Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Best American Novel Contest Update

With 3500 votes having been cast Powerline's Best American Novel contest shows Huckleberry Finn in the lead so far. You can still vote for your choice here (The poll is in the far right margin of the page).

Match Point

Summer is a good time to get caught up on the books I wanted to read during the school year and the movies I wanted to watch. One of the latter is Woody Allen's Match Point. Allen often gives the viewer's intellect something to chew on in his films, and I generally enjoy his stuff, even if it sometimes is gratuitously salacious, as Match Point is.

Match Point is really a conflation of Allen's earlier Crimes and Misdemeanors with Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. The main character, Chris Wilton, is a British Raskolnikov, a Nietzschean Uber Man who faces a problem quite similar to that faced by Martin Landau in C&M. A woman with whom he has been having an affair threatens to spill the beans to his wife.

At the outset of the story Wilton observes that "It seems scientists are confirming more and more that all existence is here by blind chance; [there's] no purpose, no design." Allen returns to the idea of life being just a matter of chance or luck several times throughout the movie and ties it together brilliantly at the end.

In the same conversation another character opines that, "Despair is the path of least resistance." To which Wilton responds, "I think that faith is the path of least resistance."

Chris Wilton is a modern man for whom religious faith is never considered except once and then only to be dismissed with derision: A man who lost both legs subsequently found Jesus, Chris tells us. To which Chris' brother in law-to-be responds "Sounds like a poor trade."

But by the end of the movie Wilton is himself in despair, having, like Raskolnikov, drunk deeply of the cup of his nihilistic convictions. It is only incredible good luck that saves him from utter ruin. He recognizes that, given his disdain for faith, his life is meaningless and that there is no justice in the world:

"It would be fitting if I were apprehended and punished. At least there would be some small sign of justice - some small measure of hope for the possibility of meaning."

But for Chris life is without purpose, meaning, or justice, and consequently there's no moral obligation, either. All is chance, sheer luck. So it is for modern man without God. If God is dead, as he is for the Chris Wiltons of the world, then life is a great yawning emptiness that nothing can fill. It is day after day of meaningless, grindingly pointless existence. It is the life of Meursault in Camus' The Stranger.

Chris' wife chirpily proclaims that she doesn't care, she loves life anyway, but she is a woman who thinks little about anything beyond how to get herself pregnant. She plays Marie to Wilton's Meursault.

Wilton turns out to be indeed incredibly lucky (the movie's very clever ending is based on this), but one wonders whether his luck has saved him or whether it has condemned him to the hell of existing without purpose or meaning.

In Hannah and Her Sisters Allen says that he "doesn't want to go on living in a Godless universe. The only thing we can know for certain is that life is meaningless." Allen seems to have spent a career wrestling with the modern predicament. He doesn't want to believe there is a God, but he finds it difficult to live with the existential consequences of unbelief. Man has to believe in something, but if there is no God there's nothing worth believing in.

Follow Up

Ben Stein offers up a great article on corporate malfeasance that dovetails nicely with my post from the other day.

From the link:

Isn't there ever enough for you guys? You're already rich in every single case. You already have immense corporate perks. Isn't that enough? Do you also have to steal?


This country is at war. It's an outrage that while we're at war, executives who are already fabulously rich are stealing and are at liberty. America is humiliated by its brightest and most ambitious looting it, while its young men and women die for it.

Reactionaries at the ACLU

The ACLU is all for free speech, or so we have been told. It turns out, though, that this is only true when the speech is such as is deemed acceptable to the membership of the ACLU, even if the dissenting voices are directors on the ACLU's governing board:

The ACLU has always been a strong First Amendment advocate, but the pro-abortion group is planning to toss aside the free speech rights of its board members after some of them criticized the group for supporting a Congressional abortion bill that would unfairly target pregnancy centers. The ACLU joined leading pro-abortion organizations last month in backing a measure that would threaten to shut down pregnancy centers that abortion advocates say deceive women because they don't do abortions.

Members of the ACLU board gave various media interviews saying they disagreed with the groups decision to support the bill and say the board should have been consulted. Now the pro-abortion group is asking for board members to remain silent and not give public interviews about such disagreements.

An ACLU committee has proposed new standards for its board members and says they should no longer speak to the media and be mindful of the financial costs of public disagreement. "Where an individual director disagrees with a board position on matters of civil liberties policy, the director should refrain from publicly highlighting the fact of such disagreement," the committee proposes, according to a New York Times report.

Nat Henthoff, a former ACLU board member who is pro-life and a nationally syndicated columnist, told the Times: "For the national board to consider promulgating a gag order on its members -- I can't think of anything more contrary to the reason the ACLU exists."

"I find it quite appalling that the ACLU is actively supporting this," board member Wendy Kaminer told the New York Sun in an interview shortly after the ACLU supported the bill. "I think this is precisely the kind of legislation we should be opposing, not supporting."

"I am troubled by the assumption in the legislation that abortion services, as a matter of linguistics and a matter of law, cannot include discussing with a woman why she shouldn't have an abortion," Kaminer said.

This is rich. Someone needs to explain to idealists like Hentoff and Kaminer that, contrary to their fervent asseverations, many leftists simply don't see free speech as a good in itself. It is only a good insofar as it can be used to weaken the social fabric that has held this country together for 200 years. It is certainly not prudent, in their view, to so liberalize speech that it be a potential impediment to the work of the ACLU itself as it seeks to undermine the institutions of this nation. Such a freedom would be, well, reactionary.

Putting the Cart Before the Horse

William Dembski quotes this astonishing passage from a speech given this spring by uber-Darwinist and atheist Daniel Dennett:

The late Steve Gould was really right when he called Richard and me Darwinian fundamentalists. And I want to say what a Darwinian fundamentalist is. A Darwinian fundamentalist is one who recognizes that either you shun Darwinian evolution altogether, or you turn the traditional universe upside down and you accept that mind, meaning, and purpose are not the cause but the fairly recent effects of the mechanistic mill of Darwinian algorithms. It is the unexceptioned view that mind, meaning, and purpose are not the original driving engines, but recent effects that marks, I think, the true Darwinian fundamentalist.

How can such heartless culling produce the magnificent designs that we see around us? It seems just about impossible that such a simple mechanical sieve could produce such amazing design in the biosphere.

Francis Crick called Orgel's Second Rule. "Evolution is cleverer than you are."

Again and again evolutionists, molecular biologists, biologists in general, see some aspect of nature which seems to them to be sort of pointless or daft or doesn't make much sense - and then they later discover it's in fact an exquisitely ingenious design - it is a brilliant piece of design - that's what Francis Crick means by Orgel's Second Rule.

This might almost look like a slogan for Intelligent Design theory. Certainly Crick was not suggesting that the process of evolution was a process of intelligent design. But then how can evolution be cleverer than you are?

What you have to understand is that the process itself has no foresight; it's entirely mechanical; has no purpose - but it just happens that that very process dredges up, discovers, again and again and again, the most wonderfully brilliant designs - and these designs have a rationale. We can make sense of them. We can reverse-engineer them, and understand why they are the wonderful designs they are.

It would help us to understand how this is possible if we could break all this brilliant design work up into processes which we could understand the rationale of, without attributing it to the reason of some intelligent designer. [In other words, it would help if there were a shred of evidence for Darwinian algorithms having the creative power that Dennett attributes to them. -WmAD]

These processes are arms races. Not just arms races between armies of intelligent people, but arms races between trees, and between bacteria, and between any form of life you want to name. We can watch an arms race generate more and more design, more exquisite solutions to problems, in ways that are strikingly similar to the more intelligently (but not very intelligently) guided arms races that give us the metaphor in the first place.

Of all the species on the planet, Homo sapiens, is exceptional: it is the only species that has evolved that can understand that it's one of the fruits on the tree of life.

It's hard to read this without getting the feeling that Dennett is trying with all his might not to admit that living things certainly appear to be intelligently designed. Indeed, were it not for Dennett's a priori committment to atheism he would probably not even bother to engage in such a laborious struggle. He gives the game away in this paragraph where he tries to convince us that a blind, mecahnical process is even more brilliant, more ingenious, than the most clever of human engineers:

What you have to understand is that the process itself has no foresight; it's entirely mechanical; has no purpose - but it just happens that that very process dredges up, discovers, again and again and again, the most wonderfully brilliant designs - and these designs have a rationale. We can make sense of them. We can reverse-engineer them, and understand why they are the wonderful designs they are.

Dennett's confidence that, despite all appearances to the contrary, living things are not really intelligently designed rests upon his confidence that there is no intelligent designer. In philosophy this sort of thinking is called begging the question, or less technically, putting the cart before the horse.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Best American Novel

Any literature enthusiasts out there? Powerline is taking a poll on the greatest American novel. They have twenty one nominations and directions for voting here. I am sorry to admit that I have only read about half of them so I don't feel qualified to vote. If I were to vote on the one's I've read, however, I think I'd have to pick Moby Dick first and Uncle Tom's Cabin second. They were both, in different ways, very powerful reads.

No. The Da Vinci Code is not on the list.

A Rogues' Gallery

If Stuart Taylor at National Journal were playing horseshoes almost every sentence of his essay about the Duke lacrosse team would be a ringer:

My rogues' gallery does not (in all probability) include any Duke University lacrosse player. That's because the available evidence leaves me about 85 percent confident that the three members who have been indicted on rape charges are innocent and that the accusation is a lie. (Some evidence was in my April 29 column; some is below.)

The gallery does include more than 90 members of the Duke faculty who have prejudged the case, with some exuding the anti-white racism and disdain for student-athletes that pollutes many college faculties.

The gallery also includes former Princeton University President William Bowen and civil-rights lawyer Julius Chambers. They went out of their way to slime the lacrosse players in a report on the Duke administration's handling of the rape scandal -- a report that is a parody of race-obsessed political correctness.

Many members of the national media have published grossly one-sided accounts of the case while stereotyping the lacrosse players as spoiled, brutish louts and glossing over the accuser's huge credibility problems.

Then there is Mike Nifong, the Durham, NC, district attorney who is prosecuting the case. In addition to the misconduct detailed in my April 29 column, he has shielded his evidence (if any) from public scrutiny while seeking to keep the rape charges hanging over the defendants by delaying any trial until next spring....

....Am I prejudging the case myself? Yes, in that I have not yet seen all of the evidence. And yes, in that there could be an innocent explanation for the recent arrest of the cabbie by rape-case investigators under a two-and-half-year-old, apparently frivolous shoplifting warrant.

But when a petty-tyrant prosecutor has perverted and prolonged the legal process without disclosing his supposed evidence, and when academics and journalists have joined in smearing presumptively innocent young men as racist, sexist brutes -- in the face of much contrary evidence -- it's not too early to offer tentative judgments.

I'll start with Houston Baker, a Duke professor of English and of African and African-American studies. In a public letter dated March 29, he assailed "white ... male athletes, veritably given license to rape, maraud, deploy hate speech" and "sport their disgraced jerseys on campus, safe under the cover of silent whiteness." He all but pronounced them guilty of "abhorrent sexual assault, verbal racial violence, and drunken white, male privilege loosed amongst us" against a "black woman who their violence and raucous witness injured for life." And on he raved, oozing that brand of racism which consists of falsely smearing decent people as racists.

If you're interested in this case you should read the rest of Taylor's piece at the link. It's the best single article on this episode that I've seen.

Why We Must Stop Illegal Immigration

The Heritage Foundation has released a study on "low-skill" immigration that concludes that it will substantially raise welfare costs and poverty levels. They recommend the following:

1. The influx of illegal immigrants should be stopped by rigorous border security programs and strong programs to prevent employers from employing illegals.

2. Amnesty and citizenship should not be given to current illegal immigrants. Amnesty has nega�tive fiscal consequences and is manifestly unfair to those who have waited for years to enter the country lawfully. Amnesty would also serve as a magnet, drawing even more future illegal immigration.

3. Any guest worker program should grant tem�porary, not permanent, residence and should not be a pathway to citizenship. A guest worker program should not disproportionately swell the ranks of low-skill workers.

4. Children born to parents who are illegal immi�grants or to future guest workers should not be given citizenship status. Granting citizen�ship automatically confers welfare eligibility and makes it unlikely the parent will ever leave the U.S.

5. The legal immigration system grants lawful permanent residence to some 950,000 per�sons each year. This system should be altered to substantially increase the proportion of new entrants with high levels of education and skills in demand by U.S. firms. Under current law, foreign-born parents and siblings of natu�ralized citizens are given preference for entry visas. The current visa allotments for family members (other than spouses and minor chil�dren) should be eliminated, and quotas for employment- and skill-based entry increased proportionately.

Meanwhile, LaShawn Barber links us to Politics of Prudence which notes that a Columbuia University study found that over a 5-year period it would cost $340 billion to accomodate illegals, but only $206 billion to deport them.

LaShawn also dug up an editorial from the Gulf Times, a Qatar newspaper. Read this excerpt:

The estimated 1.1 million illegal immigrants currently in the nation's public school system cost taxpayers' $9.6 billion every year in an attempt to educate them (despite the illegal immigrant community's epidemic-scale dropout rates). The 2.2 million children of illegal immigrants in America, often referred to as "anchor babies" to ensure the parents can stay, add an additional $20 billion to that tab.

In California, the 2004-05 state budget spent $9,811 per pupil in the classroom. An estimated 425,000 illegal immigrants in the state's classrooms during that period cost taxpayers' more than $4bn - a figure that does not include the "anchor baby" population in the classroom.

More than 40,000 illegal immigrants jammed California's prison system in 2004, costing taxpayers $1.5 billion in tax funds not reimbursed by the federal government.

In one of the cruellest jokes played on the American taxpayers, illegal immigrants are allowed to claim children living back in Mexico and qualify for the earned-income tax credit that traditionally has helped the American poor (my emphasis).

These numbers are just the tip of a fiscal iceberg that government officials have slammed the American ship of state into - and now they are striking up the band and rearranging the deck chairs.

Americans hear the mantra every day that without illegal immigrants working in jobs that citizens are too lazy to do, everything from a clean hotel room to a head of lettuce would skyrocket in price.

A day without a Mexican - the refrain now goes - would literally lead to the collapse of the American economy. To the contrary, a year without the crushing weight of millions of illegal immigrants on communities and their budgets just may save the American working and middle class.

Yet there is precious little discussion of how a family of six Mexican nationals living in Pomona, California, who soak up nearly $40,000 annually in taxpayer funds just to educate their four children, is contributing more back into the economy. Consider even if the primary wage-earner in this family grossed $35,000 annually, a fortune back in Mexico, most of that income is likely to be off-the-books and under-taxed.

But education is only one part of the social services system meant for at-risk and in-need Americans that illegal immigrants have drilled into: heath-care costs and subsidised housing are two other areas where the crushing cost of illegal immigration is destroying the system.

It is arguments like this that have convinced many Republicans that George Bush, whatever his merits in fighting the GWOT, simply cannot be counted on to do the right thing to preserve this nation from the tsunami that is washing across the Rio Grande. Neither can about a dozen Republican senators and virtually all of the Democrats. That's why some are taking it upon themselves to raise the money and undertake the construction of a border fence.

If you'd like to help construct that fence go here.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Showing the Way

There's an interesting interview at BeliefNet with Ralph Winter the producer of, inter alia, "X-Men". Winter is setting a great example for young Christians to follow by leavening the culture. He's influencing it from within rather than trying to change it from outside.

People who are upset with Hollywood's slide into the sewer sometimes call for legislation to restore a modicum of decency to our entertainment industry, but laws are at best a temporary palliative. They're a finger in the dike. The culture will only be redeemed when more young people who are committed to being disciples of Christ, prepare themselves for careers in those institutions of our society and culture which have been historically ceded to people whose values and assumptions are alien to the gospel.

The more Christians who are making music and movies, who are writing television scripts and novels; the more Christians who are serving in government, education, law, business, finance and the military; the more Christians who are doing philosophy, science and history in the academy - the healthier our society will be and the brighter the future will be for our children and grandchildren.

All of American culture is a mission field, and although there is certainly a need for top-notch people in explicitly religious roles, there is an even greater need for waves of talented young men and women with a vision to redeem the culture for Christ to begin what the Marxists called the "long march through the institutions."

People like Ralph Winter are showing the way.

A Memorial Day Meditation

In order that we not forget what is at stake, why our young men and women are risking so much in Iraq and Afghanistan, Victor Davis Hanson gives us an essay for this Memorial Day that is simply superb:

There may be a lot to regret about the past policy of the United States in the Middle East, but the removal of Saddam Hussein and the effort to birth democracy in his place is surely not one of them. And we should remember that this Memorial Day.

Whatever our righteous anger at Khomeinist Iran, it was wrong, well aside from the arms-for-hostages scandal, to provide even a modicum of aid to Saddam Hussein, the great butcher of his own, during the Iran-Iraq war.

Inviting the fascist Baathist government of Syria into the allied coalition of the first Gulf War meant that we more or less legitimized the Assad regime's take-over of Lebanon, with disastrous results for its people.

It may have been strategically in error not to have taken out Saddam in 1991, but it was morally wrong to have then encouraged Shiites and Kurds to rise up-while watching idly as Saddam's reprieved planes and helicopters slaughtered them in the thousands.

A decade of appeasement of Islamic terrorism, with retaliations after the serial attacks-from the first World Trade Center bombing to Khobar Towers and the USS Cole-never exceeding the occasional cruise missile or stern televised lecture, made September 11 inevitable.

A decade was wasted in subsidizing Yasser Arafat on the pretense that he was something other than a mendacious thug.

I cite these few examples of the now nostalgic past, because it is common to see Iraq written off by the architects of these past failures as the "worst" policy decision in our history, a "quagmire" and a "disaster." Realists, more worried about Iran and the ongoing cost in our blood and treasure in Iraq, insist that toppling Saddam was a terrible waste of resources. Leftists see the Iraq war as part of an amoral imperialism; often their talking points weirdly end up rehashed in bin Laden's communiqu�s and Dr. Zawahiri's rants.

But what did 2,400 brave and now deceased Americans really sacrifice for in Iraq, along with thousands more who were wounded? And what were billions in treasure spent on? And what about the hundreds of collective years of service offered by our soldiers? What exactly did intrepid officers in the news like a Gen. Petreus, or Col. McMaster, or Lt. Col Kurilla fight for?

First, there is no longer a mass murderer atop one of the oil-richest states in the world. Imagine what Iraq would now look like with $70 a barrel oil, a $50 billion unchecked and ongoing Oil-for-Food U.N. scandal, the 15th year of no-fly zones, a punitative U.N. embargo on the Iraqi people-all perverted by Russian arms sales, European oil concessions, and frenzied Chinese efforts to get energy contracts from Saddam.

The Kurds would remain in perpetual danger. The Shiites would simply be harvested yearly, in quiet, by Saddam's police state. The Marsh Arabs would by now have been forgotten in their toxic dust-blown desert. Perhaps Saddam would have upped his cash pay-outs for homicide bombers on the West Bank.

Muammar Khaddafi would be starting up his centrifuges and adding to his chemical weapons depots. Syria would still be in Lebanon. Washington would probably have ceased pressuring Egypt and the Gulf States to enact reform. Dr. Khan's nuclear mail-order house would be in high gear. We would still be hearing of a "militant wing" of Hamas, rather than watching a democratically elected terrorist clique reveal its true creed to the world.

But just as importantly, what did these rare Americans not fight for? Oil, for one thing. The price skyrocketed after they went in. The secret deals with Russia and France ended. The U.N. petroleum perfidy stopped. The Iraqis, and the Iraqis alone-not Saddam, the French, the Russians, or the U.N.-now adjudicate how much of their natural resources they will sell, and to whom.

Our soldiers fought for the chance of a democracy; that fact is uncontestable. Before they came to Iraq, there was a fascist dictatorship. Now, after three elections, there is an indigenous democratic government for the first time in the history of the Middle East. True, thousands of Iraqis have died publicly in the resulting sectarian mess; but thousands were dying silently each year under Saddam-with no hope that their sacrifice would ever result in the first steps that we have already long passed.

Our soldiers also removed a great threat to the United States. Again, the crisis brewing over Iran reminds us of what Iraq would have reemerged as. Like Iran, Saddam reaped petroprofits, sponsored terror, and sought weapons of mass destruction. But unlike Iran, he had already attacked four of his neighbors, gassed thousands of his own, and violated every agreement he had ever signed. There would have been no nascent new democracy in Iran that might some day have undermined Saddam, and, again unlike Iran, no internal dissident movement that might have come to power through a revolution or peaceful evolution.

No, Saddam's police state was wounded, but would have recovered, given high oil prices, Chinese and Russian perfidy, and Western exhaustion with enforcement of U.N. sanctions. Moreover, the American military took the war against radical Islam right to its heart in the ancient caliphate. It has not only killed thousands of jihadists, but dismantled the hierarchy of al Qaeda and its networks, both in Afghanistan and Iraq. Critics say that we "took our eye off the ball" by going to Iraq and purportedly leaving bin Laden alone in the Hindu Kush. But more likely, al Qaeda took its eye off the American homeland as the promised theater of operations once American ground troops began dealing with Islamic terrorists in Iraq. As we near five years after September 11, note how less common becomes the expression "not if, but when" concerning the next anticipated terror attack in the U.S.

Some believe that the odyssey of jihadists to Iraq means we created terrorists, but again, it is far more likely, as al Qaeda communiqu�s attest, that we drew those with such propensities into Iraq. Once there, they have finally shown the world that they hate democracy, but love to kill and behead-and that has brought a great deal of moral clarity to the struggle. After Iraq, the reputation of bin Laden and radical Islam has not been enhanced as alleged, but has plummeted. For all the propaganda on al Jazeera, the chattering classes in the Arab coffeehouses still watch Americans fighting to give Arabs the vote, and radical Islamists in turn beheading men and women to stop it.

If many in the Middle East once thought it was cute that 19 killers could burn a 20-acre hole in Manhattan, I am not sure what they think of Americans now in their backyard not living to die, but willing to die so that other Arabs might live freely.

All of our achievements are hard to see right now. The Iraqis are torn by sectarianism, and are not yet willing to show gratitude to America for saving them from Saddam and pledging its youth and billions to give them something better. We are nearing the third national election of the war, and Iraq has become so politicized that our efforts are now beyond caricature. An archivist is needed to remind the American people of the record of all the loud politicians and the national pundits who once were on record in support of the war.

Europeans have demonized our efforts-but not so much lately, as pacifist Europe sits on its simmering volcano of Islamic fundamentalism and unassimilated Muslim immigrants. Our own Left has tossed out "no blood for oil"-that is, until the sky-rocketing prices, the U.N. Oil-for-Food scandal, and a new autonomous Iraqi oil ministry cooled that rhetoric. Halliburton is also now not so commonly alleged as the real casus belli, when few contractors of any sort wish to rush into Iraq to profit.

"Bush lied, thousands died" grows stale when the WMD threat was reiterated by Arabs, the U.N., and the Europeans. The "too few troops" debate is not the sort that characterizes imperialism, especially when no American proconsul argues that we must permanently stay in large numbers in Iraq. The new Iraqi-elected president, not Donald Rumsfeld, is more likely to be seen on television, insisting that Americans remain longer.

A geography more uninviting for our soldiers than Iraq cannot be imagined-7,000 miles away, surrounded by Baathist Syria, Wahhabist Saudi Arabia, and theocratic Iran. The harsh landscape rivals the worst of past battlefields-blazing temperatures, wind, and dust. The host culture that our soldiers faced was Orwellian-a society terrorized by a mass murderer for 30 years, who ruled by alternately promising Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish collaborationists that cooperation meant only that fewer of their own would die.

The timing was equally awful-in an era of easy anti-Americanism in Europe, and endemic ingratitude in the Muslim world that asks nothing of itself, everything of us, and blissfully forgets the thousands of Muslims saved by Americans in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Somalia, and the billions more lavished on Jordanians, Palestinians, and Egyptians.

And here at home? There are few Ernie Pyles in Iraq to record the heroism of our soldiers; no John Fords to film their valor-but legions to write ad nauseam of Abu Ghraib, and to make up stories of flushed Korans and Americans terrorizing Iraqi women and children.

Yet here we are with an elected government in place, an Iraqi security force growing, and an autocratic Middle East dealing with the aftershocks of the democratic concussion unleashed by American soldiers in Iraq.

Reading about Gettysburg, Okinawa, Choisun, Hue, and Mogadishu is often to wonder how such soldiers did what they did. Yet never has America asked its youth to fight under such a cultural, political, and tactical paradox as in Iraq, as bizarre a mission as it is lethal. And never has the American military-especially the U.S. Army and Marines-in this, the supposedly most cynical and affluent age of our nation, performed so well.

We should remember the achievement this Memorial Day of those in the field who alone crushed the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, stayed on to offer a new alternative other than autocracy and theocracy, and kept a targeted United States safe from attack for over four years.

For this we owe our veterans and their leadership, both civilian and military, an unpayable debt of gratitude.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Kind of Men We Honor

On this Memorial Day weekend it's appropriate to call to mind the courage of the American young men whose memories and service we honor. To this end we might read this citation on the Navy Cross awarded to Corporal Jeremiah Workman, United States Marine Corps:

For extraordinary heroism while serving as Squad Leader, Mortar Platoon, Weapons Company, 3d Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, 1st Marine Division, US Marine Corps Forces, Central Command in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM on 23 December 2004. During clearing operations in Al Fallujah, Iraq, Corporal Workman displayed exceptional situational awareness while organizing his squad to enter a building to retrieve isolated Marines inside. Despite heavy resistance from enemy automatic weapon fire, and a barrage of grenades, Corporal Workman fearlessly exposed himself and laid down a base of fire that allowed the isolated Marines to escape. Outside the house, he rallied the rescued Marines and directed fire onto insurgent positions as he aided wounded Marines in a neighboring yard. After seeing these Marines to safety, he led another assault force into the building to eliminate insurgents and extract more Marines. Corporal Workman again exposed himself to enemy fire while providing cover fire for the team when an enemy grenade exploded directly in front of him causing shrapnel wounds to his arms and legs. Corporal Workman continued to provide intense fire long enough to recover additional wounded Marines and extract them from the besieged building. Although injured, he led a third assault into the building, rallying his team one last time to extract isolated Marines before M1A1 tanks arrived to support the battle. Throughout this fight, Corporal Workman's heroic actions contributed to the elimination of 24 insurgents. By his bold leadership, wise judgment and complete dedication to duty, Corporal Workman reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.

Thanks to Chester for the info.

Where Is Your Conscience?

From the link:

Amnesty [International] claims at least 50 "prisoners of conscience" in China have been arrested with the help of Yahoo. Among them, civil servant Li Zhi, who was jailed for eight years in 2003 after posting comments that criticized government corruption.

And the position of Yahoo is:

"We balance the requirement to comply with laws that are not necessarily consistent with our own values against our strong belief that active involvement in China contributes to the continued modernization of the country--as well as a benefit to Chinese citizens--through the advancement of communications, commerce, and access to information."

It is beyond my ability to comprehend that any individual would invest money in any of the companies mentioned in the article linked above. The fact that they do indicates that their moral judgment is lacking or they are completely ignorant of world affairs. If corporations, under the concept of globalization, are permitted to behave in such a way with impunity it's only a matter of time before we, here in America, will most certainly be subject to the same abuse.

It's clear that the leadership of much of corporate America is morally bankrupt. Consider the recent convictions of Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling. While the judgment on their behavior was long over due, it appears that at last justice has finally been served concerning them yet it's apparent that these miscreants are so deluded that they don't believe they did anything wrong. Ken Lay said "I am stunned with the findings of the jury"! Personally, I'm stunned that no victim of the Enron debacle who lost their life savings in terms of pension and investments because of his lies hasn't put him in the crosshairs of a telescopic, high-powered rifle and squeezed the trigger.

Dear readers, given all of the above, don't believe for a minute that this won't effect you. You may not have any stock in Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia or a host of others but it really doesn't matter. It's about the moral character of the people in charge of corporate America as well as the moral fabric of the politicians in office. Together they are surely controlling where this once great country is headed. Unfortunately, too many of them have been weighed in the scales and have been found sorely wanting.

Ultimately, the moral content of the American individual will determine the future of America. Isn't it interesting that America, the greatest super power, the wealthiest nation on the planet, is nowhere referenced in the Biblical book of Revelations?

Robert Miller's Reply

Robert T. Miller replies to my letter in First Things with a number of arguments which, in my opinion, fall short. His response appears in block quotes below and my replies follow:

Richard L. Cleary runs together several things that ought to be kept separate. Multiverses, strings, and multiple dimensions are unobservable entities posited to explain observed phenomena, such entities are no less scientific posits than subatomic particles or gravitational fields, which are equally unobservable.

A designer is also an unobservable entity posited to explain observed phenomena. In this it is analogous to multiverses, etc. To state that other worlds, strings, and so on are "no less scientific posits" as particles and fields is simply false. Particles and fields are detectable and measurable, which is why they are part of empirical science. Other worlds, dimensions, etc., like a designer, are not measurable, or at least at present we know of no way to quantify them.

Discussions of the scientific method or standards of scientific reasoning, while not scientific posits, are properly part of science education, which not only conveys scientific knowledge but teaches the methods and principles by which such knowledge is gained.

In other words, the undergirding philosophical principles of science, i.e. the content of the discipline of the philosophy of science, is a legitimate topic for science education. Intelligent Design is, at least, a philosophical hypothesis with implications for the work of science. Why then should it not be a suitable topic for a science classroom? Mr. Miller offers an answer:

The philosophy of science by contrast, is a subdivision of philosophy that treats philosophical questions arising from science, like whether scientific laws are mere regularities or metaphysically necessary truths.

This is incorrect. The questions he mentions comprise only part of the philosophy of science. Discussions of the methods and standards scientists observe and practice are also part of the philosophy of science and Miller is making an illicit distinction here by trying to separate them. The point is that science is often, in practice, inseparable from the philosophy of science. Mr. Miller wants to exclude the latter from the teaching of the former in order to quarantine ID, but what he's proposing is heuristically undesirable. It would reduce science instruction to the sheer presentation of facts and eviscerate it of everything that gives it life and fascination.

All of these are different from Intelligent Design, which is a philosophical theory in direct competition with a scientific theory.

This is also incorrect. ID is in conflict or competition with no scientific theory. It is in direct competition, rather, with the metaphysical claim that the cosmos and life are exhaustively and plausibly explicable, in principle, solely by reference to physical forces and processes. If Mr. Miller thinks that this claim is a scientific assertion then I would ask him to explain how it can be tested. Furthermore, even were he correct that it is a scientific assertion he would be in the awkward position of assigning the claim scientific status while arguing that the denial of the claim is philosophical.

As a I have already said, as a matter of policy, we ought not to teach philosophical theories in science classes; as a matter of constitutional law, if for religious purposes we teach nonscientific theories in public schools, or even scientific theories not accepted in the scientific community, we also violate the establishment clause.

What Mr. Miller does not seem to realize is that everything a Christian does is done for religious purposes. For the Christian there is no sacred/secular dichotomy. All of life is lived in service to God. What is "secular" is whatever the Christian happens to do that non-Christians also do. Christian school board members who serve their school district do so because they believe that they are thereby serving God. Mr. Miller's interpretation of the establishment clause would constitutionally exclude Christians from making curriculum decisions, or, indeed, any decisions about the governance of a school. It would indeed, followed to its logical conclusion, exclude Christians from serving on school boards altogether.

Moreover, if Mr. Miller's interpretation of the First Amendment is correct why does it apply only to theists? After all, many atheists have a religious motivation for demanding that only materialist explanations be taught in schools. Mr. Miller seems willing to allow the atheist's religious motivation while excluding the motivations of those who might wish to avoid giving Christian students the impression that their school's teachers reject some of their basic beliefs about the world. Is that what the framers of the constitution intended?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Bush Steamroller

You may not have noticed it, but the man whose nomination to head the CIA we were told was going to catalyze a tough examination of the NSA eavesdropping program, the man whose nomination would lead to a public outing of the truth about Bush's perfidious spying program, Air Force general Michael Hayden was quietly approved by the Senate yesterday 78-15. So much for Democrat outrage over "domestic spying."

Meanwhile, another conservative judge was successfully ushered through the confirmation process. White House aide Brett Kavanaugh only had to wait for three years until the Democrats finally wearied of resisting the inevitable and went along with approving him as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

And George Bush, with approval numbers down around those of Harry Truman, continues to pile up the congressional victories. The only time he seems to lose is when he angers conservatives. The liberal Democrats are at present a political irrelevancy, which fact simply fuels their anger and frustration. It's fun to watch.

Sadly Typical

Andrew Sullivan and at least some of his readers are so anxious to discredit any Christian who opposes them on the matter of gay marriage that they're willing to say the vilest things to accomplish their mission.

James Dobson, who opposes gay marriage, has evidently been encouraging people to go to the Focus on the Family web-site to get a prefabricated letter to send to their congressman to express support for a Marriage Protection Amendment.

We think using a form letter is not the best way to influence one's representatives, but Sullivan and some of his readers have called it plagiarism, which Dobson denies. Because he denies that he is encouraging plagiarism Mr. Dobson is sent a letter like this one which Sullivan approvingly posts on his blog:

Why do "Christians" reserve the right to lie, cheat and steal when it suits their purposes, while turning around and decrying situational ethics and denial of truth?

I am referring to you and your organization's organized plagiarism campaign. Focus on the Family, under your direction, is encouraging people to copy material from its website, assemble it into letters and submit the letters to the editors of various newspapers under their signature.

Webster's Dictionary defines plagiarism as to "present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source." This is exactly what someone who copies material from your website, fashions it into a letter and submits it as their own work does.

When you tell people that what they're doing isn't plagiarism, you are lying. But then you're a "Christian," and as such you believe that the rules apply to everyone but yourselves. How sadly typical.

What's sadly typical is the puerile willingness of so many people to use invective as a substitute for lucid argument. Webster's College Dictionary defines plagiarism not as the mere use of someone else's material but rather as the unauthorized use of that material. Focus on the Family, as I understand it, is authorizing others to use their material. What they're doing may be counterproductive, it may be dumb, but it's not plagiarism.

This seems like such an obvious distinction that even a junior high student could understand it, but apparently it is complicated enough to have exceeded the cognitive powers of some of those, like Sullivan's reader, for whom insult is the polemical weapon of choice.

Another Indonesian Earthquake

Another disaster has struck Muslim Indonesia, killing almost 3000 people, and, as they did in the wake of the 2004 tsunami, the non-Muslim world is mobilizing to assist. We're sure that the absence of any mention of assistance from the Arab Muslim world is just an oversight.

Letter to First Things

A month ago I sent a letter to the journal First Things in response to an opinion piece by Robert T. Miller on why Intelligent Design should not be taught in public schools. Unfortunately, access to First Things is by subscription and his column is too lengthy to copy here. In any event, the recent issue has a very truncated version of my letter along with the submissions of others, including Michael Behe, to which Mr. Miller responds. My letter, slightly shortened, follows. The portions run by FT are italicized. I will post Mr. Miller's response tomorrow:

Robert T. Miller asserts in his article Darwin in Dover, PA (April 2006) that ID "is not science but neither is it religion." He explains that it's not science, at least in the strong sense, because a designer does not operate by law-like necessity. ID, he concludes, is metaphysics, a branch of philosophy, and thus does not belong in a science classroom.

Even if we grant Professor Miller's premise that intelligent design is philosophy and not real science, a point about which philosophers of science are certainly in dispute, it's not clear that his conclusion that ID should be kept out of science classes follows. There is much philosophy of science that science teachers, at least the good ones, discuss with their students everyday. For example, anyone sitting in on a high school honors science class might hear mention, overt or tacit, of any of the following:

1. Many universes: The idea that ours is just one of a nearly infinite number of universes all of which are closed off from each other thus defying detection.

2. Oscillating universes: The theory that our universe has expanded and collapsed an infinite number of times.

3. String theory: The idea that the fundamental units of material substance are unimaginably tiny vibrating filaments of energy.

4. Other dimensions: The theory that the four dimensions of space-time are only part of physical reality.

5. Principle of uniformity: The assumption that the laws and properties of the universe are homogenous and constant throughout the universe.

6. Assumption of uniformitarianism: The idea that the same processes and forces at work in the world today have always been at work at essentially the same rates.

7. Scientific method: The idea that there is a particular methodology that defines the scientific process which ought to be followed.

8. Law of parsimony: The principle that assumes that the simplest explanation which fits all the facts is the best.

9. Assumption that human reason is trustworthy: The notion that a faculty which has evolved because it made us better fit to survive is also a dependable guide to truth, which has no necessary connection to human survival.

10. Assumption that we should value truth: The idea that truth should be esteemed more highly than competing values, like, for instance, personal comfort.

11. Preference for naturalistic explanations: A preference based upon an untestable assumption that all knowable truth is found only in the natural realm.

12. Materialistic abiogenesis: The belief that natural forces are sufficient in themselves to have produced life.

13. Assumption that if something is physically possible and mathematically elegant then given the age of the universe it probably happened.

14. Assumption that the cosmos is atelic. I.e. that it has no purpose.

15. Assumption that there's a world external to our own minds.

16. Reductionism: The conviction that all phenomena, including mental phenomena, can be ultimately explained solely in terms of physics and chemistry.

17. Assumption that the universe arose out of a "vacuum matrix" rather than out of nothing.

18. Any ethical claim regarding the environment, nuclear power, cloning, or genetic engineering.

19. Memes: According to biologist Richard Dawkins memes are the cultural analog to genes. They are ideas or customs that are believed by Dawkins and others to get passed along according to their survival value rather than their truth value. An example of this, unfortunately, is the concept of the meme itself.

20. The criteria by which we distinguish science from non-science.

None of the above precipitate the levitation of a single eyebrow when they're discussed in public school science classrooms yet every one of them is a matter of metaphysical preference, not empirical fact. Why, then, must we suddenly wax squeamish when the philosophical topic turns to the possibility of an extra-cosmic designer?

Professor Miller also mentions that the argument for ID is weaker than arguments for traditional cosmological hypotheses because it's vulnerable to being falsified whereas cosmological fine-tuning arguments are not.

This is an interesting observation since it is explicitly denied by most of ID's opponents. One of the claims anti-IDers adduce in support of their view that ID is not science is that it can't be tested, i.e. falsified. If it's true, as Professor Miller avers, that ID is vulnerable to being falsified, then it must be testable, and thus the only valid grounds for proscribing it in public school science courses would be that it is indeed false. That ID actually is false, however, has yet to be demonstrated.

Moreover, Professor Miller is drawing a questionable distinction between design in the biosphere and design in the abiotic physical universe. If there really is a cosmic designer then it is reasonable, and parsimonious, to assume that it played a role not only in engineering the physical constants, parameters, and forces that govern the universe but also those processes which led to the origin and diversification of living things. In other words, intelligent design is a comprehensive theory. It seems somewhat arbitrary to maintain that the cosmos had a designer but that life is purely serendipitous.

Judge Jones, in presiding over the Dover ID trial, may have got things partially right, as Professor Miller says, but the part that he got right is that those who were pushing ID into the Dover biology curriculum were motivated by a religious purpose. This is really the only solid legal or philosophical grounds the Judge had for deciding the way he did. Nevertheless, there is a very troubling problem inherent in his reasoning on this point.

For a Christian everything one does is ultimately "religiously" motivated. There is no distinction in the life of the Christian between sacred and secular. If religious motivation is a disqualifier under Lemon v. Kurtzman, and it is, then Christians who take their faith seriously are constitutionally unfit to serve on school boards or in the classroom because it can be truthfully asserted that a religious motivation underlies everything they do. Any attempt to introduce ID, or anything else, for that matter, into a public school curriculum by anyone who can be shown to be a devout Christian is ipso facto impermissible under Lemon. That would seem to put the Lemon test at odds with the religious protections guaranteed by the first amendment.

Of course, there is a religious motivation behind everything the non-believer does as well, since, as Roy Clouser reminds us in The Myth of Religious Neutrality, there is no such thing as religious neutrality, but Judge Jones was unfortunately never made aware of this fact of philosophical life in the course of his deliberations. It is, parenthetically, an oddity of the Judge's ruling that the materialist claim that natural processes are adequate by themselves to account for living things is considered science, but its contrary, the claim that natural processes are not adequate by themselves to account for living things, is deemed religious.

Friday, May 26, 2006


Here's Michael Long's explanation for his pick as the best conservative rock song ever:

If conservatism were expressed as one line from which the rest could flow, it might be this: Human nature does not change. This is not pessimism so much as realism: The banners of every war are carried over from the last. Liberation should live between quotation marks, because new regimes are so often similar to those that came before. Thus the French Revolution gives rise to the tyranny of Napoleon.

Or you could put it this way: The party on the left will become the party on the right-revolutions slide from attack into self-preservation. They begin softly, like the insistent synthesizer that drives the track, and then roar into the main, all power chords and bullet holes. But it always ends in a throat-ripping scream.

Almost without exception, revolutionaries are greedy little prigs, planning utopia while measuring for the office drapes. Sometimes they swear to put the public itself in charge. That's what Brother Karl proposed to do. But this never comes to pass, since every selfless idealist so far has decided that the populace wise enough to propel him to power is not quite wise enough to hold the reins themselves.

It's not just the Left. Anyone who has watched our own government has met the new boss and come away with the scent of the old boss in his clothes. Forty years of Democratic rule in the House of Representatives turned to bloat and arrogance. A decade of Republican dominance is now yielding much the same thing. Revolution, where is thy sting?

Power corrupts both Left and Right, hence the deep conservative passion for reducing the power of government itself. Some of us go further, advocating that we smash government into little bits that, if need be, can be crushed under your shoe or dusted off the collar with your fingertips. Better to keep the burden light, since at some point we will have to throw off the burden. We get fooled again and again. We always do.

Civilization that lasts more than a lifetime requires understanding all this: that the world is a place where human nature does not change and where revolutions are coming-out parties for perfectionists with shotguns. The only lasting revolutions are personal and spiritual and they may be the only way-to "get on my knees and pray"-we don't get fooled again.

If you haven't figured it out yet go here. The entire list of fifty songs is here.

Neil Postman's Commencement Address

Last year at this time I posted a graduation speech composed by Neil Postman. Despite his numerous achivements, Postman was never invited anywhere to deliver such an address so he made the speech available to anyone who wanted to use it. It's a speech that every graduate could hear or read with profit:

Members of the faculty, parents, guests, and graduates, have no fear. I am well aware that on a day of such high excitement, what you require, first and foremost, of any speaker is brevity. I shall not fail you in this respect. There are exactly eighty-five sentences in my speech, four of which you have just heard. It will take me about twelve minutes to speak all of them and I must tell you that such economy was not easy for me to arrange, because I have chosen as my topic the complex subject of your ancestors. Not, of course, your biological ancestors, about whom I know nothing, but your spiritual ancestors, about whom I know a little. To be specific, I want to tell you about two groups of people who lived many years ago but whose influence is still with us. They were very different from each other, representing opposite values and traditions. I think it is appropriate for you to be reminded of them on this day because, sooner than you know, you must align yourself with the spirit of one or the spirit of the other.

The first group lived about 2,500 years ago in the place which we now call Greece, in a city they called Athens. We do not know as much about their origins as we would like. But we do know a great deal about their accomplishments. They were, for example, the first people to develop a complete alphabet, and therefore they became the first truly literate population on earth. They invented the idea of political democracy, which they practiced with a vigor that puts us to shame. They invented what we call philosophy. And they also invented what we call logic and rhetoric. They came very close to inventing what we call science, and one of them-Democritus by name-conceived of the atomic theory of matter 2,300 years before it occurred to any modern scientist. They composed and sang epic poems of unsurpassed beauty and insight. And they wrote and performed plays that, almost three millennia later, still have the power to make audiences laugh and weep. They even invented what, today, we call the Olympics, and among their values none stood higher than that in all things one should strive for excellence. They believed in reason. They believed in beauty. They believed in moderation. And they invented the word and the idea which we know today as ecology.

About 2,000 years ago, the vitality of their culture declined and these people began to disappear. But not what they had created. Their imagination, art, politics, literature, and language spread all over the world so that, today, it is hardly possible to speak on any subject without repeating what some Athenian said on the matter 2,500 years ago.

The second group of people lived in the place we now call Germany, and flourished about 1,700 years ago. We call them the Visigoths, and you may remember that your sixth or seventh-grade teacher mentioned them. They were spectacularly good horsemen, which is about the only pleasant thing history can say of them. They were marauders-ruthless and brutal. Their language lacked subtlety and depth. Their art was crude and even grotesque. They swept down through Europe destroying everything in their path, and they overran the Roman Empire. There was nothing a Visigoth liked better than to burn a book, desecrate a building, or smash a work of art. From the Visigoths, we have no poetry, no theater, no logic, no science, no humane politics.

Like the Athenians, the Visigoths also disappeared, but not before they had ushered in the period known as the Dark Ages. It took Europe almost a thousand years to recover from the Visigoths.

Now, the point I want to make is that the Athenians and the Visigoths still survive, and they do so through us and the ways in which we conduct our lives. All around us-in this hall, in this community, in our city-there are people whose way of looking at the world reflects the way of the Athenians, and there are people whose way is the way of the Visigoths. I do not mean, of course, that our modern-day Athenians roam abstractedly through the streets reciting poetry and philosophy, or that the modern-day Visigoths are killers. I mean that to be an Athenian or a Visigoth is to organize your life around a set of values. An Athenian is an idea. And a Visigoth is an idea. Let me tell you briefly what these ideas consist of.

To be an Athenian is to hold knowledge and, especially the quest for knowledge in high esteem. To contemplate, to reason, to experiment, to question-these are, to an Athenian, the most exalted activities a person can perform. To a Visigoth, the quest for knowledge is useless unless it can help you to earn money or to gain power over other people.

To be an Athenian is to cherish language because you believe it to be humankind's most precious gift. In their use of language, Athenians strive for grace, precision, and variety. And they admire those who can achieve such skill. To a Visigoth, one word is as good as another, one sentence in distinguishable from another. A Visigoth's language aspires to nothing higher than the clich�.

To be an Athenian is to understand that the thread which holds civilized society together is thin and vulnerable; therefore, Athenians place great value on tradition, social restraint, and continuity. To an Athenian, bad manners are acts of violence against the social order. The modern Visigoth cares very little about any of this. The Visigoths think of themselves as the center of the universe. Tradition exists for their own convenience, good manners are an affectation and a burden, and history is merely what is in yesterday's newspaper.

To be an Athenian is to take an interest in public affairs and the improvement of public behavior. Indeed, the ancient Athenians had a word for people who did not. The word was idiotes, from which we get our word "idiot." A modern Visigoth is interested only in his own affairs and has no sense of the meaning of community.

And, finally, to be an Athenian is to esteem the discipline, skill, and taste that are required to produce enduring art. Therefore, in approaching a work of art, Athenians prepare their imagination through learning and experience. To a Visigoth, there is no measure of artistic excellence except popularity. What catches the fancy of the multitude is good. No other standard is respected or even acknowledged by the Visigoth.

Now, it must be obvious what all of this has to do with you. Eventually, like the rest of us, you must be on one side or the other. You must be an Athenian or a Visigoth. Of course, it is much harder to be an Athenian, for you must learn how to be one, you must work at being one, whereas we are all, in a way, natural-born Visigoths. That is why there are so many more Visigoths than Athenians. And I must tell you that you do not become an Athenian merely by attending school or accumulating academic degrees. My father-in-law was one of the most committed Athenians I have ever known, and he spent his entire adult life working as a dress cutter on Seventh Avenue in New York City. On the other hand, I know physicians, lawyers, and engineers who are Visigoths of unmistakable persuasion. And I must also tell you, as much in sorrow as in shame, that at some of our great universities, perhaps even this one, there are professors of whom we may fairly say they are closet Visigoths. And yet, you must not doubt for a moment that a school, after all, is essentially an Athenian idea. There is a direct link between the cultural achievements of Athens and what the faculty at this university is all about. I have no difficulty imagining that Plato, Aristotle, or Democritus would be quite at home in our class rooms. A Visigoth would merely scrawl obscenities on the wall.

And so, whether you were aware of it or not, the purpose of your having been at this university was to give you a glimpse of the Athenian way, to interest you in the Athenian way. We cannot know on this day how many of you will choose that way and how many will not. You are young and it is not given to us to see your future. But I will tell you this, with which I will close: I can wish for you no higher compliment than that in the future it will be reported that among your graduating class the Athenians mightily outnumbered the Visigoths.

Thank you, and congratulations.

Thanks to Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost from whom I was able to borrow the speech.

What the World Needs Now

Mary Katherine Ham deconstructs the difference between how our institutions handled the case of the Duke lacrosse players and Taheri-azar. You don't know who Taheri-azar is? That's pretty much the point. She concludes her piece with this.

I have heard it said that what America needs to win the war on Islamofascism is moral clarity - a strong belief that our ideology and theirs are not comparable; that there is a good and an evil and we are on the good side; that Western civilization, for all its faults, is a damn sight better than that which seeks to destroy it.

Taheri-azar and the Duke lacrosse players were all technically innocent until proven guilty. In one case, public officials, the press, and the local community did their best to deny the accused that particular courtesy of American justice. Tellingly, it was not the case of the murderous thug who confessed to attempting to kill his classmates [at UNC by running them over with his car], in a fashion reminiscent of Mohammad Atta, just for being non-Muslims - and then detailed his plans and motivations in letters to a local paper.

Moral clarity is what we need. It was in short supply in a pair of college towns this spring.

Read the whole thing. It's very good.

Debunking the Anti-Bush Myths

Here's Peter Whener at The Wall Street Journal:

Iraqis can participate in three historic elections, pass the most liberal constitution in the Arab world, and form a unity government despite terrorist attacks and provocations. Yet for some critics of the president, these are minor matters. Like swallows to Capistrano, they keep returning to the same allegations--the president misled the country in order to justify the Iraq war; his administration pressured intelligence agencies to bias their judgments; Saddam Hussein turned out to be no threat since he didn't possess weapons of mass destruction; and helping democracy take root in the Middle East was a postwar rationalization. The problem with these charges is that they are false and can be shown to be so--and yet people continue to believe, and spread, them. Let me examine each in turn...

Which he proceeds to do. In the process he demonstrates how irresponsible, perhaps even dishonest but certainly reckless, many of his critics are. He closes with this:

These, then, are the urban legends we must counter, else falsehoods become conventional wisdom. And what a strange world it is: For many antiwar critics, the president is faulted for the war, and he, not the former dictator of Iraq, inspires rage. The liberator rather than the oppressor provokes hatred. It is as if we have stepped through the political looking glass, into a world turned upside down and inside out.

It is indeed strange to hear people still today - when so much evidence of Saddam's complicity with terrorists has been unearthed and so many good reasons have been adduced for assuming that Saddam was working on WMD - it is indeed strange to see people clinging tenaciously to the myth that Bush lied about these things. I suppose there are psychological reasons for the tightness with which Bush's opponents grasp these thin reeds. To admit that they were completely and utterly wrong in their assessment of the president would be so devastating to their ego and to their credibility that they cannot bring themselves to do it.

They'd rather ignore the evidence and continue to impugn the president's character than to face up to the fact that they have been miserably and detestably irresponsible and wrong. Professing themselves to be wise they prefer nevertheless to look like fools rather than admit their error.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

National Review's Top Five

Earlier this week we mentioned National Review's ranking of the fifty most conservative rock songs, and noted that the compiler of the list, Michael Long, would be counting down the top five this week. Number five is here, along with Long's explanation for why the song merits inclusion on such a list, number four is here, number three is here, and number two is here.

Number one will be announced tomorrow along with the other forty-five.

Sick Man

Here's left-wing British MP George Galloway staking out his accustomed terrain in the febrile swamps of moral depravity:

The Respect MP George Galloway has said it would be morally justified for a suicide bomber to murder Tony Blair.

In an interview with GQ magazine, the reporter asked him: "Would the assassination of, say, Tony Blair by a suicide bomber - if there were no other casualties - be justified as revenge for the war on Iraq?"

Mr Galloway replied: "Yes, it would be morally justified. I am not calling for it - but if it happened it would be of a wholly different moral order to the events of 7/7. It would be entirely logical and explicable. And morally equivalent to ordering the deaths of thousands of innocent people in Iraq - as Blair did."

It is just a short step, perhaps an imperceptibly short step, from justifying a man's murder to hoping for it or calling for it. Try to imagine a member of the House of Representatives saying that the murder of George Bush would be justified. There have been a number of people on the left who have made somewhat similar statements but no one, so far as I know, of such lofty position as George Galloway enjoys in England.

He is a sick man.

Ominous News

This does not sound good:

Military activity in the Gulf has been increasing tremendously in the past few months. According to British sources, the stock of weapons, missiles and combat planes in the six neighboring countries to Iran is now three times what it was at the onset of the Iraq war in 2003.

This arsenal is also composed of submarines, destroyers belonging to Iran and also to the international community in the Sea of Oman. An impressive number of offensive and defensive weapons are also deployed in the region. For instance, since March ,Gulf refineries and vital oil installations are protected by batteries of Patriot missiles. Furthermore, according to the Kuwaiti daily Al Seyassah, the US has built a massive stock of oil and could ask the temporary stop of Gulf refineries in order to prevent heavy damage in case of an Iranian attack. Iran has indeed warned Gulf monarchies that their oil facilities would be the first target in case of a US operation on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Let's hope that if war with Iran breaks out the Bush administration has lots of allies on board. Being solely responsible for a shock to the world's oil supply would create enormous ill-will both at home and abroad, even if the war is necessary to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

The Liberal Plan For Victory

Will Marshall and Jeremy Rosner tell us what the Democrats' plan for the war on terror should be. Not surprisingly the plan is to do pretty much what the Bush administration is already doing:

Democrats should begin by reaffirming their party's commitment to progressive internationalism -- the belief that America can best defend itself by building a world safe for individual liberty and democracy.

Progressive internationalism occupies the vital center between the neo-imperial right and the noninterventionist left, between a view that assumes our might always makes us right, and one that assumes that because America is strong it must be wrong. It stresses the responsibilities that come with our enormous power: to use force with restraint but not to hesitate to use it when necessary; to show what the Declaration of Independence called "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind"; to exercise leadership primarily through persuasion rather than coercion; to reduce human suffering where we can; and to bolster alliances and global institutions committed to upholding an increasingly democratic world order.

By applying the organizing principles of progressive internationalism -- national strength, equal opportunity, liberal democracy, U.S. leadership for collective security -- Democrats can design a strategy that will defeat Islamist extremism. That strategy should specifically revolve around five key imperatives:

First, we must marshal all of America's manifold strengths, starting with our military power but going well beyond it, for the struggle ahead.

Second, we must rebuild America's alliances, because democratic solidarity is one of our greatest strategic assets.

Third, we must champion liberal democracy in deed, not just in rhetoric, because a freer world is a safer world.

Fourth, we must renew U.S. leadership in the international economy and rise to the challenge of global competition.

Fifth, we must summon from the American people a new spirit of national unity and shared sacrifice.

Okay. The Bush administration hasn't been too good on number five, but what is Marshall and Rosner's alternative? A military draft? Nooo. It's raising taxes. Like "progressives" everywhere they propose that we all share the burden of the war by making ourselves all worse off than we are now. Sounds like a winner in '08.

Bush's Chance

Dick Morris thinks that Bush's best chance for a political resurrection is to get pump prices down. He notes that:

As incredible - and almost sacrilegious - as it seems, Iraq has faded as the dominant political issue even though we are still losing 50 to 60 good young men and women there every month.

And - even after a prime-time speech and a solid week of congressional action on the subject - immigration runs a distant third to pump prices as the major topic of conversation these days.

I doubt that Morris is correct about this. If Bush signs a weak immigration bill he's going to permanently alienate his base, and, in my opinion, the Republicans will lose their majority, if not in 2006 then certainly in 2008. Bush's only hope for political resurrection lies in the House of Representatives. If they can negotiate a tough compromise bill with the senate in conference committee - a bill which closes our borders - and Bush signs it, then he can recover. If not, conservatives all across the country are going to throw up their hands in disgust, and it'll take years to win them back to the Republican fold.

From Our Feedback

Your post on Rollins cracked me up. I'll have to check it out. Before coming to Christ I worshipped Rollins. I went to hear his band multiple times, read his books, and went to his spoken word performances. :)


UPDATE: Here's a picture of Henry Rollins sharing his affection for Christians and ID supporters:

Or maybe this is really Senator John McCain in disguise telling us what we can do with our desire to stop illegal immigration.

Thanks to Uncommon Descent for the tip.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Defining Our Terms

Telic Thoughts has a discussion of the nature of "metaphysical naturalism" here to which I've submitted the following comment:

One of the fundamental problems in the debate over design is the vagueness of the terms "natural" and "supernatural." What exactly are natural or supernatural entities? Is a natural entity simply something which is part of the space-time universe and a supernatural entity something which transcends this universe?

If so, then those cosmologists wrestling with theories about "other worlds" are really doing theology, not science. If, however, we wish to consider the theorizing of cosmologists to be legitimate science then we have to say that excluding theorizing about an extra-cosmic designer from science is an arbitrary and unwarranted step.

For all we know, the designer could be a denizen of one of those universes or it could be the "generator" which manufactures those universes.

In other words, the concept of other worlds effectively erases the natural/supernatural distinction and greatly expands the purview of science.

The question then becomes not whether talk of a designer is scientific or not but whether there is reason to think that our universe and the living things in it show evidence of intention and intelligent engineering.

The next time someone tells you that Intelligent Design is not science because it invokes the supernatural and science only deals with what is natural ask them what they mean by those terms. Chances are they won't be able to give a coherent, non-arbitrary reply.

Steadfast Ally

Australian Prime Minister John Howard recently gave a marvelous speech in which he offered much praise of the United States. I'm trying to imagine this speech coming from, say, Harry Reid, but I can't:

No global challenge could be secured without American power and purpose, Prime Minister John Howard has declared in a vigorous defence of the role played by the US since the September 11 terrorist attacks. "Without American leadership, the trials and tragedies of recent years could be but a prelude of darker days to come," Mr Howard said in an address yesterday to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. "With American leadership, we can build a better world - not just for us, but for all."

Sharpening his call for the US to play a greater role in global affairs, Mr Howard told the council: "To the voices of anti-Americanism around the world, to those who shout 'Yankee go home', let me offer some quiet advice: be careful what you wish for."

Mr Howard said the imperative of American global leadership was one of three defining truths "in this age of global opportunity and uncertainty". The other truths were that, "we live as never before in a world of blurred boundaries" and that liberal democracies had to respond with "a synthesis of interests and values; a marriage of national strategy with national character".

1. Addressing specific global challenges, Mr Howard:

2. Reaffirmed the commitment to match the resolve of the US in Iraq. "Australia is with you. We will stay the course. We will finish the job," he said.

3. Described Iran's refusal to back down on its pursuit of uranium enrichment as a challenge for the United Nations.

4. Predicted that the emergence of a global middle class, particularly in China and India, would be one of the most momentous trends of the 21st century.

5. Defined China's rise as the defining phenomenon of the age.

6. Praised Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, saying he was tackling the enormous challenges facing Indonesia robustly and admirably.

Mr Howard also said none of the problems in the Asia-Pacific region - including in the Taiwan Strait and on the Korean Peninsula - could be resolved, or even managed, without US leadership and engagement. He said the key to relations with China was "building on shared interests and widening the circle of co-operation, while dealing openly and honestly on issues where we might disagree".

Acknowledging a greater wariness towards China's growth in the US, Mr Howard cautioned that not only China needed to adjust to changing realities. "The international community must also acknowledge that China is determined to succeed and to reclaim its place in the global order." Before the speech, Mr Howard played down the personal significance of the glowing reception and lavish praise he received in Washington from President George Bush and others.

"I see everything that has happened over the past few days as a compliment to my country, not to me," he said. "This is a wonderful endorsement of the importance of Australia to the United States, of the respect America has for Australia no matter who the prime minister is."

That respect is due to the fact that unlike most other Western countries, Australia sees clearly the threat we are all facing and is resolved to resist it. Western civilization is surrounded by those who want nothing more than to destroy it, including China and Russia. Most of the West has buried their heads in the sand and refuse to face up to what's happening. The U.S., Britain, Australia, Israel and a very few others, alone among the world's civilized nations, refuse to capitulate to the forces which plot it's destruction.

Fighting in Afghanistan

Bill Roggio summarizes the latest news from the fighting in Afghanistan in two posts at Counterterrorism blog:

Coalition forces continue to maintain the offensive against the Taliban in Southeast Afghanistan. A joint task force of Afghan and Coalition security forces encountered "organized armed opposition" from the Taliban during a joint operation near the town of Azizi in Uruzgan province. Twenty Taliban were confirmed killed, with up to 80 suspected killed after a combined ground and air assault on Taliban positions. This would put the number of Taliban killed in action over the past week between 220 to 280. In a separate raid, Mullah Mohibullah, the Taliban commander for Helmand province, was captured in a bazaar in Uruzgan province.

The engagement in Azizi follows a week of combat in the southeastern provinces of Kandahar, Uruzgan, Helmand and Ghazni. The majority of the fighting has been initiated by joint Afghan-Coalition operations designed to root out Taliban strongholds and safe havens in the region....Afghan and Coalition forces are pushing into relatively uncharted territory and are now encountering resistance from the Taliban and their allies.

The lopsided results of operations in Azizi, Panjwai and Zangi Abad are indicative of what happens when Taliban forces mass to wage open battles against Coalition and Afghan security forces. Even when the Taliban has initiated the combat, such as the ambushes in Musa Qala, Afghan security forces have been able to fend off the attacks and call for reinforcements of ground and air assets. Well-trained Western forces (and the Afghan Army in many instances) combined with Coalition air power has had a devastating effect on Taliban units attempting to fight in company-sized units or greater, and result in high Taliban casualties. Lately, the Taliban have begun to focus on the Afghan police, which are easier targets as they are not as well trained or equipped as the Afghan Army and Coalition forces.

Every spring since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 the Taliban has initiated a new spring offensive. By the end of the summer, their energy is spent after suffering high casualties and lopsided defeats on the battlefield. But there is no shortage of Taliban fighters just as long as the Taliban can freely recruit, train, arm and stage forces from Pakistan's tribal areas.

Earlier in the week Roggio reported this:

The latest estimate of Taliban casualties during the fighting over the past few days is approaching 200, with 25 Coalition, Afghan security forces and civilians killed. The Daily Times of Pakistan reports the fighting around Kandahar City, which was initiated by two separate Coalition operations, resulted in an estimated 100 Taliban killed. The U.S. military reported up to 60 Taliban were killed in the fighting at Musa Qala, where the Afghan security forces thwarted a major Taliban assault. Agence France-Presse reports two French commandos were killed and one wounded in an "engagement against the Taliban in the region of Kandahar" - during offensive operations. A U.S. soldier was also killed in Uruzgan. Fighting continued in Helmand through Saturday, as the Taliban ambushed an Afghan convoy. At least 15 Taliban and 4 Afghan soldiers were killed, and 13 Afghan soldiers are missing. the Afghan Army called for reinforcements and air support, and beat back the attack. The reporting continues to conflate Coalition and Taliban operations.

Assadullah Khalid, the governor of Kandahar reiterated the claim that three Taliban commanders were captured, and described them as "high-ranking Taliban, members of their leadership council." The arrest of Mullah Dadullah has not been confirmed, however a one legged man fitting Dadullah description is said to be in custody. A man claiming to be Dadullah phoned a Pakistani newspaper and refuted the claims.

In addition to the capture of three top Taliban leaders, and all the intelligencve they will divulge, the good news here is that the Afghan army appears to be able to handle much of the fighting on their own (along with a little help from coalition air support). The competence of the Afghans will continue to expand with time, just like that of the Iraqi forces.

The Taliban in Afghanistan are like the cartoon character Elmer Fudd. Each day he goes out to shoot Bugs Bunny and each day he winds up getting himself severely scorched. The Taliban just keep throwing themselves unthinkingly at the coalition with pretty much the same result each time.

Case Closed

The case for building a high-tech fence between the United States and Mexico has just been clinched. The only half-serious argument against building such a fence is that it wouldn't work. Now we know that that argument is just so much hot air. Here is Vicente Fox, president of Mexico on the subject:

Kicking off a four-day, three-state tour, Mexican President Vicente Fox said Tuesday that his nation wants to be part of the solution in the immigration debate, not the problem. "We don't set up walls, and that's not the way you're going to fix this situation," Fox said in Spanish to representatives of groups active in Utah's Mexican community. "It's not with fences that we are going to solve this problem."

It's a reliable rule of thumb that if Fox is saying that something is not a solution to illegal immigration then it is very likely to be exactly that.

See here for a good brief discussion of the issue.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Heavy Metal Head

Thank goodness for rockers, or ex-rockers. Where would we be without their penetrating insight into difficult philosophical and scientific problems? A rock vocalist by the name of Henry Rollins sets us straight about intelligent design and those contemptible Christians who promote it. His two and a half minute diatribe demonstrates a thorough and uncanny grasp of the issue. Or it demonstrates what a lot of dope and loud music can do to one's cognitive abilities.

Go here ("The New Dark Ages Are Upon Us") and click on the link to listen. Caution: Not for children.

Money? What Money?

Rep. William Jefferson (D.LA) has adopted the old Marion Barry ploy. When you're caught exposing yourself in public (figuratively speaking) blame the public for looking. Barry is the former mayor of Washington D.C. who was videotaped buying and smoking crack cocaine. He claimed that he should not be found guilty because he was a victim of government entrapment.

When you're guilty and you have no other defense, blame the police.

Jefferson was taped accepting $100,000 in bribe money but is declaring his innocence. The FBI, apparently, had no business searching his office and the fact that they found the money in his freezer is no reason why his constituents should think that he is anything but an innocent victim of unconstitutional government overreach.

We're expecting that soon he will be attributing the whole thing to rampant racism in the Bush administration which, at the behest of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney, had the money planted in his freezer. The sad thing is a lot of people on the left will believe him.

Iraq and the Talking Dog

The Iraqis have sworn in a 37 member cabinet. These people are incredibly brave. By accepting this call they have placed their lives and the lives of their loved ones on the target list of the orcs who wish to return Iraq to the savage days of fear, wood chippers, and mass killings. They need our prayers.

It will go unmentioned by the MSM, of course, that this is yet another in a series of major steps that Iraq has taken toward the formation of a sovereign state. As of now the Iraqis have a representative democratic government. This is truly an amazing achievement in the Arab world and though critics will complain that it should have been - and could have been - done more wisely, the fact that it has been done at all is astounding.

Nevertheless, the whiners and complainers will wail that there's still so much to unaccomplished, the country is not stable, Iran is too influential, the war is costing too much money, Zarqawi and Bin Laden still haven't been caught, Americans and Iraqis are still dying, electricity for some people is still limited, and on and on, preferring to see only how far we have to go and ignoring how far we've come.

The Democratic sourpusses and other critics of the administration's accomplishment in Iraq remind me of little children in the back of the car impatiently complaining because we haven't "gotten there yet." They're like the man who owns the dog in this old story:

A guy is driving around Tennessee and he sees a sign in front of a house: "Talking Dog For Sale."

He rings the bell and the owner tells him the dog is in the backyard. The guy goes into the backyard and sees a Labrador retriever sitting there.

"You talk?" he asks.

"Yep," the Lab replies.

"So, what's your story?"

The Lab looks up and says, "Well, I discovered that I could talk when I was pretty young. I wanted to help the government, so I told the CIA about my gift, and in no time at all they had me jetting from country to country, sitting in rooms with spies and world leaders, because no one figured a dog would be eavesdropping. I was one of their most valuable spies for eight years running. But the jetting around really tired me out, and I knew I wasn't getting any younger so I decided to settle down. I signed up for a job at the airport to do some undercover security, wandering near suspicious characters and listening in. I uncovered some incredible dealings and was awarded a batch of medals. I got married, had a mess of puppies, and now I'm just retired."

The guy is amazed. He goes back in and asks the owner what he wants for the dog.

"Ten dollars," the guy says.

"Ten dollars?! This dog is amazing. Why on earth are you selling him so cheap?"

"Because he's a liar. He never did any of that stuff."

No Peaceful Coexistence For Dawkins

Just as Eugenie Scott and others are trying to convince the American public that evolutionary theory has no implications for Christianity, along comes Richard Dawkins telling us this:

The suicide bomber is convinced that in killing for his God he will be fast tracked to a special martyr's heaven. This isn't just a problem of Islam. In this program I want to examine that dangerous thing that's common to Judaism and Christianity as well. The process of non-thinking called faith. I'm a scientist [well, actually, I just talk about science these days] and I believe there is a profound contradiction between science and religious belief. There is no well demonstrated reason to believe in God. And I think the idea of a divine creator belittles the elegant reality of the universe. The 21st Century should be an age of reason, yet irrational militant faith is back on the march. Religious extremism is implicated in the world's most bitter and unending conflicts. America too has its own fundamentalists. And in Britain, even as we live in the shadow of Holy Terror, our government wants to restrict our freedom to criticize religion. Science we are told should not tread on the toes of theology. But why should scientists tip toe respectfully away? The time has come [when] people of reason should say enough is enough. Religious faith discourages independent thought, it's divisive and it's dangerous....

People like to say that faith and science can live together side by side, but I don't think they can. They're deeply opposed. Science is a discipline of investigation and constructive doubt, questioning with logic, evidence, and reason to draw conclusions. Faith, by stark contrast, demands a positive suspension of critical faculties. Science proceeds by setting up hypotheses, ideas, or models, and then attempts to disprove them. So a scientist is constantly asking questions, being skeptical. Religion is about turning untested belief into unshakeable truth through the power of institutions and the passage of time.

According to Bill Dembski, Dawkins goes on:

referring to religious faith as a "delusion," "superstition," "backward belief system," "shallow pretense," "parasite," and "supporting Bronze Age myths." He refers to evangelicalism as "an American Taliban." He contends that "the abundance and variety of life on earth may seem improbable, but it's self-evidently futile to invent an improbable god to explain that very improbability." Later, when contrasting evolution with creationism, he announces, "Evolution by natural selection is supported by mountains of evidence, while creation contradicts the evidence and is only backed by some ancient scribblings."

So much for the idea of peaceful coexistence between evolution and theism. For Dawkins and his allies, the controversy between evolution and intelligent design is more than a philosophical dispute, it's a major battle in a war against theism. Dawkins' greatest concern is not convincing people that evolution is true, but rather discrediting religious belief.

Why is that? We have no way of knowing, of course, but it can be said that a man who has invested his whole life in a set of metaphysical assumptions, who has based everything on the truth of those assumptions, is going to feel deeply disturbed when those assumptions are threatened. Such a threat poses a challenge to the very core of his being. In response to such a challenge he will often mobilize every resource at his disposal, including invective, to defeat it.

Theism in general, and Intelligent Design in particular, pose a severe challenge to Dawkins' outspoken atheism and evolutionism. His professional credibility is on the line. If his critics can convince people that they're right, Dawkins will be relegated to the dustbin of scientific history. He will be seen as a curiosity who had nothing substantial to contribute. He'll be seen as a man who was fundamentally wrong. This is a hell many intellectuals cannot endure and perhaps Dawkins is one of them. Thus, perhaps he feels the need to wage war, personal and professional, against anyone who opposes him, and especially against theists.