Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Needed: Human Shields

Jonathan Gurwitz, a writer for the San Antonio Express News, wonders whether those whose superabundant compassion for the poor and oppressed of Iraq led them to that country in 2003 to stand in solidarity with Iraqis threatened by American bombs will be doing the same thing on Sunday.

Will these valiant human shields, Gurwitz asks, be positioning themselves around polling places to guard innocent Iraqi voters from the attacks that are sure to come?

This is an excellent question. Will these intrepid advocates for peace be taking the shrapnel in their own bodies on Sunday, sacrificing their lives for the sake of the Iraqi people, or do they only care about Iraqis insofar as they are useful in propagandizing against the U.S.? Is their courage and compassion universal or reserved only for victims of American violence? Will they defy the terrorists as they so boldly did the American military, at least until the shooting started? Are they really concerned with protecting lives or are they just Leftist hypocrites? We'll know Sunday. Well, actually, I think we already know.

Ayn Rand at 100

To call Ayn Rand, the high priestess of the human will, a mere force of nature would to her have been an insult as well as a cliche. But how else to describe this extraordinary, maddening, and indestructible individual? Born a century ago this year into the flourishing bourgeoisie of glittering, doomed St. Petersburg, Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum was to triumph over revolution, civil war, Lenin's dictatorship, an impoverished immigrant existence, and bad reviews in the New York Times to become a strangely important figure in the history of American ideas.

Even the smaller details of Rand's life come with the sort of epic implausibility found in - oh, an Ayn Rand novel. On her first day of looking for work in Hollywood, who gives her a lift in his car? Cecil B. DeMille. Of course he does. Frank Lloyd Wright designs a house for her. Years later, when she's famous, the sage of selfishness, ensconced in her Murray Hill eyrie, a young fellow by the name of Alan Greenspan becomes a member of the slightly creepy set that sits at the great woman's feet. Apparently he went on to achieve some prominence in later life.

To Rand, none of this would really have mattered (well, the fame was nice). To her, an intensely Russian intellectual despite everything, it was ideas that counted. They were everything.

So begins a piece by Andrew Stuttaford commemorating the centennial of Ayn Rand's birth in the New York Sun.

As implausible as it may seem to many readers a case can be made that Rand was the most influential American of the twentieth century, and I think it entirely likely that she was the most influential female American of the last century. This is not entirely a good thing because many of Rand's ideas, idiosyncrasies, and infidelities were hardly worth being influenced by. Yet no one made the case for freedom, individualism, and capitalism as compellingly as she did. This is no doubt why her novel Atlas Shrugged, written in 1957, was rated by the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Library of Congress as the most influential book of the twentieth century (other than the Bible).

Readers not familiar with this eccentric, complicated, and brilliant woman will gain some insight by reading Stuttaford's column.

Senator Simpleton

Minneapolis' Star Tribune recaps the Democrats' unseemly assault on Condaleeza Rice's integrity, and from their story it would appear that the most egregious thug in the present round of character muggings was Minnesota's own senator, Mark Dayton:

Dayton said he is voting against Rice to protest what he labeled the administration's "lying" about Iraq.

"My vote against this nomination is my statement that this administration's lying must stop now," Dayton said on the Senate floor. "I don't like to impugn anyone's integrity, but I really don't like being lied to repeatedly, flagrantly, intentionally," he said. "It's wrong. It's undemocratic, it's un-American, and it's dangerous. And it is occurring far too frequently in this administration. And this Congress, this Senate must demand that it stop now."

Well, Senator, we don't like to impugn anyone's intelligence, but there is a vast difference, of which you are apparently unaware, between saying what you mistakenly believe to be the truth in order to persuade, and saying what you clearly know to be false in order to deceive. The latter is lying, the former is not.

If the honorable gentleman from Minnesota has proof that Ms Rice was lying in 2003 then he should produce it. If he does not have such proof, then he's ripping someone's character and reputation to shreds for nothing more than cheap political points with Democratic voters back home. Either that or perhaps he's just a simpleton and doesn't understand the distinction elucidated in the previous paragraph, in which case we should just politely avert our eyes from his embarrassing performance.

The distinction between believing what is an almost universal consensus and telling the president and the public what you know is not true is not lost on all Democrats in the senate.

Dianne Feinstein, for example, said that Rice "should not be blamed for wrong and bad" intelligence that influenced the administration in deciding to go to war and convinced 78 senators to vote in favor of military action.

Rice is a "remarkable woman," said Feinstein, asserting that "she can be a strong and effective voice" for the United States."

Unfortunately, Senator Dayton was probably playing video games on his cell phone during Senator Feinstein's remarks.

Summers <i>Agonistes</i>

Lawrence Summers is an outspoken former Treasury secretary and current president of Harvard University who made news recently at an economics conference for having ventured the heretical opinion that women are not generally found in the top tier of the mathematical sciences because the female genome simply doesn't churn out mathematical geniuses at the rate that the male genome does.

Well, this was a completely uncontroversial comment as far as the yokels out here in JesusLand were concerned, but in the Northeast, where there are certain taboos which cultured liberals simply do not violate, one might have thought that the Harvard president had called for the establishment of a campus chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. One of his listeners, a faint-hearted MIT biology professor by the name of Nancy Hopkins, reported that she had to leave the room, so close was she to collapsing in a swoon, an admission that probably didn't earn her any style points with feminists.

President Summers, like Galileo, was hauled before an Inquisition of "Progressive Opinion" and forced to abjectly recant his heresy and to promise never, ever to transgress the bounds of acceptable liberal opinion again. If he had said that women were smarter than men, a male eyebrow or two might have been raised, but the world would scarcely have taken notice. As it was, he didn't get the catechism quite right and was forced to meekly offer profuse and ignominious apologies for having violated the orthodoxies of political correctness. And this at a premier American university, no less, where one might presume that unpopular minority opinions might be cherished.

Caught up in the mob hysteria surrounding the event, few media commentators could be bothered to wonder whether Summers was, in fact, right about what he said, but then truth does not occupy a very lofty perch on the liberal totem pole. Thankfully, however, Judith Kleinfeld has come forward with the pertinent scholarship which, it turns out, supports what everybody knew but no one, least of all president Summers, would say, which is that he was essentially correct.

Viewpoint sides with Stephen Pinker on this one. When Pinker, the Harvard psychologist who argues that significant innate differences exist between men and women, was asked by The Harvard Crimson whether Mr. Summers's remarks were within the pale of legitimate academic discourse, he said, "Good grief, shouldn't everything be within the pale of legitimate academic discourse, as long as it is presented with some degree of academic rigor?"