Sunday, January 29, 2006

Pure Luck

Isn't it amazing what blind, unguided, purposeless forces can accomplish when they put their mind to it? Here's just one example of the astounding abilities of random mutation and natural selection to create marvels of complex engineering.

The Assault on Freedom

Free speech and freedom of religious opinion is under assault not just in the Islamic world but throughout Western civilization. The politically correct are carrying out their inquisitions and laying the wood around the stakes to which people who dare to speak their minds are bound. Read this chilling summary from Wretchard at Belmont Club:

Two Christian pastors were convicted in Australia for vilifying Islam. The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

"In Victoria, two hellfire Christian preachers, Danny Nalliah and Daniel Scot, are facing jail after preaching against Islam in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. Ever since, they've been fighting an action brought by the Islamic Council of Victoria under the state's new Racial and Religious Tolerance Act."

That's not too surprising. Everyone knows Oriana Fallaci is facing charges before an Italian magistrate for her criticisms of Islam. What about this: a French member of parliament has been convicted in court of making derogatory remarks about homosexuality. The The Brussels Journal notes:

"Stating that 'homosexual behaviour endangers the survival of humanity' and that 'heterosexuality is morally superior to homosexuality' can cost you dearly in France. Exactly these opinions, expressed by the French politician Christian Vanneste last year, led to him being sentenced on Tuesday to payment of a heavy fine."

"A court in Lille [Rijsel in Dutch], in the French northern province of Flanders (adjacent to the Belgian Dutch-speaking region of Flanders), ruled that Mr Vanneste has to pay a fine of 3,000 euro plus 3,000 euro in damages to each of the three gay organisations that had taken him to court. The politician, a member of the French National Assembly for the governing UMP, also has to pay for the verdict to be published in the leftist Parisian newspaper Le Monde, the regional Lille daily La Voix du Nord, and the weekly magazine L'Express."

Again you might say, no surprises here either. But what about this: An Austrian cartoonist is facing charges in Greece for writing a satire on the life of Jesus in his home country. The Guardian reports:

"Haderer did not even know that his book, The Life of Jesus, had been published in Greece until he received a summons to appear in court in Athens in January charged with blasphemy. ... 'It is unbelievable that a person can write a book in his home country and be condemned and threatened with imprisonment by another,' said Nikki Conrad, a human rights expert who organised yesterday's press conference. 'But he is not going to just sit back and accept this injustice. He is prepared to take this to the European court of human rights. When Gerhard first got the summons he thought it was a joke. But now he is starting to get a bit nervous.' "

Whole categories of discourse are now being outlawed in the West. At least two celebrities are fighting this trend, probably because they lead active lives of the mind. One of them is Mr. Bean.

"Blackadder star Rowan Atkinson has launched a comedians' campaign against a government bill to outlaw inciting religious hatred. ... Mr Atkinson told a meeting at the House of Commons on Monday night there are 'quite a few sketches' he has performed which would come into conflict with the proposed law."

"He added: 'To criticise a person for their race is manifestly irrational and ridiculous but to criticise their religion, that is a right. That is a freedom. The freedom to criticise ideas, any ideas - even if they are sincerely held beliefs - is one of the fundamental freedoms of society.' "

The other is Michael Crichton. At a speech entitled "Fear, Complexity, Environmental Management in the 21st Century" that he gave before Washington Center for Complexity and Public Policy, Crichton described one the major unrecognized dangers stalking the world: bad information. Crichton meticulously showed how grossly hysterical coverage of Chernobyl reactor incident, for example, caused deaths far more numerous than the incident itself. He went on to trace the history of public policy fads, Global Cooling, the predicted Y2K meltdown, the Population Bomb, Electromagnetic Fields and so on, and shows how we have nearly forgotten them in our rush to replace them with new ones. We live once again, in Carl Sagan's phrase, in a demon-haunted world.

Wretchard posts some interesting commentary at the end of this piece that you might wish to peruse.

It would, of course, be more difficult to persecute Americans in the U.S. for this sort of speech because of the protections guaranteed us by the First Amendment to the Constitution. It is unnerving, however, to reflect upon what a Supreme Court which looks to Europe for judicial guidance might do to this body armor for the mind.

This is why it is so crucial that we have people on the Court who rule according to what the Constitution says and not according to what current political fashion dictates. This is why we need more Constitutional conservatives and fewer liberals on the Bench. One shudders to think who a President Kerry would have appointed to fill the last two vacancies and how long our First Amendment protections would survive a Kerry Court.

Not everyone holds George Bush in as high esteem as we think he merits, at least in those moments when we're not thinking about our southern border, but everyone who cherishes the right to voice their opinions, no matter how unpopular, can thank God that neither John Kerry nor Al Gore made it to the White House.

The Necessity of Disarming Iran

Gerard Baker at the Times Online lays out the catastrophe that war with Iran would be for the world:

Those who say war is unthinkable are right. Military strikes, even limited, targeted and accurate ones, will have devastating consequences for the region and for the world. They will, quite probably entrench and harden the Iranian regime. Even the young, hopeful democrats who despise their theocratic rulers and crave the freedoms of the West will pause at the sight of their country burnt and humiliated by the infidels.

A war, even a limited one, will almost certainly raise oil prices to recession-inducing levels, as Iran cuts itself off from global markets. The loss of Iranian supply and the already stretched nature of production in the Arab world and elsewhere means prices of $150 per barrel are easily imaginable. Military strikes will foster more violence in the Middle East, strengthen the insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan, fuel anti-Western sentiment among Muslims everywhere and encourage more terrorism against us at home.

He then says this:

But multiplied together, squared, and then cubed, the weight of these arguments does not come close to matching the case for us to stop, by whatever means may be necessary, Iran from becoming a nuclear power. If Iran gets safely and unmolested to nuclear status, it will be a threshold moment in the history of the world, up there with the Bolshevik Revolution and the coming of Hitler. What the country itself may do with those weapons, given its pledges, its recent history and its strategic objectives with regard to the US, Israel and their allies, is well known. We can reasonably assume that the refusal of the current Iranian leadership to accept the Holocaust as historical fact is simply a recognition of their own plans to redefine the notion as soon as they get a chance ("Now this is what we call a holocaust"). But this threat is only, incredibly, a relatively small part of the problem.

If Iran goes nuclear, it will demonstrate conclusively that even the world's greatest superpower, unrivalled militarily, under a leadership of proven willingness to take bold military steps, could not stop a country as destabilising as Iran from achieving its nuclear ambitions.

No country in a region that is so riven by religious and ethnic hatreds will feel safe from the new regional superpower. No country in the region will be confident that the US and its allies will be able or willing to protect them from a nuclear strike by Iran. Nor will any regional power fear that the US and its allies will act to prevent them from emulating Iran. Say hello to a nuclear Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia.

Iran, of course, secure now behind its nuclear wall, will surely step up its campaign of terror around the world. It will become even more of a magnet and haven for terrorists. The terror training grounds of Afghanistan were always vulnerable if the West had the resolve. Protected by a nuclear-missile-owning state, Iranian camps will become impregnable.

And the kind of society we live in and cherish in the West, a long way from Tehran or Damascus, will change beyond recognition. We balk now at intrusive government measures to tap our phones or stop us saying incendiary things in mosques. Imagine how much more our freedoms will be curtailed if our governments fear we are just one telephone call or e-mail, one plane journey or truckload away from another Hiroshima.

Iran simply cannot be permitted to obtain nuclear weapons. As disastrous as war might be for the world, a nuclear Iran, as Baker eloquently argues, would be far worse. We must pray and hope that the Iranians can be persuaded to back down, but we must prepare for the eventuality that they won't.

Retired Major General Robert Scales discusses the military difficulties inherent in an Iraq-type war against Iran - and how he thinks an attack on Iran should be fought - in an editorial in the Washington Times here.