their six young children flee to safety. But Magda Goebbels refuses and instead drugs the kids to sleep. Then she inserts a cyanide capsule into each child's mouth and presses the jaws until the capsule breaks. When explaining why she won't allow her kids to escape, Mrs. Goebbels explains, "I can't bear to think of them growing up in a world without national socialism."

This is the power of ideology. Magda Goebbels had embraced a horrific world view that made her believe that murdering her children was a noble act.

Zakaria rejects the conventional explanations that terrorism is a consequence of economic deprivation, lack of education, or American foreign policy:

What this is about, as Tony Blair has argued, is fanaticism. Radical ideologies of hate and violence have often seduced disaffected young men searching for some great cause. Forty years ago they would have embraced Leninist revolutionary dogma, with Che Guevara as the bin Laden of his day. Today, for Muslims, it is a violent interpretation of Islamic fundamentalism. Born in the Middle East, it has spread like a virus across the Muslim world and into the Islamic diaspora in the West.

He might have added that the hatred and violence are a consequence of the feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, and jealousy joined to a dogmatic, intolerant religion that countenances extreme violence as a means of spreading its ersatz "gospel" and which demands that the religion be imposed upon the entire world.

Other than that the only quibble I have with Zakaria's essay is when he says this:

But Western countries can do more as well. We're fighting a military battle against a phenomenon that is largely nonmilitary. In a battle of ideas, no one bullet will win. We must present a positive vision for Muslim societies, be seen as a friendly and progressive force by them and thus strengthen the moderates and liberals.

The problem with this is that it is contradicted by what he has said earlier in his piece. The 9/11 and London bombers were educated and the latter lived their whole lives in England. They were not ignorant of England's progressive, tolerant society. They had every reason to believe that England is a haven for, not a threat to, Muslims. Yet they wished to destroy it.

I disagree with Zakaria that Western countries can do more. We went to war in the nineties to rescue Muslims from Christians in Serbia and al Qaida thanked us by bombing the U.S.S. Cole and the World Trade Towers. We have given billions to help Muslims around the world, most recently the victims of a devastating tsunami. Osama bin Laden demanded we get our troops out of Saudi Arabia and we did. Western nations have provided refuge, opportunities, and freedoms to Muslim immigrants unheard of in Muslim nations, but all these things make no difference.

Despite all that the West has done to help save Muslims from themselves in the last fifty years Islamic nations in the U.N. refuse even to condemn the suicide bombers because to do so is to repudiate people they see as heroes of the faith.

There really is nothing more that the West can do to appease Muslims, who are intoxicated with an inexplicable sense of their own moral and religious superiority, except convert to Islam and abandon Israel. Only then would the jihad subside.

So Zakaria is incorrect in saying that there is more that the West can do. The West has done enough. The scalpel is in the Muslim's own hands, and it is they who must remove the suppurating corruption in their own flesh.

Otherwise, Zakaria's article is very good. Give it a read.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

John Roberts' Paper Trail

An article in the New York Times on John Roberts' "paper trail" is reassuring, though not for the Times, I suppose:

John G. Roberts, a young lawyer in the Justice Department in 1981 and 1982 and on the White House counsel's staff from 1982 to 1986, held positions too junior for him to set policy in those days. But his internal memorandums, some of which have become public in recent days, reveal a philosophy every bit as conservative as that of the policy makers on the front lines of the Reagan revolution and give more definition to his image than was apparent in the first days after President Bush picked him to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court.

On almost every issue he dealt with where there were basically two sides, one more conservative than the other, the documents from the National Archives and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library show that Judge Roberts, now of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, advocated the more conservative course. Sometimes, he took positions even more conservative than those of his prominent superiors.

He favored less government enforcement of civil rights laws rather than more. He criticized court decisions that required a thick wall between church and state. He took the side of prosecutors over criminal defendants. He maintained that the role of the courts should be limited and the president's powers enhanced.

Consider Mr. Roberts's stands on some of the hottest political issues of the 1980's as revealed in the newly public documents:

Busing: In 1985, when he was an assistant White House counsel, Mr. Roberts took issue with Mr. Olson, an assistant attorney general at the time, on whether Congress could enact a law that outlawed busing to achieve school desegregation. Mr. Olson, who was one of the nation's most widely known conservative lawyers on constitutional matters, was arguing that Congress's hands were tied because the Supreme Court had ruled that busing was constitutionally required in some circumstances.

Mr. Roberts wrote in a memorandum to the White House counsel, Fred F. Fielding, that Mr. Olson had misinterpreted the law. He said evidence showed that by producing white flight, busing promoted segregation. "It strikes me as more than passing strange for us to tell Congress it cannot pass a law preventing courts from ordering busing when our own Justice Department invariably urges this policy on the courts," he wrote.

Sex discrimination: Mr. Roberts also challenged Mr. Reynolds, who was assistant attorney general for civil rights and another prominent conservative who outranked him. In 1981, he urged Attorney General William French Smith to reject Mr. Reynolds's position that the department should intervene on behalf of female prisoners who were discriminated against in a job-training program. If male and female prisoners had to be treated equally, Mr. Roberts argued, "the end result in this time of state prison budgets may be no programs for anyone."

Judicial restraint: Mr. Roberts consistently argued that courts should be stripped of authority over busing, school prayer and other matters. In a letter in November 1981 to Judge Henry J. Friendly of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, for whom he had clerked and whom he considered a mentor, Mr. Roberts wrote that he and his colleagues in the administration were determined to "halt unwarranted interference" by the courts in the activities of Congress and the executive branch.

Presidential war powers: In 1983, Arthur J. Goldberg, the former Supreme Court justice, wrote a letter to the White House questioning President Reagan's constitutional authority to send troops to Grenada without a declaration of war. Mr. Roberts replied with a ringing endorsement of the president's power. "This has been recognized at least since the time President Jefferson sent the Marines to the shores of Tripoli," he wrote. "While there is no clear line separating what the president may do on his own and what requires a formal declaration of war, the Grenada mission seems to be clearly acceptable as an exercise of executive authority, particularly when it is recalled that neither the Korean nor Vietnamese conflicts were declared wars."

Affirmative action: Mr. Roberts held that affirmative action programs were bound to fail because they required "the recruiting of inadequately prepared candidates." "Under our view of the law," he wrote in 1981, "it is not enough to say that blacks and women have been historically discriminated against as groups and are therefore entitled to special preferences."

Immigration: Mr. Roberts took strong issue with a Supreme Court decision striking down a Texas law that had allowed school districts to deny enrollment to children who were in the country illegally. The court had overreached its authority, he wrote, and the Justice Department had made a mistake by not entering the case on the state's side.

Church-state: Mr. Roberts was sharply critical of the Supreme Court decision outlawing prayer in public schools, and he said the court had exceeded its authority when it allowed any citizens to challenge the transfer of public property to a parochial school.

It's going to be devilishly hard for the Democrats to convince the American people that these positions put Judge Roberts out of the American mainstream, although of course that won't stop them from trying. All in all, Roberts sounds like a man of eminent good sense and an excellent choice for the Supreme Court. Even Ann Coulter should be pleased.

The Liberal Church

Christianity has many attractions, but one of them surely is that it offers people sustenance that they can find nowhere else in the culture. It offers, among other unique goods, transcendence, a solid ground for morality, and a solid set of morals to go with it. It is because so many liberal churches have abandoned these benefits and embraced the moral thinking fashionable in the larger culture that their pews are being emptied. People, particularly the young, see no reason to commit to a church that offers them on Sunday morning nothing that the world doesn't offer during the rest of the week.

This is the theme of a new book titled Exodus: Why Americans are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity, by journalist and author Dave Shiflett. Shiflett interviewed Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. and Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land for the book and devotes a lot of Exodus to their thoughts. An article by Jeff Robinson for BP News discusses Shiflett's work. Robinson writes:

Liberal Christianity's rejection of the inspiration, inerrancy and authority of the Bible is to blame for its demise, Land said, adding that is the reason the mainline denominations are losing members and conservative churches are drawing them in.

"... Once you embrace liberal Christianity, you cut loose from your anchor," Land said. "And you keep drifting. Liberal Christianity had totally abandoned biblical authority by the late 1950s. They said they had 'moved beyond' Scripture."

Mohler says the mainline downgrade is perhaps seen most clearly in its views of sexuality.

"[Liberal churches] make no demands, including demands on sexual behavior," Mohler said. "Why should, for example, a sixteen-year-old boy and girl bother to go to a liberal church? What does this church have to offer that's any different from what they get from the culture? The church tells them that if they want, they can have sex. They already know that. That's what society tells them. The church needs to tell them that they can't have sex, and has to explain why.

"The mainline denominations have decided that the most basic human drive, sex, can be permanently separated from the most basic human institution, marriage. There is no room for Christianity in that equation."

There's more about the book at the link, but the main theme presses upon me as I prepare to travel to Orlando in August to participate in the Church-wide assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Among the resolutions which will be taken up and voted upon are whether the Church should bless same sex unions and whether it should ordain homosexual men and lesbian women to the ministry.

Affirmative votes on either of these resolutions would be, in my view, a calamity for the ELCA. It may be true for all I know that Lutheran theologians are divided on how to properly interpret the Scriptural passages bearing upon the issue of homosexuality. Even so, it would be extremely reckless, in the absence of a strong theological consensus, to overturn 500 years of Lutheran scholarship and 2000 years of Christian tradition simply to conform church praxis to a contemporary social fashion.

Moreover, should the voting members assembled in Orlando see fit to approve these resolutions, what basis would future assemblies have for refusing to bless or ordain those who live in loving and committed relationships with more than one other person? Why should those people be excluded from the church's grace? On what grounds could the church withhold its blessing from heterosexuals living together in deeply committed but unmarried relationships or sharing in loving but adulterous relationships? Once the church decides that the sex of the two people in a relationship no longer matters then it has no justification left for saying that anything else about the relationship matters either. It will have cast itself adrift with no compass, no rudder, but plenty of sail to be pushed about by whatever wind of prevailing taste happens to be blowing through the culture.

What does such a church offer to people that the wider culture doesn't? Why should anyone bother to commit themselves to it? Certainly not to find spiritual anchorage and moral refuge from the gales of relativism sweeping through modern society. The Church which abandons its theological and moral moorings loses its distinctiveness, and it's only a matter of time before it finds itself wondering where its parishioners have all gone.

Howard Unhinged

Whatever you may think about Howard Dean you have to admit that he's good for laughs. Consider this CNS News article on Mr. Dean's recent speech to the College Democrats of America:

[Dean] said the president was partly responsible for a recent Supreme Court decision involving eminent domain [The Kelo decision].

"The president and his right-wing Supreme Court think it is 'okay' to have the government take your house if they feel like putting a hotel where your house is," Dean said, not mentioning that until he nominated John Roberts to the Supreme Court this week, Bush had not appointed anyone to the high court.

Dean's reference to the "right-wing" court was...erroneous. The four justices who dissented in the Kelo vs. New London case included the three most conservative members of the court - Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Associate Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was the fourth dissenter.

The court's liberal coalition of Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer combined with Justice Anthony Kennedy to form the majority opinion, allowing the city of New London, Conn., to use eminent domain to seize private properties for commercial development.

"We think that eminent domain does not belong in the private sector. It is for public use only," Dean said.

Evidently, Mr. Dean has an unhappy relationship with the facts, but we shouldn't quibble. It's just like conservatives, after all, to throw cold water on a good speech by insisting that its claims be factually correct. Why let facts stand in the way of a rousing stem-winder? So what if Mr. Dean has no idea what he's talking about? So what if he's the guy who claimed to be the head of the "reality-based" party? Do you think anyone in his audience cared? Truth is so twentieth century.

After lambasting the Republicans for their lack of moral values and praising Democrats for their moral virtue in pushing for a strong public education system, balancing the budget, and, he implies, winking at illegal immigration, he shouted that he is "sick of being divided."

It's not clear what he meant by this, but he was apparently referring to the gap between what he says and what is objectively the case. Or maybe he suffers from multiple personality disorder. At any rate, it's telling that he didn't list honesty in his peculiar catalogue of Democrats' moral values.

The Iraqi Constitution

Omar at Iraq the Model has a partial translation of a draft of the Iraqi constitution. Omar finds a couple of provisions so objectionable that he would vote to reject the whole thing rather than accept them. The proposed draft (words in parentheses are still being debated) states that:

The (Islamic, federal) republic of Iraq is a sovereign, independent country and the governing system is a democratic, republican, federal one.

Omar protests: "The Islamic republic of Iraq!? NO WAY."

The most repugnant clause for Omar, however, is this:

Islam is the official religion of the state and it is the main source of legislation and it is not allowed to make laws that contradict the fundamental teachings of Islam and its rules (the ones agreed upon by all Muslims) and this constitution shall preserve the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people (with its Shea't majority and its Sunni component) and respect the rights of all other religions.

Omar comments that: "This is the deadliest point if approved; Islam or any religion cannot and must not be the main source of legislation."

On the one hand, Omar is right that Islam should not be the basis for Iraqi law because Islam has a very attenuated view of human rights. On the other hand, it would be very difficult to construct a system of laws which is not ultimately grounded in something more objective than a popular consensus.

Both Iraq and its Western supporters (like me) are in a bind here. Most Westerners would argue that the best model for Iraqi law is one which, like our own, places a premium on human rights. But our obligation to respect human rights derives from our Christian heritage, specifically the belief of the Founders that we are created in the image of a God who loves and values us. Because of this, and only because of this, we have worth, dignity, and the right not to be harmed. No man, as John Locke said, has the right to harm what belongs to, and is loved by, God. Take away creation by a transcendent creator, and all we are is an ephemeral glob of carbon and water whose only "rights" are whatever the whim of the authorities induces them to grant us.

Christianity enjoins us to extend to even those who spurn God, the "infidels", tolerance and love in accordance with Jesus' teaching on this very subject (see Mat.13:24-30; Lk.6:27-37). Muslims might be able to reconcile human dignity with the principles of the Koran, but it's hard to see how they could find a basis for tolerance, forgiveness and love of one's enemies in Koranic tradition. Unfortunately, it's even harder to imagine Muslims embracing a Christian rationale for their constitutional provisions.

And yet, the fear is that unless they do, they will ultimately slip back into the same human rights morass that Muslims have been mired in for 1300 years. I once asked a moderate Imam at a local mosque this question: If you could wave a magic wand and convert a majority of Americans to Islam so that you had the political power to write laws, amend the constitution, etc. what would become of the Bill of Rights, specifically the first amendment? He talked around the question, by way of a response, but he never answered it. I had the feeling that he didn't want to because he knew that the freedoms contained in the first amendment were antithetical to Islam.

One wonders how long human and minority rights would be protected by a constitution that is officially based upon Sharia (Islamic) law.

FOOTNOTE: We've been hearing the last few days that the Iraqi constitution allows anyone to become an Iraqi citizen except Israelis. I saw no mention of this in the portion of the constitution translated by Omar, but maybe I missed it. If it is in there, it would be a reprehensible act of bigotry which all Iraqis should repudiate.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Films Every Child Should See

Gideon Strauss (scroll down to July 23rd) has a list of ten movies that the British Film Institute says every child should see before they are fourteen years old. The list:

1. Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica, 1948, Italy)

2. ET The Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982, USA)

3. Kes (Ken Loach, 1969, UK)

4. The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955, USA)

5. Les Quatre Cents Coups (Fran�ois Truffaut, 1959, France)

6. Show Me Love (Lukas Moodysson, 1998, Sw/Dk)

7. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001, Japan)

8. Toy Story (John Lasseter, 1995, USA)

9. Where is the Friend's House? (Abbas Kiarostami, 1987, Iran)

10. The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939, USA)

How many did you see by the age of fourteen? How many have you seen altogether? Personally, I never even heard of six of them, I'm ashamed to say.

Taking From the Poor

Air America, the liberal talk radio network, has enough woes, due both to poor programming and dismal finances, without being implicated in a scandal involving "borrowing" money that was supposed to go to inner city kids and alzheimer's sufferers.

We thought liberals believed in taking from the rich to give to the poor, not the other way around.

Read the details at Michelle Malkin's blog.

The Inquisition of John Roberts

WuzzaDem has a humorous pictorial satire on the upcoming senate judiciary committee hearings on John Roberts' Supreme Court nomination. It's pretty funny, especially Senator Feinstein.

Thanks to Cheat-Seeking Missiles for the tip.

Simply Irresistible

In an earlier post we noted that it's very difficult for Darwinists to avoid the language of intelligent design. Here's an example courtesy of Telic Thoughts:

Khammash and collaborators...have used mathematical modeling to show how the complex workings of the heat-shock [of E. coli] response reflect features that make the protein repair fast, robust and efficient. "It is how, if you had a good engineer, the process would be designed," he says.

Darwinists are not unaware of the public relations problem this sort of loose talk poses for them as they wage the war against the intrusions of Intelligent Design thinking into their domain. Paul Nelson quotes one writer, Rudy Raff, who urges his fellow materialists to avoid "play[ing] into the hands of ID propagandists. For instance, be careful about using teleological words to describe biological entities in our teaching and writing. Calling cells 'machines that do X,' or describing biological structures as 'well-designed to do Y' will be duly cited in ID propaganda as one more biologist supporting design."

Nelson has a little fun with this in his blog, but the point is that it is almost impossible for biologists to do what Raff enjoins. Biological systems are so obviously designed that the language of purpose and intention cannot be avoided. The only refuge for the Darwinian is to argue that the design is only apparent, not real.

This is the reason that, as Richard Lewontin once put it, materialists cannot "let a divine foot in the door" of our public schools. Students are given to believe by their teachers that natural selection and mutation can work miracles of organization and complexity. If, however, they're told that there is dissent about this among scientists, that many believe that the wonders of living things point to an intelligent agent, many, if not most, students would find that hypothesis irresistible.

The Darwinists' greatest fear is that if ID is allowed an official mention in American classrooms, there will be wholesale defections among young people from the Darwinian assertion that natural processes are sufficient to explain all of life and that no Mind is needed.

Resistance to ID is not motivated by a desire to protect science from the intrusions of religion, as we are commonly told. It's motivated by a desire to insulate one philosophical view of life, naturalism, from another.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Great Question, Senator

Jonathan Turley, writing in the LA Times, recounts a meeting between Judge John Roberts and Senator Dick Durbin where Durbin posed a difficult question to the Supreme Court nominee:

Judge John G. Roberts Jr. has been called the stealth nominee for the Supreme Court - a nominee specifically selected because he has few public positions on controversial issues such as abortion. However, in a meeting last week, Roberts briefly lifted the carefully maintained curtain over his personal views. In so doing, he raised a question that could not only undermine the White House strategy for confirmation but could raise a question of his fitness to serve as the 109th Supreme Court justice.

The exchange occurred during one of Roberts' informal discussions with senators last week. According to two people who attended the meeting, Roberts was asked by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) what he would do if the law required a ruling that his church considers immoral. Roberts is a devout Catholic and is married to an ardent pro-life activist. The Catholic Church considers abortion to be a sin, and various church leaders have stated that government officials supporting abortion should be denied religious rites such as communion. (Pope Benedict XVI is often cited as holding this strict view of the merging of a person's faith and public duties).

Renowned for his unflappable style in oral argument, Roberts appeared nonplused and, according to sources in the meeting, answered after a long pause that he would probably have to recuse himself.

Too bad Roberts didn't think to respond by saying to Sen. Durbin, "That's a great question, senator. How did Justice Ginsburg answer it?"

Having chosen to answer it he might have said simply that the task of a Supreme Court justice is to interpret the constitution, not to pass judgment on its moral character. Should a question of capital punishment or abortion come before the court it is the justices' job to determine which side of the case conforms most closely to the original intent of the framers. Whether that intent conforms to the teaching of one's religion is irrelevant to the Court's task.

It is indeed telling that Durbin would ask this question. It reveals his tacit conviction that it is the role of the justice to create law rather than to interpret it. Were that really the case any conflict between the teaching of the church and the decisions of the court would be a much more acute problem. As it is the problem is more in Durbin's philosophy of jurisprudence than with judge Roberts' religious convictions.

UPDATE: The Washington Times reports that Sen. Durbin is denying that he ever asked the question, and Jonathan Turley is responding that Sen. Durbin was his original source:

Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, asked ... specifically what the judge, who is Catholic, would do if the law required him to do something that his church teaches as immoral, according to a column that appeared in yesterday's Los Angeles Times. But when the column drew criticism as a religious litmus test, Mr. Durbin's spokesman said the column was wrong, prompting writer Jonathan Turley to say that he learned of the exchange from Mr. Durbin.

We leave it to the reader to decide who, the politician or the journalist, is not telling the truth. Gosh, what a choice.

Straight Talk

Blunt words from the pen of one of the greatest men of the twentieth century:

How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men.

Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities - but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.

Sir Winston Churchill, after the horrific battle to wrest control of Sudan from the jihadis of the 19th century. From The River War, first edition, Vol. II, pages 248-50 (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1899).

Aside from his aside that Christianity struggled against the emergence of modern science, a claim which is historically dubious, is there anything in this passage which is not true?

Thanks to Little Green Footballs.

Modern Pedagogy

A retired teacher in England has a grand idea for promoting student success and protecting the fragile self-esteem of British children:

A retired primary school teacher has called for the word "failure" to be banned from the classroom and replaced with "deferred success". Liz Beattie, who taught for 37 years, said that children's aspirations to learn are crushed as soon as they are deemed failures and that they should be praised instead.

The motion to remove the word "fail" from the educational vocabulary will be put formally to members of the Professional Association of Teachers (PAT) at the union's annual conference in Buxton, Derbyshire, at the end of the month.

Critics said that it was just another example of "politically correct madness" creeping into the classroom, but Mrs Beattie, who lives in Ipswich and is the Suffolk Federation Secretary of the association, said that children responded better to encouragement than to being told they had passed or failed.

She said: "I think we all need to succeed at something. You need encouragement rather than being told you haven't done very well. Learning should be lifelong and it should be something that everybody knows they can do and knows they can have a bash at. I'd rather tell kids that they have done jolly well. You can then say, 'Tomorrow we should try that', rather than just saying, 'You have failed'."

The union of 35,000 teachers already recognises that pupils have "differing abilities and learn at differing rates and that all individual achievement should be recognised". Mrs Beattie, 68, insisted that the association should go further. She said: "I would be surprised if we didn't get the motion through because there are enough teachers at all levels who know that, with little ones, you've got to get them motivated and with the older ones you've got to give them confidence going into exams."

But the idea was denounced as "politically correct madness" by Suzanna Proud, 28, a mother of two. "When you apply for university they are hardly going to say, 'Well you have had some deferred success so we'll let you in'. They will say, 'Sorry, you failed your exams. You don't meet requirements'." If the motion to ban the word is accepted by the union, its ruling council will make it part of policy for its members in primary, secondary and nursery schools across the country.

Howard Martin, 54, who runs an online campaign against political correctness, said: "When children go through school they should learn how life works. Mollycoddling them will have completely the opposite effect."

Next thing some schools will be doing away with using red pens to grade papers since the color red causes stress in young psyches. Maybe grades should be done away with altogether since there are few feelings worse in a young student's life than knowing that if you don't do your homework your grade will suffer. Why do we want to inflict this trauma on our children?

Speaking of bad feelings and emotional trauma, here's a disturbing thought: John Kerry didn't fail to win the presidency in 2004, he merely experienced deferred success.

On a brighter note, none of the defeats we suffer in life should be seen as failures. No one ever really fails. In fact, some people's whole lives are just one deferred success after another.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Preaching Peace and Love

This Reuters article gives some insight into the tangled twisted thinking of at least one of London's Islamic clerics:

LONDON (Reuters) - Militant Islamists will continue to attack Britain until the government pulls its troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, one of the country's most outspoken Islamic clerics said on Friday. Speaking 15 days after bombers killed over 50 people in London and a day after a series of failed attacks on the city's transport network, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed said the British capital should expect more violence.

"What happened yesterday confirmed that as long as the cause and the root problem is still there ... we will see the same effect we saw on July 7," Bakri said. "If the cause is still there the effect will happen again and again," he said, adding he had no information about future attacks or contacts with people planning to carry out attacks.

The cause of the problem, of course, is people like Bakri preaching violence and hatred in the mosque every Friday.

Bakri, a Syrian-born cleric who has been vilified in Britain since 2001 when he praised the September 11 hijackers, said he did not believe the bombings and attempted attacks on London were carried out by British Muslims.

He condemned the killing of all innocent civilians but described attacks on British and U.S. troops in Muslim countries as "pro-life" and justified. In an interview with Reuters, Bakri described Osama bin Laden, leader of the radical Islamist network al Qaeda, as "a sincere man who fights against evil forces."

What does Bakri say about Muslims strapping bombs to mentally retarded Muslim boys and using them as suicide bombers? What does he say about Muslims kidnapping another Muslim's children and threatening to behead them unless the father serves as a suicide bomber? What does he say about Muslims who deliberately blow up Muslim children with nail bombs or shoot them in their schools? Nothing much, I'll bet.

Bakri said he would like Britain to become an Islamic state but feared he would be deported before his dream was realized. "I would like to see the Islamic flag fly, not only over number 10 Downing Street, but over the whole world," he said.

That, I submit, is a chilling vision of hell that not even Dante could have foreseen.

A hate figure for the British tabloid press, the bearded and bespectacled Bakri said Islam contained "a message of peace for those who want to live with the Muslims in peace."

That is, Muslims are willing to live in peace with those who submit to dhimmitude, a kind of second class status with no real rights.

"But Islam is a message of war for those who declare war against Muslims," he said.

In other words, Muslims will kill anyone who resists their wish to convert the world to Islam.

"I condemn any killing and any bombing against any innocent people in Britain or abroad, but I expect the British people to condemn the killing of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan."

When Bakri gets around to condemning the mass murders of Muslims in Iraq by Islamic suicide bombers then his claim to reproach the deaths of innocent people in Britain will have a teensy bit of credibility. Even at that, he sneaks into his "condemnation" the qualification that it is the bombing of "innocent" people he denounces. In Islamist thinking, however, there are no innocent Western infidels. They are all guilty so Bakri's pious denunciation is meaningless.

However, asked about Islamist attacks on British and U.S. troops and on Israelis, he said: "If violence is pro-life I don't condemn it." Bakri, a 46-year-old father of six, was born in Syria and lived in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. When the Saudi government expelled him in 1985 he came to London. Nicknamed "The Tottenham Ayatollah" after the area of north London in which he lives, he has infuriated many Britons with his firebrand speeches and refusal to condemn suicide bombings.

He founded the British branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir, which describes itself as a non-violent political party dedicated to creating an Islamic caliphate centered on the Middle East. But he split from the group in 1996 and set up al Muhajiroun, which won notoriety in 2001 for celebrating the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon which killed nearly 3,000 people.

Doubtless he was condemning the deaths of innocents in the World Trade Towers while he was dancing in the streets.

Bakri has Syrian and Lebanese citizenship and says he thinks the British government might deport him to one of those two countries in the wake of this month's bombings.

They shouldn't deport him. They should ceaselessly ridicule both him and his moronic political and religious views until he realizes that to spare himself further humiliation and ignominy, to salvage whatever credibility he might have left after a campaign of public derision, he had best slink off on his own.

"But I think that would be political suicide for the British government if they started to deport and imprison all extremists and radicals," he said. "Because if, God forbid, something happened again, they would have nobody left to blame."

Quite so. If they started to deport all Muslims who are radical extremists, or at least sympathetic to the radicals, there'd be hardly any Muslims left in England to plant the flag at No. 10 Downing Street. God forbid.

PC Make-Believe

It is stunning that the NYPD has decided that they will inspect bags of commuters on the NY subway system. The stunning part is that the searches will be random. Random? As if no one knows who the perpetrators of a bombing would be. As if we are just oblivious to the fact that 99% of terrorist acts are performed by young, middle-eastern, males. No matter, the searches will be random. Ten year old redheads will have their backpacks searched. Just in case. Seventy year old guys wearing lime-green slacks, golf shirts, and white shoes will have their bowling bags checked. You can never tell what might be in them.

We've become so afraid to face and tell the truth in any matter involving race or ethnicity that we're reduced to truly bizarre play-acting. There's not a soul who rides the trains or checks the bags who thinks random searches are anything more than feel-good liberalism. The liberal thinks that the important thing is that whatever we do, no one be offended by it. Whether it's effective or not is only secondary. Like the citizens who turned out to admire the emperor's new clothes, oohing and ahhing at their splendor while watching a manifestly naked emperor riding through the street, everyone seems duty-bound to pretend that young, middle-eastern males shouldn't be any more suspect than anyone else. If liberals could control our thoughts as well as our actions they'd have us all experience astonishment every time a terrorist bombing turned out to be perpetrated by Arab Muslims.

So we all agree to make-believe that you just can't predict who would be a terrorist based on looks because that's the politically correct thing to do. We all nod knowingly when someone avers that, after all, Timothy McVeigh wasn't a Saudi Muslim, but if you're sitting in an airport waiting to board your flight and you see a couple of swarthy Pakistani males with a dead look in their eyes waiting to board the same plane, all your PC liberalism goes into the dumpster and the needle on your anxiety meter nudges the red. If you deny this then you're either not being honest with us or yourself. Or, like Rip van Winkle, you've just awakened from a thirty year snooze.

Unbelievable Rudeness

We hope there's more to this story than what meets the eye. If not, Catherine Baker Knoll, Pennsylvania's Lt. Governor, has shown extraordinarily poor judgment and an utter lack of sensitivity.

The family of a Marine who was killed in Iraq is furious with Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll for showing up uninvited at his funeral this week, handing out her business card and then saying "our government" is against the war.

Rhonda Goodrich of Indiana, Pa., said yesterday that a funeral was held Tuesday at a church in Carnegie for her brother-in-law, Staff Sgt. Joseph Goodrich, 32.

[Knoll came into the church and] sat down next to a Goodrich family member and, during the distribution of communion, said, "Who are you?" Then she handed the family member one of her business cards...

"Knoll felt this was an appropriate time to campaign and impose her will on us," Goodrich said. "I am amazed and disgusted Knoll finds a Marine funeral a prime place to campaign."

What really upset the family, Goodrich said, is that Knoll said, 'I want you to know our government is against this war.' "

This requires almost inconceivably bad manners. How does someone so devoid of good sense rise so high in state politics? Never mind. Dumb question.

Michelle Malkin has more here.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

How the U.N. Wastes Your Money

Donald Trump blows the whistle on Kofi's latest billion dollar boondoggle. Radioblogger has the fascinating transcript of Trump's testimony before a senate committee investigating the proposed renovation of the U.N. building.

It's a little lengthy, but it's well worth the time. Don't miss it.

Somehow, we're sure, Kojo must be involved with this.

Thanks to Hugh Hewitt for the tip.

Battered Left Syndrome

Ted Lapkin diagnoses the Left's political version of the battered wife syndrome:

With each new beating, the scarred and bruised victims of spousal abuse tend to excuse and rationalize the actions of their tormentors. A stubborn unwillingness to accept the proposition that their partners are violent louts plunges these woeful women into a morass of self-deception that spawns only further violence.

The far Left has similarly proved unable to liberate itself from the web of rose-tinted delusions that it has spun about the nature of Islamic extremism. After each al Qaeda outrage, leftist ideologues are quick to castigate their own countrymen for a catalogue of sins, both real and imagined. With a perverse combination of self-loathing and adoration of the enemy, the radical Leftist mantra preaches that if only we were nicer, the jihadists could not fail to love us. It's our own fault if Osama bin Laden doesn't realize what good people we are.

And all the while, these "progressive" academics, pundits, and politicians engage in ridiculous intellectual contortions designed to mitigate the guilt of the terrorist perpetrators. When push comes to shove, some intellectuals believe that Islamism is simply an understandable reaction to what they describe as "Western imperialism."

A case in point might be London mayor Ken Livingstone who said just a day or two ago that were it not for the sins of the West these atrocities would not be happening. Matthew D'Ancona of the U.K. Telegraph writes of the mayor:

So it was all the more depressing to hear him revert to type yesterday as he spouted the fatuous Left-wing mantras for which he earned his notoriety in the 1980s. While claiming that he felt no sympathy for the suicide bombers and (naturally) that "killing people is wrong", he resurrected the pernicious old doctrine of moral equivalence, beloved of the Left in the Cold War. "I don't just denounce the suicide bombers," he said. "I denounce those governments that use indiscriminate slaughter to advance their foreign policy" - by which he meant Israel, and, one presumed, America.

So, too, he deployed the whiskery argument that western imperialism is at the root of all evil. If we had only left the Arab nations alone after the First World War, the mayor said, "and just bought their oil, rather than feeling we had to control the flow of oil, I suspect this would not have arisen".... Does Mr Livingstone really think that the legacy of the Great War is what drove the Leeds terrorist cell to commit their atrocities?

Is he truly blaming the murder of 56 commuters on the Balfour Declaration, and the 1920 San Remo Conference? And would the mayor be willing to tell the bereaved relatives of Shahara Islam, the 20-year-old from Plaistow who was buried on Friday, or of James Adams, 32, from Peterborough, and Monika Suchocka, 23, a Pole who was living in north London (both of whom were named as among the dead on Tuesday), that their loved ones would still be alive if not for the Treaty of Versailles?

Read the rest of Lapkin's column here.

More on the Creationist Convention

Ronald Bailey at ReasonOnline continues his reporting on the Creationist Conference at Lynchburg, VA. The final session was a Young Earth Creationist (YEC) critique of Intelligent Design and a discussion of human evolution. Here's how Bailey reports the lecture on ID:

Science and scripture cannot contradict one another, and if they appear to do so, then there is something wrong with the science. God created the world in six 24-hour days, according to Georgia Purdom, an assistant professor of biology at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, OH. "It's what God said, and that's enough, and that's the way it has to be," said she. Purdom testified to the attendees of the 2005 Creation Mega-Conference that five years ago she "felt called to understand what I believe and why I believe it." Answering this call brought her to read Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (1996) by Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe. The book introduced her to the "intelligent design" movement.

Initially attracted to intelligent design theorizing, Purdom eventually found it unsatisfactory. Thus the question in her talk: "The Intelligent Design Movement: How Intelligent Is It?" Purdom rejects evolution because it is built on the notion that the process of natural selection relies on death, pain, suffering, and disease to produce our contemporary world. According to creationists, death did not enter the universe until Adam and Eve sinned (Genesis 3:19). "I couldn't believe it because it did not fit with the God I know; the God with whom I have a personal relationship," insisted Purdom. Intelligent designers share the same problem with evolutionists-both ignore Scripture.

Purdom explained that intelligent design was just "refurbished natural theology" of the sort made famous by Anglican divine William Paley in his Natural Theology; or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity (1802). Paley famously argued that if someone stumbled over a watch in a forest that he would immediately perceive that "the watch must have had a maker." Paley claimed that the complex mechanisms of organisms in the natural world point to the same conclusion. Purdom believes that both natural theology and intelligent design are fine as far as they go, but they don't go far enough. The problem is that nature is a general revelation while scripture is a special revelation and special revelation trumps general revelation.

Purdom sums up intelligent design as saying, "If it looks designed, it is designed." But still, how are intelligent design theorists going to determine if something is designed or not? "You can't just look at something and tell if it is designed," she says. This is where she still finds Behe valuable. In Darwin's Black Box, Behe explains the concept of "irreducible complexity" using the homely example of a mousetrap. A standard mousetrap is irreducibly complex because it will only catch mice if it has a board, a spring, a trigger and so forth. If any part is missing, it will catch no mice. The existence of irreducible complexity in organisms similarly points to an intelligent designer. Behe offers examples of several irreducibly complex biological systems such as the biochemistry of sight and the operation of the bacterial flagellum which must have the existence and coordinated action of many different proteins and other molecules or they will fail.

Purdom points especially to the complexity of the mammalian blood clotting cascade. We do know that genetic mutations disable blood clotting in people. For example, one version of hemophilia is caused by a lack of the blood-clotting Factor VIII, which is perhaps analogous to a mousetrap missing its spring. Purdom thinks that this is a knockdown argument against evolution, which is supposed to work by small gradual successive steps. If a new modification is not immediately functional, then it's gone. "Evolution doesn't believe in keeping leftovers," declares Purdom.

But is the mammalian blood clotting system irreducibly complex? While the work is far from complete, researchers are making progress in figuring out how that system came into existence over hundreds of millions of years. Strangely, Purdom rejects a well-known pathway for creating novel functions at the molecular level-gene duplication with subsequent modification of the redundant gene, which leads to new functions.

In any case, while accepting a good bit of the Intelligent Design movement's arguments, Purdom points out that Intelligent Design also allows for macroevolution-that is, new species can arise from earlier species. This a definite no-no since the Bible clearly states that God "created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, after their kind." If all creatures reproduce only their own "kind," then there is no way for evolution to produce new species.

However, according to Purdom, "the biggest problem is that Intelligent Design theory divorces Creator from Creation. They do not presume to pierce the veil of the Designer. They won't say 'who done it.'"

Purdom is also annoyed that ID advocates will not talk about the optimality of design. She pointed to a statement by ID godfather, Philip Johnson who recently said, "I suppose the Creator could have made it so that we would live forever and be bulletproof. Flawless design may not be his point."

In Purdom's creationist interpretation of Genesis, God made a perfect world in which Adam and Eve were the moral equivalent of immortal and bulletproof; however, it is now flawed due to Adam's sin. Even more horrifying to Purdom is the statement by Baylor University professor and Design Inference author William A. Dembski, "One looks at some biological structure and remarks, 'Gee, that sure looks evil.' Did it start out evil? Was that its function when a good and all-powerful God created it? Objects invented for good purposes are regularly co-opted and used for evil purposes."

Can Dembski be implying that God created evil in the world? Purdom replies that Christians know that "sin has broken this world, including all of nature." To illustrate evil in nature, Purdom offers the example of the nature documentary showing an idyllic scene of a "zebra grazing peacefully, and then a tiger leaps out and bites its head off." (Of course this documentary would have to be filmed in a zoo, since that's the only place in which African zebras are likely to encounter Asian tigers, but never mind.) The problem with ID theory, as Purdom sees it, is that it implies that God is the author of evil unless you have Biblical understanding of how evil came into the universe through Adam's fall. ID is flawed because it lacks "the Bible as a foundation and framework." Purdom ended her lecture with a Power Point slide illustrating the ultimate argument from authority: "God Said It, That Settles It."

Notice Purdom's criticism of ID: It's compatible with macroevolution and it's agnostic about who the intelligent designer is. It's ironic that many oppose ID being presented in public school science classes because they think it's just Creationism in scientific drag. The secular critics protest, wrongly, that ID'ers want to eliminate evolution and bring God into the schools, precisely what Creationists fault them for not wanting to do. Too bad Bailey chose not to point this out.

Also note Bailey's response to the claim that the blood clotting cascade is irreducibly complex: Scientists are making progress toward explaining how it could have evolved. Isn't it odd that this system is so intricate and exquisitely contrived that intelligent researchers can't figure out how it got put together, but they're nevertheless convinced that it was done by blind, undirected forces acting solely by chance?

Saturday, July 23, 2005

World Class Chutzpah

We had to read this twice before we could believe what we were seeing:

Democratic Sen. John Kerry urged the White House on Friday to release "in their entirety" all documents and memos from Supreme Court nominee John Roberts' tenure in two Republican administrations.

"We cannot do our duty if either Judge Roberts or the Bush administration hides elements of his professional record," said the Massachusetts senator who was his party's presidential candidate last year.

This was Senator Kerry, of all people, demanding that all pertinent records be released so that the American people could assess what sort of man this John Roberts is who is asking to serve on the Supreme Court of the land. This is the self-same John Kerry who refused to release his military service records during the presidential campaign last summer so that voters could assess what sort of man it was who was asking to serve as their president. Now he suddenly thinks it appropriate to call on Roberts to do what he steadfastly refused to do.

Evidently, the senator is completely bereft of a sense of shame. Expecting others to do what one chooses not to do oneself is the very definition of hypocrite.

The article doesn't say whether the audience to whom the senator addressed this demand broke out in laughter, but we don't see how they could have held it in.

Deep Defense

Regarding the second attack on London's mass transit system Wretchard at Belmont Club makes this set of observations:

If the Economist is correct about the failure of the detonators to produce a high-order explosion two things can be inferred. First, the close-in defenses of London's public transportation system failed; after all the bombs were delivered to the trains and detonated, except that the detonations themselves were faulty. Second, the outer-ring of defenses, the anti-terrorist component that attacks the terrorist infrastructure, denies it havens, reduces its funding and makes it difficult to place competent bomb-makers in London has succeeded -- at least in this case. More details will clarify the situation as further news becomes available.

(Speculation alert) When faced with the suicide attack problem (Kamikazes) during the Second World War, US fleets adopted the concept of the layered defense around battlegroups, consisting of attacking enemy airfields, providing a radar picket on enemy lines of approach, creating a combat air patrol to intercept incoming Kamikazes and then presenting a succession of long, medium and short-range antiaircraft fire, before finally falling back on warship evasion, armor and damage control. Each component in the defense contributed its statistical share of the defense. The debate surrounding the prosecution of the war on terror can be conceptually split, though not very neatly, between those who advocate a layered defense with a forward-deployed component (coordination with 'friendly' Muslim countries, involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, etc), plus everything in between, and those who would rely primarily on terminal or close-in defenses (national IDs, CCTV cameras, border control, etc) in the homeland.

A small percentage of policy advocates believe that a complete reliance on nearly passive close-in defenses ("support the troops, bring the boys home", build bridges to Muslim communities, etc) would be adequate to protect the public against terrorism. Over the coming years, the value of every aspect of the defense will be highlighted by different incidents. Some attacks will be stopped by an alert security guard, others will be pre-empted in a land so distant the public will never even know that the attacks were mounted. But they are all needed. If any lives were saved in London today, it probably means that a deep defense makes a difference.

Defense in depth is such an obvious principle that it should be insisted upon by everyone, yet some on the current political landscape simply fail to comprehend its necessity. We are at war against kamikazis far deadlier than the Japanese pilots and our defense needs to be both long-range and close-in. To urge one without the other is astonishingly myopic. To depend upon one without the other would be folly.

Friday, July 22, 2005

The Patriot Act

The sound we're not hearing is the tonsil-shredding shriek of outrage from civil libertarians and leftists following the House of Representatives' resounding reauthorization Thursday of the Patriot Act. Why the calm?

Is it because proponents of the Ashcroft is Satan school of political discourse realize that in the wake of 7/7 the American people are likely to look upon their protests as the outbursts of a mentally impaired child? Is it because it has become obvious even to its detractors that none of the horrors so stridently predicted to attend the Act have come to pass? Is it that the left cannot concentrate on more than one thing at a time, and their minds are already at maximum capacity with the Karl Rove contretemps and the John Roberts nomination?

Whatever the reason, the silence following this 257 - 171 vote is remarkable given the passionate outpouring of contempt for the measure when the Ashcroft justice department first implemented it in the wake of 9/11. Maybe it's beginning to dawn on some critics of the Act that the Islamists really are serious about wanting to destroy us, that the threat is imminent, and that the law has helped to stave them off.

Quick Lesson in Recent History

Australian Prime Minister John Howard gives a news reporter, who should be embarrassed but probably wasn't, a much needed history lesson. The question from the reporter was whether British policy in Iraq has made them a target for terrorists. Howard replied:

The first point of reference is that once a country allows its foreign policy to be determined by terrorism, it has given the game away, to use the venacular, and no Australian government that I lead will ever have policies determined by terrorism or terrorist threats, and no self respecting government of any political stripe in Australia would allow that to happen.

Can I remind you that the murder of 88 Australians in Bali took place before the operation in Iraq? And can I remind you that the 11th of September occured before the operation in Iraq? Can I also remind you that the very first occasion that bin Laden specifically referred to Australia was in the context of Australia's involvement in liberating the people of East Timor? Are people by implication suggesting that we shouldn't have done that? When a group claimed responsibility on the website for the attacks on the 7th of July, they talked about British policy not just in Iraq but in Afghanistan. Are people suggesting we shouldn't be in Afghanistan?

When Sergio DeMillo was murdered in Iraq, a brave man, a distinguished international diplomat, immensely respected for his work in the United Nations, when al Qaeda gloated about that, they referred specifically to the role that DeMillo had carried out in East Timor because he was the United Nations adminsitrator in East Timor. Now I don't know the minds of the terrorist. By definition you can't put yourself in the mind of a successful suicide bomber. I can only look at objective facts. And the objective facts are as I have cited.

The objective fact is that Australia was a terrorist target long before the operation in Iraq and indeed all the evidence, as distinct from the suppositions, suggest to me that this is about hatred of a way of life. This is about the perverted use of the principles of a great world religion that at its root preaches peace and cooperation, and I think we lose sight of the challenge we have if we allow ourselves to see these attacks in the context of particular circumstances rather than the abuse through a perverted ideology of people and their murder.

Lord, please send us more John Howards.

Thanks to Hugh Hewitt for the transcript.

Julian Robertson Speaks Out

From the link:

Specifically, he is very worried about a world that is sustained by American consumer spending which is in turn 1/4 sustained by a property bubble. He predicts that 20 million people could lose their homes once the property bubble bursts.


They have now consolidated power and money on the planet to the maximum extent possible. The planet's net liquidity, that is its net free cash flow is now a negative number. The planet is not simply sinking into a sea of red ink; it is already sunk. The people just don't realize it yet," he said.

Got Gold?

Stand and Deliver

Why does Sean Hannity think it's a good thing that Judge Roberts' views on Roe v. Wade are too ambiguous to provide his opponents with grist for their mill? Whenever he talks about it on the air Hannity seems to be saying that Roberts' foes will not be able to nail him for thinking Roe was poorly decided because there's no judicial ruling or writing in his past which makes it certain that he feels that way. The implication is that Roberts is free to fudge or even duck the question, and this elicits gloating from Mr. Principled Conservative who lectures us regularly on the need to be intellectually honest.

The worst thing Roberts could do in the hearings would be to sound weasely on the issues that the Dems will try to nail him on. Why not say, if he really believes it, that the Roe decision was an example of judicial overreach? Why not use the hearings to instruct his august inquisitors and the general public on exactly why he believes there is no constitutional warrant for a right to abortion? The people who are going to vote against him and those who are going to vote for him are going to do so regardless of what he says. Why does Hannity seem so gleeful that Roberts can, if he wants, temporize on the question?

Conservatives, or anyone for that matter, should stand up for what they believe and state honestly what their views are on past cases. If they can make strong arguments for their views then we'll all benefit from hearing them. If they can't mount good arguments then we should know that, too.

Sen. Schumer, as much as we hate to say it, is right on this one. The problem with Schumer is that he's such a hypocrite. He would never expect a Democrat nominee to explain his or her judicial philosophy. He'd be piously denouncing "litmus tests" and the impropriety of asking potential justices to prejudge cases which might come before them. Nor is he genuinely interested in hearing Judge Roberts' arguments. Schumer is more interested in twisting and distorting whatever he says to discredit and smear him.

Even so, Roberts should not waffle and Hannity shouldn't delight in the prospect that he could.

Creationists in Convention

Ronald Bailey at ReasonOnline has a slightly satirical report on the 2005 Creation Mega-Conference at Lynchburg, VA this week. Bailey is not a sympathizer, but there is much of interest in his report, including this succinct summary by John Whitcomb, co-author of the classic creationist work, Genesis Flood, of the difference between Special or Young-Earth Creationism, Intelligent Design and Progressive Creationism:

Whitcomb doesn't just take godless evolutionists to task; he is also critical of Christians who accept progressive creationism or intelligent design. Progressive creationism as represented by Dr. Hugh Ross fails because Ross accepts (1) the Big Bang; (2) that animals were supernaturally and periodically created over many millions of years; (3) that Adam's rebellion did not introduce death into the animal kingdom for the first time; and (4) that the Flood was local to Mesopotamia.

Whitcomb reproaches the leaders of the intelligent design movement for believing that evolutionism can be defeated without any reference to the Bible or the Creator of the World. He agrees with them that tax supported schools need to be purged of the errors of evolutionism, but he then rhetorically asks a very pointed question: "Are people believing in Christ their Lord and Savior as a result of hearing the message of intelligent design scholars?"

Creationists also differ from the other groups in denying the Big Bang, primarily because it conflicts with a literal reading of Genesis:

Why? Because Genesis explains that God created the waters and the Earth on the third day of Creation (Genesis 1:9) and THEN the sun, moon and stars on the fourth day of Creation (Genesis 1:16).

Nor could there have been vast stretches of prehistorical time, in the Creationist view, because this also conflicts with a literal rendering of Scripture:

Like Whitcomb, Ken Ham brooks no compromises and dismisses the soft-headed idea that "you can believe in millions of years so long as God was involved." Why not? Again because that implies that death and disease occurred before there was "sin." In Genesis, Adam and Eve and all the animals were vegetarians (Genesis 1:29-30) and there was no death or disease. God pronounced his Creation "very good." It was perfect. Then Adam and Eve sinned by eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 3:6) thus introducing death and disease into the universe for the first time.

Bailey also reports on yesterday's discussions of cosmology, aspects of which pose serious problems for the young-earth view. Bailey relates the attempts of the speakers to come to grips with the problem of distant galaxies, for example. Bailey writes:

Dr. Jason Lisle took up the challenge distant starlight poses to young-earth creationism. Lisle has an astrophysics Ph.D from the University of Colorado in Boulder, where he apparently researched solar physics and black holes. "We are told that galaxies are so far away that it should have taken billions of years for their light to reach earth," notes Lisle. "We see these galaxies, so it is argued that the universe must be billions of years old."

Lisle declared that distant starlight "is the best argument against a young universe, but it is not a good argument against a young universe." Lisle noted that according to Genesis the stars were created on Day 4, after the land, seas and plants were created on Day 3. He affirmed his belief that God created the world in six 24-hour days. Nevertheless, Lisle admitted, "We do see galaxies that are many billions of light years away."

He hastened to warn his fellow creationists against adopting some overly facile and seductive "solutions" to the distant starlight problem. For example, Lisle warned against arguing that perhaps those stupendous cosmological distances aren't real. "Science does confirm that galaxies are that far away," he insists. But what about the idea that when God created the stars He created the beams of light emanating from them as though they had already traveled billions of light years across the universe so that they would reach the earth by Day 4 of Creation? In other words, the universe was created "mature" as though it had experienced history. This brings to mind the old conundrum: How do you know that you, your memories, and the whole universe with its "history" weren't called into existence just 5 minutes ago?

Lisle agrees that God could have created a mature universe, but he harbors reservations about that "solution." Why? Supernova 1987A. Lisle points out that the star that exploded into Supernova 1987A is 170,000 light years away. Since the universe is only 6000 years old that means that the light which appears to be a supernova is actually from an object that never existed depicting an event that never happened. Lisle declares, "God would not create little movies of things that never happened." However, I am wondering how Lisle knows for sure that the heavens are not just a divine planetarium projection on a gigantic crystal sphere enclosing the solar system? Never mind.

So what are possible creationist solutions to the distant starlight problem? First, Lisle suggests that perhaps the speed of light was not constant over time and that when God created the universe it was so much faster that it could travel across nearly 14 billion light years to arrive at the earth by Day 4 of Creation. He does acknowledge that if the speed of light had been significantly greater in the past, there would have been dramatic changes in the energy and mass of everything in the universe. Remember Einstein's famous equation E=mc2 (Energy = mass multiplied by speed of light squared).

Lisle also offers "gravitational time dilation" as a possible solution to the distant starlight problem. He claims that the Milky Way might really be the center of the universe and thus at the bottom of a deep universal gravity well. In which case time would pass much more slowly in our galaxy-perhaps only thousands of years elapsed on earth while billions of years of physical processes occur in the universe. Something like the above scenarios must have happened because according to Lisle, "We know from the Bible that the light got here in thousands of years."

The Young-Earth Creationists may be correct. It may be that everything sprung into being complete and with an apparent age of billions of years only a few thousand years ago. Or they may be wrong and the universe appears to be billions of years old because it really is. If the simplest explanation that fits the facts is the best then the YEC have some work to do if they're going to convince people, including other Christians, that their explanation for the vast size of the cosmos is more parsimonious and conforms better to the facts than does its competitors.