Friday, June 30, 2006

Perky Economy

The Bush economy continues to chug along like the little engine that could despite the woeful prognostications of those who, perhaps for political purposes, seem to prefer to see it bogged down in the mire of recession:

The economy sprang out of a year-end rut and zipped ahead in the opening quarter of this year at a 5.6 percent pace, the fastest in 2 1/2 years and even stronger than previously thought.

The new snapshot of gross domestic product for the January-to-March period exceeded the 5.3 percent growth rate estimated a month ago, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. The upgraded reading - based on more complete information - matched economists' forecasts.

No doubt Paul Krugman at the New York Times will manage to find the bad news in this somehow.

Putin's Answer

A couple of days ago we wondered how the Russians would react to the murders of four of their diplomats at the hands of Iraqi insurgents. It looks like the answer is in:

President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered Russia's special services to hunt down and "destroy" the killers of four Russian diplomats in Iraq, the Kremlin said.

Nikolai Patrushev, the head of the Federal Security Service - the main successor to the Soviet KGB - later said that everything would be done to ensure that the killers "do not escape from responsibility," the Interfax news agency reported.

"The president has ordered the special forces to take all necessary measures to find and destroy the criminals who killed Russian diplomats in Iraq," the Kremlin press service said in a brief statement.

Putin also said Russia "will be grateful to all its friends for any information on the criminals," the Kremlin said.

That the murderers will be found is probable. What remains to be seen is what their fate will be. Right now they're probably hoping that if they're caught it'll be by the Americans.

Insurgents Want Us to Stay

Sunni insurgent groups negotiating for a cessation of hostilities are predicating their cooperation with the Iraqi government on an agreement that coalition troops withdraw within two years:

Eleven Sunni insurgent groups have offered an immediate halt to all attacks - including those on American troops - if the United States agrees to withdraw foreign forces from Iraq in two years, insurgent and government officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Withdrawal is the centerpiece of a set of demands from the groups, which operate north of Baghdad in the heavily Sunni Arab provinces of Salahuddin and Diyala.

The Democrat left has repeatedly demanded that we withdraw immediately or within one year, but it seems that the insurgents think a longer stay is necessary to ensure the stability of Iraq and the security of the Sunnis. Indeed, it looks like the insurgents actually want us to stay in Iraq longer than the Democrats do.

This puts the Dems in the awkward position of insisting that our troops are more destabilizing than the insurgents think they are, but then awkward positions are not foreign to the Reid, Kerry, Kennedy bunch.

Numbers Stirs Up the Hornets

One of the most prominent historians of science, Ronald Numbers, had some interesting things to say in an interview by PBS. For example, he deconstructs one of the favorite dogmas of those hostile to religion:

QUESTION: I'd like to move on, to talk about the Galileo case. Many people have a mythology that during his trial there was somebody down in the basement stoking the pyre and oiling the rack - that he was in imminent danger of losing his life. Is this a true representation of the case?

MR. NUMBERS: Contrary to common myth, Galileo suffered very little abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church. He was never tortured, he never faced death. In fact, he was never imprisoned. His penalty was house arrest at a pleasant villa on the outskirts of Florence, Italy.

Galileo's problems with the church stemmed far less from his astronomical and physical views than from his lack of diplomacy, and from his impertinence in trying to instruct the church on how to interpret Scriptures, as some Protestants had attempted to do in the previous century. Furthermore, in writing his controversial book, Galileo had the impertinence to attribute the Pope's views to a simple-minded character named Simplicius. This Pope [Urban VIII] had once been a patron of Galileo's and had supported his scientific efforts, so such a lack of diplomacy turned even the Pope against his one-time friend.

...there seems no reason to believe that Galileo at any point faced the threat of death. There was never any indication in the court records of death being a possible penalty, and no other scientists were put to death for their scientific views....I can think of no scientist who ever lost his life for his scientific views.

Having roundly kicked this much-beloved prop out from under the religion-haters he went on to infuriate them with this remark:

To me, the struggle in the late 20th Century between creationists and evolutionists does not represent another battle between science and religion because rarely do creationists display hostility towards science. If you read their literature, you'll rarely come across an anti-scientific notion. They love science. They love what science can do. They hate the fact that science has been hijacked by agnostics and atheists to offer such speculative theories as organic evolution. So, they don't see themselves as being antagonistic to science any more than many of the advocates of evolution - those who see evolution as God's method of creation - view themselves as hostile to Christianity.

The public often gets the impression that most scientists are non-believers. But, that's not true. Just within the past year the journal Nature published a study that revealed even today roughly the same proportion of scientists believe in God as did 75 years ago. [The figure is almost 40%]

Now the reader might wonder why this should infuriate the anti-religion crowd. Well, I invite the curious to visit The Panda's Thumb and read their version of an intelligent discussion that was triggered by this interview with Prof. Numbers.

At Panda's Thumb, run by a choleric college biologist named P.Z. Myers, the visitor will be astonished by calls for lining up Christians and shooting them and will witness other marvelous examples of the love some Darwinian atheists have both for Christians (See, for example, comments #107907, 107913, 107982 by a mentally ill person named Kevin of NYC), and for other Darwinian atheists who have the temerity to disagree with them on some minor point (See #108356 and a reply here).

The "dialogue" really is amusing, sad and a bit scary all at once.

Noah's Ark

Wouldn't this throw the whole debate over evolution topsy-turvy:

A team of Texas archaeologists believe they may have located the remains of Noah's Ark in Iran's Elburz mountain range.

"I can't imagine what it could be if it is not the Ark," said Arch Bonnema of the Bible Archaeology Search and Exploration (B.A.S.E) Institute, a Christian archeology organization dedicated to looking for biblical artifacts. Bonnema and the other B.A.S.E. Institute members hiked for seven hours in the mountains northwest of Tehran, climbing 13,000 feet before making the apparent discovery. "We got up to this object, nestled in the side of a hill," said Robert Cornuke, a member of the B.A.S.E. Institute. "We found something that has my heart skipping a beat."

At first, they didn't dare to hope it was the biblical boat.

"It wasn't impressive at first," Cornuke said. "Certainly didn't think it to be Noah's Ark. But when we got close, we were amazed. It looked similar to wood." In addition, some B.A.SE. members say, their discovery didn't look very distinctive. "It looked like the deck of any boat today," Bonnema said.

The Bible places the Ark in the mountains of Ararat, a mountain range theologians believe spans hundreds of miles, which the team says is consistent with their find in Iran. The Bible also describes the Ark's dimensions as being 300 cubits by 50 cubits -- about the size of a small aircraft carrier. The B.A.S.E. Institute's discovery is similar in size and scale.

"It is provocative to think that this could be the lost ark of Noah," Cornuke said.

Throughout history, people have been searching for the Ark to help prove God's existence. "There's this idea, if we can prove that the ark existed then we can prove that the story existed, and more importantly, we can prove that God existed," said Bruce Feiler, author of "Where God Was Born."

The B.A.S.E. Institute's samples are being examined at labs in Texas and Florida. B.A.S.E officials concede that there would be no way to conclusively prove that their finding is actually Noah's Ark.

So the hunt goes on. The biggest hurdle in identifying Noah's Ark comes down to "gopher wood." The Bible says the Ark was made of gopher wood but no one knows what it is.

There's more at the link.

I doubt that discovery of the ark would "prove God's existence," as Mr. Feiler asserts, although it would certainly be powerful confirmation of the veracity of the early chapters of Genesis, and it would have a tectonic impact on current debates over the evolution of life. If it turns out that these really are the remains of a large ancient boat (and at this point we have no idea whether they are or aren't) then the question that will emerge is how did a huge vessel get to an altitude of 13,000 feet unless borne there by water. Skeptics will be able to avoid admitting that Genesis is correct about the occurence of a vast flood by arguing that it's possible the boat was actually built there by ancient people as a shrine or some such thing, and, of course, such an explanation is possible.

Thus, even if this does turn out to be an artifact similar to what is described in Genesis, believers should not get their hopes up that it will be accepted by non-believers as a decisive proof of the Genesis story. Nevertheless, it will shift a tremendous intellectual and psychological advantage to those who have argued all along that the flood of Noah was a literal historical event and give enormous support to the arguments of the young-earth creationists.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Osama Loves .....

Ramirez cartoon:

Thanks to No Left Turns.

<i>Hamdan</i> a Republican Victory?

Andrew Cochran at Counterterrorism blog thinks that the Supreme Court ruling in Hamdan that slaps down the administration's attempts to put some Gitmo detainees before a war crimes tribunal, so far from being the defeat the media are portraying it to be, is actually a win, both militarily and politically, for the President. Here's his reasoning:

The news networks are proclaiming that the Supreme Court handed the President a "strong rebuke" in the Hamdan case by declaring the proposed Gitmo trials are illegal under U.S. law and international Geneva conventions.

Oh, really?

The decision is actually a huge political gift to President Bush, and the detainees will not be released that easily. The President and GOP leaders will propose a bill to override the decision and keep the terrorists in jail until they are securely transferred to host countries for permanent punishment. The Administration and its allies will release plenty of information on the terrorist acts committed by the detainees for which they were detained (see this great ABC News interview with the Gitmo warden). They will also release information about those terrorist acts committed by Gitmo prisoners after they were released. They will challenge the "judicial interference with national security" and challenge dissenting Congressmen and civil libertarians to either stand with the terrorists or the American people. The Pentagon will continue to release a small number of detainees as circumstances allow. The bill will pass easily and quickly. And if the Supremes invalidate that law, we'll see another legislative response, and another, until they get it right. Just watch.

If Congress and the President do seek legislation that would make trying these prisoners legal, and it appears Senators Graham and Kyl are going to do just that, it will make life miserable for Democrats who will have to either support the legislation or explain to their constituents why they're trying to get terrorist killers released from prison. Whatever reason they come up with, it won't be embarrassing.

One of the oddest things about this decision, by the way, is that the Court ruled that the prisoners can be held for the duration of hostilities. Given that the war on terror could last for the rest of this century the upshot is that the administration can essentially hold these guys for life and never try them in court, but if they do try them it has to be in federal court rather than before a military tribunal.

That's just what we need - hundreds of terrorist trials clogging our court system while their buddies on the street threaten the jurors with their lives. What civilian jurors, or judges and lawyers, for that matter, will want to be involved in these trials?

America would greatly benefit from one more Bush Supreme Court pick before he's done. Perhaps Ginsburg (73) or Stevens (86) will soon retire.

Lerner and Wallis

Martin Edlund at Slate dissects the strategy of the religious left's two most prominent figures and concludes that they're like two immiscible liquids. Michael Lerner and Jim Wallis both seek to sway the devout toward the ideals of the Democratic party (whatever they may be), but they have two very different and mutually incompatible messages for two very different constituencies.

The difference is starkly illustrated by a pair of conferences hosted by each of these religious gurus. Lerner's conference drew:

...liberal people of faith who feel alienated by the narrow politics of the religious right, and the 26 percent of Americans who self-identify-according to a recent Newsweek/Beliefnet poll-as "spiritual but not religious." There was a strong Christian presence among the 1,200 attendees at the NSP conference, but it leaned heavily toward liberal denominations. Quakers and Unitarians outnumbered Evangelicals and Catholics. They were joined by scores of liberal Jews, fewer Muslims, and a sprinkling of Buddhists, Sufis, Baha'i, Wiccans, Native American shamans, and various metrospiritual seekers. Even secular humanists were welcomed.

Together the attendees all prayed in concentric circles, sang John Lennon's "Imagine" (with the line "and no religion too" tastefully amended), and meditated while eating vegan boxed lunches.

Wallis, on the other hand, wants to attract:

...two voting blocs that will be critical to the 2008 election, moderate evangelicals and Catholics. His plan is to focus on poverty, an issue he believes all Christians can get behind, rather than ceding the floor to gay marriage and abortion, which the religious right uses to estrange Christians from the Democratic Party.

Wallis' conference this week, Pentecost 2006, will bring hundreds of Christian activists to Washington to promote a Covenant for a New America aimed at eradicating poverty at home and abroad. Unlike Lerner's conference, Wallis' isn't going to be dominated by the liberal fringes: Among the speakers are Republican Sens. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Sam Brownback of Kansas, two of the most prominent voices on the religious right.

The source of Wallis' appeal is his apparent moderation, both political and theological. His argument is compelling in its simplicity: An overriding commitment to social justice is more basic to Christianity than the issues championed by Christian fundamentalists. But to prevail he must avoid seeming too militantly progressive.

Which means not being identified with the Michael Lerners in the party.

Wallis is much better positioned to appeal to voters who might otherwise drift Republican than Lerner is, but in my opinion his problem is this: Any candidate which implements his approach will, in order to appeal to the constituency that Wallis targets, have to base his call for social justice on Biblical mandates and principles. Otherwise, people will just see it as more Great Society liberalism that seeks to solve problems by throwing money at them.

This means that the candidate will have to firmly espouse a Biblical worldview or risk sounding phony. However, and this is the problem, anyone who firmly espouses a Biblical worldview is going to alienate much of the Democratic base which is resolutely secular. So a social justice candidate risks either sounding phony, like John Kerry did when he talked about faith, or sounding genuine and scaring away the secularists.

Examining Liberal Pretensions

Christopher Hitchens skewers his erstwhile comrades on the left for the stark inconsistencies in their position on Iraq. He titles the essay Four Projects for Righteous Anti-War Types, and he asks firstly where those who were so vocal in their opposition to land mines have disappeared to now that IEDs are being employed with such deadly effectiveness against Americans and their allies.

He also wonders why there are no human shields rushing to protect Iraqi schools and hospitals from the savageries of the insurgency as they rushed before the war to shield Iraqis from American bombs, at least until the bombs actually began to fall. He would like to know, too, why the left has changed its mind on sanctions which, they told us during the Clinton years, were killing Iraqi children. In the run-up to the war, however, it seemed that sanctions had suddenly become a much better way to deal with Saddam than deposing him. Finally, Hitchens notes that, now that Islamists make it a special point to target homosexuals, the left has quietly abandoned its demand to allow gays to serve in the military.

Hitchens is almost always a good read, and this column is particularly effective in exposing liberal pretensions of principled opposition to the war and inviting the left to show a little more sincerity by being a lot more consistent.

Golden Mosque Attack Leader Captured

Those who say the Iraqi insurgency is a home-grown affair might wish to read this report by Omar at Iraq the Model on the capture of the leader of the plot to blow up the Samarra Mosque:

In a news conference currently being broadcast on TV, Iraq's national security advisor Muwaffak al-Rubaie says Iraqi security forces arrested Abu Qudama al-Tunisi in a raid in the suburb of al-Dhuloiya north of Baghdad. 15 other foreign terrorists were killed in the raid according to al-Rubaie.

The terrorist of Tunisian origin confessed that he was responsible for the attack that destroyed the Askari Shrine in Samarra back in February 22 of this year. Muwaffak al-Rubaie said the security forces are still searching for Haitham al-Badri who is believed to be the field commander under whom Abu Qudama was operating.

Al-Rubaie described Al-Badri is a terrorist with connections to elements in the past regime who later became one of the leaders of Ansar al-Sunna and later al-Qaeda organization in Iraq.

Al-Rubaie adds that this terror cell was responsible for the assassination of the late al-Arabiya reporter Atwar Bahjat.

Al-Rubaie described how the bombing was organized and says details were taken from the confessions of the captured Abu Qudama:

Four Saudis, two Iraqis and one Tunisian entered the mosque at night, handcuffed and locked up the guards in a room and spent the night planting the bombs all around the mosque. Next day they kidnapped and murdered Atwar Bahjat while she was trying to cover the news of the bombing.

So, the captured leader was Tunisian, the perps were predominately Saudi and the fifteen killed in the raid were described as "foreign" terrorists. At least this cell sounds like it enjoyed enough diversity to delight the administrators at any American university.

Getting What They Wanted in Gaza

Hamas wanted war with Israel and it appears that now they're going to get it. They killed two soldiers and kidnapped a third, holding him in Gaza. The Israelis demanded the soldier be returned but Hamas demanded that Israel release all prisoners under 18 and all females. Israel refuses to negotiate and has apparently moved into Gaza in force and appears to have blocked all escape routes for Palestinian fighters.

Meanwhile, Palestinians in the West Bank kidnapped and murdered the 18 year old Israeli shown in this photo.

Now Israel has captured dozens of Hamas officials and is holding them in prison.

Hamas is the duly-elected governing party of the Palestinian people and they are carrying out acts of terrorism against Israel. The Israelis say they only want to get their kidnapped soldier back, but if that's all this is about there will be more kidnappings and murders to come. Hamas will not stop terrorizing Israelis no matter what concessions the Israelis make short of abandoning their country to the Palestinians. Surely the Israelis recognize that they are in a war over their right to exist, and the only way to protect their people is to eliminate the Palestinian killers.

Check out Captain's Quarters for updates on this unfolding conflict.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

ID T-Shirts

CafePress has Intelligent Design T-shirts available some of which are quite clever and fun. Here's one of our favorites:

Go here to see their selection.

A Scientist Talks Religion

Noted physicist Steven Weinberg opines on science and religion:

In my experience most physicists are not particularly religious. A few are - no question about it. But most are not. In fact, I would say they're not so much irreligious as simply uninterested in this subject. They don't know enough or think enough about religion to qualify as atheists. And but I think that's not so limited to physicists. In my experience many Americans think of religion as important, and want to do whatever they can to support it. But if you ask them what they themselves believe, you'll find they're very uncertain about their religious beliefs. They don't actually accept the theology of their official church.

One piece of evidence I give for this is the fact that I have very good friends who belong to religious denominations whose teaching is that since I don't accept their teaching I am damned for all eternity. And you would think that these friends would try to convert me. But they never do. Now, you could explain this in various ways. It may be that they really don't like me very much and are just as glad to see me damned for all eternity -- that's a possible explanation.

But another explanation which I tend to think is more likely is that although they know what their church teaches and they give lip service to it, they really don't believe that if you don't follow that particular form of worship you're damned for all eternity. And when you talk to them about what they believe they're likely to say something like this: "That I think there is a great mystery; we don't know what it's all about. Who knows what's going to happen when we die? Who knows whether there's a heaven or hell? I was born into this faith. I think it's important to have a faith, therefore I will continue to attach myself to this faith." But it really is pretty much what Susan Sontag a long time ago called "piety without content." They believe in religion more than they believe in what religion teaches.

Weinberg is right about the impression of a lack of confidence in their beliefs that Christians often display. Not only is this true with regard to beliefs about eternal life but also with regard to beliefs about abortion. Many Christians believe, for example, that all abortions are tantamount to the murder of innocent children. Yet, very few are willing to storm abortion clinics and shut the places down as they would if born children were being slaughtered therein.

Perhaps deep down they don't really believe that abortions are the moral equivalent of killing toddlers, just as maybe deep down they don't really believe that God is going to condemn people to eternal hell because they did not hold a particular proposition about Jesus as part of their noetic set.

The rest of the interview with Weinberg is also interesting and can be accessed at the link.

Tehran's Guilt

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh, in this 2003 column, implicitly reminds Americans why hitting Tehran hard would be retaliation, not pre-emption, for the deaths of nineteen servicemen in the Khobar Towers attack.

Along the way he also reminds us why the Clinton years were so shameful.

Thanks to Michelle Malkin for the tip.

The War Against the Taliban

Bill Roggio reports on the security situation in Afghanistan. Here's the first part of his report:

The latest round of fighting in southeastern Afghanistan has claimed over 82 Taliban fighters in two separate engagements in Kandahar and Uruzgan provinces. Security Watchtower provides a breakdown of the estimated casualties of Taliban and Coalition forces in southeastern Afghanistan since the beginning of April. An estimated 600 Taliban have been killed and 22 captured, with 41 Afghan and Coalition security forces killed or wounded combined. The estimated Taliban casualties do not contain the number of wounded, which is often twice the number killed in combat.

As the Coalition ramps up its forces and adds another 9,000 troops to the southeastern theater, the Taliban continues to take a pounding on the battlefield. The security situation in the region is fluid, but the Coalition is clearly gaining the upper hand as it moves forces and devotes energy into regions largely ignored by the central Afghan government. Coalition and Afghan sources estimate the Taliban strength between 2,000 to 5,000 active fighters, while the Taliban puts their strength at 12,000. Using the high Coalition estimate of 5,000 and an estimate of 1,800 Taliban killed and wounded, the Taliban has experienced a 36% attrition rate over the past three months. Using the Taliban estimate of 12,000 strong, the Taliban has experienced a 15% attrition rate. Both are frighteningly high numbers, and belie the reports of a sophisticated and powerful Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan.

To underscore this point, I sat in on a platoon level briefing prior to a Canadian assault earlier this month on the Dari and Panjwai districts in Kandahar province. Intelligence indicated the Taliban were massed in the hundreds, and possessed assault rifles, RPGs (rocket propelled grenades), mortars and other more sophisticated weaponry (I will omit the weapons for security purposes). The grunts of Charlie Company of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, mobile assault team and the tip of the spear for Canadian forces, laughed at the intelligence reports the Taliban possessed mortars and other weapons, as they have shown little inclination to bring these weapons to bear on the battlefield. Mortars are hardly sophisticated weapons, they are a staple weapon of platoon and company sized infantry units. That the Taliban cannot effectively deploy these weapons speaks volumes of their sophistication and training.

This is all good news, of course, but the flip side is that Taliban strength is growing in western Pakistan. Read the rest of Roggio's report at the link for the details.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Churchill Gets the Boot

The News reports that:

The University of Colorado announced Monday that it will dismiss controversial professor Ward Churchill.

"Today, I issued to Professor Churchill a notice of intent to dismiss him from his faculty position at the University of Colorado Boulder," CU Interim Chancellor Phil DiStefano said Monday afternoon.

Churchill has 10 days to appeal, which entails making a request to have the university president or chancellor forward the recommendation to the faculty senate Committee on Privilege and Tenure. A special panel will then conduct hearings on the matter and make a recommendation to the president on whether grounds for dismissal are supported.

Another committee found Churchill guilty of research misconduct and another panel recommended that he be fired because of "repeated and deliberate" infractions of scholarship rules.

Churchill should never have been hired in the first place, and his dismissal is a small, but welcome, rollback of the grip the hard left has on major American universities.

Supreme Court Pontifications

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 the other day to uphold a Kansas death penalty law. One aspect of the case that caught our especial attention was the dissent of Justice David Souter who wrote that the Kansas law was "morally absurd," and that maintaining a system like the one in Kansas "is obtuse by any moral or social measure."

This from the man who thought it perfectly appropriate and "moral" for a local government to take property from one private citizen in order to give it to another private citizen so that the second owner could make more money from it. Souter's vote in the Kelo case makes us wonder about his ability to recognize a law that is "obtuse by any moral or social measure."

It certainly has convinced us that the last thing Justice Souter is qualified to bestow upon the nation is a lecture on morality.

Did Iran Deliver Zarqawi?

If true, this report at Counterterrorism blog is major news:

A credible Moroccan newspaper, La Gazette du Maroc, is affirming that Zarqawi was caught thanks to Iran and was the first gift to the US.

Sounds like a conspiracy theory? Maybe not. Citing Iranian sources and Iraqi sources close to ex PM Alawi, the paper states that Jordanian intelligence may have gotten help from Iran in pinpointing Zarqawi's location. A few weeks ago the Iranian FM met with King Abdullah in Amman to allegedly negotiate the deal. Then a few days later the Iranian FM was in Bagdad meeting with Iraki PM AL Maliki and allegedly US Ambassador Khalilzad.

Coincidence or not the US position softened around that time when for the first time Secretary of State Rice announced a possible ouverture to Iran. People close to Reza Pahlavi, the Shah's son, also believe that Zarqawi was indeed handed by Iran as part of a package.

Keep in mind that this info is really very speculative but might not be as far-fetched as one thinks.

It certainly sounds plausible given, among other things, Zarqawi's atrocities against Shia Muslims and the fact that Iran is predominately Shiite. Add to that Zarqawi's attempts to foment war between Iran and the U.S., a war that Iran can't possibly welcome, and we have to say we wouldn't be surprised if this report were true.

What we'd like to know, though, is how Iran knew Zarqawi's whereabouts when nobody else did.

More Murtha

Okay. No more polite averting of our eyes at Rep. Murtha's embarrassing nuttiness. He has with this statement officially enrolled himself in the left-wing lunatic fringe:

American presence in Iraq is more dangerous to world peace than nuclear threats from North Korea or Iran, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said to an audience of more than 200 in North Miami Saturday afternoon.

Let's do a little thought experiment. Suppose one, and only one, of the three countries - the U.S., Iran, or N. Korea - could, and would, have nuclear weapons and a very powerful military. Which country would anyone with even a rudimentary hold on reality want it to be? Which of the three has threatened to destroy an entire country with nuclear weapons? Which of the three is ruled by a mentally deranged tyrant who deliberately starves his people and threatens his neighbors with incineration? Which of the three has in the last five years removed two cruel and oppressive tyrannical regimes in the Middle East and moderated the behavior of several others? To which of the three do suffering people throughout the world turn for hope and relief?

Statements like Mr. Murtha's really should disqualify him from being considered a serious voice in foreign affairs.

Iraqi Violence

Strategy Page has an interesting insight into the state of violence in Iraq:

June 22, 2006: The bloodshed in Iraq is getting worse, and involving U.S. troops less and less. In the last year, over 10,000 Iraqi civilians died from terrorist and internecine violence. That's about twice as many deaths as the year before. In the last year, fewer than 400 civilian deaths were the result of American military action, and some $20 million in compensation was paid out to the next-of-kin for those civilian deaths. This is four times as much as was spent in 2004, largely because the compensation program has been more energetically applied. These payments are a part of Iraqi culture. Even Saddam used them, during the war with Iran in the 1980s, and avoided a lot of ill-will because of it. Works for U.S. troops as well.

Iraqis have, over the last three years, come to accept the fact that this violence is an Iraqi problem. Until the last year, most of the killers were former Saddam enforcers. Those thugs are still around, but in the last year, most of the blood is being shed by Kurds and Shia Arabs seeking vengeance against Sunni Arabs in general, and known Sunni Arab thugs in particular. American troops are no longer feared as much as they used to be, for the Iraqi killers are more common and prolific. For Sunni Arabs, U.S. troops are often seen as protectors. Moreover, Iraqis have noted that when Americans stage a raid, there is rarely any gunfire at all. But Iraqi troops and police are much more trigger happy. The Americans like to come in quiet, and at night, with no lights (because of the night vision gear.) Iraqi security forces come in with lots of shouting, lights and gunfire.

The terrorists rarely get a shot at American troops any more. But Iraqi civilians are another matter, and the usual target these days are people who can't defend themselves.

I wonder if they even know why they kill each other anymore. It almost seems as if killing is just something Arabs do to relieve their boredom.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Don't Kill the Geese

Ah, those greedy capitalists. First Bill Gates sets up a charitable foundation and then retires to help manage it. Then Dick Cheney makes the largest single charitable contribution of any politician in American history. Then the second richest man in the world, Warren Buffett, gives his fortune to Bill Gates' foundation. How does one keep one's equilibrium when the world simply refuses to conform to the popular wisdom that the wealthy are evil, tightfisted, robber barons?

It's worth noting, perhaps, that if the left had their way there'd be no Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. There'd be no private wealth and thus no private philanthropy. All charity would be at the beneficence of the government which would acquire its resources by taxing the people at levels that would remove all incentive to accumulate Gates/Buffett scale fortunes. No one would be wealthy. Everyone would be middle class at best and the government, unable to mine more silver in the exhausted ore of the middle class would be unable to keep up its support for the kinds of charitable work done by private foundations.

In other words, the poor need the rich. The rich invest. The rich create jobs, and the rich make it possible for charitable organizations to do their work. This is not to say that the rich are ipso facto virtuous. Of course they are not, but the problem is with individual morality not with wealth. Those who insist we soak the rich in taxes and confiscate their wealth are as short-sighted as the man who wanted to kill the goose that laid golden eggs in order to have a tasty dinner.

Enlisting Congress Against ID

The Edge runs a letter signed by a number of Darwinian worthies which, along with a book hostile toward Intelligent Design, they sent to every member of Congress. Here are some excerpts from the letter with my remarks:

June 16, 2006

To Members of Congress:

We, the authors and editor of Intelligent Thought, are sending you a copy of the book in hopes that you will consider its message. The book is largely about Intelligent Design (ID), the latest incarnation of creationism. ID is a movement that threatens American science education and with it American economic predominance and credibility.

This is a common scare tactic frequently employed to "poison the well" against ID. It's noteworthy that rarely does anyone ever say precisely how ID threatens science education. Suppose a biology teacher took time to point out to her class, after teaching the lessons on evolution, that some scientists and philosophers believe that this process is purely mechanistic while others, a smaller number, believe it required intelligent input, and explained some of the reasons why. Suppose, too, that a physics or earth-space science teacher discussed with his classes the astonishing fine-tuning of the cosmos and the remarkable fitness of the universe, our galaxy, our solar system and our earth for intelligent life. Suppose further that he concludes that some scholars see in this a fortuitous accident whereas others see in it intention and purpose. How, exactly, would any of this endanger science education?

The recent federal court decision in Dover, Pennsylvania found that ID was not a scientific theory, but a form of religion in disguise. Judge John Jones III, a churchgoing Republican appointed by President Bush, concluded that teaching this doctrine in the public schools represents both bad education and an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment. President Bush's science advisor, John H. Marburger, has affirmed that 'evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology' and 'intelligent design is not a scientific concept.' And Newt Gingrich has stated that ID has nothing to do with science and shouldn't be taught in science courses.'

One of the three authorities cited above is a scientist. One is a judge and the other is a politician. This is a good example of a logical fallacy called an appeal to irrelevant authority. What Judge Jones or Newt Gingrich say about the nature of ID is totally beside the point. What is germane is what philosophers of science are saying about it and in that field there are a lot of top people who would argue that there is simply no good reason for banishing design arguments from science. See for example, Del Ratszch's outstanding work on this subject Nature, Design, and Science.

Reason and law triumphed in Dover. But ID and its spinoffs continue to threaten American education by ignoring the massive evidence for evolution-the central principle that unites all the biological sciences- and by substituting adherence to religious dogma for the scientific method.

It is simply false to state that ID ignores the evidence for evolution. What it opposes is the claim that evolution is a purely mechanistic process. It is also false to claim that it substitutes religious dogma for the scientific method. There's no "religious dogma" in any of the major ID sources and I challenge any of the signatories of the letter to provide an example to support their allegation.

Our country cannot afford substandard science teaching. Indeed, a national science test just administered by the Department of Education showed a decade-long erosion of scientific proficiency among American high school seniors. We won't cure this problem by questioning scientifically established facts (evolution) and theories (natural selection) and replacing them with unsupported conjectures based on faith.

Nor do we cure substandard teaching by ignoring the difficulties with exclusively physicalist explanations or by encouraging sudents to accept on faith that those difficulties will be somehow, someday resolved.

The controversy over ID vs. evolution is not a scientific controversy. Every scientific body in the US has opposed ID and affirmed the reality of evolution. The "controversy" is about whether sectarian religious views should be taught in the science classroom.

The controversy is not about whether sectarian religious views will be taught in the public school classroonm because clearly no one is pushing for that. The controversy is about whether one metaphysical view - materialism - should be immunized in our public schools against any challenge from competing metaphysical hypotheses.

A list of the signers of the letter can be found at the link. These people know that as long as they can misrepresent and distort the nature of ID they will be able to hold on to their philosophical monopoly in the public schools. They also know that if they were to portray ID accurately they would quickly lose their influence and thus their dominance. Consequently, we will continue to see ID misrepresented as a religious doctrine, a variety of creationism, a scientific fraud, and so on. It's the only way the metaphysical naturalists who dominate the scientific establishment can hold on. They know that the day the door is open to honest debate will be the day that Darwinian materialism begins its decline into scientific and philosophical obsolescence.


Here are some interesting facts about the military's M-1 tank courtesy of Strategy Page:

Of the 1,100 American M-1 tanks that have served in Iraq, about seven percent have been badly damaged, at least badly enough to get them shipped back to the factory for rebuilding. Some 70 percent of the Iraqi based M-1s have been in combat. As infantry have known since World War I, tanks draw fire. But they are well protected, and fewer than twenty of the 4,400 tank crewmen involved have been killed, two thirds of those while standing up in a turret hatch, with at least head and shoulders exposed. The main cause of lost tanks is, as it has been since World War II, is mines and bombs. A few tanks have rolled over particularly large bombs, which in some cases flipped the tank. But other times, mines blow off one of the tracks, immobilizing the tank and making it the center of a fierce fight. But the terrorists and anti-government forces have come to avoid American tanks. Yes, these 69 ton behemoths can be hurt, but only at great risk and cost to the attacker. In addition to the M-1s three machine-guns, the 120mm gun has special shells for urban warfare, shells that are particularly deadly against gunmen trying to hide in buildings.

One reason the Iraqi military is not yet ready to fight on its own is that it lacks this kind of weaponry and the training it takes to use it. There's little doubt that eventually some of these needs will be met, but it will take time. To expect the Iraqis to fight their own fight without the armor, air power, UAV's, etc. that American forces have at their disposal is unrealistic. The need for this kind of combat support will keep at least some American troops in Iraq for a long time to come, or at least until the Last Helicopter party wins the presidency.

Russian Diplomats Murdered

How will the Russian government react to this:

A group linked to al Qaeda said it has killed four Russian diplomats it had held hostage, according to a statement and video on a Web site Sunday.

The group -- the Mujahedeen Shura Council -- said it had beheaded three of the men and shot one to death. A video also posted on the Web site appeared to show one of the men being beheaded, another man already beheaded and a third man being shot in the head. The fourth man did not appear in the video.

The same group posted a statement last Monday demanding Moscow withdraw its troops from Chechnya and "release all our brothers and sisters" from prison within 48 hours. In the statement last week, the group added, "God enabled the lions of unification to capture four Russian diplomats in Iraq and kill a fifth," alluding to an attack June 3, when a car belonging to the Russian Embassy in Iraq came under fire.

Embassy official Vitaly Titov was killed in the attack, and diplomats Fyodor Zaitsev, Rinat Agliuglin, Anatoly Smirnov and Oleg Fedoseyev were kidnapped.

We could not bring ourselves to watch it, but if you care to there's a video here.

Counterterrorism Blog reminds us that:

Russia has been known for dealing with terrorists with sometimes excessive force. And not only with Chechen rebels. For example, in September 1985 when four Russian diplomats were kidnapped in Beirut by Hezbollah, the then USSR responded in kind by first abducting a family member of an Hezbollah leader and then killing him very, very gruesomely. The hostages were given back right away and Russia was never targeted in Lebanon again.

Russia has no friends among the Islamic jihadis. They are hated by the Islamists for their war against the Chechens today and for what they did in Afghanistan in the 1970s. It's hard to imagine that the Russians will do nothing, but it's also hard to imagine what might be within their power to do.

Culture of Corruption

The Washington Times wonders why it is that a corruption-conscious media has, with very few exceptions, ignored the record of Rep. Jack Murtha. Of course the fact that he's an antiwar Democrat may not be irrelevant to the question.

Read the Times' editorial and for exercise ask yourself whether you would only be finding this stuff out for the first time now if Murtha were a pro-administration Republican. Here's the core of it:

Last June, the Los Angeles Times reported how the ranking member on the defense appropriations subcommittee has a brother, Robert Murtha, whose lobbying firm represents 10 companies that received more than $20 million from last year's defense spending bill. "Clients of the lobbying firm KSA Consulting -- whose top officials also include former congressional aide Carmen V. Scialabba, who worked for Rep. Murtha as a congressional aide for 27 years -- received a total of $20.8 million from the bill," the L.A. Times reported.

In early 2004, according to Roll Call, Mr. Murtha "reportedly leaned on U.S. Navy officials to sign a contract to transfer the Hunters Point Shipyard to the city of San Francisco." Laurence Pelosi, nephew of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, at the time was an executive of the company which owned the rights to the land. The same article also reported how Mr. Murtha has been behind millions of dollars worth of earmarks in defense appropriations bills that went to companies owned by the children of fellow Pennsylvania Democrat, Rep. Paul Kanjorski. Meanwhile, the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan campaign-finance watchdog group, lists Mr. Murtha as the top recipient of defense industry dollars in the current 2006 election cycle.

As Rep. Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican, has said, "If there is a potential pattern where Congressman Murtha has helped other Democrats secure appropriations that also benefited relatives of those members, I believe this would be something that merits further review by the ethics committee."

It's odd that the media, which has been fairly unbiased in going after corrupt politicians recently, has gone silent on Mr. Murtha's questionable actions. Or maybe it isn't. Since December, Mr. Murtha has become the darling of the antiwar crowd, and, as we've seen with other such darlings, scrutinizing their behavior is considered disrespectful. But as we're on the subject, few might recall that after the massive 1980 Abscam scandal, Mr. Murtha was named by the FBI as an "unindicted co-conspirator."

The LA Times broke this story a year ago, but because Murtha has become useful to the anti-war crowd in the interim neither they nor anyone else in the liberal media have shown much interest in pressing the issue.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Treacherous <i>Times</i>

Andrew McCarthy over at NRO has an excellent column on the "Media's War Against the War." He writes specifically about the boneheaded outing by the New York Times and the LA Times of the government's tracking of financial transactions made by terror suspects. The process appears to have been completely legal but may have been rendered ineffective by the Times' stories:

For the second time in seven months, the Times has exposed classified information about a program aimed at protecting the American people against a repeat of the September 11 attacks. On this occasion, it has company in the effort: The Los Angeles Times runs a similar, sensational story. Together, the newspapers disclose the fact that the United States has covertly developed a capability to monitor the nerve center of the international financial network in order to track the movement of funds between terrorists and their facilitators.

The effort, which the government calls the "Terrorist Finance Tracking Program" (TFTP), is entirely legal. There are no conceivable constitutional violations involved. The Supreme Court held in United States v. Miller (1976) that there is no right to privacy in financial-transaction information maintained by third parties. Here, moreover, the focus is narrowed to suspected international terrorists, not Americans, and the financial transactions implicated are international, not domestic. This is not data mining, and it does not involve fishing expeditions into the financial affairs of American citizens. Indeed, few Americans even have information that is captured by the program - though there would be nothing legally offensive even if they did.

There is much more in McCarthy's piece which merits a careful read. Here are two more graphs from the column:

...the most salient thing we learn from today's compromise ... is that the program has been highly effective at keeping us safe. According to the government, it has helped identify and locate terrorists and their financial backers; it has been instrumental in charting terrorist networks; and it has been essential in starving these savage organizations of their lifeblood: funding.

It was in view of the [program's] palpable value in protecting American lives, its obvious legal propriety, and the plain fact that it was being responsibly conducted that the administration pleaded with the newspapers not to reveal it after government officials despicably leaked it. Exposing the program would tell the public nothing about official misconduct. It would accomplish only the educating of al Qaeda - the nation's enemy in an ongoing war; an enemy well-known to be feverishly plotting new, massive attacks - about how better to evade our defenses. About how better to kill us.

PowerLine notes that:

In its editorial on the subject today, the New York Times offers no shred of an argument concerning the possible illegality or overbreadth of the program. It cites no instance of abuse. Rather, the Times argues "these efforts need to be done under a clear and coherent set of rules, with the oversight of Congress and the courts." The Times purports to invoke the rule of law where no law has been broken, and where the Times itself has both broken the law and damaged American national security.

And, we might add, they've compromised our safety for a single reason: They espied an opportunity to make life more difficult for George Bush. Had Bill Clinton been president and asked them not to run the story as the Bush people did, it is hard to imagine either paper refusing the request.

Michelle Malkin is receiving photoshop entries from around the country in response to the papers' despicable decision to publicize one of the tools we use to protect ourselves from the savages. Here's a sample:

Distancing Oneself From ID

Intelligent Design theorists believe that the designer's activity in the universe can be detected. Many Christian scholars, although they believe God to be the creator, reject ID because they hold that there is no way to detect God's activity, at least not in nature. This poses for them a very serious problem which Denyse O'Leary highlights here.

Here is what I think drives that sort of behavior: Some Christians in science are into emotional meltdown re ID because they have suddenly realized what is at stake:

The only way to rule out ID is to deny that God acts in the universe, period. If he acts at all, his action may in fact be detected.

If one insists as an article of faith that God's actions cannot be detected in principle or that it is wrong to attempt to detect them, that is a new article of faith, and one that is at odds with traditional Christian religion and conventional interpretations of the Bible.

but more generally,

For a long time, many fine Christian scholars got along well with materialists, more or less, because no one put the issue squarely, as the ID guys have done. So Christianity in the intellectual world has been dying the death of deniability: What can you deny and still be a Christian? But now the issue is so basic that it can't just be sophistically manipulated out of existence. Gradually realizing their dilemma, in an intuitive way, some sincere Christians retreat into meaningless abuse of ID hypotheses.

It gets better. Read the whole thing.

The main problem, though, for Christians who hold that God's work is undetectable in nature is that they have to deny the possibility of ever recognizing a genuine miracle. If miracles are indeed unrecognizable then no one could have known the miracles that Jesus performed to really be miracles, and thus the Biblical testimony about miracles must be unreliable. This conclusion seems a high price to pay in order to try to seem reasonable to one's secularist colleagues.


I may have been remiss by not providing sufficient background about my latest post on Democracy (Screwtape Proposes a Toast) that might have facilitated the readers understanding of the article by C. S. Lewis.

Prior to his writing of Screwtape Proposes a Toast, Lewis wrote a book titled The Screwtape Letters, a work of fiction. But only fiction in the sense that the characters and the dialogue sprang from the imagination of one of the greatest modern Christian writers. Yet in our terrestrial reality the issues confronted in this book play out in our lives every day.

The book contains thirty-one letters from Screwtape to his nephew, Wormwood, who is Screwtape's underling in fiendishness. Screwtape is an upper-level functionary in the complex bureaucracy of the underworld. The "Screwtape Letters" are friendly advice from this elder statesman to a front-line tempter on how to procure the soul of his "patient", a young Christian man just trying to live out his everyday life.

Screwtape Proposes a Toast is a short story that Lewis wrote after the "letters" as kind of a finale. In both works, Lewis placed himself inside the head of Screwtape and communicates things as they would be seen by the Screwtape character. As a result, that which is morally bad is good and what is morally good is bad.

Sorry for any confusion.

God's Omnipotence

Author and professor Tony Campolo speaks on the topic of God's omnipotence:

All the sin and suffering that have marked human history since Eden are the result of God relinquishing control over what we do. People like you and me abuse our God-given freedom and thus increase the hurt and destruction that is in the world.

To all of this, most readers will say, "We agree!" Yet, when I dare to say that God is no longer in total control over this world, so many of my fellow Christians go ballistic. They refuse to stop and think. If they did, they would realize that God must be self-limited if we are to come of age and become fully human. Without God choosing to be limited, we could not love God, because love is something that must be freely chosen-nor could we freely choose to love each other. And love is what is ultimately important.

I'm not sure what Campolo means by "no longer in total control." If he means that God has granted man a measure of autonomy to run things as he will then I think he's right. God doesn't directly cause every event or every decision that is made on earth.

If, however, he means that God could not change things even if He wanted to then I think he's wrong. In any case, there's more at the link.

On Democracy

I have been against the concept of a Democratic form of government ever since I realized that a democracy is simply two wolves and a sheep deciding what they will have for dinner. Remember that this country was founded as a Constitutional Republic because our founding fathers realized that a democracy was inherently destined to fail and only lately has our government morphed into a democratic form of government.

Recently I read Screwtape Proposes a Toast by C. S. Lewis and realized that I found an ally for my position from an altogether different perspective. It's fascinating to realize that C. S. Lewis wrote this almost 50 years ago and, to me, it's prophetic.

The entire story makes for an interesting read but you can scroll down to the following paragraph:

But by the latter part of the century the situation was much simpler, and also much more ominous. In the English sector (where I saw most of my front-line service) a horrible thing had happened. The Enemy, with His usual sleight of hand, had largely appropriated this progressive or liberalizing movement and perverted it to His own ends. Very little of its old anti-Christianity remained. The dangerous phenomenon called Christian Socialism was rampant. Factory owners of the good old type who grew rich on sweated labor, instead of being assassinated by their workpeople -- we could have used that -- were being frowned upon by their own class. The rich were increasingly giving up their powers, not in the face of revolution and compulsion, but in obedience to their own consciences. As for the poor who benefited by this, they were behaving in a most disappointing fashion. Instead of using their new liberties -- as we reasonably hoped and expected -- for massacre, rape, and looting, or even for perpetual intoxication, they were perversely engaged in becoming cleaner, more orderly, more thrifty, better educated, and even more virtuous. Believe me, gentledevils, the threat of something like a really healthy state of society seemed then perfectly serious.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Advice For Students

Calvin Seerveld offers some good advice for Christian students attending a secular university. Actually, I think it's good advice for any kind of student in any kind of university. Here are three of his six suggestions:

Major in the best profs, who make you think self-critically and who give solid course content in a field-area that you have gifts for or can be busy with, without noticing the passage of time.

Take a double major, if possible, to promote the ability to do interdisciplinary thinking, a kind of informal philosophy major (if the philosophy available is sophistic, skeptical or "undeep").

Get in-depth knowledge of a certain period: 5th to 4th century B.C. Athens, Renaissance England, Europe around the time of the French Revolution, or America during the 1920s. That is, rather than staying with survey knowledge, get close to a slice of cultural life somewhere, once upon a time, in many of its facets-a form of encyclopedia-historical study. Maybe work for a couple summers or part of a year in an African village, do volunteer work in Central America, or take a job on the south side of Chicago or in Toronto's Regent Park.

Check out the link for the rest of his recommendations.

Should We Pre-empt?

Ashton B. Carter and William J. Perry, former Clinton assistant secretary of defense and secretary of defense, respectively, call for the United States to blow up on the launch pad the North Korean missile that has recently been fueled and made ready for launch:

[I]f North Korea persists in its launch preparations, the United States should immediately make clear its intention to strike and destroy the North Korean Taepodong missile before it can be launched. This could be accomplished, for example, by a cruise missile launched from a submarine carrying a high-explosive warhead. The blast would be similar to the one that killed terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq. But the effect on the Taepodong would be devastating. The multi-story, thin-skinned missile filled with high-energy fuel is itself explosive -- the U.S. airstrike would puncture the missile and probably cause it to explode. The carefully engineered test bed for North Korea's nascent nuclear missile force would be destroyed, and its attempt to retrogress to Cold War threats thwarted. There would be no damage to North Korea outside the immediate vicinity of the missile gantry.

Read their whole argument here.

Former Vice-President Walter Mondale has endorsed similar action. Charles Pritchard in the WaPo argues against a pre-emptive strike.


PowerLine has come across this quote from a 2003 transcript of a meeting of the Council of Foreign Relations:

I fear that in the run-up to the 2004 election, the administration is considering what is tantamount to a cut-and-run strategy. Their sudden embrace of accelerated Iraqification and American troop withdrawal dates, without adequate stability, is an invitation to failure. The hard work of rebuilding Iraq must not be dictated by the schedule of the next American election.

I have called for the administration to transfer sovereignty, and they must transfer it to the Iraqi people as quickly as circumstances permit. But it would be a disaster and a disgraceful betrayal of principle to speed up the process simply to lay the groundwork for a politically expedient withdrawal of American troops. That could risk the hijacking of Iraq by terrorist groups and former Ba'athists.

The speaker was presidential candidate John Kerry. PowerLine observes that the shameless Senator Flipper was apparently against cutting and running before he was for it.

Do They Care?

The descriptions of the horrors to which our two young soldiers were subjected in Iraq - the two who were captured, tortured, beheaded, and so brutalized that they were unrecognizable - would seem to put Abu Ghraib and other such episodes in a somewhat different light.

How anyone can think that putting underwear on somebody's head and having a dog bark at prisoners is in the same moral universe as what was done to these men escapes me. Yet, the word "torture" is used to describe both as if they are in some bizarre sense morally equivalent.

We were subjected to Abu Ghraib horror stories and photos for months and years after it came to light. We were urged to reflect on what kind of a nation we are that we would spawn people who could do such awful things as put detainees in humiliating and embarrassing poses. Calls went forth demanding that we leave Iraq because we'd lost the moral high ground. Then came revelations of allegations that Korans had been flushed down toilets in Guantanamo and prisoners having been forced to endure loud music. We flagellated ourselves for our barbarity. We condemned ourselves because we were "torturers."

Now we see what genuine evil looks like. We see Americans subjected to unimaginable agony at the hands of sub-human savages. And the MSM can scarcely bring themselves to acknowledge what has happened. A day or two in the news and the story's gone. No photos, no descriptions, no nightly reminders of the evil against which we fight, nothing that would give the American people insight into what real evil is. The left-wing bloggers yawn and return to their fantasies of indicting Karl Rove. The media returns quickly to its fascinations with Tom Cruise and Angelina Jolie. It has no time to be drawing the important distinctions between what our interrogators do and why they do it and what the Islamists do and why. The media spent almost as much time fretting over whether our troops treated Zarqawi roughly before he died than they have on the fate of Kristain Manchaca and Thomas Tucker.

It almost seems as if they just don't care.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Highway to Hell

Blackfive has gun camera footage of the takedown of al-Qaeda in Iraq heavyweight Sheik Mansur and several of his colleagues. Scroll down, read the explanation, and then watch the video.

Sic semper tyrannus.

A Modest Proposal

Rebecca Smithers at The Guardian reports on a statement by British scientists calling for better teaching of evolution. Here are a few excerpts:

The world's leading scientists yesterday urged schools to stop denying the facts of evolution amid controversy over the teaching of creationism.

The national science academies of 67 countries - including the UK's Royal Society - issued a joint statement warning that scientific evidence about the origins of life was being "concealed, denied, or confused". It urged parents as well as teachers to provide children with the facts about the origins and evolution of life on Earth.

It points out that "within science courses taught in certain public systems of education, scientific evidence, data, and testable theories about the origins and evolution of life on Earth are being concealed, denied, or confused with theories not testable by science".

Martin Rees, said: "There is controversy in some parts of the world about the teaching of evolution to pupils and students, so this is a timely statement that makes clear the views of the scientific community. I hope this statement will help those who are attempting to uphold the rights of young people to have access to accurate scientific knowledge about the origins and evolution of life on Earth."

The IAP statement highlighted that "evidence-based facts about the origins and evolution of the Earth and of life on this planet have been established by numerous observations and independently derived experimental results from a multitude of scientific disciplines..."

I fully agree. Students should be taught the facts about the origin of the earth and of life, among the most salient of which is that scientists have no idea how the cosmos or life on earth came about. Let's present our students with all the facts about how incredibly fine-tuned the cosmos is, how necessary it is that the universe be just the way it is within tolerances so fine that they defy comprehension, or else there would be no earth. Let's teach our students the manifold scientific difficulties of any theory of abiogenesis and how extraordinarily difficult it is to imagine a naturalistic origin to life.

Unfortunately, I don't think this is what the august members of the various academies of science have in mind when they call for teaching the facts. They know that if students are taught the facts about the origin and structure of the universe and the difficulties of any purely physicalistic theory of the origin of life, only the most rabid materialist students would be able to avoid the conclusion that there is an intelligence behind it all.

In fact, I propose a test. Let's do what these scientists urge us to do. Let's teach thousands of students the facts of cosmological fine-tuning and the intractable difficulties with all purely material theories of the origin of life and, at the conclusion, poll them on what they now believe the philosophical implications are. I'm willing to bet that significantly more students in the test group than in a control group will be persuaded that any explanation that omits intelligence is inadequate.

Censored Valedictorian

There's been a lot of discussion about the young lady whose valedictory address was stopped short by her high school administration. The usual story line is that the administrators didn't like her overtly Christian references and cut off her microphone when she started to voice them.

This may surprise some Viewpoint readers, but, if what I've read about the case is correct, I don't blame the administrators.

Brittany McComb submitted her speech for approval and agreed to the changes the school authorities made to it. When she got up to deliver her address, however, she disregarded her agreement and re-inserted those passages she had agreed to delete. Consequently, the administrators cut off her microphone.

Ms McComb calls her act an instance of rebelling against authority, but I'd call it an instance of dishonesty. If she felt strongly about the content of her speech then she should not have agreed to the administrators' editing. Having agreed to it she was obligated to keep her word. To do otherwise was deceitful and does not reflect well on the faith she was so anxious to publically acknowledge.

We can debate whether the administration should have insisted she delete the explicitly Christian references. They may have been wrong to deny her the freedom to say what she wanted about her faith, but whether they were wrong or not, she was wrong to go back on her word, and the authorities were justified in preventing her from continuing.

Smart Dust

This is interesting: U.S. Forces may be using "smart dust" in Iraq and Afghanistan according to Strategy Page:

"Smart Dust" is basically very miniaturized electronic devices. This is similar to stuff like RFID, smart cards, EZ Pass and those rice grain size tracking devices you can have injected into your pets. But Smart Dust takes this all to a new level by being small enough to be disguised as dirt, the kind you can pick up in your shoes or clothing. Each bit of Smart Dust can be given a unique serial number that, when hit with an "interrogation signal" from troops on the ground, or aircraft overhead, is broadcast back. Some forms of Smart Dust are believed to be in use in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's also believed that Smart Dust played a role in the recent death of al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi.

In this case, if someone were able to sprinkle some Smart Dust on Zarqawi's clothing, it would have been a simple matter to track him with great precision. Iraqis have already heard of this stuff, but regard it more as "magic dust." Iraqis have a tendency to exaggerate American capabilities, especially when it comes to technology. But U.S. troops have learned to use this exaggerated reputation to their advantage, threatening Iraqis with magical capabilities that don't exist. That often works, just like smart dust.

It doesn't strike me as likely that this stuff was sprinkled on Zarqawi. If we were close enough to him to do that, if we knew where he was when the smart dust was sprinkled, it seems we would have taken him out then. But maybe not.

Pennsylvania's Embarrassment

Were it not for the fact that he keeps popping up on television talk shows and pushed to the fore by his Democratic colleagues, the kind thing to do with John Murtha would be to drop one's eyes and politely tune him out, like one does a senile grandfather. Unfortunately, Murtha does not allow us to ignore him. Like Cindy Sheehan he seems to be everywhere we turn, and, since his statements are not disavowed by his fellow Democrats, we are justified in assuming that he speaks for a significant segment of that party.

His recent appearance on Meet the Press reflects the utter thoughtlessness and disingenuousness of the modern Democrats with regard to the war in Iraq. In calling for a "redeployment" of our troops from Iraq Murtha suggested that they be removed to "the periphery" and gave Okinawa as a possible site. Okinawa is certainly peripheral, about like Pluto is peripheral.

As Jack Kelly at Real Clear Politics observes, Murtha's recommendation is just crazy:

Let us be clear about the Murtha "strategy." It is insane. It would be easier to defend Germany from Chicago; Alaska from Miami, or Hawaii from Pittsburgh than to defend Iraq from Okinawa. It would take 10-12 hours -- and six refuelings -- for F-16s to fly from Kadena AFB on Okinawa to Baghdad (assuming China and India would grant overflight rights, a dubious assumption). Mr. Murtha may regard this as "very quickly," but the Air Force does not.

As Bugs Bunny would say: "What a maroon!"

Another howler is Mr. Murtha's assertion that U.S. troops currently serving in Iraq would be "welcomed" in Okinawa. For decades Okinawans have been seeking a reduction in the U.S. military presence, both because they covet the land on which U.S. military bases sit, and because of a long history of pacifism. The U.S. recently agreed to withdraw 7,000 Marines from Okinawa.

Mr. Murtha's absurdities were not limited to just these. His claim that our killing of Abu Zarqawi shows we don't need ground troops in Iraq is risible. Just because an Air Force jet delivered the munition that ended Zarqawi's reign of terror doesn't mean that all the tracking and intelligence work and so on would have happened if we hadn't had troops on the ground. If we had heeded Murtha's demands to flee Iraq, Zarqawi would be ensconced today in one of Saddam's palaces leisurely slicing off the heads of everyone who has cooperated with the coalition for the past four years. Murtha doesn't care about this. Betraying those who placed their trust in us doesn't seem to bother him. We can commiserate with them, he says, from Okinawa.

Of course Rep. Murtha doesn't really intend that our troops defend Iraq. If he did he wouldn't be calling for a pullout in the first place. What would be the sense in pulling out only to have to rush back in again? He knows that once we're out there's nothing that would ever get us back in. John Murtha, Kelly's column suggests, is either dishonest, stupid, or senile. In any case he's an embarrassment. Read the rest of his piece to see how Kelly comes to that assessment.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Thirteen For Surrender

A total of thirteen senators, all Democrats, voted for the Kerry/Feingold amendment which would have compelled President Bush to withdraw all American troops from Iraq by July 31st, 2007 regardless of what the consequences of that withdrawal would be for the region or the Iraqi people. Listed here are the thirteen:

Akaka(D-HI), Boxer(D-CA), Durbin(D-IL), Feingold(D-WI), Harkin(D-IA), Inouye(D-HI), Jeffords(I-VT), Kennedy(D-MA), Kerry(D-MA), Lautenberg(D-NJ), Leahy(D-VT), Menendez(D-NJ), Wyden(D-OR)

Shortly after that ballot thirty nine senators voted for a meaningless resolution which would have essentially conveyed to the president the Senate's wish that we get out of Iraq as soon as conditions are right for a withdrawal. Six Democrats joined fifty four Republicans to vote against the resolution. The six Democrats were Mark Dayton, Mary Landrieu, Mark Pryor, Joe Lieberman, Bill Nelson and Ben Nelson. Lincoln Chaffee was the sole Republican to vote for the resolution.

During the debate Senator Russ Feingold made the statement that "It is time to tell the Iraqis that we have done what we can do militarily." What on earth makes the senator say this? The presence of our troops defends the Iraqis from predatory neighbors and is the best immediate protection from the ravages of insurgents and terrorists. If the senator thinks that withdrawing before Iraq is prepared to stand on its own is in our, or anyone's (besides the thugs') best interests, then, however smart he may be, he is exceptionally foolish.

Hope For Paralysis Victims

This is a hopeful development:

Scientists have used stem cells and a soup of nerve-friendly chemicals to not just bridge a damaged spinal cord but actually regrow the circuitry needed to move a muscle, helping partially paralyzed rats walk.

Years of additional research is needed before such an experiment could be attempted in people. But the work marks a tantalizing new step in stem cell research that promises to one day help repair damage from nerve-destroying illnesses such as Lou Gehrig's disease, or from spinal cord injuries.

According to the report the stem cells used were mouse embryonic stem cells. Read the whole account here.

The Darwinians constantly remind us that unless science is based on the assumption of evolution it will never progress. I wonder what role evolutionary thinking played in this research.

"Cut and Run" Dems

The Senate is voting today on a proposal by Senators John Kerry and Russ Feingold which would order the president to fly the last helicopter out of Iraq by this time next year regardless of conditions on the ground.

Michelle Malkin has lots of information on the debate and an alternative proposal, none of which will be helpful to those who wish to bamboozle the public into thinking that the Democrats are responsible adults capable of leading this nation in the war on terror.

Malkin captures the essence of the Democrats' strategy for the war in this photo of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid:

The Democrats disingenuously bristle at the suggestion that they are demanding that the U.S. "cut and run." They're doing no such thing, they insist, they're only calling for a "change in direction," but the change, of course, is in the direction in which we are running.

Perplexities of Atheism

Carson Holloway has a strange piece on atheist biologist Richard Dawkins at National Review Online. I say that it's strange because part of it is a criticism of Dawkins for insisting on propagating what he believes to be the truth despite the harmful effects it has apparently had on the psychological health of some of his readers. Holloway thinks this is irresponsible:

Dawkins, however, appears to be utterly indifferent to the spiritual and emotional difficulties that his writings cause for many of his readers. He mentions one reader for whom The Selfish Gene initiated a "personal crisis." Its apparent debunking of any higher purpose in nature caused this person "a series of bouts of depression" lasting over a decade. In another case, a teacher wrote to reprimand Dawkins for his book's effect on a young student who was driven to tears after concluding that The Selfish Gene teaches that life is "empty and purposeless."

What is Dawkins's response to those for whom his popularization of evolution causes so much pain? Essentially it is this: "Keep a stiff upper lip." If "something is true," he responds, "no amount of wishful thinking can undo it." No doubt this is correct. But we might with as much propriety ask Dawkins: "If something is painful, does its truth justify inflicting it on people who find it disturbing?" Let us grant - only, to be sure, for the sake of argument - that Dawkins's Darwinian explanation of Life, the Universe, and Everything is true. Does this in itself justify his strident shoving of it into our public discourse, knowing full well the emotional distress it will cause the spiritually sensitive?

Dawkins can be faulted for many things, and Holloway is on target in his other criticisms in the essay, but this one is weird. Even if some people (e.g. students) are forced by their instructors to read Dawkins, the fault is not with Dawkins for writing his books, but rather with those who compel them to be read. Moreover, we should not avert our eyes from the truth just because it has unfortunate effects. If life is indeed utterly meaningless in a godless cosmos then students should be helped to see that. Such truths should be proclaimed throughout society. If God is dead then the human condition is absurd. Let people see clearly the consequences and implications of their metaphysical commitments.

Furthermore, Holloway is faulting Dawkins on moral grounds for being insensitive to the effect that his theories have on his readers, but why should Dawkins be moved by a moral argument? If there is no God then why is it wrong to cause people to suffer psycho-emotional distress? If people get hurt by what he says, Dawkins might well reply, what is wrong with that? Why should he care? Moral right and wrong only exist if there is a transcendent ground for them. If there is no such ground then the whole concept of morality reduces to notions of personal taste and preference.

There is an irony here, though, for people like Dawkins. In the words of Holloway, as a scientist Dawkins "is concerned above all with the truth, with simply seeing things as they are, regardless of any other interests or concerns."

But it is only the theist who has any basis for placing such a high value on truth. An evolutionary atheist like Dawkins has no grounds for it all. To see this one might ask why ought we subordinate all else to truth? Why should truth be so important to us? Why does it matter?

Darwinians might reply that knowing truth enhances survival and thus prizing the truth is a trait that nature has selected for in humans. But even if this is correct it's not clear that believing what's true has any more survival value than believing what's false. If some primitive tribe believes that the more children one has the greater their reward will be in an afterlife, that tribe may eventually come to crowd out competitors who correctly believe (the atheist would acknowledge) that there is no afterlife. If religious belief, despite being false, nevertheless enhances human life, gives us solace in our grief, hope in times of despair, and joy throughout then why should people not engage in it even so? The Dawkinsian can give no answer. Is it not better that a person be made happy in this brief life by believing a falsehood than be depressed by seeing the truth that his life is void of meaning.

Truth is a value, in a world without God, only to the extent that it's possession makes our lives better in some way and improves the probability our genes will survive, but it often doesn't do this. The truth is often depressing, discouraging, and debilitating whereas myths and superstition are often uplifting and enriching.

On the other hand, if God does exist, truth takes on a much deeper importance. A God which is the locus and source of all that is Good, all that is Beautiful, and all that is True is intrinsically valuable and to value God is to value truth. To love God is to love truth. If God exists truth matters. Indeed, our eternal destiny may well pivot upon it.

For Dawkins, however, the exaltation of truth is a value plucked out of thin air. He may have as easily plucked out personal comfort or power. His decision to live by the credo that truth matters is no more grounded in anything than if he had chosen instead to live by the credo that ignorance is bliss. Thus his belief that we should embrace the truth regardless of its consequences is obligatory only upon him. He has chosen it as an obligation for himself, but it's binding on no one else. Others may validly absolutize different values and Dawkins has no business saying that they shouldn't.

Dawkins finds himself in the odd position of treasuring truth while simultaneously deriding the only thing - belief in God - that could afford him a non-subjective, non-arbitrary, basis for his choice.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Why They Hope We'll Lose

We and others have often made the claim that the left actually is hoping for an American defeat in Iraq. This seems preposterous to some and obvious to others, and it raises the question why they should feel this way. There are at least three reasons, I think, that lead people on the left to cheer every American setback and essentially to call for our surrender:

First, a defeat in Iraq would be a crushing defeat for Republicans. The left hates Republicans in general and Bush in particular and would rather see this country stymied in its greatest international undertaking since WWII than see either Bush or the Republicans get credit for having pulled it off.

Parenthetically, why they hate Bush is another interesting question which deserves an answer. Some of it is due to their bitterness over the 2000 election, but in large part it's because of their embrace of the sexual revolution. The perpetuation of the radical shift in sexual mores of the last forty years, a religious obligation for leftists, requires unfettered access to abortion on demand. Bush has made it clear that he will appoint judges and justices who do not share that enthusiasm. His greatest crime in their eyes, therefore, is the threat he poses to abortion rights and thus to the ability of individuals to treat sex as a form of recreation.

Indeed, we can take this analysis one step further and point out that it has always been part of the leftist agenda, going back at least as far as Marx's Communist Manifesto, to destroy bourgeois marriage and thus traditional notions of the family. Sexual license, gay marriage, and easy divorce are three vehicles the left seeks to employ to this end, and Bush not only opposes them, but is perhaps the only real political obstacle standing in the way of the public accepting the first two as it has the third.

Second, a defeat in Iraq would make us more reluctant to use force in the future. It would, like Vietnam, chasten us for a generation and make the use of military power much more difficult for future presidents. This prospect has a great deal of appeal for pacifists who are already deeply resentful that we used the military in Iraq in the first place.

Third, the secular left, simply put, hates America. They hate America because America is religious and they despise religion. They hate America because America promotes capitalism and they despise capitalism. They hate America because we have a checkered history and they see evil as a stain inherent in the fabric of our nation and its people. Mostly, though, they hate America because they themselves are Americans and they hate themselves.

They are burdened with guilt and self-loathing, and they project onto their nation the sins and impulses, real or imagined, that they find in their own souls. Hatred for America becomes a form of expiation for the guilt they feel for being American.

There may be other reasons why the left yearns to see the United States brought low by the sixth-century savages against whom we struggle, but in any such list these three surely rank near the top.

Racist Assumptions

La Shawn Barber calls our attention to this cartoon in the Indianapolis Star intended as commentary on a case in Indianapolis' Marion County Juvenile Detention Center where nine guards are accused of raping six teenage female inmates:

Here's a photo of the guards, or at least those whose photos were published:

So why did the cartoonist and the Star assume that if someone was a rapist he must be white? Imagine if the cartoon showed a black guard when all the accused were in fact white. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton would be picketing the Star's offices and demanding reparations.

Sounds like the racists at the Indianapolis Star need a little consciousness-raising.

Speaking of racists, now that mayor Ray Nagin has his wish that New Orleans be a "chocolate city" isn't it just a little ironic that he's had to call in a mostly white National Guard to keep the city from spiralling into chaos?

Andrew's Growing Wearisome

Andrew Sullivan looks more foolish with every passing day. In a recent post he quotes from lefty writer Ron Suskind's book a passage that purports to relate a discussion that George Bush had with CIA Director George Tenet concerning the harsh interrogation of a captured terrorist. Sullivan has no idea how accurate the passage is, he has no idea what the nuances were, or what the full context was, yet on the basis of it he proclaims that:

This shallow, monstrous, weak, and petty man is still the president. God help us.

Andrew's name-calling is as childish as it is distasteful. Why does Sullivan think Bush shallow? Because he hasn't read the books Sullivan has? Why is he monstrous? Because he's determined not to let his critics deter him from using harsh measures on terrorists who may have information that could save the lives of our sons and daughters?

Why Sullivan thinks Bush weak or petty is impossible to imagine except perhaps that these were the most unkind adjectives which came to his mind. One thing that Bush has not been throughout his presidency is weak, and even many of his enemies have been impressed with how gracious and unpetty he has been to them.

Andrew Sullivan, who has never had to bear anywhere near the weight that George Bush has had to shoulder, is certainly in no position to call Bush weak. Indeed, a man whose greatest accomplishment is constructing arguments in support of a state blessing of the desire of some men to have oral and anal sex with other men looks rather buffoonish calling a president who has in four years liberated 50 million people from tyranny "shallow," "weak" and "petty."

So what was it, exactly, that elicited this puerile outburst from Andrew? Sullivan quotes from a review of Suskind's book:

Bush "was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth," Suskind writes, and he asked one briefer, "Do some of these harsh methods really work?" Interrogators did their best to find out, Suskind reports. They strapped Abu Zubaydah to a water-board, which reproduces the agony of drowning. They threatened him with certain death. They withheld medication. They bombarded him with deafening noise and harsh lights, depriving him of sleep. Under that duress, he began to speak of plots of every variety - against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty. With each new tale, "thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each . . . target." And so, Suskind writes, "the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered."

Mind you that this is from a review of a book whose claims are based on second and third hand information written by a man who is not eager to pen a positive portrayal of the administration. Throwing caution to the wind, however, and accepting it all at face value, Sullivan vents his outrage that a mentally disturbed man would be subject to the illusion he was drowning, loud noise, bright lights, and sleep deprivation.

Sullivan assumes that because the terrorist, like probably most terrorists, is mentally unstable that he therefore cannot be expected to know of any plots against American lives, but this is asinine. Simple-mindedness is not equivalent to ignorance.

Moreover, it's not clear to me why these measures, as unpleasant as they are, should be considered torture. Is it torture to frighten someone into thinking they will be harmed? Is it torture to make them uncomfortable? If so, if that is to be our standard of torture, then we have put ourselves in the position of having to say that it is absolutely wrong to fight against terrorists in the first place or to take them prisoner because neither of these is possible without causing them either fear or discomfort or both.

Sullivan may (if he has run out of vile epithets to hurl our way) reply by saying that we are free to do what we must until the terrorist is no longer a threat to us, but once in custody he is no longer a threat and should therefore be treated as gently as possible consistent with preventing him from becoming a threat again.

Generally speaking, I would agree with this, but a terrorist is not just a threat when he is able to harm us by what he does. He's also a threat if he's able to harm us by what he doesn't do. In other words, threats can be active or passive. Consider a scientist who has discovered a cure for some terrible disease, say avian flu or a childhood cancer, but refuses to divulge his knowledge so that much terrible suffering could be ended. Instead, he states that there are too many people in the world, and therefore he is going to keep quiet about his cure until millions die off. I would argue that that scientist is directly responsible for the suffering and deaths of everyone who perishes from the plague because he had knowledge that could have, and would have, saved their lives but refused to share it. He is in a position similar to the terrorist in custody who refuses to disclose information that would save lives. Both the scientist and the terrorist are passive threats to the lives of others, and the terrorist in custody is therefore not significantly different from the terrorist in the field.

At any rate, Andrew Sullivan's simplistic approach to these problems and his willingness to verbally stomp upon and smear those who disagree with him is growing increasingly wearisome and odious.