Friday, March 31, 2006

A National Embarrassment

Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, whose attic has never been completely furnished, declares herself to be the victim of sexism, racism and any other odious "isms" that may be lurking about among those detestable Capitol Police. Her entourage of assorted nitwits and race hustlers concur with her judgment.

According to police and witnesses, Ms McKinney, showing no identification, circumvented a metal detector in the Capitol Building and refused to stop when instructed to do so by a police officer. When the officer, following procedure, sought to detain her she punched him in the chest. This has apparently become chronic behavior for the Georgia congresswoman, and the police plan to press charges.

In response, she claims her only crime was "being in congress while black." The mind groans wearily upon hearing this mindlessly juvenile resort to the allegation of racism once again trotted out to justify unjustifiable behavior on the part of some liberal black politico.

You can see video of Ms McKinney's press conference here. After watching the lady give her statement we've decided she doesn't need to spend time in jail - she needs to be placed in an asylum.

We wonder if the Georgia voters who elected her are as embarrassed as we are that this person somehow got to be a United States congresswoman.

Immigration Advice

Dick Morris comes very close to articulating our own position on the immigration issue, and consequently he composes a very sensible column on the subject. The only thing that he might emphasize more forcefully than he does is this: Once the fence - which is itself the sine qua non of any solution to the problem - is in place, there need be no concerted effort to hunt down aliens who are here illegally. The practicalities of such a policy are daunting and may not be worth the effort as long as the invasion of immigrants has been stanched. However, any illegal who gets into further trouble with the law, or who is chronically out of work, should be deported. The existence of the fence will prevent them from leaking back in.

What's going on in the Senate concerning their immigration bill is just a charade. It's as dumb as it is futile to pass a law that requires illegals to pay a fine and learn English unless there is some serious sanction imposed for failing to do it. Since the Senate seems to think that there need be no penalty for not registering or taking English classes, their bill is worse than useless. It would be largely ignored by illegal aliens, and there would be no real cost for ignoring it.

Build the wall, deport law breakers (unless they commit felonies), and let the oxymoronic law-abiding illegals do what they came here for. Give them a registration card that they must possess in order to be hired - let them work and pay taxes - but they should not be granted any of the rights or benefits of American citizens without going through proper channels to acquire citizen status.

One additional thing we'd like to see changed in our laws regarding citizenship: People who are born here to illegal aliens, or to any non-citizens, for that matter, should not automatically be granted citizenship. We do not object to allowing them to apply for it when they reach the age of eighteen, if they've maintained regular residency in the U.S., but we see no reason why it should be bestowed automatically simply because of an accident of birth.


Why am I bullish on energy investments? Here are several reasons.

Oil is presently above $67 per barrel. One might ask why this is so. In the early '70s oil was around $2 per barrel. Of course the price of a barrel of oil hasn't actually gone up but rather the purchasing power of the US dollar has gone down. Consequently, OPEC simply wants to maintain a fair relative value for a barrel of oil which, as an asset, has remained constant in terms of its utility.

There's also a certain fear factor component that no doubt is added to the price of oil because of the political climate that exists today. This contributes to the price of a barrel of oil in the form of a premium.

Additionally, the demand for oil (and other commodities) is increasing because China is experiencing its own industrial revolution just as the US did 100 years ago. India also contributes to the demand for the same reason.

There's concern about the future availability of oil due to the theory of "Peak Oil". This theory implies that the global supply of oil has peaked and has been or will be reached soon and future supply of oil will be more expensive to extract as the quantity of it declines. A concern for the supply of oil in the ground and the ability of OPEC to deliver it is beginning to be questioned by experts in the industry.

The bottom line is that there is a great deal of uncertainty about the single most important product in the world and the subsequent availability of it. Is the fact that action in the Middle East is the largest component of the news these days just a coincidence?

Given all of the uncertainty and the declining purchasing power of the dollar, companies involved in the energy industry stand to make substantial gains in their share price. One can invest in individual companies or they can buy into mutual funds that offer diversification across the energy market.

Personally, I'm inclined to leave the analysis of individual companies up to the guy at the mutual fund company whose job is to be an expert on the domain.

Below are two mutual funds from Fidelity that specialize in energy. By way of disclaimer, I have holdings in both of them. Visit their website and scroll down to the respective funds, check out their performance, and you'll see why.

Fidelity Energy (FSENX

Fidelity Energy Service (FSESX)

Read about these funds and decide for yourself if they're right for you.

Afghan Spring

While most of the world's attention is focussed on Iraq, the battle against the Taliban continues in Afghanistan. Bill Roggio brings us up to speed on combat operations there. Here's the first half of an interesting post on the topic:

As the Coalition enters its sixth year in Afghanistan, the Taliban has threatened to unleash another of its spring offensives. "With the arrival of the warm weather, we will make the ground so hot for the invaders it will be unimaginable for them," Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban threatened two weeks ago through his spokesman. While the past spring offensives have been crushed after Coalition forces destroyed Taliban formations unwise enough to mass in large numbers, this year's offensive will include suicide bombers, roadside bombs and other techniques used in Salafist insurgencies in Chechnya, Kashmir, Iraq, the Philippines, Thailand and elsewhere.

Coalition forces smashed a Taliban assault in Helmand province, killing thirty-two Taliban. Twelve were killed in the initial engagement, and twenty more were killed while "attempting to retreat into sanctuaries." Two Taliban headquarters were destroyed and several weapons caches were unearthed. An American and Canadian soldier were killed in the fighting.

Last week, Marines from Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, fought a pitched battle with Taliban fighters while patroling in the Shuryak Valley of Kunar Province. After finding a ton of explosives and bomb-making material, the Marines took fire and killed upwards to twenty Taliban in what they called 'The Battle of Salar Ban'. The Marines suffered no casualties. The Taliban has been roundly defeated every time it engaged the Coalition and Afghan National Army in open combat, and the recent engagements are no different.

A suicide car bomber prematurely detonated his explosives while attempting to attack a Canadian convoy in Kandahar. No Canadians were injured, but seven Afghan civilians were wounded in the explosion. Reuters reports "Security forces in Kandahar arrested nine suspected Taliban suicide bombers, two of them Pakistanis." Six Afghan police were killed in two separate attacks in Kandahar & Khost.

The Taliban, and al-Qaeda, have one hope. They hope that Democrats will gain a sufficient number of seats in the Congress in 2006 that they will be able to make it too difficult for President Bush to continue with the war. Between calls for censure and impeachment and demands for retreat, the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies hope to erode American will to the point where we will just give up and head home.

They've already succeeded in persuading the leaders of the "Last Helicopter" party that the war is a lost cause. All they need do is win over a few independents in November so that the Democrats will regain the congressional majority, and America will pull out, and Afghanistan, indeed the whole Middle East, will fall into their hands like ripe fruit.

The Last Helicopter

Amir Taheri offers fascinating insight into the strategic thinking in capitals throughout the Arab world. The leaders of the Arab countries have taken the temperature of America and decided that once Bush is gone Americans will once again be boarding the helicopters just like they did in Saigon, Lebanon, Mogodishu and elsewhere in order to hightail it back to the states. They are adjusting their policies accordingly and the adjustments are not favorable to peace and democracy.

According to this theory, President George W. Bush is an "aberration," a leader out of sync with his nation's character and no more than a brief nightmare for those who oppose the creation of an "American Middle East." Messrs. Abbasi and Ahmadinejad have concluded that there will be no helicopter as long as George W. Bush is in the White House. But they believe that whoever succeeds him, Democrat or Republican, will revive the helicopter image to extricate the U.S. from a complex situation that few Americans appear to understand.

Mr. Ahmadinejad believes that the world is heading for a clash of civilizations with the Middle East as the main battlefield. In that clash Iran will lead the Muslim world against the "Crusader-Zionist camp" led by America. Mr. Bush might have led the U.S. into "a brief moment of triumph." But the U.S. is a "sunset" (ofuli) power while Iran is a sunrise (tolu'ee) one and, once Mr. Bush is gone, a future president would admit defeat and order a retreat as all of Mr. Bush's predecessors have done since Jimmy Carter.

Mr. Ahmadinejad's ...argument was that once Mr. Bush is gone, the U.N., too, will revert to its traditional lethargy. "They can pass resolutions until they are blue in the face," Mr. Ahmadinejad told a gathering of Hezbollah, Hamas and other radical Arab leaders in Tehran last month.

The general assumption is that Mr. Bush's plan to help democratize the heartland of Islam is fading under an avalanche of partisan attacks inside the U.S. The effect of this assumption can be witnessed everywhere...Pakistan....Turkey...Iraq...Saudi Arabia...Syria.

If people like Ahmadinejad are right then it will be to the Democrats' everlasting shame that, in order to score cheap political points against Bush, they deeply eroded his stature in the world. By their unwillingness to limit themselves only to fair, constructive, and responsible criticism and by their incessant calls for retreat from Iraq when things got sticky, they sacrificed the only chance we'll ever have to effect long-term change for good in the Middle East. And they happily made that sacrifice for no more noble reason than that they saw it as a means to recovering their own political preeminence.

Taheri says that Arab thinkers are referring now to the "last helicopter" image of America. The last helicopter retreating from a tough environment is the Arab symbol for America and American resolve. Perhaps we can also say that the Murtha/Pelosi Democrats should be seen as the "last helicopter" political party. The party of defeat and retreat. A helicopter fleeing toward the horizon might well replace the donkey as the symbol of the Democratic Party.

But, Taheri asks toward the end of his essay, how valid is the assumption that Mr. Bush really is an aberration and that his successor will "run away"?

Read the whole piece to get Mr. Taheri's answer to this critical question.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Knights of Free Speech

The ranks of the defenders of free speech continue to thin:

BUFFALO, N.Y. - Borders and Waldenbooks stores will not stock the April-May issue of Free Inquiry magazine because it contains cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that provoked deadly protests among Muslims in several countries.

"For us, the safety and security of our customers and employees is a top priority, and we believe that carrying this issue could challenge that priority," Borders Group Inc. spokeswoman Beth Bingham said Wednesday.

The magazine, published by the Council for Secular Humanism in suburban Amherst, includes four of the drawings that originally appeared in a Danish newspaper in September, including one depicting Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban with a lit fuse.

"What is at stake is the precious right of freedom of expression," said Paul Kurtz, editor-in-chief of Free Inquiry. "Cartoons often provide an important form of political satire ... To refuse to distribute a publication because of fear of vigilante violence is to undermine freedom of press - so vital for our democracy."

Bingham said the decision was made before the magazine arrived at the company's stores. Borders Group, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., operates more than 475 Borders and 650 Waldenbooks stores in the United States, though not all regularly carry the magazine.

"We absolutely respect our customers' right to choose what they wish to read and buy and we support the First Amendment," Bingham said. "And we absolutely support the rights of Free Inquiry to publish the cartoons. We've just chosen not to carry this particular issue in our stores."

There's something very odd about this. Borders would not hesitate to carry a magazine which contained content offensive to Christians because they don't fear Christian violence, but because they are afraid of Muslims, they won't do anything to offend them. The very least they can do, given their capitulation to the Islamic Mau Maus, is to acknowledge the cowardice of their decision and atone for it by agreeing not to carry material offensive to any religion. If they're not willing to do that, however, then they shouldn't privilege one religion over another, and they especially shouldn't do it out of fear of the consequences of standing on a principle enshrined in the First Amendment.

It's funny in a macabre sort of way, but ever since the Danish cartoons precipitated the paroxysms of Muslim violence, we haven't heard many liberals recite the refrain about hating what you say but being willing to fight to the death for your right to say it. All of a sudden many of the formerly pious crusaders for freedom of speech have grown strangely silent. To paraphrase Machiavelli in The Prince, in quiet times every one is full of promises and each one is ready to die for the First Amendment, when death is far off; but in adversity, when death is near and the freedom of speech has need of defenders, then it will find but few.

Yes, but let the speech be obscene or pornographic and the heroic knights of the First Amendment suddenly reemerge onto the field astride their white steeds, acclaiming with their battle cry their willingness to die for your right to to be as disgusting as you want to be.

The Rescued CPT Abductees

My friend Byron, who has disagreed with our criticism of officials of Christian Peacemaker Teams for not showing much gratitude toward the troops which rescued their three kidnapped brothers, sends along this column from Sojourners which gives a little more background on the victims themselves. Evidently, at least two of them did express thanks to, and for, their rescuers, and we are pleased to report that.

Incidently, Byron's most recent reply to me about the CPT business is posted on our Feedback page.

Marriage is For White People

The joys and benefits of the sexual revolution, we were told back in the seventies, are manifold. Joy Jones points out the absurdity of this delusion in this sad piece in the Washington Post. She writes:

I grew up in a time when two-parent families were still the norm, in both black and white America. Then, as an adult, I saw divorce become more commonplace, then almost a rite of passage. Today it would appear that many -- particularly in the black community -- have dispensed with marriage altogether.

[Y]ears back when I taught a career exploration class for sixth-graders at an elementary school in Southeast Washington, I was pleasantly surprised when the boys in the class stated that being a good father was a very important goal to them, more meaningful than making money or having a fancy title.

"That's wonderful!" I told my class. "I think I'll invite some couples in to talk about being married and rearing children."

"Oh, no," objected one student. "We're not interested in the part about marriage. Only about how to be good fathers."

And that's when another boy chimed in, speaking as if the words left a nasty taste in his mouth: "Marriage is for white people."

Jones goes on to give some depressing statistics about the state of the black family in America. Then she delivers this shocker:

I was stunned to learn that a black child was more likely to grow up living with both parents during slavery days than he or she is today, according to sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin.

The dysfunction is primarily a black problem, but blacks are just the canary in the coal mine. They're often the most vulnerable to dysgenic social trends, but those trends eventually affect everyone:

Often what happens in black America is a sign of what the rest of America can eventually expect. In his 2003 book, "Mismatch: The Growing Gulf between Women and Men," Andrew Hacker noted that the structure of white families is evolving in the direction of that of black families of the 1960s. In 1960, 67 percent of black families were headed by a husband and wife, compared to 90.9 percent for whites. By 2000, the figure for white families had dropped to 79.8 percent. Births to unwed white mothers were 22.5 percent in 2001, compared to 2.3 percent in 1960. So my student who thought marriage is for white people may have to rethink that in the future.

The sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies reduced sex to a form of recreation, and in so doing it insured that sex would be available to men without the necessity of committing to a marriage. If women continue to favor men with sex without demanding commitment in return the statistics Jones cites will simply continue to get more dreary. Young men simply are not going to take on the responsibilities of marriage as long as the benefits are available to them for "free." As a consequence, boys will increasingly grow up in fatherless homes, and the cycles of crime and poverty will simply grow proportionately more bleak.

LaShawn Barber also has a lot to say about the topic of black marriage (Caution: She's not happy).

Build the Fence

Tim Gaynor at MyWay News writes an article that has some good information in it on the proposed fence that would run for 700 miles along our southern border. Here are some excerpts:

TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) - Hurling himself over a steel fence into the no-man's-land between Mexico and California, an undocumented migrant sprints across a narrow strip lit by harsh arc lights and watched over by video cameras on tall posts.

Before he can shin up a second barrier of tall concrete pillars topped with seismic sensors and a layer of steel mesh more than an arm's-length wide, U.S. Border Patrol agents close in fast and arrest him.

That scene is repeated dozens of times each day along a 14-mile (22-km) stretch of state-of-the-art fencing separating San Diego, California, from Tijuana, Mexico, that has become a model for no-nonsense policing of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Inspired by the San Diego fence, the U.S. House Representatives voted in December to build a similar barrier to stop illegal immigrants across one-third of the 2,000-mile (3,200-km) U.S.-Mexico border, seen as a weak spot in homeland security since the September 11 attacks.

It is the most controversial proposal in a debate in the U.S. Congress over immigration reform that has split Republicans and sparked protests by Hispanic immigrants in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Detroit. Although the San Diego fence is seen as a success in cutting illegal immigration, the plan for the bigger barrier is struggling to win further support in Congress.

Critics compare it to the Berlin Wall and say it goes against the American spirit of openness, sending the wrong message to the rest of the world about the United States.

The critics of the fence compare it to the Berlin wall. That's a good one. The Berlin wall was built to keep people from escaping the socialist hell of East Germany. People who tried to scale the wall were shot dead by East German soldiers. Sounds like a reasonable comparison.

The fence, critics say, goes against the American "spirit of openness" and "sends the wrong message" about us. Exactly what message is that? That we don't wish to become like France, overrun with people we can't assimilate even if they wanted to be assimilated? America is open to immigrants. All we ask is that they come here in an orderly and lawful manner. The U.S. is a bit like a grand hotel. We want guests, we need them, but we'd like them to make reservations. We don't wish to have hundreds of people suddenly show up in our lobby demanding a room with all the amenities.

Calif. Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, who authored the fence plan and estimates it would cost about $2 billion, points to a sharp drop in the number of immigrants nabbed heading for the United States through San Diego in recent years as evidence the security barrier works.

In the early 1990s, some 550,000 immigrants were caught every year but with the addition of double fencing, high-tech surveillance systems and more border police, the number plunged to just 138,700 in 2004.

"There is no doubt that its duplication at specific locations along our southern border will be equally successful and bring us one step closer to a border region that is no longer overrun by illegal aliens," Hunter said.

But the U.S. Department of Homeland Security described the planned barrier, which would run for 698 miles, as a "stupid fence" and said it would most likely be ineffective, while the Mexican government slammed it as a disgrace.

"Stupid fence." Someone in Homeland Security calls it a "stupid fence." How the adjective "stupid" might apply to a fence we can't imagine although we have no trouble imagining how it might apply to spokespersons for government agencies. This solecism emerges from the same department that is charged with protecting our homeland against terrorist infiltration, but which has not lifted so much as a pinkie to prevent would-be terrorists from sauntering across our "stupid border" with Mexico.

A similar fence in Israel has certainly not been ineffective and the fact that Mexico deems the proposal to build a fence a disgrace is all the more reason to put the thing up. What's a disgrace is the inability of Mexico's government, despite sitting on much of the world's oil wealth, to give it's people a reason to want to stay in their native land.

The fence plan envisages a double barrier made from former U.S. military aircraft landing mats stood on their side on the south and a high-tech steel and concrete wall to the north. It would run for 22 miles across California, and 361 miles over the sun-blasted Arizona desert, a strip crossed by half of the 1.18 million immigrants nabbed on the border last year.

A remaining 315 miles of fence is proposed to seal three strips between Columbus, New Mexico and Brownsville, Texas, two of them along stretches of the Rio Grande River that became notorious last year as routes for Central American and Brazilian immigrants.

Border police in San Diego warn the fence has also strengthened the resolve of some die-hard immigrants and traffickers who have become wilier and more confrontational. Attacks by frustrated traffickers on agents are soaring, with 119 gun, knife and rock assaults reported between October 1 and the end of February, more than double the number noted in the same period a year ago, the Border Patrol said.

So what are we to conclude from this? As soon as lawbreakers become more determined to break the law we should stop trying to enforce it? As soon as potential terrorists become more determined to breach our security we should give up trying to prevent them from succeeding? People who would use deadly weapons against American law enforcement officials are precisely the sort of people we don't need more of in this country.

Immigrant welfare groups are also critical of the proposal, and point to the fact that past policing crackdowns such as "Operation Gatekeeper" in the San Diego sector in 1994 only succeeded in rerouting the flow of immigrants to more remote and dangerous areas of the border.

Exactly so. That's why the fence needs to cover the entire length of the border so that anyone who wishes to circumvent it has to make the trip by boat.

"Nothing has actually succeeded in slowing down the number of migrants crossing the U.S. border," said Rev. Robin Hoover, president of Tucson-based welfare group Humane Borders. "The fence is just another gimmick that will just expose migrants to greater danger," he added.

A useless "gimmick"?! What the good reverend must really mean is that he's actually afraid the fence will indeed work and that in order to circumvent it illegal immigrants will have to risk more difficult crossings, but isn't that the point? Does the Rev. Hoover believe the U.S. is obligated to make illegal entry into our country easy?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Michelle Malkin has some very disturbing photos from the recent protests in California and elsewhere. The pictures illustrate the mindset of those who are demonstrating against tighter immigration enforcement and show that these protestors emphatically do not want to be Americans "just like us."

Here is one photo that illustrates what the protestors would like our future to be and what it will be unless Congress suddenly grows a spine and stops pandering for Hispanic votes:

Malkin has links and excerpts from lots of other sites and stories on this issue. Pay her a visit.

Beyond Good and Evil

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 95% of print journalists and 86% of broadcast journalists believe that the statement that it is not necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values comes closer to their views than does the claim that God is necessary in order to be moral and have good values.

This result cries out for a little analysis. How, we'd like to know, did the respondents interpret the question? Did they take it to mean that if someone believes there is no God they can still live according to the same standards of behavior as anyone else? If so, it's hardly surprising that most journalists would agree with that because it's certainly true.

Or did they take the question to mean that the existence of God has no necessary connection to morality? If this was their interpretation then an awful lot of journalists need to reread Dostoyevsky and Neitzsche.

As we have argued here on a number of occasions, anyone can live however they choose, but unless there is a God, or at least a transcendent moral authority, there are no grounds for saying that one way of life is more moral than another. In other words, there is no right or wrong behavior in a moral sense unless there is an objective standard for behavior, and there can be no objective standard unless there is someone or something with the authority to establish it. Whatever that being is, it cannot be man. One man or group of men cannot determine what is moral and what is not in any non-arbitrary way.

If there is no moral authority such as I describe then right and wrong are simply matters of subjective preference. Behaviors I like I call moral, those I don't like I call immoral. Your likes and dislikes might be different from mine, but that doesn't make them better or worse. It only makes them different.

So it's silly to ask whether God is necessary for people to live what most take to be a "good" life. The important question is, is God, or something very much like God, necessary for there to be a non-subjective, non-arbitrary morality in the first place? To this latter question the answer is clearly yes.

Journalist and author Robert Wright has conducted a series of fascinating interviews with philosophers, theologians, and scientists, and one of the questions he asks in the course of many of these sessions is essentially this one - can there be moral value if there is no transcendent moral authority? In almost every case the interviewee either hedges on the question or ducks it altogether, but one of the more interesting and straightforward responses is by Ursula Goodenough. The short video clip with Ms Goodenough can be viewed here.

The interview with E.O. Wilson is interesting, too, because Wilson, an atheist, prides himself on the goodness of his life, but the only reason he can give for thinking that his behavior is "morally right" is that it makes him feel good.

The link to Wilson can be accessed at the Goodenough page.

Promise 'Em Anything

We know that election year rhetoric and promises are often over the top, but this from Harry Reid and the Democrats is breathtaking:

WASHINGTON - Congressional Democrats promise to "eliminate" Osama bin Laden and ensure a "responsible redeployment of U.S. forces" from Iraq in 2006 in an election-year national security policy statement.

Then, just when I thought that the Democrats might get my vote, I read this:

The [statement]...lacks specific details of how Democrats plan to capture bin Laden, the al-Qaida mastermind who has evaded U.S. forces in the more than four years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Oh. Well, maybe they don't want to make the details public because they don't want Osama to know how he's going to get snagged.

Or maybe they just don't have any bloody idea how they're going to eliminate bin Laden, but they figure there are enough idiots out there who'll vote for them just because they promise that they will.

Books on Iraq and the GWOT

Anyone who has been following events in Iraq knows that the post-invasion phase of the war has gone rather unhappily. The media is quick to blame the Bush administration, and for once they have a good, if too simple, case. A new book by George Packer titled Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq explains why.

Marine Colonel Keith Pavlischek writes an outstanding review of the book in Books and Culture and, although I haven't read the book yet, I certainly commend the review to anyone interested in the history of post-Saddam Iraq. Pavlischek notes that although the Department of Defense must accept much of the blame for the failure to secure Iraq after the initial invasion, the situation was very complex and a lot of the mistakes made are only obvious in hindsight. Nevertheless, this paragraph serves as a good summary of Pavlischek's piece:

So, the neocons in the DOD failed to plan adequately for the reconstruction and the counter-insurgency; the Army was perceived as lobbying for a larger invasion force at least partly out of institutional self-interest; and the State Department's experts were throwing a temper-tantrum. No wonder things turned out the way they did.

It is well worth the time to read the whole piece.

A book I have read recently that I also recommend is America's Secret War: Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between America and Its Enemies by George Friedman. Friedman takes us from the birth of al-Qaeda in the nineties, through 9/11, Afghanistan, and Iraq up to the summer of 2003. It's just packed with fascinating information about hardball diplomacy, behind the scenes machinations, and the war on terror, much of which has never really been publicized. At times the administration looks brilliant in Friedman's telling of the tale and at times it looks rather less so.

One interesting anecdote I had never heard before is that, according to Friedman, the much ballyhooed decapitation strike on Saddam at the outset of the war was actually military disinformation. The military wanted to instill in Iraqi field generals uncertainty about Saddam's status for a couple of days in hopes that the Iraqi generals would use it as an excuse to cut a deal with the Americans and that lives would be spared. As it happened, it didn't work, because Saddam, who was, of course, not at the house which was hit, was able to get on television some hours later.

Lots of other tactics and strategies employed during the dozen or so years covered by the book did work, however, and Friedman's account is captivating.

Both volumes can be ordered from our favorite place for books: Hearts and Minds Bookstore.

Punishing Heretics

Another Intelligent Design advocate and pro-life college instructor, Francis Beckwith, pays for his convictions by being denied tenure at, of all places, Baylor - a putatively Christian university.

Joseph Bottum of First Things has an excellent post on this affair as well as on Baylor's decline as a Christian institution. Telic Thoughts quotes a couple of anti-ID bloggers to fortify the case that it is most likely Beckwith's connection to ID and the theologically conservative Discovery Institute that did him in.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Other Side of the Story

Despite the assurances and prognostications of congressional and media defeatocrats the Iraqi quagmire simply refuses to materialize. For all the doom and gloom reported in our melancholy media, there is so much going on in Iraq that's cause for rejoicing that it seems the media must deliberately close their eyes to avoid seeing it. Why they don't report this stuff I'll leave to you to decide, but if you're eager for good news coming out of Iraq go here.

Be advised that there's so much good news that you'll probably not be able to finish it all in one sitting.

More On Silver

Brother Dick contacted me with some questions about my previous post on silver, and I quickly realized that I was remiss by not mentioning several important points, so I'll include them here as an addendum to the post.

Since the value of original silver coins (those coins once used as currency) is so much greater than the face value of the coin, they are no longer used as currency. Their value is in their content. Similarly, newer silver coins are simply bullion stamped in coin form. They might as well be bars. Just like gold Krugerrands, American Eagles, Canadian Maple Leafs, etc. their value is determined by the amount of silver content with no real face value per se.

You can still acquire pre-1964 silver coins, in the form of "bags" of coins. For instance, a bag of 90% silver coins with a $1,000 face value which represents 715 ounces of pure silver goes for about $7,750 (about $10.85 per ounce of silver). It's an interesting play.

Some silver coins have numismatic value and if there's a real crunch in the supply of silver, they might be melted down for the silver content.

Numismatic coins are graded to classify their condition. The grading of the coin is then factored into the quantity of coins minted in that year. The result is a value placed on the coin. These coins are encased in a clear plastic case that protects them and displays information about the grade of the coin.

This brings up an interesting question I've had for a long time regarding gold and silver numismatic coins. If many of them are sold and get melted down to meet demand, I would suspect that those coins that remain would absolutely skyrocket in value as they would then be that much more rare.

Regarding shares in mining companies it's important to note that they carry inherent risks. Mining disasters, unfriendly governments deciding to nationalize the mines, increased energy costs cutting into profits all of which are hazards that are reflected in the value of a share of stock. These issues explain why shares offer leverage to the price of the metal. Nothing is safer than the metal "in hand" and that's why I believe that the first order of business is to acquire a stash of the metal. It doesn't pay interest or dividends but it's safe. Then one can venture into the world of shares of mining companies.

A silver Electronically Traded Fund (ETF) has just been given approval to go into operation. For them to open their doors for business they will have to acquire somewhere in the neighborhood of 130 million ounces of silver. They operate by selling shares which are backed by the silver they have. As more people buy shares, the ETF has to acquire more silver to back the new shares. This impacts supply of the metal. All of this creates less supply in the open market because the ETF is taking the metal off the table.

Lastly, the price of both silver and gold is largely set according to the futures market. This has enabled the paper markets to significantly influence the price of the metals. In other words, by manipulating the futures market, the price of the metals have been suppressed. One has to realize that those who benefit from a program of fiat currency must maintain an environment of confidence in the fiat currency and part of doing so is to maintain low prices of the assets (the barometer) that historically indicate inflation and devaluation of the fiat dollars. That metal's prices, and commodities in general, have been in a bull market for several years now and this indicates that they are losing control. As more and more people (governments and individuals alike) begin to question the "full faith and credit" of the U.S. dollars, they will transition into the ultimate form of money. Eventually the laws of supply and demand come into play as they will not be conned and that is what has been happening over the last 5 years.

Any major political event would destabilize the whole game and prices would increase dramatically, otherwise it will just be a relatively slow grind upwards as more and more individuals (and governments) flee to the metal. Personally, I suspect investors in precious metals will benefit from either scenario.

Annex Mexico

Michelle Malkin has links and updates on the Latino Reconquista sweeping across America. These protests seem to be about more than just enabling immigrants to make a living in the U.S. Demands that we not enforce the law on immigration are tantamount to demanding that we eliminate the border with Mexico and essentially allow the American southwest to return to its early 19th century status as a Mexican territory.

Once millions of Mexicans have established themselves as citizens it will not be long before they control state legislatures in Arizona, Texas, New Mexico and California. Once they do, those states, or at least some of them, will become de facto territories of the state of Mexico. Our government leaders, both Republican and Democrat, have failed to control our border and now we are confronted with an enormous problem not unlike what Europe is faced with by their immigrant Muslim population.

We have two suggestions. The first is that we immediately begin construction of a barrier along the entire length of the southern border to keep illegals out, and then proceed to deport any illegal Mexicans caught breaking American laws or who don't have a job. The barrier is an essential first step. Without it anything else we do to prevent the cultural transformation of our country will be like bailing water on the Titanic.

The second suggestion is that if we choose not to follow the first suggestion, then, since so many Mexicans wish to be Americans, and since so many politicians believe we can do nothing to stem the flow of immigrants across our border, and since an open border is equivalent to no border at all, we should annex the entire country of Mexico and make it the fifty-first state. This wouldn't make everybody happy, of course, but it would make the economic burden of illegal immigration easier to bear. All Mexicans would be instant citizens and eligible for all the benefits to which citizens are entitled, including welfare, social security and minimum wage.

Meanwhile, the U.S. could nationalize the Mexican oil, mineral, and tourist industries, which are cash cows whose riches are currently being siphoned to a wealthy few oligarchs, and use the profits and taxes from those revenue sources to help pay the cost of absorbing millions of new citizens into the United States. If we're going to allow Mexico to overwhelm the U.S. with its tide of humanity yearning to be free, we at least ought to make them pay for it.

Some Mexicans would object, no doubt, at being forced to become American citizens, and some may even resist, but maybe not. It's worth a try. Seriously. After all, either Mexico becomes American or the American southwest, within a decade or two, becomes Mexican.

Ending Poverty

Charles Murray, as is his custom, has come up with an intriguing idea that is bound to be controversial. He proposes giving every person in the U.S. a grant of $10,000 every year. The advantages, he thinks, far outweigh the disadvantages.

Unlike the proposal floated by George McGovern, who campaigned for the presidency in 1972 on the promise of giving every American $1000, Murray's proposal is not exactly a giveaway. He outlines his argument at Opinion Journal. It's worth a close reading.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Taking Down the Mookster

Bill Roggio is reporting that U.S. forces are teaming with Iraqi units against Muqtada "Mookie" al-Sadr's Mahdi army. In the early fighting approximately twenty of the Mookie's thugs have been killed. We have been wondering how long this boil would be allowed to fester before it was cut out of the Iraqi body politic. We hope that this operation is a signal that the Mookster's days are numbered.

Update: Some of Mookie's allies are painting the raid as a war crime. Roggio has more on the story here and here.

In Defense of CPT

Byron is a dear friend of mine, but we see things very differently when it comes to matters of national security and the use of military force. My recent criticisms of the Christian Peacemaker Teams' alleged refusal to assist the coalition forces with information that might help locate and rescue other kidnap victims has led him to rise to their defense. His complete e-mail is on the Feedback page. If you're interested in following the discussion I encourage you to read his e-mail first and then return to this post where I try to answer some of his criticisms and concerns.

I had argued yesterday that to refuse to help the coalition find other kidnap victims is not significantly different than refusing to give local police information one might have on an abduction of someone in the states.

Byron argues that this is a bad analogy. His words are indented in what follows:

It seems evident to me that as caring Christian people, they surely would cooperate with legitimate authorities doing bone fide rescue work and to suggest otherwise is really odd.

But why think they would? CPT refuses to cooperate with the legitimate authorities in Iraq, not just the coalition, but also the Iraqi authorities established through a duly elected government. If they won't cooperate with them why think they'd cooperate with local police? CPT might cooperate with American police, of course, but if so, they'd be inconsistent.

Furthermore, why suggest that what coalition forces are doing in hunting for kidnap victims is not "bona fide rescue work"? In what sense are they not genuine attempts to rescue those who've been abducted by terrorist killers?

If CPT wishes to argue that they are justified in not cooperating with U.S. forces to find kidnap victims because those forces are illegitimate, then we might ask them if they would refuse to cooperate with Saddam's regime if a similar occasion had arisen. Saddam's regime was elected by the people, and since it was, in CPT's eyes, an illegitimate act for the U.S. to overthrow him, it follows that CPT believes that the Baathists constituted a legitimate government. If so, CPT should have no scruple against cooperating with Saddam to help find an innocent crime victim, even though they personally detested Saddam himself. Their logic would lead them to cooperating with Saddam but not cooperating with the coalition or the current Iraqi authorities. That seems pretty odd, too, I think.

[T]hey are .... protesting the occupation of U.S. forces that they believe are putting local civilians in harm's way.

The threat to civilians in Iraq comes from the insurgents and foreign Islamists who have deliberately killed and maimed tens of thousands of Iraqis. I don't think one would find very many Iraqis who see the U.S. as a significant threat to their safety. On the other hand, one would find many Iraqis who would say that, although they don't like having American troops on their soil, neither do they want them to leave just yet.

They are there to protect their Iraqi friends from the U.S. military who has bombed their homes, factories, schools and hospitals.

I know of no evidence either that U.S. forces bombed schools and hospitals or that the CPT teams have prevented a single military action beyond the rescue of innocent abductees. Is there any evidence that CPT in Iraq has saved anyone, except the insurgents, from harm?

[T]hey think that the occupying forces are enforcing an unjust occupation and are to be opposed.

To be sure, they think this, but why, exactly, is the occupation unjust? What about it makes it unjust? I can understand (though I disagree) why they might think the war was unjust, but it doesn't follow that because the war was unjust that therefore the occupation is. What would be unjust would be for the U.S. to say we shouldn't have invaded in the first place, so we're getting out, and the Iraqi people are on their own. If that's what CPT wants the United States to do then they want us to execute what would perhaps be the greatest betrayal and act of treachery in modern history.

That they won't give information (if in fact that is even true, as you yourself wonder near the end of your piece) to people that they do not trust, who have been known to kill the wrong bad guys in other similar situations, is not at all--not at all!---the same situation as your hypothetical.

Have the police in this country not been known to make mistakes and shoot the wrong people? If Byron thinks it's not at all the same as the hypothetical I present, he and I will just have to disagree on that, but I'd like to see the CPT folks explain the nuances of the difference to the family of Jill Carroll and others who are being held against their will and whose lives are suspended in the balance.

And, by the way, as you know, they have thanked their rescuers, and done so formally and publicly. Since you know that, I wonder why you run this old piece without any correction to his inaccurate accusation?

The American branch of CPT has issued a bland blanket statement thanking any who were involved in the rescue. Neither the Canadian nor the British branch has done so, apparently, even though the rescued victims were Canadian and British. The article cited at the link above points this out.

Let's Talk Silver

Yeah, I know. You're thinking what's this guy who always talks about the benefits of gold up to? Well, consider the following and then decide for yourself.

Prior to 1964 our coinage used to be 90% silver. After that it was 40% silver. Today it's 0%. Our government has removed all of the true value of our coinage and today it has no intrinsic value.

Like gold, there are several ways to take a position in silver such as bullion or shares of companies that mine silver. Two companies worth mentioning are Silver Standard Resources Inc. (SSRI) and Coeur D'Alene Mining (CDE).

Silver is considered to be "the poor man's gold" since it's much less expensive and it tends to track the gold price. Both metals hit their low in 1999 and since then both have been steadily increasing in value.

The main reason I share my interest in silver is because of the principle of diversification. One's investment portfolio should be diversified for reasons of safety. Prudence dictates not to put all of one's eggs into one basket. While I'm on the topic of diversification, I'll also mention stocks of companies involved in energy and energy services but that's a topic for another post.

Demand for silver has been exceeding the supply for sixteenth consecutive years. This consistent supply deficit is a characteristic unique to silver and one that reinforces my belief in increasing silver prices over time. Ask yourself why our government doesn't issue silver dollars today. The answer is because they would be worth $10.75.

Whether one considers gold, silver, or energy they all have a common denominator. They each represent real assets and with the state of the world as it is today, real assets are going to continue to increase in value significantly.

Playground Squabble

Here's some time-wasting radio repartee between Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, and Alec Baldwin. Lots of name-calling, insults, and virtually zero light shed on anything that matters. If you're a WWF fan or are into mud wrestling you'll love this. Otherwise, you'll wonder why any of these guys get paid what they do.

Alec Baldwin is a contemptible human being, of course, and no one expects any better from him. He's the Hollywood actor who declared that Henry Hyde should be stoned to death along with his entire family. Hannity and Levin, however, should know better. They have a great platform for advancing the culture, raising the general level of discourse, and promoting ideas, but all they do is act toward anyone who dissents from their point of view like eight year olds in a playground altercation. All three of them sound on the transcript like they have the maturity of pre-pubescent boys squabbling over who gets to play with the toys.

Hannity refuses on his show to let callers who disagree with him talk - for that matter he barely lets callers who agree with him talk - he constantly interrupts and talks over them so that the listener is deprived of forming his own judgment of the merit of the caller's arguments. His idea of a rebuttal is to call someone who disgrees a "big liberal," as if that settles anything. It's as if the qualification for voicing, and being given a chance to defend, an opinion on Hannity's show is whether the opinion is one of which Hannity approves. It's as sad as it is disgusting.

Separating the Wheat From the Tares

Meanwhile, as Mexicans stream across our southern border unimpeded, keen-eyed immigration officials espy an obvious imposter:

When Indonesian Yose Rizal applied for religious asylum in the U.S., explaining that he had been beaten, fired, and threatened with death because of his Christian faith, and that his church had been burned by local Muslims, U.S. immigration lawyers asked him where Jesus had been crucified. "Bethlehem," Rizal answered. What disciples wrote the New Testament, they asked. He did not remember.

"Do you know who denied knowing Jesus after the crucifixion?" the lawyer pressed.

"Like whenever it comes to the details of the Bible stories, I cannot really recall everything in detail because basically what I learned was what's good and what's evil," Rizal answered.

"Sir, are you trying to tell me you don't know the answer to the question I asked you?" the lawyer said.

"I swear, I just learned about this story from the Bible but I don't really remember everything in detail because what I really remember was the teaching of what's good and what's evil, like you may not kill, you may not hurt people, and I just enjoy going to church to listen to the preachers."

"Give him something a little easier," the immigration judge told the government lawyer.

The lawyer went to the Old Testament: "Who was Moses?"

"Moses was born by Miriam," Rizal said, incorrectly identifying Moses' older sister.

"And who prepared the Ten Commandments?"


"You got that backwards," the lawyer said.

Rizal protested, describing his baptism. "[T]hey have some kind of wording, some kind of words before then, whether we really have the intention of being a Christian, whether we were ready or not and then after that, the preacher spread some holy water and then prayed, we prayed together."

"Do you have any other questions?" the judge finally said. "Because I think I've heard enough."

The government lawyer said that, yes, he had more questions, because Rizal "hasn't testified at all today regarding any of the [events] of persecution."

"Well, if I don't find he's a Christian, I don't even think it's necessary," the judge replied. Indeed in his decision denying Rizal asylum, the immigration judge ruled that the Indonesian "provided no evidence to corroborate his purported identity as a Christian....[He] also failed to persuade the Court of the genuineness of his professed Christian faith based on his inability to demonstrate basic knowledge of Christianity. For example, he identified Jesus as the preparer of the Ten Commandments and he identified Moses as the son of Mary."

Hah! Caught the rogue in a tissue of lies and ignorance. That'll teach a lesson to these ignorant third-world types who think they can fool an immigration judge with all that twaddle about Christianity being a love-affair, a romance with Christ. Everyone knows, especially the judge, that Christianity is really an ecclesiastical motor vehicle code that you have to learn just like a 16 year-old getting ready to take the test for her driver's license. If you know the facts well, then, you're a Christian. If you love Jesus, but don't know who wrote the Ten Commandments then you deserve to be sent back to the Muslim hell from which you came. The Body of Christ needs more such vigilance.

Actually, he identified him as the son of Miriam, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals noted in a Tuesday decision. And that's not the only point the appeals court corrected the immigration judge on. The immigration judge "appears to have erroneously viewed Rizal's lack of detailed doctrinal knowledge about Christianity as automatically rendering incredible his claim of religious persecution, without assessing the genuineness of Rizal's asserted Christian self-identification and his claim that others perceived him as a Christian and had persecuted him on that basis," Judge Robert Katzmann wrote for the court.

Doctrinal knowledge isn't a prerequisite for persecution, the court said, so it shouldn't be a prerequisite for asylum. "Both history and common sense make amply clear that people can identify with a certain religion, notwithstanding their lack of detailed knowledge about that religion's doctrinal tenets, and that those same people can be persecuted for their religious affiliation. Such individuals are just as eligible for asylum on religious persecution grounds as are those with more detailed doctrinal knowledge." The appeals court ordered the lower immigration courts to reconsider the asylum case. Rizal's lawyer notes that the Indonesian may be able to stay in the country a lot longer than earlier thought: Over the course of the appeals process, he married an American. An Associated Press story ends with a nice touch: "The pair ... met at church."

A refreshing breeze of common sense blows through the halls of the 2nd Court of Appeals. Thank God. Now if only they could bottle it and send some along to those immigration lawyers and the judge who heard the original case.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Inferiority Complex

Christianity Today has this chilling piece on the Abdul Rahman case. Rahman, you'll remember is the 41 year old Afghan man who converted from Islam to Christianity:

Almost every western nation is calling for the freedom of Abdul Rahman, the Afghan convert to Christianity who faces the death penalty for doing so. At the same time, Afghan clerics are threatening revolt and murder if the Afghan court does not execute him. Is there any way out? Prosecutor Sarinwal Zamari thinks there might be: Rahman, he said, seems crazy. "We think he could be mad," he told the Associated Press. "He is not a normal person. He doesn't talk like a normal person." Freeing Rahman on grounds of insanity would probably mean he would be killed by local Muslims. The Associated Press reports that local imams aren't buying the craziness excuse. Abdull Raoulf, who is a member of the country's main Islamic organization, the Afghan Ulama Council, agreed. "The government is playing games," said Abdul Raoulf. "The people will not be fooled. Cut off his head! We will call on the people to pull him into pieces so there's nothing left." The Associated Press identified Raoulf as a "moderate."

This is, Eugene Volokh notes, one of the most troubling things about calls for the death of Abdul Rahman. They're coming from clerics and ordinary lay people who are considered mainstream and "moderate":

The striking thing about the Abdul Rahman prosecution - in which an Afghanistan court is considering whether to execute Rahman because he converted from Islam to Christianity - is how Establishment the prosecution is. The case is before an official Afghani court. The death sentence is, to my knowlege, authorized by official Afghani law. The New York Times reports that the prosecutor, an Afghan government official, "called Mr. Rahman 'a microbe' who 'should be killed.'" The case is in a country which is close to the West, and is presumably under at least some special influence from Western principles (whether as a matter of conviction or of governmental self-interest).

We're not talking about some rogue terrorist group, or even the government of Iran, which is deliberately and strongly oppositional to the West. We're talking about a country that we're trying to set up as something of a model of democracy and liberty for the Islamic world. And yet the legal system is apparently seriously considering executing someone for nothing more than changing his religion.

This is telling evidence, it seems to me, that there is something very wrong in Islam today, and not just in some lunatic terrorist fringe. Doubtless many, I would hope most, Muslims would not endorse executing converts. But a strand of the religion, and a strand that is not far from the levers of political power in at least some countries, does seem to endorse such a position. This is deeply dangerous, most obviously to residents of countries in which radical Islamism has broad support, but also to residents of Western countries as well.

The incomprehensible (to the Western mind) hostility of Muslims to those who poke fun at their icons or forsake the religion altogether belies a fundamental insecurity in the Muslim consciousness about the validity of their belief system. They sense its inability to persuade the mind and realize it must be spread through fear and intimidation. Like communists during the cold war Muslims know that they have little to offer people so they must resort to the harshest of sanctions to keep the masses from straying across the border.

Compared to the spiritual and cultural riches of Christianity, Muslims subliminally realize, Islam is a religious ghetto. Muslims suffer from a lethal combination of inferiority and persecution complexes which cause the faithful to lash out in hatred at heretics and apostates like Salman Rushdie and Abdul Rahman. Any challenge to the slightest detail of the faith is seen as a dire threat to the entire edifice and must not be tolerated. This is not how people, secure and confident in the basic rightness of their beliefs, act.

Kill, Kill, Kill

The media's favorite Imam, the Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is about to tumble from his pedestal. The Ayatollah has sealed his doom with the Western media (and rightly so, we should add). Al-Sistani has issued a fatwa on his web site that demonstrates where enlightened Islam stands today:

In the midst of sectarian violence that threatens to drag Iraq into civil war, the country's influential Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has issued a violent death order against gays and lesbians on his Web site, according to London-based LGBT human rights groups OutRage.

Written in Arabic, the fatwa comes from a press conference with the powerful religious cleric, where he was asked about the judgment on sodomy and lesbianism. "Forbidden," Sistani answered, according to OutRage, "Punished, in fact, killed. The people involved should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing."

Considering Sistani's stature and influence within the Iraqi Shiite majority, OutRage member Ali Hili declared the cleric's statements extremely dangerous. "Sistani's murderous homophobic incitement has given a green light to Shia Muslims to hunt and kill lesbians and gay men," said Hili. "We hold Sistani personally responsible for the murder of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Iraqis. He gives the killers theological sanction and encouragement."

Muslims want to kill Abdul Rahman in Afghanistan because he's a Christian, they want to kill their wives and sisters because they date people of whom poppa doesn't approve, they want to kill gays and lesbians in Iraq because they're gay and lesbian. The Shia want to kill the Sunnis and vice-versa, and they both want to kill the Crusaders. Kill, kill, kill. What a religion. Allah be praised.

What Would Jesus Do?

Imagine you're one of the parents of the young woman journalist who has been kidnapped in Iraq. Every day you pray that she will be found. Your life is paralyzed because you can think of nothing else but her safety. And then you read that Christians who have been recently freed from kidnappers, and who may have information which could lead to the rescue of your daughter, refuse to help the people who are searching for her:

The three peace activists freed by an SAS-led coalition force after being held hostage in Iraq for four months refused to co-operate fully with an intelligence unit sent to debrief them, a security source claimed yesterday. The claim has infuriated those searching for other hostages.

We can imagine. We're quite certain it has also infuriated the families of other kidnap victims. We can't understand why the CPT people think it is somehow Christian to refuse to divulge information that would help rescue other victims. If a child had been kidnapped in their home town and they had information that could lead to the child's rescue but which might entail the use of force, would they refuse to tell the police what they know? Evidently so. It's hard to imagine Jesus approving of such smug self-righteousness which, like that of the Pharisees, elevates a rigid dogma over compassion for human beings.

The account in the Telegraph has some interesting information about the rescue, including this:

Neither the men nor the Canadian group that sent them to Iraq have thanked the people who saved them in any of their public statements.

Although the CPTs has welcomed the men's release, it has not thanked the rescuers in any of its statements. It blamed the kidnapping on the presence of foreign troops in the country, which was "responsible for so much pain and suffering in Iraq today". When told how angry the coalition was feeling, Claire Evans, a spokesman for the CPTs in America, said: "We are extremely grateful to everybody who had a role leading to the men's release."

Gen Sir Mike Jackson, the chief of the defence staff, told Channel 4 News: "I am slightly saddened that there does not seem to have been a note of gratitude for the soldiers who risked their lives to save those lives." Asked if he meant that Mr Kember had not said thank you, he said: "I hope he has and I have missed it."

It emerged that about 50 soldiers, led by the SAS, including men from 1 Bn the Parachute Regiment and the Royal Marines, as well as American and Canadian special forces, entered the kidnap building at dawn. A deal had been struck with a man detained the previous night who was one of the leaders of the kidnappers. He was allowed a telephone call to warn his henchmen to leave the kidnap house. When the troops moved in and found the prisoners alive, they also let him go as promised.

Perhaps CPT has in fact cooperated in the search for other victims to the extent that they are able, but their assistance just hasn't been made public. We hope so. If, on the other hand, CPT thinks they are reflecting Christ to the world by refusing to help they're deluding themselves and giving Christianity as big a black eye as Pat Robertson ever has.

A Blessing to the World

Science and Theology News has this item about a new book by Baylor Prof Rodney Stark:

It's one of history's most important questions: Why did Europe and North America embrace democracy and thrive economically while nations elsewhere suffered oppression and stagnation?

According to leading U.S. sociologist Rodney Stark, many scholars purposely overlook the obvious answer: It was the spread of Christianity that made possible political and economic freedoms, modern science and resulting Western advancement.

Such is the Baylor University professor's contention in The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism and Western Success, one of the more provocative of recent books whose vigorous prose reflects the author's one-time employment as a newspaper reporter.

Although Western intellectuals downplay theology, Stark said he sees Christian beliefs as the key. He said the basis for the West's rise was "an extraordinary faith in reason'' resulting from Christianity, which "alone embraced reason and logic as the primary guide to religious truth.'' Faith in humanity's reasoning capacity, in turn, stimulated scientific theory-making, democratic theory and individual freedoms. Capitalism applied this to economics, producing an explosion of wealth, he said.

Stark rejects the century-old scenario of Max Weber that Protestantism under-girded capitalism. He said that the main elements were invented by Catholic monks and lay Italians centuries before the Reformation.

But Stark ignores the impact of the Jews' biblical view of the world that was later adopted by Christians. He also impugns Islam, arguing that a major segment of Muslim thought "condemns all efforts to formulate natural laws as blasphemy in that they deny Allah's freedom to act. Thus, Islam did not fully embrace the notion that the universe ran along on fundamental principles laid down by God at the creation.''

It seems to be a consensus view among scholars that the ancient Christian convictions that the world is a created entity, that it was brought into being by a rational God, and that man is to be a steward of the earth, led to the beliefs that it is not blasphemous to study the world, that the world is not capricious and will thus reveal its secrets to rational inquiry, and that it is here for our use. These ideas in turn led to the development of Western science, technology, and progress in improving the quality of human life.

Christianity has not been without its shortcomings, of course, but on balance it has been a wonderful blessing to humanity.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

This Land is Your Land

Tens of thousands of people poured into the streets all across the country yesterday to demand, essentially, that the United States abolish its border with Mexico so that anyone who wants to come into this country can do so. The logical outcome of an open border, of course, is a massive population shift of Mexicans into the U.S. with all the demands on public services that that entails.

Congress is considering bills that would make it a felony to be illegally in the United States, impose new penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants and erect fences along one-third of the U.S.-Mexican border. The proposals have angered many Hispanics who believe it is their God-given right to live wherever they want.

We're curious as to why the sponsors of the bill wish to limit the fence to a mere third of the border. Run it the whole way, for heaven's sake. Good fences make good neighbors, we've been told.

One protestor, Malissa Greer, 29, who joined a crowd estimated by police to be at least 10,000 strong, was quoted as saying of the illegals: "They're here for the American Dream, God created all of us. He's not a God of the United States, he's a God of the world," whatever that has to do with anything.

In Georgia, activists said tens of thousands of workers did not show up at their jobs Friday after calls for a work stoppage to protest a bill passed by the Georgia House on Thursday. That bill, which has yet to gain Senate approval, would deny state services to adults living in the U.S. illegally and impose a 5 percent surcharge on wire transfers from illegal immigrants.

Tens of thousands of Georgians apparently believe that illegal Mexicans have a legitimate claim to your wallet. They wouldn't put it that way, of course. They'd say that they're good for the economy because they do work that Americans won't do. That, however, is not the point. If we need them as workers then there should be a way of bringing them into the country in a lawful, orderly fashion.

In the meantime, if they're illegal they should be sent home and prevented from returning. If the administration doesn't soon provide some common sense leadership on this issue then Bush's approval numbers will continue their descent into political purgatory, and he'll deserve it.

More Clever Ads

No Left Turns, having pointed us to the way-cool beer commercial the other day, links us today to a couple of new car ads that are also cleverly done. For the first go here and follow the link. For the second go here.

You'll need your sound on.

You Are What You Eat

Here is scientific confirmation of what everybody already knew to be true:

Playing violent video games changes brain function and desensitizes chronic players to violence, according to a new study led by University of Michigan researchers. The study, to be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, was conducted by Brad Bushman, a professor of psychology and communications studies and a faculty associate at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research; Bruce Bartholow, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Missouri-Columbia; and Marc Sestir at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Researchers asked 39 male undergraduates how often they played their five favorite video games, and how violent the games were. The researchers also assessed participants' irritability and aggressiveness, asking them how much they identified with statements such as: "I easily fly off the handle with those who don't listen or understand" and "If somebody hits me, I hit back."

The researchers outfitted participants with electrode caps to obtain EEG data, including the average amplitude of a particular type of brainwave, known as P300, which is believed to be an indicator of how people evaluate a stimulus, such as a photograph.

The researchers found participants who routinely played violent video games responded less to violent images, as measured by diminished P300 brainwaves. This was not true of their response to other, equally negative, nonviolent images.

Just as our body reflects what it is fed, so, too, does the brain. Feed the body fat, and it becomes fat (I know this from personal experience). Feed the brain violence, and it becomes violent, or at least more tolerant of violence. It's nice that science frequently just confirms common sense.

Is Polyamory in Our Future?

William Saletan, writing in Slate, doesn't think much of the argument that legalizing gay marriage will make polyamory (polygamy and group "love") inevitable. He states that human jealousy insures that such unions don't last, do not work, and that there will not be a large constituency for them.

His premises may all be correct, it may be true, for instance, that jealousy is an ineradicable human trait, but his conclusion that it would prevent people from wanting to form marriages between multiple partners simply doesn't follow. Just because certain kinds of unions are inherently unstable doesn't mean that people won't want to try them. It only takes a few people who wish to push the envelope, even if they themselves are not interested in a life-long commitment, to challenge the law. And when they do there will be no logical or legal justification for denying them the right to try to make the unorthodox arrangement work.

Another human trait is that people have a tendency to pull down every stop sign along the highway to total freedom, especially sexual freedom. People can be found who will try to do whatever they think they can do. Once the gender of those entering into marriage is no longer legally relevant there will be no justification for arbitrarily saying that the number of people entering into a marriage is legally relevant. Mr. Saletan is simply naive if he thinks that the human predisposition toward jealousy will insure that the law will not give way to logic.

Friday, March 24, 2006

In A Box

The Federal Reserve and its new chairman Mr. Ben Bernanke are in a box. By this I mean there are opposing issues that prevent them from taking action that will solve their problem.

Consider this report:

This is indicative of a slowing of the economy. In order to stimulate the housing market, the Fed would have to reduce interest rates to make the purchase of new homes more attractive.

The catch is that a reduction in interest rates will make investment in U.S. treasury debt by foreigners less attractive and they will look elsewhere to invest their dollars. If we don't continue to receive the billions of dollars daily from foreigners that finance the U.S. debt, the shortfall will have to be filled by the printing of dollars. This will inevitably lead to more inflation. If foreign investors perceive an inflationary trend in the U.S. they will back off on their investment of U.S. debt. which will fuel a cycle of less investment in the U.S.

Here's another report report that indicates that many existing home owners may already be under water regarding their mortgage and that many individuals are in for some real financial pain.

Given the above, I can only wonder what contribution these people are going to be able to make to the economy in terms of spending. The answer is, most likely, not much. And if that's the case, a recession or worse is likely.

Understanding the current state of affairs, it is easy to see why the Federal Reserve has discontinued publishing the M3 money supply figure as of yesterday. It will make it difficult if not impossible for analysts to determine our true rate of inflation but even so, the results will surely become apparent to the casual observer in short order.

There's no doubt that the money supply is going to go to the moon. I may have been mistaken in my suspicion that the reason for the discontinuance of M3 reporting was specifically because of Iran's intent to establish the oil bourse selling oil for euros but it hardly matters. It appears that several months ago when the Fed announced it would discontinue the report they could see that they would have to flood the economy with dollars (and try to hide the fact) either because of Iran's intentions or because of the news linked above, or for other reasons that we don't know of yet but it hardly matters what the cause is. The fact of the matter is that we are where we are and consequently, it looks like the Fed will be pressured to print enormous amounts of dollars.

Got gold?

Bias? What Bias?

More light is shed on why people are tuning out the MSM:

A top producer at ABC News declared "Bush makes me sick" in an email obtained by the Drudge Report.

John Green, currently executive producer of the weekend edition of Good Morning America, unloaded on the president in an ABC company email obtained by the Drudge Report.

"If he uses the 'mixed messages' line one more time, I'm going to puke," Green complained.

The blunt comments by Green, along with other emails obtained by the Drudge Report, further reveal the inner workings of the nation's news outlets.

A friend of Green's at ABC says Green is mortified by the email. "John feels so badly about this email. He is a straight shooter and great producer who is always fair. That said, he deeply regrets the sentiment expressed in the email and the embarrassment it causes ABC News."

We're sure that Mr. Green, his embarrassment notwithstanding, was boffo in network newsrooms around the country for expressing these bold and courageous sentiments about the evil Mr. Bush. He'll probably get a raise.

The Baghdad Documents

ABC News has examined several documents captured in Baghdad after the invasion and finds evidence that:

1. The Russian ambassador who was also implicated in the oil-for-food scam was relaying military information to Saddam about the composition, deployment, and strategy of American forces. He apparently had a source in American Central Command at Doha, Qatar.

2. There was contact between Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban and Iraqi officials concerning the possibility of concerted action against American forces in Saudi Arabia in the mid-nineties as well as possible strikes on American soil.

Of course, the Bush administration has maintained this second point all along, if rather irresolutely, and for their pains they've been made sport of by the lefty media and the Democrats. The argument, however, has been swinging back in the administration's favor for some time now, and the set of plausible criticisms of the White House's decision to go to war continues to shrink.

Saint Fidel

In the left's pantheon of saints few rank higher than Fidel Castro. Thus when Delf�n Fern�ndez, a former member of Castro's inner circle, starts telling tales, it's as distressing to the left as unflattering cartoons of the prophet (PBUH) are to Muslims. Here's some of what Fernandez says in the Miami Herald:

"The initial idea of Fidel was good. Batista was an assassin," Fern�ndez said. "What happened was, the course he took with the revolution was wrong. It has dissolved into this unstoppable, insatiable corruption without limits, a vast lie. The people are in misery. Cuba's people have been enslaved as cheap labor for foreign businessmen."

Fidel Castro turns 80 this year, and he has become obsessed with his health, Fern�ndez said. The Castro brothers each have their own clinics and their own doctors in Havana's Council of State Building and in the Cimeq Hospital. Last year, Fidel Castro built a multimillion-dollar clinic a few yards from his front door, on the grounds of his Havana estate, Fern�ndez said he learned from his island contacts.

Fern�ndez said he carried suitcases with cash out of Cuba for the Castro brothers. Fern�ndez's photographs include several of him with the children of Fidel and Ra�l at one of their beachfront estates and with many high-profile Spanish businessmen.

"Cuba has a death sentence against me for high treason."

No wonder. He may as well have called the Pope an adulterer as to point out that Fidel lives like a filthy rich capitalist pig. I wonder how many of the proles languishing in the Havana barrios have their very own multi-million dollar clinic. Apparently, Cuba's revolution simply replaced one borgeoisie class with another. So much for Karl Marx's vision of social equality, in Cuba, or anywhere else, for that matter, where communists have held power.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Tarnished Witness

Everyone has been commenting on this already, but it bears mentioning that the statement put out by Christian Peacemaker Teams on the occasion of the rescue of their kidnapped brethren is at the very least, churlish. The statement refers to the rescue as a "release." It thanks the Iraqi people and Muslims around the world for their expressions of support. In it CPT renews their commitment to loving their enemies. But there is not a single word of gratitude to the men who worked so hard and risked their lives to rescue the victims from their captors and those who murdered the American Tom Fox.

The CPT people are able to affirm their love for their kidnappers and murderers, and that is admirable, but where is the love for those who delivered them from the evil they suffered? Where is the acknowledgement of their indebtedness? Or are some enemies just too far beyond the pale to merit being loved no matter how much they risked on behalf of the CPT members?

To be so hostile to the military that a word of thanks for the effort and risk of those young soldiers simply cannot be summoned evinces a coldness of heart that deeply tarnishes the luster of their Christian witness.

Update: Wretchard at Belmont Club holds little back in his assessment of the people at Christian Peacemaker Teams. It's hard to dispute the conclusions he draws about their thoughtlessness.

Further Update: Apparently CPT is feeling a lot of heat and has realized that they've made a substantial public relations blunder. They've issued an addendum tonight to their original statement.

A Meaningful Life

BeliefNet has an interview with Daniel Dennett, the Tuft's philosopher who has written a book titled Breaking the Spell, by which he means the spell that religion holds over people's lives.

BN: Your book implies that many people believe in God or at least believe in "belief" because they don't know how else to lead meaningful lives. How can you explain to someone how life can be meaningful without God?

DD: Well, by leading a meaningful life....Nobody wants to spend their life going around being the 'village atheist.' They're much more interested in just leading a good and normal life.

This is very unhelpful advice coming from a philosopher. One can lead a meaningful life by leading a meaningful life. Yessiree. Of course, the problem is if death is final then nothing we do is really meaningful in any ultimate sense. We're born, we live, we die, and nothing we do in the interim matters. Our lives are footprints in the sand at the edge of the surf. The next wave washes them away, and it's as if we'd never been there at all. I sometimes ask my students this question: How many can tell me anything at all about their great, great grandparents? In a class of thirty I'll sometimes have maybe two or three hands go up. The fact is that those people of three or four generations ago, their hopes, dreams, joys, and sufferings, their whole lives, are anonymous to us even though we are their descendents. Someday someone might ask our great, great grandchildren what they can say about their great, great grandparents - you and me - and they'll just shrug and shake their heads. It'll be as if we never lived at all. Eternal death quite simply renders all life pointless and absurd.

BN: Is it possible to be both religious and rational?

DD: That's what I'm trying to find out.

Well, maybe we can help: If God does not exist then we have no basis for believing that reason is a reliable guide to truth and therefore no basis for trusting it and no particular "reason" to live rationally. If there is no God then our reason has evolved to help us survive the exigencies of prehistoric life, but survival is only coincidentally related to truth about the world. Thus, reason evolved to assist our survival in a world which no longer exists, but it did not evolve as a means of facilitating the discovery of truth. Consequently, not only can one be both religious and rational, but the religious person, who sees reason as a gift from the Creator, has much firmer ground for valuing reason than does the atheist who sees it as a mere by-product of purposeless, non-rational processes.

We cite for Professor Dennett any of the members of the Society of Christian Philosophers as an example of the happy union between rationality and religion, and refer him in particular to Alvin Plantinga's book Warranted Christian Belief.

BN: Do you believe science and religion must be in conflict, or are they ever compatible?

DD: I think there is quite a conflict. I've never been persuaded by those self-appointed moderates in science who keep insisting there's no real conflict between science and religion if they keep to their proper bailiwicks. If you look at what the proper bailiwick for religion turns out to be, it's pretty darn narrow. If you think that religion is a path to any kind of factual truth, on any matter--like the creation of the biosphere, the age of the earth--if you think that religion has anything at all to say about that, or if you think that religion has anything to say about the truths of the stories in its own sacred texts, then you're just wrong.

Well, that settles that. Believers must abandon the field in the face of such powerful reasoning: Religion contains no factual truth, and if you think it does, you're wrong. No wonder atheists like Dennett call themselves "Brights."

The "Manly" Presidency

Ruth Marcus thinks the problem with the Bush administration is that it's too manly. She'd prefer that the Bushies get in touch with their feminine side:

But the manliness of the Bush White House has a darker side that has proved more curse than advantage. The prime example is the war in Iraq: the administration's assertion of the right to engage in preemptive and unilateral war; the resolute avoidance of debate about the "slam-dunk" intelligence on weapons of mass destruction; the determined lack of introspection or self-doubt about the course of the war; and the swaggering dismissal of dissenting views as the carping of those not on the team.

The administration's manliness doesn't stop at the water's edge. Pushing another round of tax cuts in 2003, Vice President Cheney sounded like a warrior claiming tribute after victory in battle: "We won the midterms. This is our due," Cheney reportedly said. After the 2004 election, Bush exuded the blustering self-assurance of a president who had political capital to spend -- or thought he did -- and wasn't going to think twice before plunking down the whole pile on Social Security.

Mansfieldian (A reference to Harvey Mansfield, the Harvard professor who wrote a book titled Manliness)_manliness is present as well in Bush's confident -- overconfident -- response to Hurricane Katrina (insert obligatory "Brownie" quote here). And the administration's claim of almost unfettered executive power is the ultimate in manliness: how manly to conclude that Congress gave the go-ahead to ignore a law without it ever saying so; how even manlier to argue that your inherent authority as commander in chief would permit you to brush aside those bothersome congressional gnats if they tried to stop eavesdropping without a warrant.

Mansfield writes that he wants to "convince skeptical readers -- above all, educated women" -- that "irrational manliness deserves to be endorsed by reason." Sorry, professor: You lose. What this country could use is a little less manliness -- and a little more of what you would describe as womanly qualities: restraint, introspection, a desire for consensus, maybe even a touch of self-doubt.

That's just what we need. Hamlet in the White House. The only reason pundits such as Ms Marcus want less "manly" men in government is so that the media can bully and henpeck them into doing their bidding. Bush holds the media and their opinions in condign contempt, making them feel, well, emasculated. These political eunuchs chafe at their irrelevancy in matters of policy formation and resent and envy the self-confidence and resolve of those responsible for their impotence. Dr. Freud might say that Ms Marcus and others in the media who hold views similar to hers suffer from a kind of political penis-envy.

Under the Tyrant's Heel

Jeff Jacoby has an excellent column in the Boston Globe titled The Humanitarian Case for the War. Here's the first half of it:

"I WONDERED at first whether the women were exaggerating." The writer is Pamela Bone, a noted Australian journalist and self-described "left-leaning, feminist, agnostic, environmentalist internationalist." She is writing about a group of female Iraqi emigrees whom she met in November 2000.

"They told me that in Iraq, the country they had fled, women were beheaded with swords and their heads nailed to the front doors of their houses, as a lesson to other women. The executed women had been dishonoring their country with their sexual crimes, and this behavior could not be tolerated, the then-Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, had said on national television. More than 200 women had been executed in this manner in the previous three weeks. . . . Because the claims seemed so extreme, I checked Amnesty International's country report. . . . Some of the women's 'sexual crimes' were having been raped by one of Saddam's sons. One of the women executed was a doctor who had complained of corruption in the government health department."

Bone's words appear in an essay she contributed to "A Matter of Principle: Humanitarian Arguments for War in Iraq," a 2005 collection edited by Wellesley College sociologist Thomas Cushman. To read her essay this week, with the war entering its fourth year, is to be reminded of the abiding moral power of the liberal case for the war. While most of the left was always opposed to liberating Iraq, a small but honorable minority never lost sight of the vast humanitarian stakes: Defeating Saddam would mean ending one of the most unspeakable dictatorships of modern times. Wasn't that a goal anyone with progressive values should embrace?

That was why, "in February 2003, when asked to speak at a rally for peace, I politely declined," Bone writes. "But I added, less politely, that if there were to be a rally condemning the brutality Saddam Hussein was inflicting on his people . . . I would be glad to speak at it."

But condemning Saddam's brutality, let alone doing something to end it, was not a priority for most of the left. I remember asking Ted Kennedy during the run-up to the war why he and others in the antiwar camp seemed to have so little sympathy for the countless victims of Ba'athist tyranny. Even if they thought an invasion was unwise, couldn't they at least voice some solidarity with the innocent human beings writhing in Saddam's Iraqi hell?

Click on the link to read the senator's fatuous reply to Jacoby's question.

If Afghanistan and Iraq can make their liberation stick, the stories of hundreds of thousands of people like these Iraqi women will reverberate down through the caverns of history and future observers will look back at what America has done with admiration and awe. As for those who opposed freeing fifty million Afghans and Iraqis, they will be viewed with retrospective astonishment. How, historians of the future will wonder, could anyone who claimed to care about oppressed people prefer a course of action that would have left the Taliban and Saddam Hussein in power when they could have been removed? And how could those same people, people who claimed to be in solidarity with the downtrodden and the tyrannized of the third world, so hate the one man most responsible for relieving the misery of those whose faces were being ground under the heel of the tyrant's boot?

The answers those questions elicit will probably not be very flattering to the left.