Friday, September 30, 2005

Prognosticating Dover

Bill Dembski offers his take on three possible outcomes of the Dover Intelligent Design trial and what each portends for the future of ID:

Before the Dover trial concludes, I want to offer some remarks about what I take will be its long-term significance. I want to do this now so that critics won't be in a position to accuse me of spinning or rationalizing the outcome of the trial once it is reached (of course, they'll still find fault, but that's par for the course). As I see it, there are three possible outcomes:

1.The Dover policy, in which students are informed that the ID textbook Of Pandas and People is in their library, is upheld.

2.The Dover policy is overturned but the scientific status of ID is left unchallenged.

3.The Dover policy is not only overturned but ID is ruled as nonscientific.

For what it's worth, my subjective probabilities are that outcome 1. has about a 20% probability, outcome 2. has about an 70% probability, and outcome 3. has less than a 10% probability. (Part of what prompts these numbers is that the ACLU is completely outmanning the Thomas More Law Center, which is defending the Dover policy. When I was an expert witness in the case, TMLC had one full-time person on the case and two or three part-timers. The ACLU, by contrast, had at least twelve full-timers on the case.)

Of course, I regard 1. as the best outcome for ID. That's not to say I think the Dover policy is particularly astute. Indeed, that's why the ACLU has come to this case both guns blazing, namely, because the policy is less than optimally formulated and they hope that they can take down not only the policy but also ID with it (their model is what happened to creationism in Edwards v. Aguillard in the 80s).

Fortunately, ID is in a much stronger position scientifically than creationism, so the ACLU faces a much tougher opponent than back then. Unfortunately, members of the Dover school board have, through their actions, conflated ID with an apparent religious agenda. For instance, it doesn't help the ID side that William Buckingham, then a member of the Dover school board, in trying to get the Dover policy adopted, remarked: "Two thousand years ago somebody died on the cross, can't somebody stand up for him?"

If the policy is upheld, it will embolden school boards, legislators, and grass roots organizations to push for intelligent design in the public school science curriculum. As a consequence, this case really could be a Waterloo for the other side.

But will outcome 2. or 3. constitute a Waterloo for ID? Outcome 2. certainly won't. It may make policy makers more cautious about how they incorporate ID into educational policy. But it certainly won't stop them, especially with Santorum language in the Federal Government's education policy.

That leaves outcome 3. Although I would hate to see this happen, mainly because of all the young people who would continue to be indoctrinated into a neo-Darwinian view of biological origins, this would hardly spell the end of ID. For one thing, ID is rapidly going international and crossing metaphysical and theological boundaries. The idea that ID is purely an "American thing" can no longer be sustained. Interest is growing internationally and it will continue to grow regardless of the outcome of the trial. Also, ID is of great interest to college and graduate students, so these ideas will continue to be discussed.

But the most important thing to understand about this case is that the significance of a court case depends not merely on the judge's decision but also on the cultural forces that serve as the backdrop against which the decision is made. Take the Scopes Trial. In most persons minds, it represents a decisive victory for evolution. And yet, in the actual trial, the decision went against Scopes (he was convicted of violating a Tennessee statute against teaching evolutionary theory).

Thus, unlike outcome 1., which would be a Waterloo for the other side, I don't see outcome 3. as anything like a Waterloo for our side. It would make life in the short-term more difficult, and it certainly would not be pleasant to have to endure the gloating by the other side, but the work of ID would continue. In fact, it might continue more effectively than under outcome 1., which might convince people that ID has already won the day when in fact ID still has a long way to go in developing its scientific and intellectual program.

To sum up, we might say that outcome 1. would be a recipe for complacency, outcome 2. would encourage us to take greater care and try again, and option 3. would inspire us to work that much harder for ID's ultimate success. I trust that Providence will bring about the outcome that will best foster ID's ultimate success. The important thing is ID's intellectual vitality.

Whether favor or adversity is, at least for now, the best tonic for ID's intellectual vitality remains to be seen.

I'm not quite as sanguine as Dembski about the consequences of 2. and 3. Whether the scientific status of ID is legally left unchallenged or ID is ruled to be unscientific it seems to me that a defeat for Dover will be conflated in the public mind with a judgment that ID is nothing more than creationism. This is the impression that the plaintiffs are working assiduously to create in the media, and a defeat for Dover will be like embedding that misimpression in cement. It'll be devilishly difficult to correct the error once the cement dries.

Political Hackery

The Washington Post, no fan of Republicans in general nor Tom DeLay in particular, nevertheless smells a partisan hit job by Texas district attorney Ronnie Earle:

[A]t least on the evidence presented so far, the indictment of Mr. DeLay by a state prosecutor in Texas gives us pause. The charge concerns the activities of Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC), a political action committee created by Mr. DeLay and his aides to orchestrate the GOP's takeover of the Texas legislature in 2002. The issue is whether Mr. DeLay and his political aides illegally used the group to evade the state's ban on corporate contributions to candidates. The indictment alleges that TRMPAC took $155,000 in corporate contributions and then sent a check for $190,000 to the national Republican Party's "soft money" arm. The national committee then wrote $190,000 in checks from its noncorporate accounts to seven Texas candidates.

Perhaps most damning, TRMPAC dictated the precise amount and recipients of those donations. This was an obvious end run around the corporate contribution rule. The more difficult question is whether it was an illegal end run -- or, to be more precise, one so blatantly illegal that it amounts to a criminal felony rather than a civil violation. For Mr. DeLay to be convicted, prosecutors will have to show not only that he took part in the dodge but also that he knew it amounted to a violation of state law -- rather than the kind of clever money-trade that election lawyers engineer all the time.

As The American Spectator observes:

The only problem is that similar transactions are conducted by both parties in many states, including Texas. In fact, on October 31, 2002, the Texas Democratic Party sent the Democratic National Committee (DNC) $75,000, and on the same day, the DNC sent the Texas Democratic Party $75,000. On July 19, 2001, the Texas Democratic Party sent the DNC $50,000 and, again on the same day, the DNC sent the Texas Democratic Party $60,000. On June 8, 2001, the Texas Democratic Party sent the DNC $50,000. That very same day, the DNC sent the Texas Democratic Party $60,000.

Mr. Earle, of course, is not interested in such shenanigans when perpetrated by Democrats. Only when it is Republicans who may have stepped a toe over the line is his finely honed sense of justice roused from its slumbers. Mr. Earle is a political hack who is using the power of his office to destroy his political enemies. He needs to be reigned in.

Thanks to Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters for the links.

Must the Designer be God?

Telic Thoughts puts us on to an excellent argument made a couple of years ago by atheist Toby Wardman in defense of the argument for God based on cosmic design. Wardman argues that the universe clearly is fine-tuned and refutes several common objections against the argument from design. Even so, Wardman concludes that the argument does not lead to the existence of a creator God:

I have argued that the fine-tuning argument is strong, and cannot easily be dismissed. Ultimately, I don't think it makes the existence of God any more likely, but this is not because of any weakness in the argument; it's because the question raised by the conclusion ('Why is the universe life-permitting?') isn't answered by positing a creator God. That suggestion just pushes the question another step further back: for why should a God exist with the right characteristics to create a universe? If the theist's reply is that God can exist uniquely without the need for any further explanation, then the theist is admitting that unusual and significant things [like universes suited for life] can exist unexplained, and if this is admitted, then we don't need to postulate a Designer for the universe after all.

In other words, the argument from cosmic design is very strong in pointing to a a certain intentionality or purpose in the universe. Nevertheless, one cannot conclude from the argument that the source of that intention is the God of traditional theism. Whether Wardman's conclusion is correct or not, it is certainly interesting since it is precisely what Intelligent Design advocates have been saying for the last ten years and what the plaintiff's attorneys and witnesses in the Dover ID case are strenuously seeking to deny.

That the universe looks to be designed is as obvious as anything can be. The question is whether the design is real or merely apparent, i.e. is it the product of a purposeful cause or is it just coincidence. ID seeks to demonstrate that the design is real and stops there. We could go on, once that answer is reached, and ask whether the cause is the God of theism or some other entity like a world soul or cosmic mind, but, despite what the critics are at pains to demonstrate in the Dover case, ID does not formally ask those questions. It leaves them to theologians and philosophers of religion.

In short, it is possible to believe that the universe is the product of intentional design without believing that the designer is the God of Christianity. Thus it is possible to talk about ID in public school science classrooms without stepping into the domain of religion. It is not possible to have genuine design without a designer, but it is possible (at least logically) to have a designer that is not the God of theism.

That an atheist has made this point in a well-reasoned essay is something that merits attention. People interested in the argument based on the fine-tuning of the universe should read his defense. It really is well done.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

No, No, A Thousand Times No

Twenty two Democrats voted against John Roberts' confirmation today. What legitimate reason could they possibly have had for rejecting someone this highly qualified? If they won't vote for Roberts they won't vote for anyone that Bush is likely to pick for O'Connor's seat. He could nominate Ted Kennedy and the Dems would still vote no just because he was Bush's pick. How can anyone take them seriously?

Self-defeating Nature of Naturalism

Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost has posted another installment in his series on the self-defeating nature of naturalism. Carter revisits an argument made by, inter alia, C.S. Lewis and Alvin Plantinga, that one who embraces both naturalism and evolution must conclude that his reason cannot be relied upon to lead him to truth, and that logical argument leads to truth only by coincidence.

The argument is roughly as follows: If our reason is the product of blind, purposeless processes acting to promote human survival then the discovery of truth is not a function of reason, except, at best, incidentally. There's no logical connection between survival value and truth. When, then, someone argues that evolution is the explanation for the complexity of life most in tune with reason, the materialist has no grounds for thinking it therefore to be true. We cannot have any confidence in any conclusion based upon reason because the function of reason is survival, not truth, and truth is not necessarily related to survival.

Nor can we adduce any argument to justify our confidence in reason, of course, since to do so would be to beg the question. We'd be assuming that our reason is trustworthy in order to show that it is so.

Anyway, the first installment of Carter's series can be found here, the second here, and the most recent can be found here.

A reader at one of Carter's posts asks to be given an example of something which has survival value which is nevertheless not true. The reader is trying to make the point that in designing our reason to promote survival, natural selection perforce designs it simultaneously to discern truth. He is mistaken in this, though. Look at the question from the standpoint of a naturalistic materialist. Natural selection has evidently favored human belief in gods since such belief is ubiquitous in our species, and must, therefore, have survival value. Yet the naturalist considers such beliefs to be false and superstitious.

The upshot of all this is that naturalism, the belief that nature is all there is, is self-defeating. If naturalism were true then our reason would not be trustworthy and any argument we employ to defend naturalism would be suspect and probably wrong.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Christopher Hitchens brings his inestimable skills as a journalist to bear in a dissection of the organizations behind the "antiwar" rallies this past weekend in this piece in Slate.

Here are a few appetizers:

The name of the reporter on this story [in the New York Times] was Michael Janofsky. I suppose that it is possible that he has never before come across "International ANSWER," the group run by the "Worker's World" party and fronted by Ramsey Clark, which openly supports Kim Jong-il, Fidel Castro, Slobodan Milosevic, and the "resistance" in Afghanistan and Iraq, with Clark himself finding extra time to volunteer as attorney for the genocidaires in Rwanda.

Quite a "wide range of progressive political objectives" indeed, if that's the sort of thing you like. However, a dip into any database could have furnished Janofsky with well-researched and well-written articles by David Corn and Marc Cooper-to mention only two radical left journalists-who have exposed "International ANSWER" as a front for (depending on the day of the week) fascism, Stalinism, and jihadism.

To be against war and militarism, in the tradition of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, is one thing. But to have a record of consistent support for war and militarism, from the Red Army in Eastern Europe to the Serbian ethnic cleansers and the Taliban, is quite another.

It is really a disgrace that the liberal press refers to such enemies of liberalism as "antiwar" when in reality they are straight-out pro-war, but on the other side. Was there a single placard saying, "No to Jihad"? Of course not. Or a single placard saying, "Yes to Kurdish self-determination" or "We support Afghan women's struggle"? Don't make me laugh. And this in a week when Afghans went back to the polls, and when Iraqis were preparing to do so, under a hail of fire from those who blow up mosques and U.N. buildings, behead aid workers and journalists, proclaim fatwahs against the wrong kind of Muslim, and utter hysterical diatribes against Jews and Hindus.

There are only two serious attempts at swamp-draining currently under way. In Afghanistan and Iraq, agonizingly difficult efforts are in train to build roads, repair hospitals, hand out ballot papers, frame constitutions, encourage newspapers and satellite dishes, and generally evolve some healthy water in which civil-society fish may swim. But in each case, from within the swamp and across the borders, the most poisonous snakes and roaches are being recruited and paid to wreck the process and plunge people back into the ooze. How nice to have a "peace" movement that is either openly on the side of the vermin, or neutral as between them and the cleanup crew, and how delightful to have a press that refers to this partisanship, or this neutrality, as "progressive."

We're sure that the rallies in Washington and elsewhere attracted many good-hearted patriots who are also opponents to American policy in Iraq, but when one climbs into the sty with pigs one gets more than mud on one's shoes. If opponents of the war really want to gain a hearing for their arguments they should stop hanging out in the sty.

Delay's Indictment

Anyone interested in the full story on the Tom Delay indictment should visit Michelle Malkin's site. She has lots of analysis and links. The short version is that this looks like an ugly political hit job on Delay. Whether you like the guy or not, anyone with a basic commitment to fairness should at least be skeptical of the justice of this indictment brought by District Attorney Ronnie Earle who has repeatedly used his power to harrass conservative political figures of both parties.

Earle's indictment of Delay, whether or not there's anything to it, hands the Democrats a club with which to beat the Republicans for the next several months, and they will not scruple to employ it. If Delay is guilty of an infraction then, of course, he should pay the penalty (just as Bill Clinton and Al Gore should have paid the penalty for taking illicit campaign contributions from Chinese businessmen and Buddhist nuns). But if this indictment gets thrown out of court for want of substance, as it certainly appears that it might, then Earle should be disbarred for abuse of his office.

The Cascade Effect

Security Watchtower documents the degradation of enemy leadership in Iraq over the last month. Bill Roggio at The Fourth Rail comments on this and notes that "in the Anbar and Diwana provinces, sixteen leaders, including six "emirs", five senior facilitators and 5 brigade or cell leaders have been killed or captured. This list excludes the Coaliton's success in dismantling the al-Ahwal brigade in the city of Hit."

Each success leads to a cascade of further successes. Every capture of enemy documents and leadership provides us with intelligence which leads to the elimination, in one way or another, of more of the enemy's leaders. The steady loss of this expertise and the constant fear of capture or sudden death must be taking a serious toll on the morale of the insurgents.

Wretchard at Belmont Club describes the difficulties the enemy is facing and concludes with this observation:

[T]he worst of it is the wastage to cadres. Those who write that body counts are a meaningless metric to apply against the insurgency ignore the fact that formations which sustain heavy casualties lose their organizational memory while those who suffer lightly retain them. Lt. Col. Joseph L'Etoile is on his third and half of his men are on their second tours of Iraq . For Abu Nasir and many of his foreign fighters, the memory of what to avoid next time has been lost on this, their last tour of Iraq.

Wretchard borrows heavily from Bing West writing at Slate. Part of West's post follows:

A wide strip of blacktop running straight southwest from Fallujah, Route Boston is flanked by thick groves of palm trees that provide cover for terrorists armed with explosives. Boston was often closed to traffic, demonstrating that the insurgents, defeated in pitched battle, could successfully revert to classic guerrilla tactics. One option to reduce the threat of IEDs was to remove the vegetation. But clearing acres of trees would deprive thousands of farmers of shaded pastureland for their livestock.

Instead of cutting down the trees, the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Joseph L'Etoile, set out to track down the people who had set the mine. This was L'Etoile's third "pump," or deployment, to Iraq. Half of his 1,000-man battalion had at least one prior pump. Drawing on that experience, L'Etoile sent out 96-hour patrols through the countryside along the highway. Every day, dozens of Marines scoured the palm groves, checking farms and back roads, thinking like guerrillas about hide sites and escape routes. At night, the Marines moved to their own hide sites, sent out night patrols, got up in the morning and moved on, usually startling farmers accustomed to seeing Americans only on the roads.

On the second day of his patrol, Staff Sgt. Van Schoik was leading 26 Marines through a farmyard a few hundred yards from where Pfc. Romero had been killed. Van Schoik noticed that the cars on Route Boston were slowing down and then driving away at high speed. Approaching the highway slowly, the Marines noticed a spot where the swamp reeds were bent over. In the mud near a culvert, they found a cache of a dozen artillery shells-about 800 pounds of high explosives, enough to rend the stoutest armored vehicle.

When they saw the insurgents, the drivers had hastily fled. Van Schoik sent a squad across the highway to cut inland and set up a blocking position. He took the rest of his force, spread out, and then noisily surged forward, searching through the undergrowth. Van Schoik never saw the two insurgents-the digger with a shovel and his guard with an AK-47-break cover on the other side of the road and race toward their safe house, a farm in a palm grove several hundred meters away. When the Marine blocking force stepped into view in front of them, the insurgents tried to escape across an open field and were shot down.

Read the whole post. It's an interesting perspective on the day to day work of our Marines.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Lottery

It's difficult to say exactly what the criticism of Michael Brown is. That he is held in contempt by members of the committee set up to investigate what went wrong in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is clear. That they have a specific complaint about what Brown should have done differently is not. has this report on today's hearings:

Former FEMA director Michael Brown blamed others for most government failures in responding to Hurricane Katrina on Tuesday, especially Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. He aggressively defended his own role. Brown also said that in the days before the storm, he expressed his concerns that "this is going to be a bad one" in phone conversations and e-mails with President Bush, White House chief of staff Andy Card and deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin.

And he blamed the Department of Homeland Security _ the parent agency for the Federal Emergency Management Agency _ for not acquiring better equipment ahead of the storm. His efforts to shift blame drew sharp criticism from Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike.

"I'm happy you left," said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn. "That kind of look in the lights like a deer tells me you weren't capable of doing that job."

Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., told Brown: "The disconnect was, people thought there was some federal expertise out there. There wasn't. Not from you."

Brown appeared before a special congressional panel set up by House Republican leaders to investigate the catastrophe. "My biggest mistake was not recognizing by Saturday that Louisiana was dysfunctional," two days before the storm hit, Brown said.

Brown, who for many became a symbol of government failures in the natural disaster that claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people, rejected criticism that he was inexperienced. "I've overseen over 150 presidentially declared disasters. I know what I'm doing, and I think I do a pretty darn good job of it," he said.

Brown joined FEMA in 2001 and ran it for more than two years.

Rep. William Jefferson, D-La. told Brown: "I find it absolutely stunning that this hearing would start out with you, Mr. Brown, laying the blame for FEMA's failings at the feet of the governor of Louisiana and the Mayor of New Orleans."

In a testy exchange, Shays compared Brown's performance unfavorably with that of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. "So I guess you want me to be the superhero, to step in there and take everyone out of New Orleans," Brown said.

"What I wanted you to do is do your job and coordinate," Shays retorted.

Criticized by Shays for failing to get better equipment to make communication easier among emergency agencies, Brown blamed those above him. "We put that money in our budget request and it was removed by the Department of Homeland Security" he said.

Brown said he was "just tired and misspoke" when a television interviewer appeared to be the first to tell him there were desperate residents at the New Orleans Convention Center. Brown said he learned a day earlier that people were flocking there.

He blamed "a hysteric media" for what he said were unfounded reports of rapes and murders. And he said Americans themselves must play a more active role in preparing for natural disasters - and not expect more from the government than it can deliver.

Republican Rep. Kay Granger of Texas told Brown: "I don't know how you can sleep at night. You lost the battle."

Brown in his opening statement cited "specific mistakes" in dealing with the storm, and listed just two. One, he said, was not having more media briefings.

As to the other, he said: "I very strongly personally regret that I was unable to persuade Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin to sit down, get over their differences, and work together. I just couldn't pull that off." Both Blanco and Nagin are Democrats.

In Baton Rouge, La., Blanco's press secretary, Denise Bottcher, responded: "Mike Brown wasn't engaged then, and he surely isn't now. He should have been watching CNN instead of the Disney Channel," Bottcher said.

Committee Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., cautioned against too narrowly assigning blame. "At the end of the day, I suspect that we'll find that government at all levels failed," Davis said. He pushed Brown on what he and his agency should have done to evacuate New Orleans, restore order and improve communication.

"Those are not FEMA roles," Brown said. "FEMA doesn't evacuate communities. FEMA does not do law enforcement. FEMA does not do communications."

Brown said the lack of an effective evacuation of New Orleans before the storm was "the tipping point for all the other things that went wrong." A "mandatory" evacuation was ordered Sunday by Nagin, the mayor. However, buses were not provided and thousands of residents were stranded without transportation in low-lying areas.

The congresspersons are quite good at bullying and insulting. They seem less competent at actually pin-pointing problems. The article itself is an example of a bias against Brown. Every time Brown gives a reason for why FEMA didn't do what people thought it should do the reader is given the impression that he's just trying to shift the blame. It doesn't seem to matter that maybe he's correct to place the onus where he does. At least nobody on the committee seems interested in finding out. They'd much rather strut and preen before the cameras taking their kicks at their helpless victim to impress the folks back home.

The committee's "work" reminds one of the book The Lottery where citizens in a town draw lots and the loser is ritually stoned to death by everyone in the town. Michael Brown lost the lottery and the committee members, Republicans and Democrats, are determined to stone him with great relish.

PowerLine comes to a similar conclusion, but having watched the hearings, claims that Brown was the only person there who seemed to know what he was talking about. No surprise there.

By the way, we read that New Orleans police superintendent Eddie Compass is resigning. What we'd like to know is when Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco are going to do the honorable thing and step down themselves? It's too bad that government relief aid to Louisiana can't be made contingent upon the resignations of the two people whose actions and inactions did the most to insure that chaos would follow the storm.

No Kidding

This is the quality of argument that the Intelligent Design folks are up against in Harrisburg:

"Intelligent design is not a science and therefore it cannot be construed as a science whatsoever." - Ken Miller, Brown University biology professor, the only witness to testify Monday.

ID is not science therefore it is not science. Very compelling. And then there's this:

A group calling itself the Campaign to Defend the Constitution created a Web site to promote the teaching of evolution and attack what it defines as the "religious right."

Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, and former ACLU executive director Ira Glasser are among the group's leaders.

The group said in a news release that on Thursday it will release a letter, signed by Nobel laureates, leading scientists and clergy, that urges governors of all 50 states to ensure science classes teach evolution and "base curricula on established science, not ideology."

The release of this letter would be a strange move for people interested in arguing that ID should not be taught in science class because it's not testable and because it's inherently religious.

As we wrote the other day in Viewpoint:

Thirty eight Nobel winners might sound like a powerful voice on behalf of evolution, but we shouldn't be too hasty to allow ourselves to be impressed. The letter contains these words:

"Logically derived from confirmable evidence, evolution is understood to be the result of an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection."

Thirty eight Nobel winners, 34 of them scientists, signed off on this definition. Why is this remarkable? Two reasons: The first is that this statement accurately defines Darwinian evolution, but it does not define a scientific theory. How can the claim that evolution is unguided and unplanned ever be subjected to testing? What experiments or observations would count for or against it? The answer, of course, is that there are none. These brilliant scientists are in effect calling for schools to teach metaphysics in public school science classes while at the same time demanding that a competing metaphysical theory, Intelligent Design, be banished from science classes because it can't be scientifically tested.

The Nobel winners, by signing this letter, also signed off on a theological claim. If life is the result solely of "unguided, unplanned processes" then by teaching evolution, schools are, by implication, teaching that God has nothing to do with life on earth. To the extent that this definition for evolution will be presented to students, they will be taught that evolution makes God irrelevant. This is exactly what the Dover school board was seeking to avoid by crafting the statement to be read to students that evolution is not necessarily the truth of the matter.

The irony of this lawsuit is obvious. The plaintiffs allege that it is illicit for some people to claim that an intelligent designer, or even God, did have a role to play in the emergence of life but that it's not illicit for others to deny that any designer or God was involved. Why is the former claim considered an unacceptable conflation of church and state but the latter is not?

We hope Dover's attorneys ask these questions of the plaintiff's witnesses.

Chaos in New Orleans?

Since everyone wants to find who underperformed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina perhaps we should look at the reports put out by officials and amplified through the media. Talk about incompetence, consider this:

NEW ORLEANS - After five days managing near riots, medical horrors and unspeakable living conditions inside the Superdome, Louisiana National Guard Col. Thomas Beron prepared to hand over the dead to representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Following days of internationally reported murders, rapes and gang violence inside the stadium, the doctor from FEMA - Beron doesn't remember his name - came prepared for a grisly scene: He brought a refrigerated 18-wheeler and three doctors to process bodies.

"I've got a report of 200 bodies in the Dome," Beron recalled the doctor saying. The real total?Six, Beron said. Of those, four died of natural causes, one overdosed and another jumped to his death in an apparent suicide, said Beron, who personally oversaw the handoff of bodies from a Dome freezer, where they lay atop melting bags of ice.

State health department officials in charge of body recovery put the official death count at the Dome at 10, but Beron said the other four bodies were found in the street near the Dome, not inside it. Both sources said no one had been murdered inside the stadium. At the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, just four bodies have been recovered, despite reports of heaps of dead piled inside the building. Only one of the dead appeared to have been murdered, said health and law-enforcement officials.

That the nation's frontline emergency-management officials believed the body count would resemble that of a bloody battle in a war is but one of scores of examples of myths about the Dome and the Convention Center treated as fact by evacuees, the news media and even some of the city's top officials, including the mayor and police superintendent.

The vast majority of reported atrocities committed by evacuees - mass murders, rapes and beatings - have turned out to be false, or at least unsupported by any evidence, according to key military, law-enforcement, medical and civilian officials in positions to know.

"I think 99 percent of it is [expletive]," said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Lachney, who played a key role in security and humanitarian work inside the Dome. "Don't get me wrong - bad things happened. But I didn't see any killing and raping and cutting of throats or anything ... 99 percent of the people in the Dome were very well-behaved."

Dr. Louis Cataldie, the state Health and Human Services Department administrator overseeing the body-recovery operation, said his teams were inundated with false reports. Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan said authorities have only confirmed four murders in the entire city in the aftermath of Katrina - making it a typical week in a city that anticipated more than 200 homicides this year.

"I had the impression that at least 40 or 50 murders had occurred at the two sites," he said. "It's unfortunate we saw these kinds of stories saying crime had taken place on a massive scale when that wasn't the case. And they [national media outlets] have done nothing to follow up on any of these cases; they just accepted what people [on the street] told them. ... It's not consistent with the highest standards of journalism."

As floodwaters forced tens of thousands of evacuees into the Dome and Convention Center, news of unspeakable acts poured out of the nation's media: People firing at helicopters trying to save them; women, children and even babies raped with abandon; people murdered for food and water; a 7-year-old raped and killed at the Convention Center. Police, according to their chief, Eddie Compass, found themselves in multiple shootouts inside both shelters, and were forced to race toward muzzle flashes through the dark to disarm the criminals; snipers fired at doctors and soldiers from downtown high-rises.

In interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Compass reported rapes of "babies," and Mayor Ray Nagin spoke of "hundreds of armed gang members killing and raping people" inside the Dome. Other unidentified evacuees told of children stepping over so many bodies "we couldn't count." The picture that emerged was one of the impoverished, overwhelmingly African-American masses of flood victims resorting to utter depravity, randomly attacking each other, as well as the police trying to protect them and the rescue workers trying to save them. The mayor told Winfrey the crowd has descended to an "almost animalistic state."

Four weeks after the storm, few of the widely reported atrocities have been backed with evidence. The piles of murdered bodies never materialized, and soldiers, police officers and rescue personnel on the front lines assert that, while anarchy reigned at times and people suffered indignities, most of the worst crimes reported at the time never happened. "The information I had at the time, I thought it was credible," Compass said, admitting his earlier statements were false. Asked the source of the information, Compass said he didn't remember.

Nagin frankly acknowledged he doesn't know the extent of the mayhem that occurred inside the Superdome and the Convention Center - and may never. "I'm having a hard time getting a good body count," he said. Compass conceded that rumor had overtaken, and often crippled, authorities' response to reported lawlessness, sending badly needed resources to situations that turned out not to exist.

Military, law-enforcement and medical workers agree that the flood of evacuees - about 30,000 at the Dome and an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 at the Convention Center - overwhelmed their security personnel. The 400 to 500 soldiers in the Dome could have been easily overrun by increasingly agitated crowds in the Dome, but that never happened, said Col. James Knotts, a midlevel commander there. While the Convention Center saw plenty of mischief, including massive looting and isolated gunfire, and many inside cowered in fear, the hordes of evacuees for the most part did not resort to violence.

"Everything was embellished, everything was exaggerated," said Deputy Police Superintendent Warren Riley. "If one guy said he saw six bodies, then another guy the same six, and another guy saw them - then that became 18." Inside the Superdome, where National Guardsmen performed rigorous security checks before allowing anyone inside, only one shooting has been verified - and even that shooting, injuring Louisiana Guardsman Chris Watt of the 527th Engineer Battalion, has been widely misreported, said Maj. David Baldwin, who led the team of soldiers who arrested the alleged assailant.

Watt had indeed been attacked inside one of the Dome's locker rooms, where he entered with another soldier. In the darkness, as they walked through about six inches of water, Watt's attacker hit him with a metal rod, a piece of a cot. But the bullet that penetrated Watt's leg came from his own gun - he accidentally shot himself during the commotion. The attacker was sent to jail, Baldwin said.

Inside the Convention Center, Jimmie Fore, vice president of the state authority that runs the center, stayed in the building with a core group of 35 employees until Thursday. He said thugs hot-wired 75 forklifts and electric carts and looted food and booze, but he said he never saw any violent crimes committed, nor did any of his employees. Some, however, did report seeing armed men roaming the building, and Fore said he heard gunshots in the distance on about six occasions.

Rumors of rampant violence at the Convention Center prompted Louisiana National Guard Col. Jacques Thibodeaux to put together a 1,000-man force of soldiers and police in full battle gear to secure the center around noon on Friday. It took only 20 minutes to take control, and soldiers met no resistance, Thibodeaux said. They found no evidence, witnesses or victims of any murders, rapes or beatings, Thibodeaux said.

One widely circulated story, told to The Times-Picayune by a slew of evacuees and two Arkansas National Guardsman, held that "30 or 40 bodies" were stored in a Convention Center freezer. But a formal Arkansas Guard review of the matter later found that no soldier had actually seen the corpses, and that the information came from rumors in the food line for military, police and rescue workers in front of Harrah's Casino, said Col. John Edwards of the Arkansas National Guard, who conducted the review.

Reports of dozens of rapes at both facilities - many allegedly involving small children - may forever remain a question mark. Rape is a notoriously underreported crime under ideal circumstances, and tracking down evidence at this point, with evacuees spread all over the country, will be nearly impossible. The same goes for reports of armed robberies at both sites.

While numerous people told The Times-Picayune that they had witnessed rapes, in particular the rape of two young girls in the Superdome ladies' room and the killing of one of them, police and military officials say they know nothing of such an incident.

Between Nagin and Compass it's little wonder that New Orleans was such a mess. These guys bear a lot of responsibility for making their city look bad, and the media bears a lot of responsibility for being so willing to run with stories based on rumor with no first hand confirmation. If this is the best the media can do in reporting a disaster then maybe they should be kept out of the next one. They apparently do more harm than good.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Unintelligent Testimony

The plaintiffs in the Dover Intelligent Design case called Brown biologist Ken Miller to the stand as an expert witness today. In the course of his testimony Miller challenged the accuracy of Of Pandas and People, the intelligent-design textbook to which Dover students are referred. Miller said the book omits discussion of what causes extinction. Since nearly all original species are extinct, he said, any intelligent design creator would not have been very intelligent.

This statement is so absurd that it's hard to believe it comes from a prominent scientist at a prestigious school. In fact, Miller's entire testimony was riddled with so many examples of sloppy thinking that it will no doubt be an everlasting embarrassment to him.

Miller's complaint that the designer must be unintelligent since its work tends to go extinct is ridiculous. It might be relevant if ID advocates claimed that the designer was an omniscient, omnipotent being, although even then it would presume an insight into that being's purposes to which Dr. Miller could hardly be privy. As it is, however, ID makes no claims about who the designer is or what its nature is. Extinction is no more evidence that the designer is unintelligent than obsolence in automobiles or computer software platforms is evidence that the engineers who designed them are not intelligent.

Miller simply assumes that God is believed by ID advocates to be the designer, but in so doing he confuses the personal beliefs of some ID advocates with the logical entailments of their theory.

By focusing on extinction Miller is simply seeking to deflect the court's attention from the much more pertinent issue of how those extinct organisms ever reached the level of sophistication and complexity they achieved in the first place.

Mike Gene and others at Telic Thoughts romp through Dr. Miller's testimony ripping it to shreds. Gene's imaginary cross-examination of Miller is especially whithering. Don't miss it.

Unfortunately, the media won't be nearly as insightful and analytic as the folks at Telic Thoughts, and Miller's claims will sound perfectly reasonable to a public which really has a very nebulous understanding of what, exactly, ID asserts.

How to Address Looting

Among the stories emerging from the rubble of Katrina is this one by Reuters:

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - After the storm came the carjackers and burglars. Then came the gun battles and the chemical explosions that shook the restored Victorians in New Orleans' Algiers Point neighborhood.

"The hurricane was a breeze compared with the crime and terror that followed," said Gregg Harris, a psychotherapist who lives in the battered area. As life returned to this close-knit neighborhood three weeks after Hurricane Katrina, residents said they hoped their experience could convince political leaders to get serious about the violence and poor services that have long been an unfortunate hallmark of their city.

"I think now it's a wake-up call," Harris said. After the storm, the neighborhood association had to act as law enforcement and emergency response unit as city services collapsed and the police force was unable to protect them.

Citizens organized armed patrols and checked on the elderly. They slept on their porches with loaded shotguns and bolted awake when intruders stumbled on the aluminum cans they had scattered on the sidewalk.

Gunshots rang out for days, sometimes terrifyingly close. For Harris, the first warning sign came on Tuesday, the day after the storm, when two young men hit his partner, Vinnie Pervel, over the head and drove off with his Ford van.

"A police car drove up behind me and saw it happening but he didn't do anything," said Pervel, who heads the 1,500-household neighborhood association. Then residents heard that police vehicles were being carjacked and looters were taking guns and ammunition from nearby stores.

"We thought, 'Perhaps this is going to get really ugly,"' said Gareth Stubbs, a marine surveyor who lives across Pelican Street from Harris and Pervel. A Texas woman who runs a Web site called served as a link between those who stayed and those who had left. With her help, they stockpiled an arsenal of shotguns, derringer pistols and an old AK-47.

They were put to use the next day. "Some looters came up and pulled a gun on the wrong group of men," said Harris, who said he did not fire a gun himself and declined to say who else was involved in the battle.

"Two men were shot right there," Harris said, pointing down the street as he watered his rose bushes. "One was shot in the back, the other in the leg, and the third I was told made it a block and a half before he died in the street. I did not go down to see the body."

The next day a nearby stockpile of chemicals exploded, shaking the houses and sending a fireball 300 feet into the sky. The fire burned for another three days, Harris said. "For five days we didn't need FEMA, the Red Cross or the National Guard," Harris said. "The neighborhood took care of itself."

We don't suppose that there'll be much enthusiasm for calls for stricter gun control legislation in neighborhoods like this one.

Prisoner Abuse

The Left-wing blogosphere is outraged by this report of prisoner abuse in Iraq, and conservative blogs are largely silent, waiting, one hopes, for more information to come in. Here are the salient facts as they've been reported so far:

Much of the abuse allegedly occurred in 2003 and 2004, before and during the period the Army was conducting an internal investigation into the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, but prior to when the abuses at Abu Ghraib became public.

The Captain [who reported the abuse] is quoted in the report describing how military intelligence personnel at Camp Mercury directed enlisted men to conduct daily beatings of prisoners prior to questioning; to subject detainees to strenuous forced exercises to the point of unconsciousness; and to expose them to extremes of heat and cold-all methods designed to produce greater cooperation with interrogators. Non-uniformed personnel-apparently working for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to the soldiers-also interrogated prisoners. The interrogators were out of view but not out of earshot of the soldiers, who overheard what they came to believe was abuse.

Specific instances of abuse described in the Human Rights Watch report include severe beatings, including one incident when a soldier allegedly broke a detainee's leg with a metal bat. Others include prisoners being stacked in human pyramids (unlike the human pyramids at Abu Ghraib, the prisoners at Camp Mercury were clothed); soldiers administering blows to the face, chest and extremities of prisoners; and detainees having their faces and eyes exposed to burning chemicals, being forced into stress positions for long periods leading to unconsciousness and having their water and food withheld.

Prisoners were designated as PUCs (pronounced "pucks")-or "persons under control." A regular pastime at Camp Mercury, the report says, involved off-duty soldiers gathering at PUC tents, where prisoners were held, and working off their frustrations in activities known as "F____a PUC" (beating the prisoner) and "Smoke a PUC" (forced physical exertion, sometimes to the point of collapse). Broken limbs and similar painful injuries would be treated with analgesics, the soldiers claim, as medical staff would fill out paperwork stating the injuries occurred during capture. Support for some of the allegations of abuse come from a sergeant of the 82nd Airborne who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch quotes him as saying that, "To 'F____ a PUC' means to beat him up. We would give them blows to the head, chest, legs, and stomach, pull them down, kick dirt on them. This happened every day. To 'smoke' someone is to put them in stress positions until they get muscle fatigue and pass out. That happened every day. Some days we would just get bored so we would have everyone sit in a corner and then make them get in a pyramid. This was before Abu Ghraib but just like it. We did that for amusement.

"On their day off people would show up all the time," the sergeant continues in the HRW report. "Everyone in camp knew if you wanted to work out your frustration you show up at the PUC tent. In a way it was sport. The cooks were all U.S. soldiers. One day a sergeant shows up and tells a PUC to grab a pole. He told him to bend over and broke the guy's leg with a mini Louisville Slugger that was a metal bat. He was the cook."

The sergeant says that military intelligence officers would tell soldiers that the detainees "were bad" and had been involved in killing or trying to kill Americans, implying that they deserved whatever punishment they got. "I would be told, 'These guys were IED [improvised explosive device] trigger men last week.' So we would f___ them up. F___ them up bad ... At the same time we should be held to a higher standard. I know that now. It was wrong. There are a set of standards. But you gotta understand, this was the norm. Everyone would just sweep it under the rug ... We should never have been allowed to watch guys we had fought."

The Army alone says it has conducted investigations into more than 400 allegations of detainee mistreatment. To date, more than 230 Army personnel have been dealt with in courts martial, non-judicial punishments and other administrative actions.

There are several things to be said about this. First, our disgust with this report is based not at all on any sympathy for the detainees (at least not those who are known to be terrorists). They are low-lifes who would blow up women and children as well as American soldiers were they given the chance. We really don't feel their pain much. Second, we find it somewhat reassuring that these reports date back to the period before Abu Ghraib. Hopefully, our military brass has put out the word that this behavior will not be tolerated. Thirdly, the last paragraph suggests that it has indeed not been tolerated for some time.

Having said that, the American military is disgraced by this sort of conduct by its soldiers. We are not among those who believe that raising one's voice at a detainee constitutes inhumane treatment, nor are we convinced that some of what was done to these prisoners rises to the level of atrocity, as some would depict it. Beating people, however, even if it's these sub-humans, just to work off one's frustrations or to provide a form of recreation for bored G.I.'s, is completely reprehensible and inexcusable, not just because of the effects it has on the prisoner but even more because of the effect it has on the soldier. It dehumanizes the person who administers the beating and turns our soldiers into savages rather than professionals.

We understand that the legal status of these detainees, since they're not uniformed soldiers, is a little blurry, but that is not justification for beating them or torturing them for amusement. Such conduct belies a cruelty and viciousness in those who participated in it that has no place in a professional military. The people who did it should, if the allegations are accurate, be punished for embarrassing and shaming the United States, and we are glad to see that that appears to be what is in store for them.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Understanding ID

We have a local talk show host who does a fine job of keeping issues of local and national interest before the listening public. On Friday he did a segment on the lawsuit against Dover Area School District's decision to have biology teachers read a statement alerting students to the fact that Neo-Darwinism is not the only game in town. The case will be heard starting tomorrow in Harrisburg, PA. I wrote an e-mail to the host in response to a couple of things I thought he said about ID on the program:


I think it's great that you're willing to talk on your show about the intelligent design issue as much as you do, and I sympathize with the "middle of the road" position you stake out on the matter.

You said two things on Friday's show, however, that may mislead some of your listeners, and I think it's important that there not be confusion on this matter.

I might have misunderstood or not heard you clearly, but I thought you said (1) that intelligent design (ID) is a religious theory and (2) that creationism is not allowed to be taught in public schools. If you didn't say these things then please disregard this e-mail. If you did say them, then I'd like to urge you to rethink them.

Neo-Darwinian evolution is a theory that states that all of life can be explained in terms of natural, mechanistic processes acting blindly and without intentional purpose. ID is the denial of this. ID advocates make two related arguments: They argue firstly that material processes are not adequate to account for the high degree of information and the exquisite depth of complexity we find in living things. They argue secondly that whatever the role of material processes was in the emergence of living things, their obvious design bears the impress of intention and intelligence.

That is as far as ID advocates can legitimately go as scientists. They do not draw any conclusions (except in some cases in their private lives) about what this intelligence is. The universe itself may be a cosmic mind as some ancient Greeks believed, or it may be subject to a world soul or spirit as Hegel and the German idealists believed. Whatever the designer is there is no way one can deduce from ID that it's the God of the Bible or the Koran or any other sacred book. Such a step requires a leap of faith that people might make personally but which can't be justified logically. In fact, it's logically possible even to be an atheist or an agnostic and still agree that ultimate reality is mind and that the universe shows intentionality.

If ID doesn't lead inevitably to the existence of the personal God of most religions then how can it be religious in any commonly understood sense? Moreover, as I wrote for a column here, ID neither entails the existence of a god nor does it prescribe worship of one. It has no church nor dogma nor trappings of a religion. Doubtless many ID adherents are religious as individuals and would like to see ID used as a means to point others to the Judeo-Christian God, but then many Darwinians are atheistic and see Darwinism as a useful tool for turning people toward materialism or naturalism.

The next time a caller calls in and says that ID is a religious theory, ask them exactly what it is about it that makes it so. I doubt that they'll be able to give a compelling answer.

You also said on your show Friday, if I heard you correctly, that creationism cannot be taught in public schools. This is not correct. The Supreme Court case that addressed this matter was Edwards v. Aguillard in 1987 which came about because the state legislature of Louisiana sought to require the teaching of creationism whenever evolution is taught. Writing for the majority, Justice Brennan (see here) said:

It is equally clear that requiring schools to teach creation science with evolution does not advance academic freedom. The [LA Creationism] Act does not grant teachers a flexibility that they did not already possess to supplant the present science curriculum with the presentation of theories, besides evolution, about the origin of life. Indeed, the Court of Appeals found that no law prohibited Louisiana public school teachers from teaching any scientific theory. 765 F.2d, at 1257. As the president of the Louisiana Science Teachers Association testified, "any scientific concept that's based on established fact can be included in our curriculum already, and no legislation allowing this is necessary." 2 App. E-616. The Act provides Louisiana schoolteachers with no new authority. Thus the stated purpose is not furthered by it. (Italics mine)

In other words, Louisiana teachers were free to teach those aspects of creationist theory in their classrooms that are based on scientific concepts before the creation act was passed by the legislature, and the Supreme Court took no offense at this. What the Court did, however, was say that government cannot mandate the teaching of creationism. Teachers are free to teach it if they wish provided they do so in the context of scientific investigation.

One of the questions facing the courts in the Dover case is whether local school boards have a right to determine what will be taught in their school or whether they are considered an agent of the state government, like a legislature, and thus prohibited from mandating the teaching of anything critical of evolutionary materialism.

The second question is whether the Dover policy of reading a statement to a class really constitutes teaching anything at all. You pointed out on Friday that the Dover statement certainly seems innocuous (ed: See here for a good letter on this point).

The third question, and one over which much confusion seems to exist, is whether ID is really just a form of creationism. The many critics of ID notwithstanding, it's not. Creationism is an attempt to use science to buttress a literal reading of the early chapters of the book of Genesis. However one feels about this project, that's not what ID is about. ID advocates take no stand on whether the claims in Genesis, taken literally or otherwise, are true or false. Indeed, they could all be false, and ID could still be true.

I suggest again, if you haven't done so already, that you ask a caller who makes the claim that ID is just creationism in drag to explain exactly how this is so. My hunch is that they won't be able to do it.

Keep up the good work.

The Other Storm

Some estimate the cost of hurricane Katrina will probably end up at $200 billion dollars. Next week, we will most likely be hearing of estimates of the cost of hurricane Rita.

Added to these, we have the cost of a creative plan by Congressman Rep. Gene Taylor (r) of Mississippi who is working to rewrite the rules of the national flood insurance program to let homeowners who weren't required to buy it to purchase retroactive flood insurance coverage.

There it is folks. One more example of how some in our society believe individuals shouldn't be held accountable for their decisions. And not only that, these people apparently have no problem giving your tax dollars to these individuals. Imagine the outrage of those responsible types who purchased federal flood insurance year after year forgoing things that could otherwise have been purchased to enrich their lives. The final slap in their face will come when they realize their tax dollars will be given to the uninsured home owners too.

It's interesting to note that these dollars aren't sitting in the government's bank account waiting to be spent. They haven't even been created yet rather they will be printed by the government to pay the costs of these two natural disasters. Hundreds of billions of dollars flooding into the economy just like the hurricane waters flooded into New Orleans.

What impact is this going to have on the dollars I have in my pocket? You might ask. Well, for one thing, your dollars are being inflated. That is to say, they are losing their purchasing power and this will be evidenced in the rising cost of goods and services.

The two hurricanes are going to have another effect on our economy by contributing to inflation in another way. With the oil, gasoline, and natural gas supply suffering from the storms, the price of each of these commodities is going to go up.

In the late '70s, early '80s, during the oil embargo, gas and oil were scarce and their respective prices went up. Yet I would like for someone to explain to me how this causes inflation.

Personally, I don't believe rising prices cause inflation yet inflation was a problem then and it could very well be a problem again as a result of these storms. I suspect inflation occurs because when prices go up, the government injects more money into the economy to compensate for the higher prices. Then, after they realize they have pumped too many dollars into the system, they start to raise interest rates to slow the flow of dollars into the economy.

Whether I am correct in my thinking or not, there appears to be a consensus forming that believes inflation is on the way and they are about the business of protecting themselves. While we, as individuals, can't stop the federal government from printing dollars and diminishing our wealth, we can, at least, exercise the same defensive tactics as those who are anticipating inflation by purchasing gold.

Yes, I have been the "voice crying in the wilderness" advocating that people should have at least 10% of their portfolios in gold bullion. And since the price of gold is at a 17 year high, it appears to have been good advice. When Viewpoint first went online, gold was about $350 per ounce. This week it hit $470 (and pulled back to $463).

The fact of the matter is that ultimately, gold is the only real money. Always was and probably always will be. Despite what governments will imply (because they want you to buy into the concept of an ever inflating fiat currency) gold is a way to protect your wealth from the devastating effects of inflation. See what Alan Greenspan had to say at this link that I've posted numerous times before.

And for some entertaining reading, check out this link to see what the Mogambo Guru has to say about inflation. This guy is a hoot and I think he's worth listening to.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Stalinists For Peace

Well, I guess it was a successful rally, but if this photo is any indication, claims that there were a hundred thousand anti-war protestors in Washington Saturday were a bit inflated. I've seen bigger crowds at a high school football game.

Michelle Malkin has a few photos and links, but one of the more important stories regarding the rally is the tale of who's behind it. It turns out that the lead organizer is ANSWER, a front group for the Stalinist Workers World Party. The MSM are notably reluctant to help people make the connection, but there is a strange irony in a group which follows the thinking of Josef Stalin, who was directly responsible for the murders of over 25 million people, organizing an anti-war rally.

Investor's Business Daily invites us to imagine a pro-war rally organized by a neo-nazi group and ask ourselves whether the MSM would decline to mention it.

So why do communists - particularly those who march under Stalin's flag - get different treatment? And why do thousands of average people feel comfortable marching arm in arm with them?

It's a puzzle. After all, according to the "Black Book of Communism" - a widely cited and respected compendium of communism's crimes in the 20th century - communist regimes murdered as many as 100 million people over the last century. That's quite a record. Indeed, all the century's great mass murders - Mao Zedong (65 million), Stalin (25 million), Hitler (21 million), Pol Pot (2 million) - were communists or socialists.

Yet many well-meaning people who marched this weekend perhaps didn't know all this. Or perhaps they don't mind having their cause besmirched by people who aren't really anti-war at all, but anti-America, anti-West, anti-freedom and anti-capitalist. It's disappointing that so many marchers will demonstrate, heedless that they're being used by people who hold them - and their bourgeois pacifism - in contempt.

The "well-meaning people" are what Lenin was reputed to have referred to as "useful idiots." When one reads quotes from some of them at the rally one begins to see more clearly what Lenin meant. For example, this from the Washington Post:

Paul Rutherford, 60, of Vandalia, Mich., said he is a Republican who supported Bush in the last election and still does - except for the war.

"President Bush needs to admit he made a mistake in the war and bring the troops home, and let's move on," Rutherford said.

Just like that. Sorry, big mistake. We're outa here. Good luck to all of you who cast your lot with us when al Zarqawi comes to settle accounts. And good luck to you all when civil war breaks out between the Shia and Sunnis and Kurds, and good luck when the Iranians seek their revenge for the 80's war, and the Syrians lop off a chunk of the western frontier, and the Turks settle up with the Kurds, and everybody in the region decides they need your oil more than you do, and, well, you'll all be a lot better off without us Americans here to build your country up, get you on your feet, and protect you from all these predators.

His wife, Judy, 58, called the removal of Saddam Hussein "a noble mission" but said U.S. troops should have left when claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction proved unfounded. "We found that there were none and yet we still stay there and innocent people are dying daily," she said.

Right. Destroy the Baathist government, say "oops" and then leave the Iraqi people to disease, starvation, and their bloodthirsty neighbors. That's a great idea. We wonder what the average IQ of these protestors in Washington is.

Arthur Pollock, 47, of Cecil County, Md., said he was against the war from the beginning. He wants the soldiers out, but not all at once. "They've got to leave slowly," said Pollock, attending his first protest. "It will be utter chaos in that country if we pull them out all at once."

And how does this differ so much from what we are doing that Mr. Pollock felt the need to make the drive down from Cecil Co. to register this opinion?

Folk singer Joan Baez marched with the protesters and later serenaded them at a concert at the foot of the Washington Monument. An icon of the 1960s Vietnam War protests, she said Iraq is already a mess and the troops need to come home immediately. "There is chaos. There's bloodshed. There's carnage."

And if we pulled out there would be what? Even if Baez is correct, how would doing what she advises make things better? Does anyone who goes to these events actually think? Do they care about the consequences of what they demand? Do they care about the people of Iraq? Or do they, like ANSWER, just wish to see America lose?

Some of the smarter lefties recognize the problem posed by letting a group like ANSWER organize the rally and are voicing their disgust with the whole thing over at the Daily Kos. Bush has indeed been fortunate to have such enemies.

Increase Supply

Two energy-related articles worth your attention:

First, as the price of oil hangs around $66 a barrel oil companies are finding it cost-effective to consider tapping into Colorado oil shale where recoverable deposits are believed to be more than three times greater than what remains in the Saudi Arabian fields. These deposits have been known about for decades but the cost of squeezing the oil out of them was always prohibitive. That no longer seems to be the case.

Second is an article by James Glassman at Tech Central Station which cites the lessons of history by way of warning against slapping a counterproductive windfall profits tax on oil companies. The answer to high prices, Glassman writes, is to increase supply and that can be done by decreasing onerous and unnecessary regulations on the industry which prevent them from drilling for known oil in the Atlantic and Alaska. Regulations also discourage the industry from increasing refining capacity which has really crippled our ability to get petroleum to market even when the supply has been adequate.

Misunderestimating G.W.

Thomas Lifson of The American Thinker argues compellingly that the Democrats who are pronouncing Bush's presidency effectively over as a result of Katrina are once again "misunderestimating" the man. Lifson maintains that Katrina (and Rita, we should add) may do more to burnish Bush's legacy and help him achieve his goals than his opponents realize or want to admit. Lifson's article is worth reading whether you're a fan of the president or an opponent.

Despite low approval ratings at the moment, it's our view that Bush may ultimately be seen as an historic president. If Iraq turns out well over the next couple of years and Afghanistan continues to make progress toward becoming a reasonably healthy state; if there are no major terrorist acts in the U.S.; if the Gulf coast has been revivified by the strategies Bush has outlined; if the economy is doing well and the deficit is not hurting us too badly; if steps have been taken to increase our energy availability; if the future of social security and illegal immigration have been addressed; if there are two more conservative Supreme Court justices, in addition to John Roberts, seated on the Court; and if North Korea and Iran are not seen as imminent nuclear threats, then Bush will be seen as perhaps one of the greatest presidents in history, the carping and cavils of his critics notwithstanding.

This is a lot of "ifs", of course, but every one of them is within reach, and it's not necessary for all of them to come to pass for history to judge him so highly.

Some on the left will be quick to point out that if these things all go south, and they certainly could, then Bush will be about the worst president in history. That's true enough, although I'm confident that those who would make this point are all sincerely hoping that every item listed (with perhaps the exception of the conservative judges) comes to pass.

Others will look at the president's approval ratings and scoff at Viewpoint's prognostication, but we shouldn't rest too much weight on approval ratings. If they had existed during the presidencies of John Adams and Abraham Lincoln they probably would have been lower than Bush's.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Mugabe Must Go

If what Robert Mugabe is doing in Zimbabwe were being done by Israelis or white South Africans fifteen years ago the world would be apoplectic with rage. As it is, the corrupt and flaccid United Nations can scarcely muster enough enthusiasm to admonish him to play nice.

The man should be deposed. No sanctions, no diplomacy, no niceties. Some nation, preferably African, but not necessarily so, needs to go into Zimbabwe and remove him from power. He's no better than Idi Amin or any one of the other psychopaths, idiots, and buffoons who've managed to rise to power in black Africa, and there is no point in trying to remediate him.

One way or another, for the sake of Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans, Mugabe has to go.

Visual Aid

The Fourth Rail has a very helpful visual that puts operations in western Iraq over the past four or five weeks into geographical perspective. Go here and click on the map.

Missing Money

The other day we posted a lament concerning the embezzlement of almost 1.3 billion dollars that was to be spent on weaponry and supplies to outfit the Iraqi army. Belmont Club offers some background which suggests that, although the theft is bad, it may not be quite as bad as it seems.

Ethno-Religious Popularity

Pew has an interesting poll out. The questions it asks seek, among other things, to determine which countries are most favorably disposed toward Jews and Christians and which are most unfavorably disposed toward Muslims. Here is a summary of the results:

Russia led all other countries with favorable views of Christians (92 percent) while Turkey (63 percent) had the most unfavorable view of Christians.

The Netherlands led all nations surveyed both in positive views of Jews (85 percent) and negative views of Muslims (51 percent). Significant numbers of respondents in only Jordan (38 percent) and Lebanon (40 percent) blamed U.S. policies for Islamic extremism. Respondents in Lebanon, which has a large Christian population, were nearly unanimous (99 percent) in their unfavorable views of Jews. 91 percent were favorable to Christians.

The poll found decreasing support in Islamic countries for Al Qaida and suicide bombings. Jordan was the exception. In the latest poll, the level of Jordanian support for Bin Laden rose to 60 percent, compared to 55 percent in 2002. The center also reported increased Jordanian support for suicide attacks.

Fifty-seven percent of Jordanian respondents expressed support for suicide bombings, up from 43 percent in 2002. In Morocco, support for Al Qaida dropped from 49 percent in 2003 to 26 percent in the latest poll. In Lebanon, only two percent of respondents expressed support for Al Qaida.

Arabs, like everyone else, prefer to line up behind the winning team. If we were to pull out of Iraq, as the left demands, and leave that country to the tender mercies of al Qaida, these numbers would reverse overnight. The Arab street is gauging our commitment. They perceive at the moment that we're resolved to prevail in Iraq and Afghanistan. As long as that perception persists, most Muslims in most of the Arab world will continue to stroll across to our side of the street.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


Go here to play Panda-monium, a game in which Darwinian pandas attack the redoubts of the Discovery Institute with some of their favorite cliches. The player scores points for every panda shot out of the sky. Great fun.

Longing For a Lost Past

Mark Lilla writes winsomely in the New York Times Magazine about his journey from faith to skepticism. It is in some ways, whether he intended it or not, a very sad story, filled with a sense of loss and nostalgia. His criticisms of the faith he left behind are respectful, gentle and usually accurate, as though he were writing about a marriage which gave him many fond memories but which just didn't work out.

I did find one riff more than a little difficult to accept, however. He writes:

Visit any Christian bookstore and you will see that they [Christians] are gluttons for learning - of a certain kind. They belong to Bible-study groups; they buy works of scriptural interpretation; they sit through tedious courses on cassette, CD or DVD; they take notes during sermons and highlight passages in their Bibles. If anything, it is their thirst for knowledge that undoes them. Like so many Americans, they know little about history, science, secular literature or, unless they are immigrants, foreign cultures. Yet their thirst for answers to the most urgent moral and existential questions is overwhelming. So they grab for the only glass in the room: God's revealed Word.

A half-century ago, an American Christian seeking assistance could have turned to the popularizing works of serious religious thinkers like Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, John Courtney Murray, Thomas Merton, Jacques Maritain and even Martin Buber and Will Herberg. Those writers were steeped in philosophy and the theological traditions of their faiths, which they brought to bear on the vital spiritual concerns of ordinary believers - ethics, death, prayer, doubt and despair. But intellectual figures like these have disappeared from the American landscape and have been replaced by half-educated evangelical gurus who either publish vacant, cheery self-help books or are politically motivated. If an evangelical wants to satisfy his taste for truth today, it's strictly self-service.

This claim belies a profound lack of familiarity with the astonishing amount of work being done by Christians who write serious books for audiences of both professionals and laity. Just a few of the dozens of names which come to mind are William Lane Craig, Richard Swinburne, J.P. Moreland, Alvin Plantinga, Mark Noll, George Marsden, William Dembski, William Alston, Jay Budzisewski, N.T. Wright, Stephen Barr, Del Ratzsch, and many, many other Christian philosophers, historians, scientists, theologians and intellectuals of all stripes.

Mr. Lilla might reply that these are not all Americans nor are they "evangelicals", but neither were many of the men on his list "evangelicals" in the contemporary sense of the term. Nor were they all Americans. To call these writers, and the dozens of others who deserve to be on the list, "half-educated evangelical gurus who either publish vacant, cheery self-help books or are politically motivated" is so far at variance with the truth as to be bizarre.

Mr. Lilla closes his otherwise artfully written essay with an interesting question: Why do religious skeptics like himself feel the need to prosyletize? Why do they care? A Christian might seek to convert a complete stranger because he believes that that person's eternal soul is at risk and because he believes he's carrying out a divine mandate by sharing the gospel with him, but an atheist believes neither of these things. Lilla admits that he has no good answer to the question:

But the curious thing about skepticism is that its adherents, ancient and modern, have so often been proselytizers. In reading them, I've often wanted to ask, "Why do you care?" Their skepticism offers no good answer to that question. And I don't have one for myself.

At the risk of committing the sin of bad psychology, I wonder if part of the answer to his question doesn't lie in the fact that when others believe what we believe it reinforces and reaffirms the rightness of our beliefs. Both believers and skeptics, if they are thoughtful, live with a deep-down existential angst, a dread, a doubt. It might be that we are wrong, and it is a comfort when other people are persuaded to join us in our belief or our skepticism. For some it might almost be a relief. The angst must be particularly acute for a man who is keenly aware, because of his youthful background in the faith, that he is placing his eternal destiny on the line in his choice of commitments and that, should he be wrong, his loss could be immeasurable.

I should note a comment by Douglas LeBlanc at who wonders how long it will be before the Times prints an article written by someone who makes the journey from skepticism to faith. There are lots of such stories out there, of course, but we won't be going on a fast waiting for the Times to tell us about them.

Anyway, read Lilla's essay. It's long, but it's quite good.

Political Scorecard

A left-wing website, Progressive Punch, has ranked all members of the Senate and House according to a rating which gives the member a score of 100% if they have a perfect liberal voting record. The more conservative the member is the closer is their score to zero.

I don't know whether their ranking system is reliable, but one interesting result they show is this: There is not a single Democrat in the House or Senate who scores under 50% (except Ben Nelson who scores 49.4%) and not a single Republican who scores over it. That's a pretty stark division. I wonder if a similar polarization would have been the case twenty five years ago.

It's also interesting to note that four Senate Republicans are far more liberal than the rest of their caucus, although they're still well below the fifty percent mark. See if you can guess who they are before you check out the rankings here.


When Katrina devastated the Mississippi coast earlier this month Robert Kennedy, Jr. suggested that it was God's judgment on governor Haley Barbor for having once written a memo to George Bush critical of the Kyoto Treaty.

Now another category 4 storm heads toward Galveston. No doubt the good people along the Texas coast are pleading with governor Rick Perry to fire off a memo to Washington praising the Kyoto accords and urging the president to sign them before God punishes Bush by clobbering the poor Texans along the Gulf.

Even so, we tend to agree with the near-unanimous opinion of the nation's meteorologists that these storms have nothing to do with global warming. We think instead that those people are correct who assert that the weather is God's judgment on American decadence. We were told, for example, that Katrina was punishment for the vice that infests Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Unfortunately for this hypothesis, though, the hurricane destroyed almost everything in an area the size of Minnesota except the French Quarter - the heart of the city's decadence, but we're sure the denizens of this den of iniquity got the message all the same.

Now He appears to be sending hurricane Rita to pummel Galveston, perhaps as punishment for the sins of Las Vegas. Maybe, this is the Old Testament scapegoat principle at work, where innocent victims are made to pay the price for the sins of the wealthy.

In any event, those Las Vegans better be paying careful attention to what's happening to Galveston while they cavort in their night clubs this weekend. If they don't, the next hurricane might be aimed right at Mexico.

The Main Event

Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters is typical among conservative bloggers in his assessment that Harry Reid's public decision to vote against John Roberts makes it a lot easier to nominate another Scalia/Thomas to replace O'Connor.

The reasoning goes like this:

If Reid can't cast a vote for John Roberts, one of the most uniquely and undeniably talented and qualified prospects for the Supreme Court at hand, then Reid and the Democrats who follow him will never cast a vote for any Republican nominee. Reid gives no incentive whatsoever to negotiate or to consult with the Democrats on selections in the future; no matter what happens or how well qualified the nominee, they will oppose him or her.

The favorite among the folks at is Michael Luttig, but Michael McConnell and Edith Jones are also popular.

Read the whole post at Captain's Quarters if the looming battle for the Supreme Court interests you. It's pretty good.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Martian Warming

Mars is getting warmer, but what else could we expect with Halliburton's friend in the White House refusing to sign the Kyoto treaty?

The Situation in Sudan

John Eibner and Joe Madison write a concise update on the current situation in the Sudan. It's difficult for Americans to stay focused on a region where there is no obvious national interest at stake, and it's easy to avoid thinking about the suffering of the people there when their plight gives way on the evening news to feckless murder investigations in Aruba and Cindy Sheehan's quixotic crusade in Crawford.

The absence of a manifest national interest was the argument for staying out of Bosnia and Kosovo and Rwanda in the nineties. It was the crux of the case for neutrality in 1940. It is not a trivial argument. Even so, power carries with it some measure of responsibility. We should not stand by and do nothing while people are starved and slaughtered if it is within our capacitites to do something to stop it that would not make matters worse. In other words, there is a moral case, even in this amoral post-modern world, for bringing our power to bear on behalf of those trapped in the third world hells that befoul our globe like so many toxic pustules.

The debate should not be whether we should intervene to help desperate people. The debate should be about how we might most effectively accomplish that goal. It should center around how we can produce the greatest amount of good with the least amount of evil.

Hopefully, moral suasion, diplomatic pressure and economic incentives will bring about a surcease of the suffering of the victims of the despots and petty tyrants who populate the third world, but sometimes, as in Bosnia and Rwanda, it might take the application of military force. That should be a last resort, but, provided it can be reasonably expected to work and produce a better result than would capitulation, it should always be an option.

It was indeed an option in Bosnia, to our credit and the credit of the Clinton administration. It evidently was not an option in Rwanda, to our and president Clinton's everlasting shame. You may, of course, disagree, but if so, at least watch the movie Hotel Rwanda and see if that doesn't cause you to rethink your opinion.

How the Terrorists Can Win in Iraq

This is the sort of disheartening news that will cause the American people to drop their support of the Iraq effort quicker than anything.

Almost the entire procurement budget allocated to Iraq's defense ministry has been stolen. It amounts to 1.3 billion dollars. It's going to be awful hard for the Bush administration to ask the American taxpayer to come up with that kind of money again, but if the money is not replaced the progress of the Iraqi military toward self-sufficiency will be seriously impaired.

Americans have been generous because they believe that Iraq is on the road to being able to fend for itself. If we see our investment just disappearing down a rat-hole, enthusiasm for saving Iraq will evaporate like morning mist, and the most bitter consequences for both us and the world will ensue.

Say it Ain't So!

The Bush administration evidently needs to return to first principles, and the very first principle of a leader is that you surround yourself with the most competent people you can find. A good leader doesn't play patronage games with important appointments and especially not with homeland security. It is astonishing that key positions at HS seem to be doled out on the basis of nepotism and cronyism, as though the task of securing our citizens from terrorism was no more critical a post than the ambassadorship to the Solomon Islands.

Unfortunately, the Bushies, having already been scorched by the Michael Brown appointment at FEMA, seem to have learned nothing from the experience and appear to be angling for a reprise of their embarrassment in the nomination of Julie Myers to head the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in the Department of Homeland Security.

Michelle Malkin can't believe this is happening and wonders what on earth the Bush people are thinking. Malkin has the relevant background on Ms Myers, and it's pretty depressing.

For our part, we wonder to what extent, if any, Bush himself was involved in this nomination. Say you didn't know, Dubya!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Reaping Retribution

To discover what's really going on in Iraq one must forget the evening news and turn instead to the milblogs (military blogs) which specialize in covering military matters in general and operations in Iraq in particular. One blog that provides a perspective that you won't ever get from ABC/NBC/CBS/CNN is Their post from last Sunday, for example, gives us some good insight into the recent upsurge in deaths among Iraqi civilians. Here's part of that post:

September 18, 2005: The al Qaeda "war" against Iraqi Shia is now five days old. Some 250 Iraqis have been killed so far, most on the first day, and most of them civilians and Shia. But a growing number of the dead bodies found are Sunni Arabs, and it appears that some of the newly trained Shia police and soldiers are moonlighting as death squads. Sunni Arabs complain of raids, sometimes by men in uniform, that efficiently remove Sunni Arab men, who later turn up dead, and often showing signs of torture (indicating interrogation to obtain more information on who is attacking Shia civilians.) The government is not making a particularly strong effort to find out who the moonlighting police are, and stop them.

The government keeps telling the Sunni Arab leadership that these al Qaeda attacks on Shia civilians can only end badly for the Sunni Arab population. While many Sunni Arab groups, still loyal to the Baath Party (or Saddam Hussein), and determined to have Sunni Arabs running the country again, continue to attack Shia Arabs, the victims are increasingly attacking right back. Terrorism, it appears, works both ways in Iraq. But instead of spectacular car bombs, the Shia Arab and Kurd "avengers" (as they see themselves) stalk individual Sunni Arabs (known to have been killers of Saddam, or terrorists today), and shoot them dead. Sunni Arab men known, or believed to be involved in terrorist operations, are rounded up at night, usually to be never seen alive again. All of this is in addition to legitimate counter-terrorist operations, where the people rounded up survive the process.

Follow the link to read the rest of it.

Major News Breaks, MSM Yawns

A major non-event in the American media is nevertheless a significant event for American foreign policy. Oxblog reports on it for us:

The principal news coming out of Aghanistan is that there is little news out of Aghanistan, and this is a remarkable thing. Voting in today's elections for parliamentary and provincial office passed without major incident (among the minor incidents, there were nineteen Taliban-linked attacks upon polling stations, in most instances before they were opened, with three voters being injured); officials of the Aghan-UN Joint Electoral Management Body report long queues of women voters; and all but 16 of the 6,200 polling centres established across Afghanistan were operational on voting day (this a marked improvement from last October's presidential election, where security considerations forced the closure of all polling centres in a significant number of Afghan regions).

Turnout might have been higher, and seven election candidates died in militant-linked violence over the last half year, but the elections are in general being hailed as a major success nonetheless, and include such poignant images as long queues of women waiting to vote in the former Taliban capital of Kandahar.

Too bad Sean Penn or Cindy Sheehan didn't show up over there. Maybe then the elections would've gotten some coverage.

Publius also has a lot more on the election here.