Thursday, August 31, 2006

Who Do You Trust?

The Israelis don't need many more reasons not to trust the U.N. to do the job they're supposed to do in Lebanon, but if they did need a reason maybe this would be it:

During the recent month-long war between Hezbollah and Israel, U.N. "peacekeeping" forces made a startling contribution: They openly published daily real-time intelligence, of obvious usefulness to Hezbollah, on the location, equipment, and force structure of Israeli troops in Lebanon.

UNIFIL--the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, a nearly 2,000-man blue-helmet contingent that has been present on the Lebanon-Israel border since 1978--is officially neutral. Yet, throughout the recent war, it posted on its website for all to see precise information about the movements of Israeli Defense Forces soldiers and the nature of their weaponry and materiel, even specifying the placement of IDF safety structures within hours of their construction. New information was sometimes only 30 minutes old when it was posted, and never more than 24 hours old.

Meanwhile, UNIFIL posted not a single item of specific intelligence regarding Hezbollah forces. Statements on the order of Hezbollah "fired rockets in large numbers from various locations" and Hezbollah's rockets "were fired in significantly larger numbers from various locations" are as precise as its coverage of the other side ever got.

So much for Kofi's Kids as disinterested peace-keepers.

War Between Iran and Israel

The American Thinker informs us of an article in the Washington Times that suggests that Israel is moving closer to war with Iran:

In what must be an officially approved leak, the London Telegraph reports that Israel has appointed a top general to oversee a war against Iran, prompting speculation that it is preparing for possible military action against Tehran's nuclear program. ... Maj. Gen. Elyezer Shkedy, Israel's air force chief, will be overall commander for the "Iran front," military sources told the London Sunday Telegraph.

This must be a signal to the Iranians - and to the rest of the world, especially Europe and America: If you don't stop the Khomeiniacs, we will. The Telegraph is often used by British intelligence, and it is friendlier to Israel than other European media. It is read in the United States.

Go to the link for the rest of the story. Israel apparently believes it has one year to decide either to accept a nuclear Iran or to do what it can to prevent it.

Where the Left's Hatred is Taking Us

The "entertainment" left has plumbed new depths in their forthcoming televison docudrama based on the hypothetical assassination of President Bush. I can't imagine a similar series being produced during the tenure of President Clinton. If one were to be aired the outrage from the Democrats would have been incandescent, and rightly so. The more used to the idea of killing a specific human being we become, the more likely someone will take it into his/her head to attempt it.

There was a time when people thought that murdering a president was a topic that decent folk simply would not dream of talking about out of a respect for the value of human life and prevailing standards of taste, and also so as not to incite the crazies. But that time is past. The present-day secular left, never known to be constrained by taste or consideration for the well-being of political figures they despise, or, for that matter, the Biblical mandate to love one's neighbor, seems instead to be positively obsessed with the idea of killing George Bush.

Michelle Malkin offers the documentation here. It's pretty revolting, actually, but the idea behind the new docudrama will doubtless be boffo with the gentle folk at the Daily Kos and Democratic Underground.

Russell Shaw's Terrible Argument

A friend directed me to this article at the very liberal Huffington Post. I hasten to point out that the writer, Russell Shaw, is not endorsing a terror attack on the United States and is at pains to express his own revulsion at such a thought. Nevertheless, his speculations and reasoning seem to draw him, against his will, in the direction of hoping for one and they demand some critical examination. Mr. Shaw writes:

What if another terror attack just before this fall's elections could save many thousand-times the lives lost? I start from the premise that there is already a substantial portion of the electorate that tends to vote GOP because they feel that Bush has "kept us safe," and that the Republicans do a better job combating terrorism.

If an attack occurred just before the elections, I have to think that at least a few of the voters who persist in this "Bush has kept us safe" thinking would realize the fallacy they have been under. If 5% of the "he's kept us safe" revise their thinking enough to vote Democrat, well, then, the Dems could recapture the House and the Senate and be in a position to:

Block the next Supreme Court appointment, one which would surely result in the overturning of Roe and the death of hundreds if not thousands of women from abortion-prohibiting states at the hands of back-alley abortionists;

Mr. Shaw is an example of a man so blinded by ideology that he can't see the fallacies in his own argument even though they're as obvious as the noon-day sun.

How does he know, for instance, that a terrorist attack would not have the opposite effect of driving more people toward the GOP? He doesn't. And what makes him put scare quotes around "he's kept us safe" as if he thinks this is an absurd notion? What makes him think that the current administration hasn't kept us safe from terrorist attacks? Have there been any such attacks in the U.S. since 9/11? And where does he get the idea that overturning Roe would result in the deaths of thousands of women? What statistics is he relying on for this conjecture? Further, could it not be just as plausibly argued that overturning Roe would save the lives of millions of babies?

Nevertheless, Mr. Shaw, having demonstrated that he's not interested in something so inconvenient as competing facts, is just starting to gather his rhetorical momentum:

[This would place the Democrats] in a position to elevate the party's chances for a regime change in 2008. A regime change that would:

Save hundreds of thousands of American lives by enacting universal health care;

How does he know that granting universal health care would result in "hundreds of thousands of lives" saved? Where does he get that figure? How does he know that the decline in medical effectiveness that has accompanied state-run systems elsewhere around the world wouldn't also occur here with the result that we experience long-term increase in the number of people who die earlier than they otherwise would have?

Save untold numbers of lives by pushing for cleaner air standards that would greatly reduce heart and lung diseases;

It could be argued that the expenses incurred by forcing compliance with tougher emissions standards would result in companies laying off thousands of employees and thus thrusting these workers into a poverty which would shorten their lives and that of their children. Mr. Shaw offers no reason for thinking this would be unlikely.

More enthusiastically address the need for mass transit, the greater availability of which would surely cut highway deaths;

Democrats were in control of the White House throughout the nineties and never made mass transit a priority. Democrats also control the governorships and or legislatures of many states. Do these states have a better and more effective system of mass transit than states controlled by Republicans? It's not clear that Democrats would be any more effective at implementing mass transit systems than would Republicans.

Enact meaningful gun control legislation that would reduce crime and cut fatalities by thousands a year;

Gun control legislation actually has the opposite effect wherever it is tried (see John Lott's More Guns, Less Crime). The only way to eliminate gun crime is to deny criminals access to guns and the only way to do that is to eliminate guns from the face of the planet. That, of course, will never happen. Moreover, neither of the last two Democratic candidates for president supported gun control, why does Mr. Shaw think the next one will?

Fund stem cell research that could result in cures saving millions of lives;

Mr. Shaw has no evidence to support the claim that stem cell research could save "millions" of lives. Moreover, there's no law prohibiting private funding of stem cell research now, nor is there a prohibition against federal funding of adult stem cell research. This statement is pure flummery reminiscent of John Edwards' assertion in the last election campaign that if John Kerry is elected president Christopher Reeve would get out of his wheel chair and walk.

Boost the minimum wage, helping to cut down on poverty which helps spawn violent crime and the deaths that spring from those acts;

Where are the statistics that support his claim that a higher minimum wage cuts down on poverty? Is it not likely that at some point raising the minimum wage will increase unemployment because employers will no longer be able to afford to hire the marginal worker. The higher an employer's costs the fewer employees he will take on and the more expensive his product will be for consumers. Raising costs (wages)is not without it's downside, but Mr. Shaw seems blissfully unaware of the fact.

Be less inclined to launch foolish wars, absence of which would save thousands of soldiers' lives- and quite likely moderate the likelihood of further terror acts.

The most foolish war in our history, Vietnam, was launched by two Democratic presidents, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Shaw's implication that the war in Iraq has increased terrorism is simply not supported by the evidence. We went to war in 2001 in Afghanistan and since then there has been no terrorist attack on our soil. That doesn't mean there won't be in the future, but it certainly lends greater support to the belief that what moderates terror attacks is fighting terrorists in their house rather than ours.

I am not proud of myself for even considering the notion that another terror attack that costs even one American life could ever be considered anything else but evil and hurtful. And I know that when I weigh the possibility that such an attack- that might, say, kill 100- would prevent hundreds of thousands of Americans from dying who otherwise would- I am exhibiting a calculating cold heart diametrically opposed to everything I stand for as a human being. A human being, who, just so you know, is opposed to most wars and to capital punishment.

Of course it's possible that a terrorist attack would drive voters to the Democrats, as Mr. Shaw predicts, and it's possible that a Democratic administration would do the things Shaw assumes they would, but then anything is possible. No serious thinker would base an ethical question of this magnitude on mere possibility. It's possible, after all, that if someone burned down Mr. Shaw's house the whole nation would experience rapturous paroxysms of profound joy, but the bare possibility is certainly no justification for the arson.

But in light of the very real potential of the next two American elections to solidify our growing American persona as a warlike, polluter-friendly nation with repressive domestic tendencies and inadequate health care for so many tens of millions, let me ask you this. Even if only from the standpoint of a purely intellectual exercise in alternative future history:

If you knew us getting hit again would launch a chain of transformative, cascading events that would enable a better nation where millions who would have died will live longer, would such a calculus have any moral validity?

This question is to "intellectual exercise" what raising a donut to one's mouth is to physical exercise. Nor does his argument rise to the level of a "calculus". It's based entirely upon ungrounded speculation and suppositions. It boils down to this: If the deaths of a hundred innocent citizens could conceivably, maybe, if everything went right and counter to all of our experience, bring about the longer lives of tens of thousands, even millions, of others, it would be moral to allow, or hope for, the hundred to be murdered.

Perhaps the most succinct refutation of this bizarre piece of moral analysis is this: Keeping in mind that the benefits are only possible, and not even close to being demonstrably probable, Mr. Shaw might be asked whether he would be willing to volunteer one of his own children to be one of the terrorists' victims. If, as I would be willing to wager, he would not be at all agreeable to such a sacrifice, even though there may be a slim chance that it might secure a very great good for others, then what makes him think that his suggestion of sacrificing other peoples' children has any "moral validity" at all?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Do the Evolution

Well, we're pretty confident you won't find this tune by Pearl Jam on too many Darwinians' ipods:

Go here for the video and here for the lyrics (which are pretty much unintelligible on the video).

This is not the sort of direction, I wouldn't think, that Darwinians want people to think materialistic evolution takes us in.

Thanks for the tip to Uncommon Descent.

Is the Pope an IDer?

UPI informs of this development at the Vatican which seems to indicate that Rome is soon going to clarify its stance on the ID/Darwinism controversy:

Pope Benedict XVI may reportedly embrace the theory of intelligent design, possibly heralding a fundamental shift in the Vatican's view of evolution.

Philosophers, scientists and other intellectuals are to meet with the pope this week at his summer palace near Rome to discuss the issue, The Guardian reported Monday.

Advocates of the theory argue the universe and living things are so complex they must be a product of intelligent design rather than natural selection. Critics say the theory is a disguise for creationism.

Vatican officials last week announced evolution and creation would be the topics for this year's meeting of the pope's Schulerkreis -- a group consisting mainly of his former doctoral students that has been gathering annually since the late 1970s, The Guardian said.

Pope Benedict raised the issue during the inaugural sermon of his pontificate, saying, "We are not the accidental product, without meaning, of evolution."

HT: Uncommon Descent.

One Book He Needs to Read

A friend linked me to this column by Tony Norman in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. According to what Norman has been able to discover the presidential reading regimen is quite impressive. In fact, it seems almost unbelievably impressive:

The list of 60 books Mr. Bush is alleged to have read this year reveals an intellect of Promethean scale and ambition. He's read 10 books more than his chief adviser, Karl Rove, who presumably continues to run the country with Mr. Cheney while Mr. Bush wanders the aisles of Barnes & Noble.

A partial list of the books Mr. Bush is alleged to have devoured between mountain biking and weight lifting two hours a day includes Edvard Radzinsky's "Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar," John Barry's "The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History," Geraldine Brooks' "Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women" and "Mao: The Unknown Story" by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday.

Mr. Bush also put away three books about Lincoln this year -- "Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer" by James Swanson, "Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power" by Richard Carwardine and "Lincoln's Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural" by Ronald White Jr.

Mr. Bush's summer reading list is formidable, clocking in at 25 books. The list includes the three Lincoln books previously mentioned, "After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castro's Regime and Cuba's Next Leader" by Brian Latell, "Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different" by Gordon Wood, "Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War" by Nathaniel Philbrick, "Polio: An American Story" by David Oshinsky and "Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero" by David Maraniss.

And while contemporary writers exert a powerful pull on Mr. Bush's imagination, he also managed to reread Shakespeare's two greatest tragedies, "Hamlet" and "Macbeth" just to keep his literary allusions sharp and pungent.

Frankly, if this list is true (and I have no reason to doubt the veracity of the White House press office), Mr. Bush has fallen off the wagon of American anti-intellectualism that has served him so well and is now flagrantly engaged in the greatest presidential reading spree in the republic's history.

Well, I'm afraid I'm skeptical, but be that as it may, I wish that somewhere in the midst of his prodigious consumption of the printed word the president would find time to read Pat Buchanan's State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America. If he did he would learn the following:

  • In 2005 there were 687 assualts on border agents, twice the figure for the previous year.
  • In 2004 160,000 non-Mexicans were caught trying to cross our border illegally. Only 30,000 were sent back.
  • Under current law, the federal government is required to release people caught trying to cross our border illegally if their home countries refuse to take them back.
  • In George Bush's first 4.5 years in office approximately 4 million people entered this country illegally.
  • Many of our major cities have declared themselves sanctuary cities. It is forbidden to police in these cities to apprehend known illegal or criminal aliens.
  • Gang members in L.A. who are in violation of deportation orders may not be arrested by police.
  • In L.A. 95% of all outstanding warrants for homicide, some 1200 to 1500, are for illegal aliens.
  • 66% of the 17000 outstanding fugitive felony warrants in L.A. are for illegal aliens.
  • 12000 of the 20000 members of the 18th Street Gang in southern California are illegals.
  • It is illegal to refuse emergency care to illegal aliens but the costs of doing so are so prohibitive that in the nine years from 1994 to 2003 eighty four hospitals in California were forced to close their doors.
  • Between 300000 and 350000 "anchor babies" are born to illegal aliens each year. These children are automatically citizens and qualify for all benefits of citizens.
  • Illegals are bringing contagious diseases like leprosy and tuberculosis into this country which had formerly been all but eradicated.

The list goes on. Buchanan's book weighs every aspect of the immigration controversy - the argument that we need the workers, that they will assimilate, and so on - and finds them all wanting. Given the urgency of the topic State of Emergency may well be the most important book of our time, and President Bush would do well to read it. If for no other reason he should read it to discover why many of his supporters are growing increasingly disillusioned with his lack of leadership on this issue and his egregious failure to perform his sworn constitutional duty to uphold the laws of this nation.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Mac Donald/Novak Debate Pt. II

Sunday I posted some comments on an essay by Heather Mac Donald which has triggered a debate among conservatives on the importance of Christianity to a conservative worldview. I'd like in this post to consider the argument she makes in her follow-up piece. Ms Mac Donald notes in this second column that the fundamental question, the "threshold question", is whether Christianity is true. She believes it is not, and the reason she gives is that she believes that the existence of a loving and just God is simply incompatible with the evil that afflicts our world:

The most important characteristics of the Christian God, as I understand them, are his love of man and his justice. If one were to posit a god who is capricious, ironic, absent-minded, depraved, or completely unknowable, I'd be on board. Any one of those characteristics would comport with a deity superintending the world as I see it. But not the idea, as a Bush administration publicist put it to me, that every one of us is "precious in God's eyes."

In the course of laying out her argument, which she does quite persuasively, she writes many things to which Christians would do well to give careful consideration, but she does not, in my opinion, successfully defend her claim that the presence of evil refutes belief in the Christian God.

In fact, Ms Mac Donald is really attempting two arguments in her paper. One argument is against the inconsistent manner in which many Christians conceive of God's action in the world, an argument with which I concur. The other is an argument that seeks to show that the manifest evil of the world is incompatible with the existence of a God who is loving and just.

The nut of this second argument is found here, I think, where she writes:

Let me take a banal example. As I write this, the Los Angeles Times has a small item on a thoroughly unremarkable traffic accident. A 27-year-old man in Los Angeles misread a traffic signal, and drove his car into an oncoming Blue Line Metro Train. He and his sister were killed; his 7-year-old son and his grandmother were seriously injured.

Now imagine that a human father had behaved towards the occupants of the car as our Divine Father did. That is: a) He knew that his children would be mowed down by a train; b) he had the capacity to avert the disaster through any number of, for him, quite simple means; and c) he chose to do nothing. No one would call this father's deliberate and possibly criminal passivity "love." Instead, we would deem such a father a monster and banish him from our midst. Yet when God behaves in just this way, we remain firm in our conviction that he loved the occupants of that car, and that each was "precious" in his eyes.

Ms Mac Donald is implying that there is a contradiction contained in the conflation of the beliefs that God is able to prevent evil and wants to prevent evil with the manifest fact that evil exists. Actually, this was a popular argument among atheists ever since Epicurus sketched it out over 2000 years ago up until the 1960s when just about everyone finally realized that, in point of fact, there actually is no contradiction. God might well be omnipotent and omnibenevolent and still have a reason, nonetheless, for permitting evil. Such reasons might include a commitment to honor our autonomy and to grant us the freedom necessary to make us more than robots. Or it could be that preventing some evils would unleash even greater evils. There may be other reasons as well which lie beyond our ken, but the point is that as long as it's possible that God have such reasons the argument that His existence is logically incompatible with evil just doesn't work.

Let's suppose, hypothetically, that the God Ms Mac Donald accuses of being able to prevent the train crash, unbeknownst to us cries out in profound anguish as this terrible tragedy unfolds. It breaks His heart to see it happen, to know from all eternity that it is going to happen, and yet, although He could intervene to suspend the laws of nature and prevent it from happening, He is constrained by considerations, perhaps self-imposed, of which we are unaware to let the event unfold. Suppose, too, that the grief God experiences in allowing this terrible tragedy far exceeds that of any experienced by even the family of the victims. Suppose, finally, that God quickly folds those victims into His bosom and embraces them in love and joy forever. Just suppose that something like this happens. If so, would Ms Mac Donald now say that the God of Christianity is a "monster"? Yet isn't this a thoroughly Christian view of the God of the Bible?

It could be, however, that Ms Mac Donald is trying to say something a little less strong than that there is a contradiction between evil and the existence of the Christian God. Perhaps she's making the case that the existence of evil makes the existence of a loving and just God not logically impossible but rather highly improbable. God's existence, she might be taken to mean, is unlikely given the facts she lays out in her essay.

Now the facts that she sets forth certainly must be allowed to count as prima facie evidence against the existence of God, and if these were all the facts there are then we might agree that it seems indeed that God, if He exists, at least appears to be either uncaring and unjust, or capricious, or inscrutable. But there is more to consider here than just the argument based upon the world's horrors before we conclude that the existence of God is unlikely.

Consider the following example. Someone tells you that they know a Chinese man who is over seven feet tall. You, having seen lots of Chinese men, none of whom is much over six feet, are very dubious. But suppose you then learn that this person is a professional basketball player, a center in the NBA. These additional facts might soften your doubt and make you reconsider. The fact that he's Chinese may count against him being seven feet tall, but the other facts would count in favor of it.

Likewise, the existence of so much apparently gratuitous suffering, grief, pain, and terror count, on the face of things, against the existence of the Christian God, but then we should throw into the pot the classical arguments for God's existence - the cosmological and ontological arguments, and Kant's moral argument, for instance - as well as the religious experience of millions of believers, the fine-tuning of the universe which gives every appearance of having been designed, the existential argument that concludes that the existence of God is the best explanation for man's yearning for meaning, as well as for a ground for morality, dignity, human rights, justice, and for his desire to survive his own physical death, etc. We should also stir into the mix the irreducible complexity of some biological structures and systems and the ubiquity of information throughout the biosphere, both of which point prima facie to an intelligent author of life. We should add, too, the implausibility of a naturalistic origin of life and the phenomenom of consciousness. All of these must be counted in support of the proposition that God exists.

We might then reason that if God does indeed exist the testimony of the Scriptures and the internal witness of the Holy Spirit might also count as evidence that this God is both loving and just.

All of these lines of evidence may have explanations other than God, of course, but the point is that the evil we find ourselves surrounded by might also have an explanation other than the one Ms Mac Donald assumes.

She is right that Christians often respond to instances of evil much too glibly and with an unseemly assurance that they understand God's doings, but the shortcomings of some theists is hardly an argument against the existence of God.

One final note. At one point in her essay she writes this:

Religious institutions and beliefs are, however, human creations. They grow out of man's instinct for system and order, as well as out of the desire for life beyond death and a divine intervener in human affairs. Our striving for justice is one of the great human attributes. Far from imitating a divine model, man's every effort to dispense justice is a battle against the randomness that rules the natural world.

A believer might ask Ms Mac Donald from whence she derives her notion of justice. If she's correct that there is no transcendent source of moral truth then her concept of justice is perforce a matter of her own subjective preferences. Justice for one person may be, as Plato has Thrasymachus say, merely the interest of the stronger (or the ruler). For another person justice may be treating other people with dignity and kindness. If there is no God there's no way to decide that one definition is better or any more right than the other. The correct definition is simply whichever one Ms Mac Donald likes the best. In other words, if there's no transcendent standard for justice, Ms Mac Donald's last two sentences above are nonsensical.

Moral Anguish

The Washington Post has a must-read account by Laura Blumenfeld of an Israeli air-strike against Hamas leadership in 2003. It is especially important that those who suspect Israel of wanton killing of Palestinians read this article all the way to the end.

I wonder if the Palestinians put themselves through the same agonizing moral struggle before they launch their suicide bombers and rocket attacks against the Israelis. It's hard to imagine.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Trust in Muslims Waning in Britain

There's much of interest in this report in the British Daily Mail on a recent poll taken in that country. Here are some of the findings:

Most Britons now believe the Muslim faith is a threat to Western democracy, a new survey has revealed. A YouGov poll shows that increasing numbers think "a large proportion" of British Muslims feel no loyalty to the UK and are ready to condone or even carry out terrorist atrocities, while far more people feel threatened by Islam itself than was the case five years ago.

The starkest finding was that 53 per cent of people now agreed that Islam itself - not just fundamentalist groups - posed a threat to Western liberal democracy, while only 34 per cent disagreed. A year ago the proportions were evenly balanced, and in 2001 only 32 per cent of people felt threatened by the Muslim faith while 63 per cent believed there was no threat.

The proportion of respondents who agreed that "a large proportion of British Muslims feel no sense of loyalty to this country and are prepared to condone or even carry out acts of terrorism" has almost doubled since last year from 10 to 18 per cent. At the same time the proportion stating that "practically all British Muslims" are law-abiding and deplore terrorism has dropped from 23 to 16 per cent.

More people now want MI5 and the Police to focus their counter-terrorist efforts on Muslims - up from 60 to 65 per cent in a year - while fewer are concerned about the impact on race relations -down from 30 to 23 per cent.

My first reaction to this story is surprise that the percentages were as modest as they are. I wonder how many respondents would have answered otherwise but didn't wish to seem to the pollster as being "illiberal".

The poll results came as Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly admitted that the doctrine of multi-culturalism - the cornerstone of left wing immigration and race policies for the past 20 years - may have been wrong, and contributed to isolation and alienation between communities.

Launching the Government's new Commission on Integration and Cohesion - first promised by ministers last year following the July 7 bombings - she admitted that encouraging immigrants to retain their own culture rather than to integrate with wider society may have "encouraged separateness."

This just goes to show that even a government bureaucrat can have the scales fall from her eyes if the evidence smacking her in the head hits her hard enough. It has long been an argument in this country that multiculturalism is counter-productively divisive. When we emphasize the things that make us different rather than those things that make us alike we should not be surprised that our communities remain balkanized and suspicious of one another. We should not be surprised, when we tell immigrants that they need not worry about assimilating into the larger culture and adopting the political values of the larger society, that they don't.

Immigration would be a good thing for both the immigrant and his new nation if the immigrant wished to become a full citizen in his new country, but Muslim immigrants too often don't. Their dream - I had an imam tell me this once in so many words - is to replace the constitutions of the countries in which they live with Islamic law. They'll use democratic processes to do this, but once they are successful in achieving political dominance the principles of democracy will be discarded and all law will be based on the Quran. Now there's an unsettling thought.

Shallow Fascination

Gary Varvel captures pretty well the media's fascination with the "confessed" murderer of JonBenet Ramsey:

Iran is intent on becoming a nuclear power willing to use nuclear weapons against Israel. Tens of thousands of illegal aliens, many of them felons, some of them potential terrorists, are streaming across our southern border. The war in Iraq continues to shape the Middle East in ways that cry out for analysis. And all some of our television stations can talk about, for most of the twenty four hours of their broadcast day, is a ten year old murder case and every detail of the daily existence of a non-entity named John Mark Karr.

Either these cable news channels are staffed by some of the most incredibly shallow people in the country or else they have rightly divined that the country is populated by incredibly shallow television viewers, or both.

Is Bush Losing His Will?

Has George Bush lost his will to fight the war on terrorism? After 9/11 the world shook in Afghanistan and Iraq as the United States rose up to smite its enemies, but a lot has happened in the last three years, and much of it is not good. We are threatened in Iraq by Iranian and Syrian machinations which are carried out with impunity. Moqtada al-Sadr leads Iraq closer to civil war, and we hestitate to neutralize him. Israel has Hezbollah, a terrorist organization which has killed hundreds of Americans, on the ropes, and we vote in the U.N. for an otherwise meaningless resolution that allows them to survive. It has become clear that the administration's war against Islamic terrorism has taken a turn away from an aggressively offensive strategy and seems to have morphed into a strategy of merely keeping the Islamo-fascists at arm's length.

The Iraq experience has certainly sapped the will of many Americans. It is not just the drain on our resources and soldiers' lives and well-being that have taken a toll on our resolve, but also the relentless negativism of the media which has refused to acknowledge that anything worthwhile was being accomplished there.

Now, increasingly, we're hearing military voices which were once optimistic, expressing implied skepticism. We're seeing former supporters of the president's policies start to edge closer to the side of the ship. We're seeing Republican politicians up for re-election who lack the fortitude to campaign as supporters of the president and who instead pusillanimously scurry away from him.

Part of the blame for this must lie with the White House which has been notably incapable of articulating its vision and strategy to the general public in a very convincing way. President Bush is probably the least articulate man to occupy the White House in my lifetime, and he apparently thinks that he does himself little good by trying to take his case to the public on a regular basis. I think this is a mistake. People need to be continually reminded of what the nature of the struggle is, what our goals are, what our strategy and tactics are, and how we are doing in the contest. Instead the president, to his detriment, lets a hostile media frame the debate and pretty much have the floor.

Part of the blame must also lie also with a Department of Defense which has never made a compelling counter-case to those who claimed that we needed more troops from the beginning of the post-invasion period. They seem to think that the criticisms are too uninformed to be worth their notice, but they're not. Millions of Americans would like to know why we didn't send in more troops when it became obvious that Iraq was spiralling into an insurgency. Their curiosity goes unsatisfied.

Finally, part of the blame must lie with a political opposition which has been the insurgents' best tool in their war against the coalition forces. Nothing has degraded the ability of the administration to respond appropriately to events on the ground than the relentless sniping, criticism, and carping of the president's political foes. No matter what the president does it gets distorted and maligned by an adversary media and political party that acts as if they really believe the rhetoric of those who proclaim that George Bush is a greater threat to world peace and safety than are the Islamo-fascist jihadis.

Even so, there are glimmers of hope. The president sounded as determined as ever to continue to fight the war against terrorists in his press conference last Monday. Moreover, it may be that our vote for Res. 1701 was a consequence of our assessment that Ehud Olmert was not interesting in prosecuting the war against Hezbollah and was himself hoping that the U.N. would step in to stop it. If that's so, there would have been no point in the U.S. voting against the resolution to end hostilities.

The next several months will tell us a lot about the president's determination. Will we neutralize or eliminate al-Sadr? Will we hold the Iranians to their claim that they're willing to enter into serious negotiations over their nuclear weapons program? Will we offer full support to Israel when the conflict in Lebanon flares up again? If not, then we can conclude that the aggressive phase of the war against Islamic terror is over and we will have pretty much decided to play rope-a-dope for the last two years of the Bush presidency.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Mac Donald/Novak Debate

There's a fascinating debate taking place among conservatives affiliated with National Review surrounding the question of the legitimacy of Christian belief and whether one can be an atheist and still be a conservative. The debate was triggered by this column by Heather Mac Donald in the American Conservative. Michael Novak here and Mac Donald replies to Novak in this thoughtful and challenging essay.

Heather Mac Donald is very bright, very well-educated, and usually right, but I think this is one time when she's not. In her first piece, the one which began the discussion, she makes the error of essentially arguing that because the existence of God is not a sufficient condition for people, and nations, to be moral that neither, therefore, is His existence a necessary condition for morality. She wishes to stress that one need not be religious in order to be conservative. Some of what she says in the column is certainly true, but there are some things, too, from which I must dissent. Here are a couple of examples with commentary.

She writes:

Skeptical conservatives-one of the Right's less celebrated subcultures-are conservatives because of their skepticism, not in spite of it. They ground their ideas in rational thinking and (nonreligious) moral argument. And the conservative movement is crippling itself by leaning too heavily on religion to the exclusion of these temperamentally compatible allies.

The presumption of religious belief - not to mention the contradictory thinking that so often accompanies it - does damage to conservatism by resting its claims on revealed truth. But on such truth there can be no agreement without faith. And a lot of us do not have such faith - nor do we need it to be conservative.

Nonbelievers look elsewhere for a sense of order, valuing the rule of law for its transparency to all rational minds and debating Supreme Court decisions without reverting to mystical precepts or "natural law."

Skeptical conservatives do not look into the abyss when they make ethical choices. Their moral sense is as secure as a believer's. They do not need God or the Christian Bible to discover the golden rule and see themselves in others.

Perhaps this is true, perhaps the moral sense of unbelievers is as secure as that of a theist, but as I've frequently argued here at Viewpoint, most recently here, it doesn't seem likely. Suppose we ask Ms Mac Donald why the golden rule is right in the first place or why anyone should try to see himself in others. Why does she think that these maxims should be embraced? Is it that they're morally right? Granting that I'm being a bit unfair by putting words in her mouth, perhaps the exchange might go something like this:

Believer: Why should anyone practice the golden rule?

Mac Donald: Because it's obvious that we shouldn't treat others in ways we wouldn't want to be treated.

B: Why not, why is that wrong to do?

M: Because people get hurt that way. Living by the Golden Rule keeps us from harming each other.

B: Yes, but why is it wrong for one man to harm another?

M: Because no one wants others to harm him.

B: That's certainly true, but that's not a reason why I, for instance, shouldn't harm someone else if it's to my benefit and if I can get away with it. Why would I be wrong to do that?

M: That would be terribly selfish.

B: I agree, but why is selfishness wrong? What makes it morally wrong to act exclusively in your own interest?

M: If all people lived that way society would self-destruct and that would not be in your self-interest.

B: Maybe not, but then you're agreeing that what's right is what's in my self-interest. If it's in my self-interest to hurt someone else, and if I can do it without suffering harm to myself, then it wouldn't be wrong to do it. In fact, it would be right.

M: But it's wrong not to care about others' well-being.

B: It is? Why is it? Why shouldn't I just care about my own well-being? Even if I accept your claim that I should live by the golden rule out of my own self-interest and therefore not do anything that would make society chaotic all that follows is that I should just live for myself while encouraging others to live by the golden rule. That way I get what I want and society holds together so that I can enjoy it. There would be nothing morally wrong with doing this, would there? In other words, a man who has power and the desire to exercise that power over others is doing nothing wrong by doing so.

M: That would be tyranny.

B: Yes, but reason gives me no basis for thinking that "might makes right" is somehow wrong. I can only think that it's wrong to treat others hurtfully if others have inherent rights, and they can only have inherent rights if those rights are invested in them by a transcendent moral authority, a creator. In other words, it's wrong to treat others hurtfully because, as John Locke pointed out, we are created in the image of God and are loved by God. Each of us is His property and God forbids us to harm what He loves. If there is no God, then there's nothing wrong with being a tyrant. If there is no God, there's no right and wrong at all. Reason can tell us how best to pursue certain ends, but it cannot tell us, by itself, whether those ends are good or evil, right or wrong.

To put it differently, the skeptic has no grounds for opposing tyranny other than that she simply doesn't like it. She may believe that tyranny is not the best way to produce a happy society, but whose happiness is the skeptic concerned about? The happiness of the masses? Why, on the skeptic's naturalistic assumptions, should the happiness of the masses be privileged over the happiness of the rulers?

Ms Mac Donald's skepticism reduces her moral judgments to arbitrary expressions of personal tastes and preferences. There's no reason why others should find them persuasive unless they share her subjective predilections.

She adds this:

Suffice it to say that, to many of us, Western society has become more compassionate, humane, and respectful of rights as it has become more secular. Just compare the treatment of prisoners in the 14th century to today, an advance due to Enlightenment reformers. A secularist could as easily chide today's religious conservatives for wrongly ignoring the heritage of the Enlightenment.

To accept a claim like this, however, we must ignore an awful lot of history. We must turn a blind eye, for instance, to the bitter 20th century fruits of the enlightenment - most notably national socialism and communism with their holocausts, killing fields, and over 100 million dead around the globe.

It's true that in some ways we've become a kinder and gentler people. We no longer practice slavery, we have legal procedures to try to insure justice, civil rights legislation, and extensive welfare systems to care for the poor and the sick, but it's not clear that any of these are particularly due to enlightenment skepticism and considerable evidence to conclude that they emerged out of a maturing Judeo-Christian worldview (Indeed, as did the enlightenment itself). See, for example, the arguments made by Alvin Schmidt in his book Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization.

Ms Mac Donald concludes with this observation:

A secular value system is, of course, no guarantee against injustice and brutality, but then neither is Christianity.

This is true enough. Too many Christians in this country suffered too few qualms about slavery, the treatment of the Indians, or the use of fission and fire-bombing in WWII (products, incidentally, of enlightenment science). But I would go one step further and say that a secular value system, by removing any transcendent ground for values, makes a system founded on injustice and brutality not only more likely, but also free from any possibility of moral disapprobation.

If Christians act unjustly or brutally they're acting contrary to their fundamental beliefs and principles. If an atheist acts unjustly or brutally he violates nothing other than the arbitrary and subjective standards established by others and which have no moral authority over him whatsoever.

It is the conservatism's' recognition of this which places Ms Mac Donald's views in the minority among her fellow conservatives.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Racist Ray in Chocolate City

Tropical storm Ernesto appears to be headed right for ... New Orleans. New Orleanians re-elected Racist Ray Nagin as mayor on Racist Ray's promise that their city will be "a chocolate city at the end of the day", and maybe he'll soon see his prophecy fulfilled. If Ernesto progresses to a hurricane and hits New Orleans, the only people who'll be living amidst the chocolate brown flood waters by next summer will be the people too poor and too helpless to move anywhere else. These people, as we were endlessly reminded by the news media last fall, are primarily African-American.

I'm sure that this time around Mayor Nagin will show more leadership and foresight than he was able to summon last year and make certain that he has enough federal officials on hand to plan for the evacuation, turn the keys in the school busses, and drive those citizens who need transport to safer regions out of town.

Why does he need the feds to do that, you ask? Why can't city officials be mobilized to do what's necessary to assist their taxpayers? Well, when you're busy doing important stuff like turning your city into a racially homogenous community you can't be expected to do little things like plan how to handle an evacuation. That's what the federal government is for.

Lucky Us

We've linked to this site before, about a year ago, I guess, but it's worth another visit. Notice that as you view the earth's position in the Milky Way that it's actually situated between two spiral arms. Guillermo Gonzalez points out in Privileged Planet that this location is absolutely essential not only for intelligent life like us to exist on earth but also for that life to be able to do significant science.

This is because if our solar system were in a spiral arm there would be so much dust and debris in our immediate neighborhood that it would have a chaotic effect on the earth's surface and consequently on any life trying to evolve there. It would also obscure our view of the sky which would have prevented us, if we somehow could have emerged in such an uncongenial environment, from ever really learning anything about our universe. This in turn would have impeded the development of modern physics.

Notice, too, how far earth is from the galactic center (about 27,000 light years). This puts us pretty much in the middle of the galactic habitable zone, a band around the galactic center in which conditions are suitable for life. If our solar system were much closer or much further away from the center, intelligent life would be impossible.

Perhaps we should give thanks to random chance and the laws of physics for accidentally producing such a serendipitous bit of good fortune.

The President's Problem

...the administration's problem is not really its (sound) strategy, nor its increasingly improved implementation that we see in Baghdad, but simply an American public that so far understandably cannot easily differentiate millions of brave Iraqis and Afghans, who risk their lives daily to hunt terrorists and ensure reform, from the Islamists of the Muslim Street who broadcast their primordial hatred for Israel and the United States incessantly.

So how can one expect Americans to witness the barbarism of the jihadists, the creepy rhetoric of the imams and mullahs, the triangulation of Arab governments, and the puerility of the Muslim Street, pause, take a deep breath, and sigh, "Ah, they are frustrated because they are unfree and poor, and so in error blame us for their own autocracies' failures. Therefore, we must be generous in our sacrifices to allow them the same opportunities for freedom that we enjoy."

How odd that the president must explain the pathologies of the Middle East to such a degree as to warn Americans of our mortal danger, but not to the point of excess so that we feel that there is no hope for such people. He must somehow suggest that jihadism could not imperil us were it not for the "moderates" who tolerate and appease it - while this is the very same group that we feel duty-bound to offer an alternative other than theocracy or dictatorship. And he must offer a postwar plan of reconstruction to the citizens of the Middle East at a time when many of them do not feel that their romantic jihadists have ever really been defeated at all.

Even the eloquence of a Lincoln or Churchill would find all that difficult.

From another fine piece of analysis by Victor Davis Hanson at National Review Online.

A Glimpse of Europe's Future

The New York Times has an article that gives us some insight as to what life in a Muslim country is like for Christian converts:

From the scant personal details that can be pieced together about Lina Joy, she converted from Islam to Christianity eight years ago and since then has endured extraordinary hurdles in her desire to marry the man in her life. Her name is a household word in this majority Muslim country. But she is now in hiding after death threats from Islamic extremists, who accuse her of being an apostate.

Five years ago she started proceedings in the civil courts to seek the right to marry her Christian fianc� and have children. Because she had renounced her Muslim faith, Ms. Joy, 42, argued, Malaysia's Islamic Shariah courts, which control such matters as marriage, property and divorce, did not have jurisdiction over her.

In a series of decisions, the civil courts ruled against her. Then, last month, her lawyer, Benjamin Dawson, appeared before Malaysia's highest court, the Court of Appeals, to argue that Ms. Joy's conversion be considered a right protected under the Constitution, not a religious matter for the Shariah courts.

"She's trying to live her life with someone she loves," Mr. Dawson said in an interview.

Threats against Ms. Joy had become so insistent, and the passions over her conversion so inflamed, he had concluded there was no room for her and her fianc� in Malaysia. The most likely solution, he said, was for her to emigrate. For Malaysia, which considers itself a moderate and modern Muslim country with a tolerance for its multiple religions and ethnic groups of Malays, Indians and Chinese, the case has kicked up a firestorm that goes to the very heart of who is a Malay, and what is Malaysia.

Her case has heightened a searing battle that has included street protests and death threats between groups advocating a secular interpretation of the Constitution, and Islamic groups that contend the Shariah courts should have supremacy in many matters....

...."Malaysia is at a crossroads," Mr. Dawson said. "Do we go down the Islamic road, or do we maintain the secular character of the federal constitution that has been eroding in the last 10 years?" In rulings in her case, civil courts said Malays could not renounce Islam because the Constitution defined Malays to be Muslims.

They also ruled that a request to change her identity card from Muslim to Christian had to be decided by the Shariah courts. There she would be considered an apostate, and if she did not repent she surely would be sentenced to several years in an Islamic center for rehabilitation.

Mr. Dawson said Ms. Joy had been interested in Roman Catholicism since 1990 and was baptized in 1998 at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Kuala Lumpur. Because she considered herself a Christian, Ms. Joy did not believe the Shariah courts applied to her. In an affidavit to a lower civil court in 2000, she said she felt "more peace in my spirit and soul after having become a Christian."

Because of the death threats, including some calls to hunt her down, Mr. Dawson said, he could not say where she was, and could not make her available for an interview, even by telephone. Similarly, her fianc�, whom Mr. Dawson referred to as Johnson, a Christian of ethnic Indian background whom Ms. Joy met in 1990, had received death threats and was not prepared to be interviewed.

Last month, Prime Minister Badawi appeared to side with the Islamists when he ordered that forums organized around the country to discuss religious freedom must stop. The forums, run by a group called Article 11, named after the section of the Constitution that says Malaysians are free to choose their religion, were disrupted on several occasions by Islamic protesters.

The chief organizer of the Article 11 forums, a well-known human rights lawyer, Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, a Muslim, received a death threat this month that was widely circulated by e-mail. With the heading "Wanted Dead," the message featured a photograph of Mr. Malik and said: "This is the face of the traitorous lawyer to Islam who supports the Lina Joy apostasy case. Distribute to our friends so they can recognize this traitor. If you find him dead by the side of the road, do not help."

Mr. Malik, 36, who presented a brief in support of Ms. Joy to the Appeals Court, said he was seeking police protection. "We must not confuse the crucial distinction between a country in which the majority are Muslims, and is thus an Islamic country, and a country in which the supreme law is the Shariah, an Islamic state," Mr. Malik said.

Conversions of Muslims to Christianity are not common in Malaysia, though most converts do not seek official approval for marriage and therefore do not run into the obstacles Ms. Joy confronted. One 38-year-old convert, who said in an interview at a Roman Catholic parish that he would provide only his Christian names, Paul Michael, and not his surname, for fear of retribution, described how he led a double life.

"Church members know us as who we are, and the outside world knows us as we were," he said. He was fearful, he said, that if his conversion became public the religious authorities would come after him, and he could be sentenced to a religious rehabilitation camp. One such place, hidden in the forest at Ulu Yam Baru, 20 miles outside the capital, is ringed like a prison by barbed wire, with dormitories protected by a second ring of barbed wire. Outside a sign says, "House of Faith," and inside the inmates spend much of their time studying Islam.

Paul Michael said he and other former Muslims moved from church to church for services to avoid detection. They call themselves "M.M.B.B.," for Malay Muslim Background Believers. "It's a group of Malays who are no longer Muslims," he said.

As the Muslim population of Europe grows and their demands that Islamic law be allowed to govern Muslim communities grow more insistent, it will not be surprising if stories like this start emerging more frequently from "Eurabia".

Friday, August 25, 2006

Get Me One, Too

Mona Charen at NRO passes along a letter that was purportedly sent to Senator Sarbanes of Maryland and which now seems to be making the rounds on the 'net:

June 7, 2006

The Honorable Paul S. Sarbanes
309 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington DC, 20510

Dear Senator Sarbanes,

As a native Marylander and excellent customer of the Internal Revenue Service, I am writing to ask for your assistance. I have contacted the Immigration and Naturalization Service in an effort to determine the process for becoming an illegal alien and they referred me to you. My reasons for wishing to change my status from U.S. Citizen to illegal alien stem from the bill which was recently passed by the Senate and for which you voted. If my understanding of this bill's provisions is accurate, as an illegal alien who has been in the United States for five years, what I need to do to become a citizen is to pay a $2,000 fine and income taxes for three of the last five years.

I know a good deal when I see one and I am anxious to get the process started before everyone figures it out. Simply put, those of us who have been here legally have had to pay taxes every year so I'm excited about the prospect of avoiding two years of taxes in return for paying a $2,000 fine. Is there any way that I can apply to be illegal retroactively? This would yield an excellent result for me and my family because we paid heavy taxes in 2004 and 2005.

Another benefit in gaining illegal status would be that my daughter would receive preferential treatment relative to her law school applications. If you would provide me with an outline of the process to become illegal (retroactively if possible) and copies of the necessary forms, I would be most appreciative.

Thank you for your assistance.

Your Loyal Constituent,
Pete McGlaughlin

Having passed the immigration bill to which Mr. McGlaughlin refers, our august senators have succeeded in making it even harder to believe that they are the "best and the brightest" of America's political class. Mr. McGlaughlin reveals them for the lightweights that they are. Perhaps one day we'll succeed in making an IQ test a qualification for being elected to Congress.

I hope if Mr. McGlaughlin gets one of the requisite forms for changing his status that he passes one along to me.

What is Conservatism? Pt.II

As a followup to yesterday's post titled What is Conservatism? Pt. I let's look at Russell Kirk's classic work The Conservative Mind, in which he lists a number of conservative principles. Here are five of the most important along with a bit of explanation:

1. Belief in a transcendent order or natural law, which rules society as well as conscience. Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems. Most conservatives hold that religious belief is the foundation of a just government. It doesn't guarantee that government will be just, but few, if any, governments which explicitly abandon the transcendent order will be just.

2. Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarianism of most radical systems. Conservatives generally maintain that excellence is achieved by a relative few and that those few should not be held back by economic or social disincentives or other constraints. The attempt to "level" society by, for example, grouping students in schools homogenously, holds back the very best and does nothing to help the slower students.

3. Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes, as against the notion of a "classless" society. Equality before God, and before courts of law are recognized by conservatives, but in every other sphere inequality reigns. Attempts to conform people to the Procrustean bed of a classless society are harmful to everyone involved and result in a culture in which its most productive members are stifled and repressed. Conservatives embrace an elitism based upon values. Some values are better than others and some ways of living are better than others. The idea of a classless society is as impractical as the idea of a sinless society. As long as some people are more intelligent, more ambitious, more industrious, and more disciplined in their personal lives than others there will be classes, and there should be.

4. Persuasion that freedom, property, and religion are closely linked. No one makes this connection more forcefully than Tocqueville in Democracy in America. No society is free if the people are not free to own property and to worship as they please. Likewise, freedom, for Tocqueville, requires religion, at least the Judeo-Christian religion, as a foundation. Tocqueville writes:

"Freedom sees religion as the companion of its struggles and and triumphs, the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its rights. Religion is considered as the guardian of mores, and mores are regarded as the guarantee of the laws and pledghe for the maintenance of freedom itself."

"Despotism may be able to do without faith, but freedom cannot."

5. Resistance to the idol of change and a trust in custom and tradition. The wisdom of the ages is not to be lightly set aside. Change for change's sake is a foolhardy experiment. Reform is only genuine reform if it takes into account what we have learned about human nature over the centuries. Traditions bind people together and add meaning to their lives. To seek to overturn traditions, as the left tirelessly endeavors to do, is to seek to dissolve the glues that give us cohesion as a society.

Kirk also lists a number of liberal principles among which we might mention these four:

1. Belief in the perfectibility of man and illimitable progress. Conservatives hold to the view that man is fallen, deeply flawed, inherently sinful. Liberals believe that man is inherently good and, to the extent that he is corrupted, he is so by his environment. It is a tenet of the liberal faith that if man could be situated in the appropriate socio-economic environment all social pathologies would disappear.

2. Contempt for tradition. The key to our continued advance is to cast off the shackles of mindless custom. The liberal, confusing social progress with simple change, makes an idol of progress (even to the point of calling himself a "progressive").

3. Political, social and economic egalitarianism. Private property and personal wealth are the chief causes of man's corruption. The former should be abolished and the latter should be redistributed. The existence of socio-economic classes imply that some men are superior to others and should therefore be abolished. Liberalism, despite its emphasis on diversity, leads to a homogenized culture wherein everything is levelled to the lowest common denominator.

4. Complete trust in Reason. Moral truth is not to be found in dusty old tomes nor learned from addle-pated old clergy, but is to be discovered through the application of our intellect. Reason, not revelation, is the key to all the knowledge we need and of which we are capable. Conservatives, by contrast, point to the communist and fascist ideologies of the twentieth century as paradigmatic examples of the sorts of states and outcomes one might expect when man's intellect is given free reign in determining matters of right and wrong.

Maintaining Family "Honor"

This article dates from 2000, but it gives us a lot of insight into Muslim culture. It discusses the practice of "honor killings" and the social pressures placed on families to carry them out. It sounds, quite frankly, pretty depraved. Here's part of it:

The murder of women to salvage their family's honor results in good part from the social and psychological pressure felt by the killers, as they explain in their confessions. Murderers repeatedly testify that their immediate social circle, family, clan, village, or others expected them and encouraged them to commit the murder. From society's perspective, refraining from killing the woman debases her relatives. Here are five examples:

A Jordanian murdered his sister who was raped by another brother. The family tried initially to save its honor by marrying the victim to an old man, but this new husband turned her into a prostitute and she escaped from him. The murderer confessed that if he had to go through it all again he would not kill her, but rather would kill his father, mother, uncles, and all the relatives that pressured him to murder and led him to jail. Instead of killing his sister and going to jail, he said he should have "tied her with a rope like a goat and let her spend her life like that until she dies."

An Egyptian who strangled his unmarried pregnant daughter to death and then cut her corpse in eight pieces and threw them in the toilet: "Shame kept following me wherever I went [before the murder]. The village's people had no mercy on me. They were making jokes and mocking me. I couldn't bear it and decided to put an end to this shame."

A 25-year-old Palestinian who hanged his sister with a rope: "I did not kill her, but rather helped her to commit suicide and to carry out the death penalty she sentenced herself to. I did it to wash with her blood the family honor that was violated because of her and in response to the will of society that would not have had any mercy on me if I didn't... Society taught us from childhood that blood is the only solution to wash the honor."

A young Palestinian who murdered his sister who had been sexually assaulted: "Before the incident, I drank tea and it tasted bitter because my honor was violated. After the killing I felt much better... I don't wish anybody the mental state I was in. I was under tremendous mental pressure."

Another Palestinian who murdered his sister: "I had to kill her because I was the oldest [male] member of the family. My only motive to kill her was [my desire] to get rid of what people were saying. They were blaming me that I was encouraging her to fornicate... I let her choose the way I would get rid of her: slitting her throat or poisoning her. She chose the poison."

These testimonies are in line with the analysis of 'Izzat Muhaysin, a psychiatrist at the Gaza Program for Mental Health, who says that the culture of the society perceives one who refrains from "washing shame with blood" as "a coward who is not worthy of living." Many times, he adds, such a person is described as less than a man.

In some cases, the decision to commit the murder has a quality of being deputized. In the case of Kifaya Husayn opening this article, the victim's uncles actually appointed her brother to commit the crime on behalf of the family. The murderer in the fifth case cited above felt obliged to commit the crime as the eldest male of the family.

Murder has its intended social effect, permitting the family to regain its original social status. The murderer in the fourth case cited above went on to tell how almost ten thousand people attended his sister's funeral; once she was dead, society again embraced the family.

There are those who say that what's wrong for us is not necessarily wrong for people living in other cultures. I wonder if they'd say that after reading the above. Any culture which encourages, or even condones, the slaughter of young rape victims or, for that matter, the killing of any young girl for almost any reason, is sick to its core. It's a culture of death. These societies haven't progressed beyond the barbarisms they practiced as a way of life 4000 years ago, and Islam, apparently, hasn't been of much use in helping them to advance beyond their primitive savagery.

HT: Cheat Seeking Missiles.

<i>Arrivederci</i>, Dr. Coyne

It appears that the powers that be in the Vatican have finally wearied of the unfortunate pronouncements of their director of the Vatican Observatory, Dr. George Coyne, who delighted in speaking ex cathedra on the Darwinism/ ID debate in accents that were decidedly out of step with the views of the Church:

Pope Benedict XVI has replaced an evangelizing Darwinist, Dr. George Coyne, as director of the Vatican Observatory, according to Zenit News. A Jesuit with a doctorate in astronomy, Dr. Coyne in recent years made himself the public scourge of Darwin critics and scientific proponents of intelligent design. Increasingly his theology resembled that of "process theologians" who believe that God is still learning and could not have known what his world was becoming.

While media tended to avoid the pro-design statements of the pope over the past year (see "Is the Pope Catholic?"), they frequently sited the hostile remarks of Dr. Coyne, sitting at his office at the University of Arizona, as supposedly representing those of "the Vatican." That could not have been well-received at the Vatican in Rome. Rumors that Coyne might be replaced have circulated for months.

We await the inept but inevitable comparisons to Galileo. Meanwhile, you can find more on the cashiering of Dr. Coyne at the link.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Mahmoud's Reply

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gives the world his answer to their demands that Iran cease production of weapons grade fissile material:

Willful Gullibility

Remember those news reports of Israeli missile strikes against Red Cross ambulances trying to ferry injured civilians to hospitals? Turns out that, like the doctored photos, it was made-up news. Michelle Malkin has the details.

It really is incredible that our media and many of our citizens have been prepared to believe everything that the terrorists say. They're completely skeptical of anything the Israelis or our own government tells them, but they're eager to accept anything, no matter how horrible, that a group like Hezbollah claims about the Israelis. These are people who hide behind children, for heaven's sake, and yet they have credibility with a segment of the American public willing to believe the worst about America and its allies.

Stone Cold Sober

Not receiving much attention in the tittering about The Princeton Review's Top Ten Party Schools in the U.S. is their accompanying list of Top Ten "Stone Cold Sober" Schools - a list that parents looking to send their child to a school where they won't become a character in a Tom Wolfe novel might wish to consult.

The top 10 were:

  1. Brigham Young Univ.
  2. Wheaton College
  3. College of the Ozarks
  4. Grove City College
  5. U.S. Naval Academy
  6. U.S. Coast Guard Academy
  7. U.S. Air Force Academy
  8. Queens College
  9. Wellesley College
  10. Calvin College

It's good to know that there are still some schools which have high expectations concerning their students' conduct and which resist the trend, to which so many other schools have succumbed, to turn the four years of a student's life spent on their campus into a perpetual bacchanalia.

I wonder, though: Where's West Point?

Making Peace in Baghdad

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Kahlilzad, has a very informative piece in the Wall Street Journal on the efforts ongoing in Baghdad to stabilize that city and to eliminate the sectarian violence.

Kahlilzad writes:

Although there has been much good news to report about security progress in Iraq this summer--the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the handover of security responsibility for Muthanna province, the fifth of 10 Iraqi Army Division Headquarters to assume the lead in its area of responsibility--Iraq faces an urgent crisis in securing its capital, Baghdad. Although Iraqi leaders and the Coalition have a sound strategy to turn the situation around, it is vital that Iraqis control sectarian violence and come together against the terrorists and outside powers that are fomenting the violence.

In July, there were 558 violent incidents in Baghdad, a 10% increase over the already high monthly average. These attacks caused 2,100 deaths, again an increase over the four-month average. More alarmingly, 77% of these casualties were the result of sectarian violence, giving rise to fears of an impending civil war in Iraq. While statistics should not be the sole measure of progress or failure in stabilizing Iraq and quelling violent sectarianism, it is clear that the people of Baghdad are being subjected to unacceptable levels of fear and violence.

Read the rest to see what's being done to stop it.

Del Ratzsch Interview

For those of our readers who have an interest in the philosophical issues surrounding the Darwinism/ID debate there's an excellent discussion with Del Ratzsch, perhaps the leading philosopher of science on this issue, here.

HT: Telic Thoughts

Meanwhile, Darwinians are up in arms over the forthcoming broadcast by D. James Kennedy's Coral Ridge Church in Florida of a tv special that draws a direct line from Darwin to Naziism. Bill Dembski has some background at Uncommon Descent and also shares a few of his favorite quotes from evolutionists which certainly appear to indict them for clearing the philosophical landing zone for the Nazis' views on eugenics and "survival of the fittest."

What is Conservatism? Pt.I

Ross Douthat writes an interesting and rather scholarly column in The American Conservative about the philosophical and historical differences between liberalism and conservatism and the difficulties involved in defining the latter. He concludes the essay with these words:

The picture is further complicated by the fact that because conservatism only really exists to say "no" to whatever liberalism asks for next, it fights nearly all its battles on its enemy's terrain and rarely comes close to articulating a coherent set of values of its own. Liberalism has science and progress to pursue-and ultimately immortality, the real goal but also the one that rarely dares to speak its name-whereas conservatives have ... well, a host of goals, most of them in tension with one another. Neoconservatives want to return us to the New Deal era; Claremont Instituters want to revive the spirit of the Founding; Jacksonians want to rescue American nationalism from the one-worlders and post-patriots; agrarians and Crunchy Cons pine for a lost Jeffersonian or Chestertonian arcadia.

Some conservatives think that liberalism-the-political-philosophy can be saved from liberalism-the-Baconian-project and that modernity can be rescued from its utopian temptation; others join Alasdair MacIntyre in thinking that the hour is far too late for that, and we should withdraw into our homes and monasteries and prepare to guard the permanent things through a long Dark Age.

Liberals, on the other hand, dream the same dream and envision the same destination, even if they disagree on exactly how to get there. It's the dream of Thomas Friedman as well as Karl Marx, as old as Babel and as young as the South Korean cloners. It whispered to us in Eden, and it whispers to us now: ye shall be as gods. And no conservative dream, in the 400 years from Francis Bacon until now, has proven strong enough to stand in its way.

Mr. Dothat serves us up some meaty fare in this article, but there's more to the meal than this, I think. Conservatism is not merely "standing athwart history and yelling stop" as Bill Buckley famously summed it up. Conservatives, as well as liberals, generally operate from a set of axioms, more about which in Part II tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Shock and Despair

The two Muslim students booted from a plane the other day when passengers mutinied are expressing their "shock" and "despair" at what happened to them:

Two Asian students have revealed their shock and despair after being thrown off a plane because other passengers feared they were suicide bombers.

Manchester Umist students Sohail Ashraf and Khurram Zeb, both 22, said they sympathised with nervous travellers, but urged people not to be paranoid about Muslims.

"We might be Asian, but we're two ordinary lads who wanted a bit of fun," Mr Ashraf told the Daily Mirror. "Just because we're Muslim does not mean we are suicide bombers."

No, but it does raise the odds, and who wants to take unnecessary chances? See also this development and this follow-up.

Bad Polls Rising

President Bush's approval rating, which had been dragging along the bottom of the political lake, has perked up recently, and is now hovering around 41%. It's hard to say exactly why this is except that it seems that approval ratings are buoyed not by any particular successes, but rather more by the absence of bad news. There hasn't been too much of this lately, so Bush has recovered the (tentative) approval of most of his GOP base.

Should the bad news continue to remain in hiding Bush's numbers will probably rise to around 47%, almost all of which would reflect his Republican support. If, beyond all precedent for this administration, there should be a string of positive developments taking up space in the MSM his approval rating might even crack the 50% barrier as a few independents sashay in his direction.

If so, we'll have to post guards on all the bridges and high buildings to prevent Democrats from attempting to put an end to their despair, as the object of their animus rises phoenix-like from the ashes of what they thought for sure was his political auto-de-fe.

Free Speech: The Ongoing Battle

There was a time when the ideological left was the champion of the first amendment. This was back a generation or two ago when the perceived threats to free speech came from conservatives who wished to prevent salacious literature and pornography from flooding our culture. When it was the freedom to use vulgar and profane speech and lewd images in our public entertainment and discourse, the left was in full throat demanding that we respect first amendment guarantees of free expression. Statements like these were commonplace:

"If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise," Noam Chomsky said, "we don't believe in it at all."

"Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us," opined Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas.

How times have changed. Today censorship and speech codes are almost exclusively promulgated by the left, and, of course, it's not pornography they seek to stifle but rather political and religious speech which are clearly protected by the first amendment. Consider the story of two young women at Georgia Tech, Ruth Malhotra and Orit Sklar, as told by themselves:

In March, we filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Georgia Tech for its blatantly unconstitutional speech policies. Our love of liberty and for Georgia Tech have compelled us to take this stand so every student's rights to free speech and religious liberty will be respected.

The purpose of the lawsuit has been seriously distorted in the media and on campus. The suit was filed to hold Tech accountable for selective enforcement of its speech codes. This resulted in mainstream conservative speech being banned as "hate speech." Politically charged, far-out-of-the-mainstream leftist speech was considered part of the "intellectual diversity" purportedly valued by Tech.

We also challenged Tech's unlawful refusal to fund religious and political groups.

This week, we won a decisive victory when a federal judge ordered the repeal of Tech's speech code. The speech code violated our First Amendment rights because it prohibited any kind of student speech that administrators subjectively deemed intolerant or offensive. It was not a narrow policy that only affected campus housing, but was used against us several times to censor activities all around campus.

Over the past three years, we've had our speech censored, and we've had our protests shut down by campus police. Tech officials have repeatedly warned us against speaking out on important public issues when we did not conform to their unbalanced agenda. Contrary to the spin that the administration and many in the media have placed on the case, we have never sought the right to "insult" or "demean" any person. Our desire is to debate ideas, not attack individuals.

The nature of speech codes, however, has proved to be arbitrary and one-sided. Consider this: Our peaceful and respectful protests - including one against the feminist play "Vagina Monologues" and another against affirmative action - were aggressively silenced. But Georgia Tech has done nothing to stop the blatant personal attacks that we have encountered.

The "tolerant" left has used explicit racial and sexist slurs against us. Students handed out fliers in dorms calling Ruth, a person of Indian descent, a "Twinkie" (yellow on the outside, white on the inside). On Internet sites, we've seen swastikas superimposed on our faces. We have received an avalanche of vile, personally insulting hate mail. We have even been physically threatened. All the while the administration stood silent.

Although such reactions are disturbing and we are disappointed that fellow students would act in such a manner, we don't need a speech code to protect ourselves. We simply want the opportunity to speak and express our ideas without fear of censorship or punishment.

We believe in legal equality for all students in the marketplace of ideas. May the best ideas win. But Georgia Tech believes that its ideas are not strong enough to withstand scrutiny, and it apparently has decided that it knows all the answers to the major political and even religious issues of the day. That is why it pushed to silence us. That is why it de-funds student political and religious organizations at the same time that it tries to teach us what our religious beliefs should be (to give you a hint: Georgia Tech prefers Buddhists over Baptists). This is disingenuous, unconstitutional and demonstrates the selectivity in enforcement.

With this week's court order, we won an important victory for free speech. But the case is not over, and we will not rest until the school we love abides by the Constitution that protects us all.

A few notable exceptions like Nat Hentoff notwithstanding, the secular left, including the ACLU, seems to have lost interest in the old battle cry attributed to Voltaire: "I might hate what you say, but I'll fight to the death for your right to say it." It seems instead that they're only interested in defending the Bill of Rights when the protections it guarantees can be used to advance their own ideological agenda.

Two Options

Strategy Page gives us a history lesson on how Hezbollah came about and why it wields so much power. Their analysis also discusses Israel's options which SP thinks are limited to two:

The Hizbollah attack left Israel with two options. They could either launch a massive invasion, and overrun all of Lebanon and Syria, or do what they did (to encourage the Lebanese and UN to deal with Hizbollah.) The trouble with the second ("small war") option is that it takes longer, and that leaves Hizbollah intact for longer. But the first ("big war") option would leave thousands of Israeli soldiers dead, and involve the occupation, for months, if not years, of Lebanon and Syria. That strategy would involve handing Lebanon back to its elected government with the understanding that there would be no more Hizbollah. But there would still be the a Shia minority, and within that minority there would still be Shia radicals who took orders, or at least direction, from Shia radicals in Iran.

Syria has to be overrun because, if you don't, Hizbollah can retreat to there from occupied Lebanon and set up shop in Syria. Take Syria and you eliminate any refuge (except Iran, where at least the senior Hizbollah people would flee to). While the Syrian military is no pushover, their armed forces have fallen apart since the end of the Cold War, and Soviet subsidies.

The column closes with this:

The "big war" strategy has other costs. Mobilizing the entire Israeli armed forces means shutting down much of the Israeli economy, because so many key people are reservists. There is also the risk, however slight, of other Arab states declaring war on Israel. This risk is slight because those other Arab states are Sunni Moslem, and welcome the removal of Iran backed Shia entities (Hizbollah and Syria). But the risk is there.

There's always risk, it's a question of which one you estimate will do you the most good. Israel still has the "big war" option available, and Lebanon and Syria know it. If the small war option doesn't work out, Hizbollah, Lebanon, Syria and Iran know what comes next.

The whole piece is very much worth reading.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Snakes and Sickos

Does it strike you as weird as it does me that the news media have gone wall-to-wall to give us every detail of the doings of the man who claims to be the person responsible for the death of JonBenet Ramsey ten years ago, including the complete menu of what he had to eat on his plane ride from Bangkok? Yet there has been almost nothing on kidnapped Fox News' reporter Steve Centanni and camera man Olaf Wiig who are still missing in Gaza.

Just when you think that the media couldn't be more shallow, just when you think their priorities couldn't be more perverse, they refuse to conform to your expectations and rush to fill the airwaves with the fantasies of some insignificant epicene psycho. Meanwhile, two men's lives hang in the balance in the Middle East, all but unnoticed by reporters and talking heads who can't be distracted from what they apparently believe to be the really important "breaking news".

Maybe this is unfair. The shows I saw did expend a lot of coverage on Samuel L. Jackson's vulgar dialogue in a movie, no doubt eminently forgettable, about snakes on an airplane. Perhaps that was seen as an important news story as well. Snakes and sickos on airplanes. Lord help us.

In 1961, when there were only three channels, FCC chairman Newton Minnow described television as a vast wasteland. It's added a lot of choices since then, but, notwithstanding the amazing number of options, seems only to have grown more arid.

Arrogance and Ego

Time magazine, which has run eleven issues since 1992 whose covers have been graced with Hillary Clinton's visage, declares her "ready to run" for the presidency in 2008. With eleven covers dedicated to Mrs. Clinton there doesn't seem to be much question who Time will be endorsing if she does.

At any rate, a friend of mine has a cousin who is an air marshall. He related this story to me about an encounter his cousin had with Senator Clinton:

A few months ago a cousin of mine, a US Air Marshal, boarded a plane and sat in the first class section. His partner sat in the last row of the plane. The plane was held waiting at the gate for what the pilot said was "an important VIP passenger."

Sure enough, Senator Hillary Clinton, two secret service agents and several other aides came bustling onboard, demanding all passengers in first class move to the rear. Senator Clinton promptly announced her staff would be occupying the entire first class section. Several customers complained that they had paid for their first class seats, to which the senator told them to take up their problems with the airline and stop wasting her time.

Everyone eventually left, except the undercover air marshal. The secret service agents requested he move, but the marshal instead told them that he too was a secret service agent, and as an air marshal, the aircraft was his jurisdiction. Finally, Senator Clinton herself requested the marshal move to the rear, or else she would get the pilot involved. The marshal recommended she do just that.

The pilot was notified of the delay and announced on the intercom that all passengers kicked out of first class were to return immediately. Senator Clinton and her two agents would be allowed in first class, but the rest of her entourage was relegated to the rear of the plane.

Needless to say, the senator was unhappy with her treatment.

We have to consider the possibility, of course, that the details were not exactly as the air marshall remembered them. On the other hand, if events did unfold as he related them then this says something very unpleasant about Senator Clinton.

It reminds me, in what it reveals of the senator, of the time Senator Kerry scolded and demeaned a secret service agent with whom he accidentally collided on a ski slope. Politicians like Clinton and Kerry profess to care about the "little people", but stories like these raise one's doubts. It seems rather that at least some of our political leaders are so consumed with arrogance and a sense of self-importance that they forget that it is they who are the servants and it is tax-payers whom they serve.

Paying the Price for Bad Ideas

Juan Williams lends his voice to the chorus of African American writers who are demanding that blacks look at themselves for the causes of black failure in America and look to themselves for the solutions. He writes:

[Bill] Cosby said that the quarter of black Americans still living in poverty are failing to hold up their end of a deal with history when they don't take advantage of the opportunities created by the Supreme Court's Brown decision and the sacrifices of civil rights leaders from Martin Luther King Jr. to Thurgood Marshall and Malcolm X. Those leaders in the 1950s and '60s opened doors by winning passage of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and fair housing laws. Their triumphs led to the nationwide rise in black political power on school boards and in city halls and Congress.

Taken as a whole, that era of stunning breakthroughs set the stage for black people, disproportionately poor and ill-educated because of a history of slavery and segregation, to reach new heights -- freed from the weight of government-sanctioned segregation. It also created a national model of social activism to advance the rights of women, Hispanics, gays and others.

Cosby asked the chilling question: "What good is Brown" and all the victories of the civil rights era if nobody wants them? A generation after those major civil rights victories, black America is experiencing alarming dropout rates, shocking numbers of children born to single mothers and a frightening acceptance of criminal behavior that has too many black people filling up the jails. Where is the focus on taking advantage of new opportunities to advance and to close the racial gap in educational and economic achievement?

Incredibly, Cosby's critics don't see the desperate need to pull a generational fire alarm to warn people about a culture of failure that is sabotaging any chance for black people in poverty to move up and help their children reach the security of economic and educational achievement. Not one mainstream civil rights group picked up on his call for marches and protests against bad parenting, drug dealers, hate-filled rap music and failing schools.

Where is the civil rights groundswell on behalf of stronger marriages that will allow more children to grow up in two-parent families and have a better chance of staying out of poverty? Where are the marches demanding good schools for those children -- and the strong cultural reinforcement for high academic achievement (instead of the charge that minority students who get good grades are "acting white")? Where are the exhortations for children to reject the self-defeating stereotypes that reduce black people to violent, oversexed "gangstas," minstrel show comedians and mindless athletes?

Part of the problem black America faces is that African Americans have been conditioned by liberal political and social philosophy to believe that racism is the cause of all their ills. They've been taught that doing what Williams, Cosby, Shelby Steele and many others are doing is tantamount to blaming the victim. They've been led to think that the problems of the poor can be resolved by throwing more money at them. They've embraced the lies of the cultural revolution of the 1960s and 70s that whispered, like the serpent in the garden, that drugs were liberating and that sex is a form of recreation, that families don't need fathers, that single motherhood is just fine. Their children have languished in sub-standard schools whose educational mission is impeded by teacher unions which in some cases weigh down urban schools with onerous salary and working condition demands and which fight tooth and nail to prevent any form of school choice from being made available to parents.

In other words, modern African-Americans are indeed victims, but not of racism, per se. They are victims of something whose consequences are just as insidious - post-WWII secular liberalism. The sooner blacks shed the chains that have held them in thrall to the Democratic party, and the nostrums that have been foisted upon them for the last forty years, the sooner they will begin to benefit from opportunities which have been for too long unappreciated and unavailed.