Thursday, April 6, 2006

Bridging the Generation Gap

In a time when much of what we read in the news about university professors makes us cringe, it is reassuring and inspiring to read an essay like this one (free subscription required) in the Catholic magazine Commonweal. The writer, Stephen Martin, is a personal friend and former student who crafts a wonderful encomium to a literature professor, Wallace Fowlie, under whom he studied in his undergrad days at Duke and the influence this man, now deceased, had on his life. It's a portrait of what a university professor should be.

I was especially struck by a powerful passage Steve quotes from one of Fowlie's many books:

"The reading and teaching of Dante always restored for me the Catholic sense of history: everything a man does in his life moves him toward his true end in God, or moves him away from it. Everything is ultimately redeemed or lost. Hell and paradise are eternal places and eternal concepts."

Steve's essay is a must read, especially for students and teachers, and, indeed, for anyone who would like to inspire young people.


A New Transitional Fossil?

The Guardian has a fascinating story on a very important fossil find, but manages, unfortunately, to draw at least one silly conclusion from it:

Scientists have made one of the most important fossil finds in history: a missing link between fish and land animals, showing how creatures first walked out of the water and on to dry land more than 375 million years ago.

Palaeontologists have said that the find, a crocodile-like animal called the Tiktaalik roseae and described today in the journal Nature, could become an icon of evolution in action - like Archaeopteryx, the famous fossil that bridged the gap between reptiles and birds.

As such, it will be a blow to proponents of intelligent design, who claim that the many gaps in the fossil record show evidence of some higher power.

Well, no. It's not a blow to proponents of Intelligent Design. If it turns out that the fossil really is all that paleontologists presently think it to be, it presents a difficulty only for those who believe that major biological taxa were specially created. Whether there is now direct evidence that fish evolved into tetrapods or not has no bearing on the fundamental claims of Intelligent Design theorists who argue that the universe in general, and life in particular, display remarkable evidence of having been intentionally engineered. Nothing about this discovery conflicts with that claim or any other basic principle of ID.

Someday, perhaps, journalists will be sufficiently roused from their dogmatic slumbers to actually get themselves educated on this issue. Until then, we'll simply have to be vigilant in pointing out their manifold misunderstandings and errors.

There's a lot more on Tiktaalik at the link.

Clarifying the "Immigration" Debate

The American Thinker has an outstanding piece by Herbert Meyer on the "immigration" debate that brings some much-needed clarity to the issue. Here's the first half of it:

Simply put, the debate in Washington isn't about "immigration" at all - and that's the problem.

To ordinary Americans, the definition of "immigration" is very specific: You come here with absolutely nothing except a burning desire to be an American. You start off at some miserable, low-paying job that at least puts a roof over your family's head and food on the table. You put your kids in school, tell them how lucky they are to be here - and make darn sure they do well even if that means hiring a tutor and taking a second, or third, job to pay for it. You learn English, even if you've got to take classes at night when you're dead tired. You play by the rules-which means you pay your taxes, get a driver's license and insure your car so that if yours hits mine, I can recover the cost of the damages. And you file for citizenship the first day you're eligible.

Do all this and you become an American like all the rest of us. Your kids will lose their accents, move into the mainstream, and retain little of their heritage except a few words of your language and - if you're lucky-an irresistible urge to visit you now and then for some of mom's old-country cooking.

This is how the Italians made it, the Germans made it, the Dutch made it, the Poles made it, the Jews made it, and more recently how the Cubans and the Vietnamese made it. The process isn't easy - but it works and that's the way ordinary Americans want to keep it.

But the millions of Hispanics who have come to our country in the last several decades - and it's the Hispanics we're talking about in this debate, not those from other cultures-are, in fact, two distinct groups. The first group is comprised of "immigrants" just like all the others, who have put the old country behind them and want only to be Americans. They aren't the problem. Indeed, most Americans welcome them among us, as we have welcomed so many other cultures.

The problem is the second group of Hispanics. They aren't immigrants - which is what neither the Democratic or Republican leadership seems to understand, or wants to acknowledge. They have come here solely for jobs, which isn't the same thing at all. (And many of them have come here illegally.) Whether they remain in the U.S. for one year, or ten years - or for the rest of their lives - they don't conduct themselves like immigrants.

Yes, they work hard to put roofs above their heads and food on their tables - and for this we respect them. But they have little interest in learning English themselves, and instead demand that we make it possible for them to function here in Spanish. They put their children in our schools, but don't always demand as much from them as previous groups demanded of their kids. They don't always pay their taxes - or insure their cars.

In short, they aren't playing by the rules that our families played by when they immigrated to this country. And to ordinary Americans this behavior is deeply - very deeply - offensive. We see it unfolding every day in our communities, and we don't like it. This is what none of our politicians either understands, or dares to say aloud. Instead, they blather on - and on - about "amnesty" and "border security" without ever coming to grips with what is so visible, and so offensive, to so many of us - namely, all these foreigners among us who aren't behaving like immigrants.

What this second group of "immigrants" wants is to exploit American largesse to the fullest extent possible and ultimately to transform our culture to a simulacrum of the one it left behind. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Americans resisting such a change, and those politicians of either party who react with disdain and contempt for the concerns of Americans over what they see happening to their communities and their resources are inviting electoral retribution.

al-Zarqawi Demoted

The Sheik of Slaughters has evidently suffered a humiliating demotion in rank. The Christian Science Monitor has a lengthy story on this development which begins with this:

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq and one of the region's most prominent insurgents, has been demoted within Al Qaeda's ranks, according to recent reports.

The Times of London writes that Huthayfah Azzam, son of Abdullah Azzam, the mentor of both Osama bin Laden and Mr. Zarqawi, said Zarqawi was stripped of his political duties two weeks ago due to concerns that his actions were hurting the Iraqi insurgency's support in the Arab world.

"The Iraqi resistance high command asked al-Zarqawi to give up his political role and replaced him with an Iraqi because of several mistakes," said Mr Azzam in an interview with al-Arabiya, the Arabic news channel. "Al-Zarqawi's role has been limited to military action," he said.

The fugitive al-Qaeda leader, who has a $25 million American bounty on his head, is credited with masterminding some of the bloodiest episodes in the Iraqi war, including suicide bombings against the United Nations, Shia Muslims and US forces and the videotaped execution of Western and other hostages.

But his tactics have alienated many Iraqis, even those sympathetic to the insurgency. Mr Azzam, whose father is known as the "prince of the Mujahidin", said that he was accused of "creating an independent group" in Iraq, "making political mistakes" and hijacking the Iraqi insurgency for his own cause.

Al Jazeera reports that, among his "political mistakes," Zarqawi appeared to have taken it upon himself to speak for the Iraqi people. Zarqawi is Jordanian, however, and thus not perceived as an appropriate spokesman for the insurgency.

"Zarqawi also took the liberty of speaking in the name of the Iraqi people and resistance, a role which belongs only to the Iraqis," Azzam said.

As a result "the resistance command inside and outside Iraq, including imams, criticised him and after long discussions demanded that he be confined to military action".

"Zarqawi pledged not to carry out any more attacks against Iraq's neighbours after having been criticised for these operations which are considered a violation of sharia [Islamic law]," Azzam said.

You can get the rest of the story at the link.