Saturday, June 25, 2005

Donating toThieves

Americans are a kind and generous people who want very much to help those who suffer deprivation and oppression. On the other hand, no one wants to see his contributions toward world hunger and poverty going to line the pockets of corrupt officials. There has to be accountability for the money that Americans donate, there have to be strings attached, and there has to be American oversight. There also has to be the threat of dire consequences for those who would steal the money that Americans wish to channel to those in greatest need.

This disheartening article describes a theft of staggering proportions in Nigeria and makes it clear that without the safeguards just mentioned, we may as well be flushing our charity down the commode. The report comes at an inauspicious moment, just as Bob Geldof's Live 8 concerts to raise aid for African people languishing in abject poverty under corrupt regimes draw close (July 2nd):

The scale of the task facing Tony Blair in his drive to help Africa was laid bare yesterday when it emerged that Nigeria's past rulers stole or misused £220 billion. That is as much as all the western aid given to Africa in almost four decades. The looting of Africa's most populous country amounted to a sum equivalent to 300 years of British aid for the continent. The figures, compiled by Nigeria's anti-corruption commission, provide dramatic evidence of the problems facing next month's summit in Gleneagles of the G8 group of wealthy countries which are under pressure to approve a programme of debt relief for Africa.

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, has spoken of a new Marshall Plan for Africa. But Nigeria's rulers have already pocketed the equivalent of six Marshall Plans. After that mass theft, two thirds of the country's 130 million people - one in seven of the total African population - live in abject poverty, a third is illiterate and 40 per cent have no safe water supply.

Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, set up three years ago, said that £220 billion was "squandered" between independence from Britain in 1960 and the return of civilian rule in 1999.

The stolen fortune tallies almost exactly with the £220 billion of western aid given to Africa between 1960 and 1997. That amounted to six times the American help given to post-war Europe under the Marshall Plan. British aid for Africa totalled £720 million last year. If that sum was spent annually for the next three centuries, it would cover the cost of Nigeria's looting.

Corruption on such a scale was made possible by the country's possession of 35 billion barrels of proven oil reserves. That allowed a succession of military rulers to line their pockets and deposit their gains mainly in western banks. Gen Sani Abacha, the late military dictator, stole between £1 billion and £3 billion during his five-year rule.

"We are only now beginning to come to grips with some of what he did," Mr Nwajah said. Nigeria has scoured the world for Abacha's assets but has recovered only about £500 million.

Olusegun Obasanjo, the current president, founded the commission and launched a crackdown on corruption to try to end the country's reputation as Africa's most venal. The figures all apply to the period before he came to power.

Mr Obasanjo will travel to the G8 summit to press the case for debt relief. Nigeria is Africa's biggest debtor, with loans of almost £20 billion, because previous rulers not only looted the country but also borrowed heavily against future oil revenues. The G8 has refused to cancel Nigeria's loans, despite writing off the debts of 14 other African countries this month. Prof Pat Utomi, of Lagos Business School, said that was the right decision. "Who is to say you won't see the same behaviour again if it is all written off?" he said.

Indeed. After having stolen £220 billion they want their £20 billion debt to be forgiven?

The United States must henceforth insist that the donors of our foreign aid be permitted to oversee its distribution to the people who need it or the aid will simply not be forthcoming. It must no longer be left up to a bunch of corrupt government officials to decide how our charity will be disbursed. Until we have such assurances the Bush/Blair initiative to rescue Africa from poverty should be put on hold.

The Appeal of Paganism

Dennis Prager argues that Judeo-Christian religion is antithetical to nature worship but that secularism often leads to it. The core of his argument is this:

[In a] magisterial commentary on Genesis ... written by the late Italian Jewish scholar Umberto Cassuto, professor of Bible at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Cassuto states: "Relative to the ideas prevailing among the peoples of the ancient East, we are confronted here with a basically new conception and a spiritual revolution . . . The basically new conception consists in the completely transcendental view of the Godhead . . . the God of Israel is outside and above nature, and the whole of nature, the sun, and the moon, and all the hosts of heaven, and the earth beneath, and the sea that is under the earth, and all that is in them -- they are all His creatures which He created according to His will."

This was extremely difficult for men to assimilate then. And as society drifts from Judeo-Christian values, it is becoming difficult to assimilate again today. Major elements in secular Western society are returning to a form of nature worship. Animals are elevated to equality with people, and the natural environment is increasingly regarded as sacred. The most extreme expressions of nature worship actually view human beings as essentially blights on nature.

Even among some who consider themselves religious, and especially among those who consider themselves "spiritual" rather than religious, nature is regarded as divine, and God is deemed as dwelling within it. It is quite understandable that people who rely on feelings more than reason to form their spiritual beliefs would deify nature. It is easier -- indeed more natural -- to worship natural beauty than an invisible and morally demanding God.

When man ceases to believe in a transcendent God he doesn't believe in no god at all, as Chesterton reminds us, he embraces all manner of substitutes. Man's innate religiosity drives him to find something beyond himself toward which to direct his life. In the twentieth century the dominant substitutes were socialisms (communism and nazism), evolutionary science, consumerism, and humanism. By devoting one's life to one of these, or a combination thereof, some people were able to mask the meaninglessness of a life which inevitably ends in death. These ersatz religions were spiritual anodynes that deadened the pain of life's utter emptiness and pointlessness.

Since all these gods have ultimately failed to provide fulfillment to the average man the twenty first century might well see, as Prager's column suggests, a return to paganism and nature worship. If so, the history of western civilization will have come full circle.

The archive of Prager's columns on Judeo-Christian values can be found here.

Bits and Pieces From Iraq

Here are a few highlights from the last few days of postings at Strategy Page:

In the six weeks since the new Iraqi government was formed, nearly a thousand Iraqis have been killed by terrorist attacks. Interestingly, some of these deaths have been the result of Sunni Arab terrorists fighting foreign Arab (al Qaeda) terrorists. American Marines have actually witnessed some of these battles in western Iraq.

While many Iraqis still rail against American troops for "not protecting them" from these terrorist attacks, they also realize that it's Arabs carrying out these attacks. Many Iraqis also realize that the Americans are not magicians, and cannot protect Iraqis from their own unwillingness to cooperate in the fight against terrorists. While there are more tips coming in from Iraqis, too many are still willing to look the other way. This is a major difference between Iraq and, say, the United States, Israel and Egypt. These nations have populations that turned against the Islamic terrorists, and largely eliminated terrorism within their borders. The Iraqis are slowly becoming aware that this is how it works.

The terrorists continue their self-destructive ways, launching suicide attacks against the police and civilians. Day by day the strength and effectiveness of the police and army increases. American training experts believe that it will be two years before Iraq has enough police and troops to deal with terrorism. Iraqis believe the problem will be solved more quickly than that, but by being more brutal with those Sunni Arabs and foreigners who persist in their murderous ways. The United States wants to avoid this, as they will get blamed, in the world media, for the brutality of Iraqis trying to deal with their terrorist problem.

At least half of the terrorists encountered in western Iraq are foreigners. The Iraqi terrorists have been on the run as areas they set up housekeeping in are detected and raided. While the terrorists can scare Iraqis into not resisting with weapons, they cannot prevent them from tipping off police about where the bomb factories and weapons caches are. The terrorists torture and murder locals suspected of being informants, or who are kin to informants. The current American operations are meant to crush the terrorist groups that are too large for the locals to handle. Smaller groups of terrorists would be outnumbered by police, or groups of armed locals.

In Mosul, American troops captured Muhammad Khalaf Shakar, an al Qaeda leaders and close associate of Abu Musab al Zarqawi. Shakar was betrayed by an informer, and increasingly common problem terrorists are facing. The informants, and few captured terrorists, indicate that most of the car bombs and roadside bombs are coming out these western Iraqi locations.

Operation Lightning, which began on May 22nd, continues in and around Baghdad. The 40,000 Iraqi police and troops have rounded up over a thousand terrorists suspects, and brought peace to many neighborhoods. It only takes a dozen or so armed men to terrorize a neighborhood, and make it hospitable for anti-government forces. When the local bad guys are rounded up, or chased into the western desert, the police can patrol the neighborhood, and establish relationships with the locals. This makes it more difficult for the terrorists to come back, as the police will immediately find out, and go after the terrorists before they can establish any control.

The government is broadcasting the pictures and videos captured from the terrorists, showing how Iraqis are tortured or killed (often by beheading) for resisting. The fact that many of the terrorists are foreigners, especially Saudis, makes many Iraqis angry. These self-righteous foreigners preach how they are in Iraq to "liberate" Iraq from foreigners. Yet the terrorists are never seen doing any good works, like the Americans, only killing and torturing Iraqis. This is turning Iraq into the most anti-al Qaeda country in the Middle East. That, in turn, is resonating in other Moslem countries, where Islamic terrorism is becoming less popular, as more of it is directed against Iraqis.

These last few sentences are worth special attention. Isn't it the conventional wisdom that we are creating more sympathy for al Qaida by our presence in Iraq? Haven't we been repeatedly told by anti-war folk that the war has only increased support for the jihadis across the Arab world?

Of course, conventional wisdom is formed in conversations over coffee and donuts in the air conditioned newsrooms of the major media and over beer and brie in the salons of Georgetown. Out on the hot, dry frontiers of Iraq where few journalists have dared to venture the people that know what's going on are apparently seeing a rather different picture.

Proof Spoof

Burning Panda spoofs twenty eight arguments against Intelligent Design and in support of Darwinian evolution which he has gleaned from the media over the past several months. The material apparently is no longer on his site, which seems to have been dropped. This is too bad because some of the arguments are apparently persuasive enough to have convinced some journalists:

After surveying the literature over the past few months, I've compiled the best arguments against Intelligent Design and in favor of neo-Darwinism.

1) The Monty Python Proof: 1. Michael Behe is an intelligent design theorist who was seen at a church 2. But only creationist's go to church 3. Michael Behe's a creationist! Burn him! 4. Therefore Evolution is true.

2) The argument from really, really, really big bones: 1. Some scientists found a bone 2. It was a really big bone 3. Manatees are really big, but manatees don't have this bone 4. The bone must have belonged to an older form of manatee that has now evolved. 5. Therefore evolution is true.

3) The argument from icky things: 1. There's moles on some people. 2. No designer would ever design moles. 3. Therefore evolution is true.

4) The argument from age of the earth: 1. Earth is 4.5 billion years old 2. Therefore evolution is true.

5) The either/or argument: 1. If evolution is true then creationism is false. 2. creationism is false because evolution is true. 3. therefore evolution is true.

6) The argument from scientists: 1. Scientists are perfect and never, ever lie. 2. Scientists believe that evolution can explain everything. 3. Therefore evolution is true.

7) The argument from truth as determined by peer review: 1. There has never been anything published in peer-reviewed journals by ID theorists (Meyer, Dembski, Behe, Schaeffer, Thaxton, etc) 2. If it's never been published then ID is false 3. Therefore evolution is true.

8) The argument from falsifiability: 1. ID isn't real science because it isn't falsifiable. 2. Evolution is true and has falsified design. 3. Therefore evolution is true.

9) The Scotsman Fallacy of Antony Flew: 1. No scientist believes there is an Intelligent Designer. 2. Well, some do. 3. No REAL scientist believes in an intelligent designer. 4. Therefore evolution is true.

10) The argument from a hissing feminist: 1. Intelligent Design presupposes a patriarchal womanizer! 2. Well, as a feminist I can't tolerate that! 3. Feminist response- "Hiiiiiiiiissssssssssssssssssss!" 4. Therefore evolution is true.

11) The argument from computer programs: 1. A programmer wrote a program that he installed on a computer. 2. The code took written words and randomly placed them together, under certain programmed rules, to form complete sentences. 3. See? Random processes CAN create information. 4. Therefore evolution is true.

12) The Choo Choo Train proof: 1. A long time ago trains were fueled by wood. 2. Then they evolved and were fueled by steam 3. Now trains are powered by electricity 4. So trains have evolved by completely random processes! 5. Therefore evolution is true.

13) The 'It's our only Hope' proof: 1. If intelligent design is true then everything will return to a theocracy. 2. Seriously, there will be witch hunts. 3. Children will be raised to believe in purpose! (oh dear...) 4. We can never let that happen! Help me evolution you're my only hope. 5. Therefore evolution is true.

14) The Evolutionary Modal Ontological Argument: 1. There is a possible world where evolution can explain everything necessarily. 2. So evolution is necessary then? 3. Therefore evolution is true.

15) The Argument from Eyes: 1. If dolphins have eyes and birds have eyes then evolution is true. 2. Dolphins have eyes and birds have eyes. 3. Therefore evolution is true.

16) The argument from ignorance: 1. Intelligent Design theorists are ignorant. 2. I mean come on, how could anyone seriously believe that? 3. No really, how? 4. Therefore evolution is true.

17) The argument against fancy words: 1. Intelligent Design Theorists use really big words. 2. If they are using big words, then they are just trying to sound smart. 3. But if they are trying to sound smart, they really aren't smart. 4. Therefore evolution is true.

18) The argument from the Crusades: 1. Christians fought in the crusades and committed horrible atrocities. 2. Christians are creationists. 3. Intelligent Design is Creationism in a cheap tuxedo. 4. So Intelligent Design theorist's are responsible for the horrible atrocities of the crusades. 5. Therefore evolution is true.

19) The argument of mistaken vocational identity: 1. An Intelligent Design Theorist mistakenly called a biochemist a chemist once. 2. How can the ID theorist be so retarded? 3. Therefore evolution is true.

20) The argument from mystery: 1. Intelligent Design takes the mystery from science. 2. Therefore evolution is true.

21) The 'That's just the way it is' argument: 1. I wish there was purpose to life, but there isn't. 2. I'm really sorry. 3. Therefore evolution is true.

22) The argument from Children's Imagination: 1. Only children believe in Santa Claus 2. Belief in God is kind of like belief in Santa Claus 3. Therefore evolution is true.

23) The argument from lunacy: 1. A guy on a lot of drugs once claimed to feel God 2. But he was on drugs. 3. Therefore evolution is true.

24) The argument from David Silverman: 1. David Silverman debated Norman Geisler once. 2. David Silverman can talk louder, faster, and over Geisler. 3. Geisler could barely get a word in! 4. Boy, if Silverman can talk faster than Geisler, then he must have won the debate. 5. Therefore evolution is true.

25) The Gold Star argument: 1. An atheist quit going to Sunday school because he didn't get the gold star one week. 2. He's been an atheist ever since. 3. Therefore evolution is true.

26)The argument from shared molecular structures 1. Amoeba's have proteins 2. Humans have proteins. 3. Therefore evolution is true.

27) The flat earth association argument: 1. There were some creationists who used to believe the earth was flat a long, long time ago. 2. But the earth is a sphere 3. Therefore evolution is true.

28) The appeal to Richard Dawkins: 1. Richard Dawkins is an evolutionist 2. Richard Dawkins is also smart 3. Therefore evolution is true.

As if they wanted to deliberately ad their own contribution to the media's shameful record of ignorance of what Intelligent Design entails, both scientifically and philosophically, our local newspaper ran this editorial Friday night. It complains about debate in the state House of Representatives over a bill which would ensure that teaching ID was permitted in Pennsylvania's public schools and takes several risible swipes at ID along the way.

The editorial states, for instance that, ID is "a sideshow of creationism in which the fossil record and scientific evidence of millions of years gets tossed in favor of scripture," and refers to ID as "religious zealotry."

It's pretty clear from this column that whoever wrote it has either never read the ID literature or has chosen to willfully to misrepresent it. The writer is, in other words, either ignorant of what he writes about or he is dishonest.

Thanks for the Burning Pandas post to Telic Thoughts.