Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Speaking Truth to the Deaf and Blind

You must read this remarkable pair of exchanges that occured on al-Jazeera between Arab-American psychologist Wafa Sultan and a couple of Islamist sympathizers. Dr. Sultan is more than a match for her adversaries whom she reduces to mental pudding by the end of the programs. She is an amazingly brave and eloquent woman. If you have the time, you might also watch the video, the links to which are in the text of the transcript.

No doubt the Islamists are even now confirming the truth of her words by issuing fatwas demanding she be beheaded as a heretic and infidel. She may be a "secularist," but I suspect that she would appreciate our prayers.

<i>Causus Belli</i>

If the assessment of these new IEDs is correct Iran has given the United States yet another reason to launch an assault against it.

March 6, 2006 - U.S. military and intelligence officials tell ABC News that they have caught shipments of deadly new bombs at the Iran-Iraq border. They are a very nasty piece of business, capable of penetrating U.S. troops' strongest armor.

What the United States says links them to Iran are tell-tale manufacturing signatures - certain types of machine-shop welds and material indicating they are built by the same bomb factory.

"The signature is the same because they are exactly the same in production," says explosives expert Kevin Barry. "So it's the same make and model."

U.S. officials say roadside bomb attacks against American forces in Iraq have become much more deadly as more and more of the Iran-designed and Iran-produced bombs have been smuggled in from the country since last October.

"I think the evidence is strong that the Iranian government is making these IEDs, and the Iranian government is sending them across the border and they are killing U.S. troops once they get there," says Richard Clarke, former White House counterterrorism chief and an ABC News consultant. "I think it's very hard to escape the conclusion that, in all probability, the Iranian government is knowingly killing U.S. troops."

This would seem to offer the United States a causus belli. If it continues it's hard to imagine how we could avoid responding to the provocation. The Iranians are betting that Bush is too politically weak to initiate hostilities against them, and that he would, in any case, be reluctant to undertake military action without European allies giving us political cover.

This could be a case of holding correct premises but drawing from them an incorrect conclusion. Tehran may be doing precisely what Saddam did and the Democrats have consistently done with George Bush, i.e. "misunderestimate" him. Our guess is that when Bush thinks the military is ready he will not hesitate to bring the whole sky down around the Iranians' heads whether the Europeans and the Democrats are on board or not. Whether this would be wise or not is a completely different question.

David Berlinski

Intelligent Design the Future has part one of an interview with David Berlinski that is, for a reader of a certain humor, laugh-out-loud funny. Berlinski is a mathematician, agnostic, sympathetic to Intelligent Design, and disdainful of the Neo-Darwinian orthodoxy. It's his scorn for the Darwinian paradigm and its high priests that makes this interview literally hilarious (Well, at least for me). If Berlinski ever decides he no longer wants to be a mathematician he can have a very lucrative career as a stand-up comic.

Part one is here. I can hardly wait for part two.

Where Always is Heard a Discouraging Word

A friend points us to a column in the Boston Globe wherein Michael Kalin puts his finger on something worth noting: People like Jon Stewart are not the harmless chuckle-meisters they seem to be. Rather, by striking a pose of supercilious superiority to the hapless politicians who fall prey to their wit, they actually contribute to an unwillingness on the part of bright, sophisticated young people to enter the realm of politics. Stewart and others like him send the message that politics is for buffoons whose chief purpose is to provide sport for clever, intelligent people like himself. Kalin thinks the problem is most acute for Democrats since liberals dominate Stewart's audience and are most likely to absorb the message that politics is for chumps.

Kalin observes:

Stewart's daily dose of political parody characterized by asinine alliteration leads to a ''holier than art thou" attitude toward our national leaders. People who possess the wit, intelligence, and self-awareness of viewers of ''The Daily Show" would never choose to enter the political fray full of ''buffoons and idiots." Content to remain perched atop their Olympian ivory towers, these bright leaders head straight for the private sector.

Observers since the days of de Tocqueville have often remarked about America's unique dissociation between politicians and citizens of "outstanding character." Unfortunately, the rise of mass media and the domination of television news give Stewart's Menckenesque voice a much more powerful influence than critics in previous generations. As a result, a bright leader who may have become the Theodore Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson of today instead perceives politics as a supply of sophisticated entertainment, rather than a powerful source of social change.

Most important, this disturbing cultural phenomenon overwhelmingly affects potential leaders of the Democratic Party.

The type of folksy solemnity brandished by President Bush does not resonate with "The Daily Show" demographic. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, only 2 percent of the show's audience identify themselves as conservatives. At a time when the Democrats desperately need inspired leadership, the show's self-conscious aloofness pervades the liberal punditry.

There's another aspect of this that Kalin doesn't touch upon but which might also be worth noting. People wonder why it is that pundits seem so quick to tear down those in public life. Why is it, folks wonder, that so much vitriolic criticism is heaped upon those in public office.

Perhaps part of the reason, at least, is psychological. The desire to tear others down is rooted in personal narcissism and pride. Pundits, or at least some of them, are supremely egotistical, they want people to think of them as intelligent, sophisticated and highly competent observers of the public scene. One way to subliminally communicate one's superiority to an audience is to persistently give the impression that the people they are reporting upon are blundering fools and that the reporter, were only he or she in the position of power currently occupied by the dolt being skewered, would do far better. They massage their own egos by cutting other people to pieces.

To find fault with another person is to tacitly assert one's own pre-eminence. It gratifies the same psychological need that causes people to make racist remarks or, for that matter, any sort of humiliating comment about another human being. By heaping reproach upon the other one elevates oneself to a loftier position vis a vis the one who is denigrated. There is a place for legitimate criticism, of course, but when the criticism is consistently unkind, unfounded, unfair or trivial we can't help but think that at least part of what motivates it is the satisfaction of one's own ego.

Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th century Danish philosopher, had a slightly different take. He imputed this phenomenon to envy. He wrote:

Every outstanding individual is always an object of envy. Human envy cannot endure the thought that a mere individual should amount to anything, let alone that he should be pre-eminent, and exercise genuine leadreship.

Among journalists and others in the communications culture are many, it seems, who cannot abide the fact that George Bush will go down in history, while they themselves will be historical ciphers. They think this affront to their ego a cosmic injustice, and thus, if they can't gain the recognition they are convinced they deserve, they'll seize every opportunity to destroy those, like the President, of more substantial achievement. That way society will esteem these insignificant scribes as worthy of note even as public contempt for the truly accomplished waxes and deepens.

Envy and egotism are very toxic and corrosive human traits but very common ones, alas, among those who report upon our public servants. They are also, as Dan Rather has discovered to his grief, quite self-destructive.