Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Invested in Failure

Cooler heads seem to have prevailed in the Democratic caucus and the leadership is pulling the extremists, who are a substantial portion of the party, back from the brink of a debacle:

Democratic leaders backed away from aggressive plans to limit President Bush's war authority, the latest sign of divisions within their ranks over how to proceed. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Monday he wanted to delay votes on a measure that would repeal the 2002 war authorization and narrow the mission in Iraq.

Senior Democrats who drafted the proposal, including Sens. Joseph Biden of Delaware and Carl Levin of Michigan, had sought swift action on it as early as this week, when the Senate takes up a measure to enact the recommendations of the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission.

Reid, who will huddle with Democrats Tuesday to discuss whether to postpone the Iraq debate, cited pressure from victims' families for quick action on the Sept. 11 bill as the reason for doing so.

"Iraq is going to be there - it's just a question of when we get back to it," Reid said, predicting it would be "days, not weeks" before the Senate returned to the issue. The war reauthorization legislation also appears to lack the 60 votes it would need to pass the Senate.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., meanwhile, said she doesn't support tying war funding to strict training and readiness targets for U.S. troops.

The comments distanced her from Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who has said he wants to use Congress' spending power to force a change in policy in Iraq, by setting strict conditions on war funding.

This is all so disingenuous. One minute they're telling us that the 2006 election was a mandate to end the war, which Congress could do by simply cutting off funding, the next minute they're trying to rationalize their refusal to do what's necessary to bring the war to a conclusion.

The leadership has come to realize, of course, that had they pushed the Murtha plan through the House and the Biden/Levin bill in the Senate they would have unintentionally placed themselves in a political no-win situation. If the U.S. were forced by the Murtha plan to withdraw from Iraq then the American people would have rightly blamed the humiliation on the Democrats. On the other hand, if, despite the Democrats' efforts to prevent it, we manage to achieve a noticeable measure of success in that miserable land, the credit will all go to George Bush and the Republicans. This would politically marginalize the Democrats for the next twenty years. It would've been a heads they win, tails we lose proposition for the Dems and luckily for them Pelosi and Reid recognized where they were headed in time to avert the catastrophe.

The Democrats' best strategy - for their party, not for the country - is to play along with Bush, to keep nipping at his heels, and hope that he fails to establish a stable and secure democracy in Iraq. If he does fail without the Democrats interfering with his policy then the Democrats will be well positioned to blame the defeat on the Republicans and reap the political harvest.

Even so, there's something very wrong with having half of our government heavily invested in the defeat of our forces and the failure of an attempt to bring some measure of peace and safety to millions of people.


Magic Wand

Uncommon Descent links to a couple of interesting videos which illustrate how the cellular machinery which produces proteins does what it does. Protein synthesis really is astonishing, all the more so if one believes that all the machinery and coordination of reactions just evolved by chance. After all, the DNA and RNA which code for proteins can only work when they're manipulated by proteins, but proteins did not become available until DNA and RNA were able to produce them. So which came first, the proteins or the nucleic acids?

Never mind, we're told. Such conundrums are minor puzzles which will be solved eventually. Darwinism is like a magic wand. When we encounter problems like the above we simply wave the wand and solemnly recite the incantation "genetic mutation and natural selection plus time and chance" and, presto! the problem goes away.


Pass the Vitriol, Please

There was a time when conservatives were reviled everywhere for being "haters" and "mean-spirited." Then came Bill Buckley's magazine The National Review and a series of books by conservative authors the tone and quality of which gave the lie to the allegations of their opponents. It turned out that it was very difficult to find an actual conservative who fit the stereotype of a frothing Joe McCarthy out to lynch everyone to his ideological left.

Nevertheless, by the late 1960s the damage had been done. Conservatives, in the public's mind, had been stuck with a reputation for biliousness and the media was only too pleased to reinforce the image in whatever way they could. Conservative ideas had a hard time gaining a hearing because they'd been stereotyped as insensitive, fat cat businessmen who loathed both minorities and commies in equal measure.

In the 1980s, however, the emergence on the national scene of charismatic, irenic conservative personalities like Ronald Reagan made it even more difficult for liberals to sustain the specter of the fire-breathing conservative, and in the last twenty years that misconception has been greatly diminished.

The irony is that as the public has come to realize that conservatives are not the monsters they had been led to believe they were the left has ratcheted up the propaganda, trying to portray George Bush as a demoniac on the level of Adolf Hitler. In their desperation to show that conservatives really are the incarnation of Lucifer the left has infused our political rhetoric with far more hate, spite, cruelty and viciousness than anything their predecessors of a generation ago imputed to conservatives.

Nothing in our political past, for example, compares to the vituperation and sheer ugliness of the sort of thing that fills the left's blogs in the wake of the attempted assasination of Vice-president Cheney. Michelle documents some of the sick commentary here although I understand that some of the blogs she quotes from have now expunged the more disgusting comments.

There are several words that come to mind to describe people who think like these people do, but rather than indulge in trying to pin an appropriate adjective on them, as satisfying as such an exercise might be, I wish to simply wonder out loud if there isn't a connection between the ideology the secular left embraces and the kind of people that it seems to attract.


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Busted Pervert

Federal agents in Virginia have arrested a man named Charles Rust-Tierney for possessing child pornography. Some of the material this man was viewing consisted of video of young, prepubescent girls screaming and crying as they were tied up and forcibly raped. What sort of man would want to watch this kind of thing?

Well, it turns out that Rust-Tierney is a past president of the Virginia chapter of the ACLU, not that that explains everything. He also coached youth sports in his Arlington neighborhood. In other words, he's a man of some means and accomplishment who could be anyone's neighbor. The fact that he rose to such prominence in the ACLU seems like it should be significant, perhaps because of facts like this:

In the past, Rust-Tierney had argued against restricting Internet access in public libraries in Virginia, writing, "Recognizing that individuals will continue to behave responsibly and appropriately while in the library, the default should be maximum, unrestricted access to the valuable resources of the Internet."

One wonders, in light of Mr. Rust-Tierney's arrest, if the ACLU's commitment to defending the pornography industry isn't at least partly due to self-interest.

Anyway, there's more on this sordid affair at the link and also some discussion on Bill O'Reilley's show, a video clip of which can be accessed at Hot Air.

It turns out that Rust-Tierney's wife is a leader in an organization which has fought to abolish the death penalty. We suspect that after this development she might be having second thoughts.



More left-wing hilarity comes to our attention courtesy of Yahoo:

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New Yorkers got to kick President George W. Bush's butt on Thursday, sort of.

Performance artist Mark McGowan kicked off his bid to crawl for 72 hours across Manhattan dressed as the president, offering the opportunity to kick his backside. The controversial artist from London began his odyssey from New York's Lincoln Centre wearing a rubber George Bush mask, a business suit, knee pads, work gloves and a sign stuck to his cushioned posterior reading simply: "Kick My Ass".

Though few ordinary New Yorkers, other than fellow artists, cameramen and photographers, were present for the launch on a wet workday afternoon, some people gave him a kick.

"It felt real good to kick Bush," said Casmirr Sharp, 52, of New York's Queens borough. "He really deserves more than a kick."

McGowan told Reuters he hopes his performance proves therapeutic to the city's denizens. But he insisted his work was no publicity stunt but art: "It's definitely an art form. A lot of the things I do are a bit silly but they always have a political edge to them."

Ho, ho. Whether it's humor or art those lefties sure are a caution, aren't they? Their sense of the comic is so uproariously sophisticated, so endearing that it makes one want to be a liberal just for the laughs.


Life of the Cell

Those with a little background in cell biology might find this animation interesting.

Everyone else will find it stunning that so much coordinated, machine-like activity is going on in the tiny cells of our body all the time. How does brute matter produce such complex machinery and exquisite coordination?


Monday, February 26, 2007

It's All Too Beautiful

GilDodgen at Uncommon Descent has an interesting meditation triggered by a reading of Michael Denton's classic work titled Nature's Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe.

GilDodgen considers just one tiny aspect of the laws of physics, the physics of sound, and contemplates the amazing fact that the laws of physics are precisely suited to allowing us to experience music:

Isn't it also interesting that the physics of sound is just right to create scales, harmonies, consonance and dissonance, and that musical instruments can be made from common materials?

Music is based on the physics of sound - in particular, the overtone series which is produced when a string or column of air vibrates in integer multiples. The division of the octave into 12 semitones is not an accident or a matter of personal preference; this produces notes that coincide with the overtone series. This is the basis of melody and harmony, and why some sounds are dissonant and some sounds are consonant.

Imagine a world without music: no music accompanying the movies you watch, no music in your church services, no music on the radio or television, no violinists, no pianists, no guitarists, no singers, no songs - no music at all! Wouldn't your life be indescribably impoverished? Music is a totally abstract art form, but has tremendous power and meaning in our lives.

When I was in college I took a number of courses in music theory. I remember a chapter in a book about melody. All the technical elements of melodic composition were discussed but there was one final comment that struck me (I paraphrase): Most people associate "melody" with something that cannot be described, but they know it when they hear it, and there is no way to teach how to write a good melody. Each note seems to naturally flow from the preceding one.

The more we learn the more it becomes apparent that the universe was rigged for humans, from top to bottom, and in almost every way. Our universe is a very meaningful one.

Everything we learn about the world seems to confirm this assertion, which is why statements like that made by Steven Weinberg at the end of his book The First Three Minutes: "The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless," appear more and more ludicrous with every new discovery.


Triple Rings

One of the many beautiful photos taken by the Hubble telescope is this one of a triple-ringed supernova:

How these rings were formed has long puzzled scientists, but it seems now that a pair of astronomers at Oxford may have figured it out. See this article at New Scientist for the details.



The trial of Lewis Libby has been a farce from the beginning. A man's life is being devastated by a fanatical prosecutor who evidently shares some of the same genes as Mike Nifong, the contemporary Torquemada who prosecuted (persecuted?)the Duke lacrosse players who were accused of rape.

For a quick overview of the case and an indictment of the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, we recommend Mona Charen's column on the subject. It's brief and tells you everything you need to know to bring you up to speed in case, like most people, you haven't been paying much attention.

Viewpoint likes the word being bandied about to describe what happens to people who fall afoul of prosecutors like Nifong and Fitzgerald who mistake themselves for Medieval inquisitors. Such hapless souls are said to have been Fitzfonged. We think it'll stick.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

Scott's Oriole

I invite those of you who appreciate beauty in nature to check out this visitor to a backyard near Mechanicsburg, PA this past week. It was captured on film by photographer Bob Moul.

The bird is a Scott's oriole, a species indigenous to the American southwest which usually winters in Mexico and Central America. Indeed, the Mechanicsburg bird, which I had the pleasure of viewing on Thursday, is the first one ever recorded in the northeastern U.S.

"A thing of beauty is a joy forever" (John Keats).


Victory is Defeat, Success is Failure

Saner elements in the Democratic party seem to have prevailed over the Pelosi/Murtha wing, and the idea of slow-bleeding the troops in Iraq appears to have itself bled itself to death:

House Democrats have pulled back from efforts to link additional funding for the war to strict troop-readiness standards after the proposal came under withering fire from Republicans and from their party's own moderates. That strategy was championed by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) and endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

"If you strictly limit a commander's ability to rotate troops in and out of Iraq, that kind of inflexibility could put some missions and some troops at risk," said Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Tex.), who personally lodged his concerns with Murtha.

The anti-war Democrats, however, are nothing if not determined to achieve failure in Iraq, and thus a couple of leading Democratic lights in the Senate, Joseph Biden and Carl Levin, are crafting legislation that would:

essentially overturn the 2002 resolution granting Mr. Bush the authority to remove Saddam Hussein from power, and limit the military to combating Al Qaeda in Iraq, keeping Iraq from becoming a haven for terrorists and training Iraqi forces. The proposal's goal, officials said, would be to allow combat forces not engaged in those duties to be removed from Iraq next year.

This is rich. Under the senators' proposal the American military will be limited to combat only against al Qaeda in Iraq. I wonder if the legislation will require the al Qaeda cadres to identify themselves to American troops so that our forces will know whether or not they can proceed to shoot them. I wonder, too, if august worthies like Joe "Obama's the cleanest black ever to run for president" Biden have considered that, in the unlikely event their legislation passes, al Qaeda will just change its name. What are our troops supposed to do then? I guess I'm too much of a worry wort. Surely Messers. Levin and Biden have it all figured out.

For the Democrats victory is defeat and success is failure. George Orwell must be smiling.


Fear Itself

Al Gore once famously accused President Bush of deceiving the American people by screaming these words: "He betrayed this country. He played on our fears."

Well, we are now well on our way to having a national panic attack over global warming due largely to the efforts of Mr. Gore and his documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Even small children are reportedly being frightened into sleeplessness by fears of global warming and world-wide catastrophe.

One wonders whether Mr. Gore would agree that An Inconvenient Truth plays on our fears. Probably not. Only Republicans do that.


Behind the Contretemps

You've probably heard about the dust-up between the Clinton camp and the Obama people over remarks made by Hollywood producer David Geffen at a fund-raiser for Obama. What hasn't been speculated upon much in the media is why Geffen has turned away from the Clintons, with whom he was once very close, and thrown his Hollywood heft behind Obama.

Here's why:

One of Geffen's causes was the release of Leonard Peltier, a Native-American convicted of murdering two FBI agents back in the 80's. Geffen believes Peltier is innocent and had urged President Clinton to pardon him, but Clinton declined. Geffen, though disappointed, accepted this decision. Then came the last days of the Clinton presidency and a flurry of pardons were issued, among them were these:

Marc Rich was indicted on tax evasion, commodities fraud and other charges in 1983 and fled to Switzerland. After Clinton pardoned him, a House committee probing Clinton's pardons sought testimony from Rich's ex-wife Denise, who had been a major contributor to Democratic causes - including Hillary's Senate campaign and the Clinton Presidential Library. Denise Rich invoked the Fifth Amendment.

Almon Glenn Braswell was pardoned of his mail fraud and perjury convictions after paying about $200,000 to Hillary's brother, Hugh Rodham, to represent his case for clemency. He later returned the payments, but he too invoked the Fifth Amendment during a Congressional hearing.

In 2000, Clinton had pardoned Vonna Jo Gregory, owner of the carnival company United Shows International, and her husband Edgar for a 1982 bank fraud conviction. After the pardon, the company gave Hillary's brother Anthony Rodham $107,000 in "loans" that he has never repaid.

On his last day in office, Clinton pardoned his old friend Susan McDougal, who had already completed her sentence for her role in the Whitewater scandal.

Clinton also pardoned his brother Roger on drug charges, and former Housing secretary Henry Cisneros, who was convicted of lying to the FBI about payments to a mistress.

Clinton slashed the prison sentences of four men convicted of stealing millions in federal grants. The men were from a community of Hasidic Jews in New Square, N.Y., which voted 1,400 to 12 in favor of Hillary Clinton in her first Senate race.

Clinton also commuted the sentences - over the objections of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office - of 11 members of a Puerto Rican nationalist group that set off more than 100 bombs in the U.S. The large Puerto Rican community in New York City supports Democrats.

Geffen was apparently angered by the fact that a man he believed to be innocent of any crime was left unpardoned but this parade of corrupt and criminal cronies and others were released by the president. Especially galling was the pardon of Marc Rich whose beautiful wife apparently bought his release through political contributions of one sort or another. Geffen saw this as something of a betrayal by the Clintons and has consequently joined the swelling ranks of Democrats who've come to despise the Clintons for the cavalier way in which they use and discard people according to how useful they are to them.

It's beginning to look as though Hillary will have to fight hard for her party's nomination and, if she gets it, enthusiasm for her candidacy will be subdued among those Democrats who know her.


Friday, February 23, 2007

Unlocking the Mystery of Life

One of the finest videos on intelligent design is one titled Unlocking the Mystery of Life. It lays out some of the early history of the ID movement and addresses two major points of conflict with Darwinian naturalism: The origin of life and the origin of specified complexity. The theoretical stuff is interesting and the computer animations are breathtaking.

For a sample of the latter take a look at this clip which illustrates just a few of the processes involved in the cell's manufacture of proteins. It's nothing short of astounding.


Bribe Me Later

For those too young to remember the Abscam scandal that resulted in six Democrats and one Republican going to jail, Ann Coulter offers a quick summary. Her purpose, of course, is to highlight the venality of a young congressman named John Murtha, who was caught on tape discussing bribes with an undercover FBI agent.

This is the man who is leading the Democrats, and our nation, up Surrender Hill. It's ironic that the Democrats would feature a congressman with one of the most questionable ethical reputations in Washington as a key leader in what they purport to be a kind of moral quest, the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

Read Coulter's piece to learn a little bit about the kind of man it is who is scheming to deny the president the ability to reinforce the troops in Iraq.


Evil America

Randall Hoven at The American Thinker offers a salutary, and fairly brief, history lesson for those who wonder about the claim that the United States is a dangerous, perhaps evil, force on the world stage. Hoven shows that such a claim can only be made by those who either have no idea what has transpired around the world in the last seventy years or who are being deliberately dishonest.

Students who sit in classrooms where this meme is regularly trotted out by leftist instructors will especially benefit from reading the piece.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Why We Must Win

This is yet another illustration of why we must win the war against Islamo-fascism. If we lose heart, as some already have, what happened to Zilla Usman will eventually happen to women throughout the West.

Zilla Huma Usman, the minister for social welfare in Punjab province and an ally of President Pervez Musharraf, was killed as she was about to deliver a speech to dozens of party activists, by a "fanatic", who believed that she was dressed inappropriately and that women should not be involved in politics, officials said.

Usman, 35, was wearing the shalwar kameez worn by many professional women in Pakistan, but did not cover her head.

The attack happened in Gujranwala, 120 miles southeast of Islamabad, where the minister's office is based. As Usman, 35, stepped out of her car - where she was greeted by her co-workers throwing rose petals - the attacker pulled out a pistol and fired a single shot at close range, hitting her in the head. She was airlifted to hospital in the provincial capital Lahore, but died soon afterwards.

The gunman, Mohammad Sarwar, was overpowered by the minister's driver and arrested by police. A stone mason in his mid 40s, he is not thought to belong to any radical group but is known for his fanaticism. He was previously held in 2002 in connection with the killing and mutilation of four prostitutes, but was never convicted due to lack of evidence.

Sarwar appeared relaxed and calm when he told a television channel that he had carried out God's order to kill women who sinned. "I have no regrets. I just obeyed Allah's commandment," he said, adding that Islam did not allow women to hold positions of leadership. "I will kill all those women who do not follow the right path, if I am freed again," he said.

"He is basically a fanatic," Raja Basharat, the Punjab Law Minister, said. "He is against the involvement of women in politics and government affairs." A police statement added: "He considers it contrary to the teachings of Allah for a woman to become a minister or a ruler. That's why he committed this action."

"He killed her because she was not observing the Islamic code of dress. She was also campaigning for emancipation of women," said Nazir Ahmad, a local officer.

Usman, a married mother of two sons, joined the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League after being elected in 2002. A strong supporter of the President's policy of "enlightened moderation" - designed to tackle extremism - she was appointed to her current post in December last year according to her government biography.

A culture which gives a slap on the wrist to rapists, which turns a blind eye to "honor" killings, which punishes children by driving automobiles over their arms,

which hangs teenagers for being homosexual,

and which produces people who believe they're doing God's will by killing women who don't "know their place", is not just retrograde and dysfunctional. It's diseased.

Yet it is just such a culture as this which the Islamo-fascists wish to impose on the whole world, and they are prepared to use whatever means necessary to do it.


Deep Impact

As if we didn't have enough to worry about:

An asteroid may come uncomfortably close to Earth in 2036 and the United Nations should assume responsibility for a space mission to deflect it, a group of astronauts, engineers and scientists said on Saturday.

Although the odds of an impact by this particular asteroid are low, a recent congressional mandate for NASA to upgrade its tracking of near-Earth asteroids is expected to uncover hundreds, if not thousands of threatening space rocks in the near future, former astronaut Rusty Schweickart said.

If you like to worry about things you can do nothing about you can read the rest of the article here.



This month's edition of First Things has a very interesting pair of essays by Joseph Bottum and Michael Novak, both of whom are conservative Republicans (I'm surmising), on the competency of George W. Bush. Bottum takes the view that W. is in over his head, Novak is much more lenient in his judgment.

FT is offering the article for free here, and it's well worth a read whether one is a supporter or a foe of the president.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

ATP Synthase

In yet another tribute to the skill displayed by blind mechanistic processes in constructing what anyone but a Darwinian true-believer would recognize as an engineered machine, Telic Thoughts offers a simulation of the operation of the enzyme that synthesizes ATP in the body's cells.


If It Should Come to War

The BBC reports on the American plan of attack should Iran persist in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Here's part of the BBC story:

It is understood that any such attack - if ordered - would target Iranian air bases, naval bases, missile facilities and command-and-control centres. The US insists it is not planning to attack, and is trying to persuade Tehran to stop uranium enrichment.

The UN has urged Iran to stop the programme or face economic sanctions. But diplomatic sources have told the BBC that as a fallback plan, senior officials at Central Command in Florida have already selected their target sets inside Iran.

That list includes Iran's uranium enrichment plant at Natanz. Facilities at Isfahan, Arak and Bushehr are also on the target list, the sources say.

BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner says the trigger for such an attack reportedly includes any confirmation that Iran was developing a nuclear weapon - which it denies.

Alternatively, our correspondent adds, a high-casualty attack on US forces in neighbouring Iraq could also trigger a bombing campaign if it were traced directly back to Tehran.

Long range B2 stealth bombers would drop so-called "bunker-busting" bombs in an effort to penetrate the Natanz site, which is buried some 25m (27 yards) underground.

The BBC's Tehran correspondent Frances Harrison says the news that there are now two possible triggers for an attack is a concern to Iranians.

It should be of concern to everyone. One of the interesting things about these plans is that they have been somehow made available to the BBC at the same time that the Bush administration is adamant in its denials that any attack on Iran is being planned. We appear to be playing mind games with the Iranians. Let's hope it works.


The Blasphemy Challenge

Something called the "Rational Response Squad" is soliciting people, mostly young people, to make a commitment to condemn themselves to eternal damnation by videotaping themselves denying the existence of the Holy Spirit.

Set aside the callowness of the project and the dubious theology that underlies their interpretation of blaspheming the Holy Spirit and explore for a moment the psychology of what these kids are doing. They are proclaiming that they don't believe that God exists, but for what purpose? Someone may believe that space aliens don't exist but most people would hardly bother to send in videos to You Tube declaring the fact. If one doesn't believe that God exists why go to the trouble of videotaping an affirmation of one's doubt? What is it about denying the existence of something that is a source of such pride in the denier?

For some of these kids, moreover, it seems that they're not so much denying God's existence but rather banishing the God they suspect exists from any role in their lives. In other words, it's not an intellectual or philosophical position they're voicing, but an act of defiance or rebellion against the concept of God that they've come to hold. In the very act of denying God's existence they seem to be admitting that they know He's there, but that they resent that He is.

If this is a correct interpretation of what at least some of these kids are doing, then, for all of their pretense at intellectual sophistication, they're making themselves look silly. It's foolish, after all, to deny the existence of what deep down you know to be real. It's foolish to despise what deep down you believe to be the source of all that's good and right in the world. In their attempt to be "rational" they make themselves irrational. In their attempt to be "cool" they make themselves dumb. It's very sad.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Supporting the Troops

Michael Ramirez sums up what the Democrats in congress mean when they say that they "support the troops":


They Mean No Harm

We're expecting Softball's Chris Matthews to feature this news report when next he blasts the Bush administration for allegedly hyping intelligence that points to Iran as the source of weapons being used in Iraq to kill Americans:

(2007-02-12) - Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today confirmed U.S. allegations that high-ranking Iranian officials provide Shiite militias in Iraq with armor-piercing explosives, however, Iran's president said the devices are for peaceful purposes only.

"No one can deny the right of the Iranian people to develop technology that improves our lives," said Mr. Ahmadinejad. "Although we cannot control how our Iraqi customers use our products, we make these armor-piercing devices to generate energy."

The Iranian leader noted that the devices are "especially useful for bringing light to confined dark places, like the inside of an Abrams tank or Humvee, as well as for providing a plentiful source of instant heat."

Unconfirmed reports coming out of Washington indicate that Ahmadinejad's claims were well-received by congressional Democrats who considered them to be perfectly plausible.


Bird Brains

Go to Telic Thoughts and watch the video of a crow trying to get food out of a container with a wire. The bird can't manage it so it bends the wire into a hook. It's astonishing.

TT also links to a fascinating article at Neurophilosophy on how birds navigate. There are evidently at least two separate mechanisms employed, one for measuring the strength of the earth's magnetic field and one for assessing its direction. These mechanisms are incredibly "engineered" and certainly suggest intelligent input. But maybe not. Maybe they arose by blind forces acting by trial and error over millions of years, just like your computer might have if nobody had ever designed one.


Worst Country in the World

According to this report Britain is the worst place in the developed world for a child to grow up. Perhaps it's because of all that evangelical religion afflicting England.


Monday, February 19, 2007

Warming or Cooling?

NASA has a graphic which shows the global temperature deviations from seasonal averages for every month since 1979 through 2003. The most striking thing about the graphic is that although it seems like some places are consistently warmer than the seasonal average other places are consistently cooler. In other words, to the extent that warming is occuring it appears to be occuring locally or regionally and not uniformly around the globe.

Canada and the arctic seem to be warming while the southern states, Central, and South America seem to be cooling.

The bottom graph is the average global deviation from the long-term mean. You can select any month by moving the cursor across the graph. It appears that the average global temperature fluctuates around the mean spending as much time below it as above it (except for a bit of a spike in May of 1998).

So what's it all mean? I'm not sure, but it certainly suggests that the situation is more complex than the global warming people are letting on. The ambiguity of the data causes us to wonder what motivates those like The Weather Channel's Heidi Cullen who are so eager to have everyone believe that the earth is getting warmer that they want to forcibly silence all dissent from that opinion by having dissenters stripped of their scientific credentials.

HT: Uncommon Descent


Banning Hate Speech

WorldNet Daily has a very disturbing report on how hate speech legislation is being used in Australia and Europe to muzzle and intimidate anyone who would criticize minority individuals or groups:

Two Christians in Australia have been indicted for criticizing Islam, and another for criticizing Zionism. A filmmaker has been threatened with arrest for using the word "homosexual" rather than "gay." Now a German priest faces jail time for publicly criticizing abortionists, and in Holland, "fornicators" and "adulterers" are protected classes and cannot be criticized.

All courtesy of the concept of federal "hate crimes" legislation, which unless defeated soon could be mandatory in the United States, warns a rising chorus of critics.

There's much more on this proposed legislation at the link and all of it is frightening.

Here's a question: If the legislation passes and it becomes illegal to use any language that communicates hate or even mere disapproval, will we be putting liberals in jail for expressing their feelings about George Bush and Dick Cheney? Just wondering.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Comes the Dark Horse

The more astute political pundits are beginning to discern a dark horse in the Republican race that few in the media have been discussing. In fairness to the pundits they haven't been discussing him because he is not yet a declared candidate. Nevertheless, he polls consistently high in almost every survey of Republican voters and for good reason. He is probably the most conservative of the viable candidates and certainly the deepest thinker of any candidate of either major party.

Dick Morris has taken note and writes about him at The Hill.


Myth of Sisyphus

There's an ancient Greek myth about a man named Sisyphus who, having offended the gods, was punished by being condemned to push a heavy stone up a hill. When he finally reached the summit the boulder would roll back down to the bottom. Sisyphus would then have to push it back up again only to have the same thing happen every time he got to the top. This was this poor man's fate - to push that stone up the hill over and over again for eternity.

The Greeks thought this to be a wonderful metaphor for absolutely pointless, mind-numbing absurdity. If they were alive today they'd have an even better metaphor. Sisyphus, in the modern version, would be strapped into a chair in front of a television and given a remote, but no matter which of the 100 channels he selected there would be somebody talking about Anna Nicole Smith. Forever.

I can't imagine how empty must be the lives of those celebrities who live like Ms Smith lived, but even worse, I can't imagine how shallow must be the people who devote their days to reporting on the lives of such as Ms Smith. At the end of the day what exactly have they done to make the world a better place? What have they accomplished? How is going to their job in the morning any different than Sisyphus leaning his shoulder against the rock one more time?

Equally as inane, if not moreso, are the lives of those who actually find such talk to be interesting.

It's no wonder radical Muslims believe that our culture is corrupting the whole world. A lot of it is.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

Defeating Iran

Victor Davis Hanson offers a prescription for Iran that sounds very much like what the Bush administration, insofar as we can tell, is already doing, except for his last suggestion. The last suggestion, lowering the price of oil through conservation, is critical to impoverishing Iran, but there doesn't seem to be much encouragement from the White House on this front. Be that as it may, what VDH recommends is a means to bring about the collapse of Iran's nutty leadership without having to resort to war, or at least an invasion. Here's the heart of it:

We can begin to do this by pushing international accords and doggedly ratcheting up the weak United Nations sanctions. Even if they don't do much to Iran in any significant way, the resolutions seem to enrage Ahmadinejad. And when he rages at the United Nations, he only loses further support, especially in the Third World. We should start another fissure by prodding the European Union, presently Iran's chief trading partner, to be more vocal and resolute in pressuring Iran. The so-called EU3 - Britain, France and Germany - failed completely to stop Iran's nuclear proliferation. But out of that setback came a growing realization among Europeans that a nuclear-tipped missile from theocratic Iran could soon hit Europe just as easily as it could Israel. Now Europeans should adopt a complete trade embargo to prevent Iranian access to precision machinery and high technology otherwise unobtainable from mischievous Russia and China.

Americans should continue to support Iranian dissidents. We need not encourage dissidents to go into the street, where they could be shot. Instead we can offer them media help and access to the West. Americans can highlight the plight of women, minorities and liberals in Iran - just the groups that so appeal to the elite Western left.

And we should announce in advance that we don't want any bases in Iran, that we don't want its oil, and that we won't send American infantry there. That would preempt the tired charges of imperialism and colonialism.

The United States also must stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan. The last thing Iran wants is a democratic and prosperous Middle East surrounding its borders. The televised sight of Afghans, Iraqis, Kurds, Lebanese and Turks voting and speaking freely could galvanize Iranian popular opinion that in time might overwhelm the mullahs.

At the same time, we need to remind the Gulf monarchies that a nuclear Shiite theocracy is far more dangerous to them than either the United States or Israel - and that America's efforts to contain Iran depend on their own to rein in Wahhabis in Iraq.

We should say nothing much about the presence of two or three U.S. carrier groups in the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean. Iran will soon grasp on its own that the build-up of such forces might presage air strikes that the United States excels in - and not more ground fighting that the American public apparently won't any longer stomach.

We must continue to make clear that Israel is a sovereign nation with a perfect right to protect itself. Sixty years after the Holocaust, no Israeli prime minister will sit still idly while seventh-century theocrats grandstand about wiping out Israel.

Let's also keep our distance and moderate our rhetoric. There's no reason to frighten average Iranians - who may share our antipathy to their country's regime - or to make therapeutic pleas to talk with those leaders in bunkers whom we know are our enemies.

Finally, and most importantly, Americans must conserve energy, gasify coal, diversify fuels, drill more petroleum and invent new energy sources. Only that can collapse the world price of petroleum.

As we have said in the past, anything would be preferable to war with Iran. Anything except allowing Iran to gain access to nuclear weapons.


More on <i>Friend of God</i>

Michael Linton offers a review of Alexandra Pelosi's documentary on evangelical christians called Friends of God about which we've written here. Linton points out that Pelosi seems very sympathetic to evangelical Christianity and that her documentary is mostly a fair presentation.

Maybe it is fair, but I have to wonder what sort of message it sends to the secular world about Christians. After reading her discussion with pastor Ted Haggard, for instance, one is left flabbergasted that someone who had risen to such a high position of responsibility and visibility in the church turns out to be such a ... well, a jerk. And this was taped before the news of his sordid homosexual sex life became public.

Read Linton's piece to see what I mean.


Friday, February 16, 2007

Rumors of Bin Laden's Death

Rumors are circulating that Osama bin Laden has died earlier this month of typhoid. This site has the details in an article by Robert Fox. The conclusion of his piece is a little strange, though. He claims that bin Laden's death would be a blow to neo-conservatives and would require a re-thinking of the global war on terror. Why this should be the case Fox does not explain, and so we're left to ponder the odd logic of asserting that bin Laden's demise will be a setback for those people who have for a decade wanted to see him dead.

At any rate, the reports are unconfirmed at this point.


The Shadow War

Well. Bill Roggio reports that a bus carrying Iranian Revolutionary Guards soldiers was blown up by a car bomb which killed 18 Iranian troops. Roggio is suspicious that this might be payback for Iranian complicity in the deaths of American soldiers although there's no evidence of American involvement.

In the same post he notes a few more developments in the war against Mookie al-Sadr's Mahdi army in Baghdad. It's interesting reading.


Slow-Bleeding the Troops

John Murtha, whose willingness to accept a bribe was documented on tape in the Abscam scandal of the early eighties, is, as chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Sub-Committee, working with anti-war groups to make it almost impossible for the White House to win in Iraq. Realizing that an American victory would be a devastating blow to Democrats for years to come, and believing that the American people would punish the Democrats if they overtly used congressional power to cut off funds for the war, Murtha, Pelosi and others seem to have chosen subterfuge over principle. Rather than hold a straight up or down vote on cutting off funding for the war, they have opted for a more furtive, more obscure way of accomplishing the same thing. Their ploy will enable them to conceal their handiwork from the voters behind a faux concern for the troops:

Top House Democrats, working in concert with anti-war groups, have decided against using congressional power to force a quick end to U.S. involvement in Iraq, and instead will pursue a slow-bleed strategy designed to gradually limit the administration's options.

Led by Rep. John P. Murtha, D-Pa., and supported by several well-funded anti-war groups, the coalition's goal is to limit or sharply reduce the number of U.S. troops available for the Iraq conflict, rather than to openly cut off funding for the war itself.

As described by participants, the goal is crafted to circumvent the biggest political vulnerability of the anti-war movement -- the accusation that it is willing to abandon troops in the field. That fear is why many Democrats have remained timid in challenging Bush, even as public support for the president and his Iraq policies have plunged.

There's more on the Dems strategy at the link. It certainly looks like a strategy born of political cowardice. It also looks like their plan is almost certain to result in increased American casualties since it will be difficult for the military to send reinforcements to aid those troops already in the field. Perhaps I and others misunderstand what the Democrats are doing with this proposal, but if not, the details of it are as cynical as they are despicable.

One wonders how fat Murtha's wallet has grown on this one.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Has al-Masri Been Captured?

The successor to Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the former leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, is a man named Abu al-Masri. Breitbart has a report that al-Masri was wounded in fighting with Iraqi forces:

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- The leader of al-Qaida in Iraq was wounded and an aide was killed in a clash Thursday with Iraqi forces north of Baghdad, the Interior Ministry spokesman said.

The clash occurred near Balad, a major U.S. base about 50 miles north of the capital, Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf said.

Khalaf said al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri was wounded and his aide, identified as Abu Abdullah al-Majemaai, was killed.

Khalaf declined to say how Iraqi forces knew al-Masri had been injured, and there was no report on the incident from U.S. authorities.

Deputy Interior Minister Maj. Gen. Hussein Ali Kamal said he had no information about such a clash or that al-Masri had been involved.

Al-Masri took over the leadership of al-Qaida in Iraq after its charismatic leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was killed in a U.S. airstrike last June in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad.

If this report is confirmed it should have a chilling effect on those waiting in line to fill the role of leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Who wants to take a position that offers such lousy retirement benefits and such poor job security.


The Chicksters

Paul Nowak puts the Dixie Chicks in perspective and, with a single drawing, manages to make them appear whiny, self-absorbed, and historically oblivious, which, of course, they are:

I wonder if any of them have ever even heard of Solzhenitsyn.


No Story Here

It seems now that there has been yet another rape allegation in Durham, North Carolina. A woman alleges that she was assaulted at a house party, a circumstance similar to the case in which the Duke lacrosse players were accused, falsely, of having raped an "exotic" dancer.

The second case even has another similarity to the first in that it is an interracial incident. Nevertheless, despite the media obsession with the Duke case, and its similarities with this second case, you probably haven't heard about the recent incident. Why do you suppose that is? Does not our media salivate like Pavlov's dogs at the thought of writing about white on black crime? Then why hasn't it jumped on the second case? One guess.

Some crimes evidently don't matter as much to the folks who report our news as do others.


Atheism, Theism, and Design

One often hears, despite numerous attempts to disabuse people of the notion, that Intelligent Design is religious because it leads inevitably to the conclusion that the designer must be the God of the Bible. This is nonsense, of course, but the objection persists because were it ever to be given up it would open the door for ID to be taught in public schools and once that happened Darwinism would go the way of Marxism and Freudianism.

Telic Thoughts has a post on a 1982 speech given by Sir Fred Hoyle, one of the most famous scientists of the twentieth century. Hoyle was an atheist but, as impossible as it might seem to some of ID's opponents, he believed in the intelligent design of life on earth.

Read the article to see what Hoyle advocated. The point is that ID, to the disappointment of theists and atheists alike, does not necessarily entail the God of the Bible and is, ironically, compatible with both. What it's not compatible with is the materialist interpretation of Darwin which says that physical processes like the laws of chemistry and physics, plus time and chance, are all that's required to explain life and the cosmos.

Hoyle believes that the designer is part of this universe. It is possible, though, that the designer transcends this universe, but is still not the God that Christians worship. Physicists talk of the possibility of other universes existing beyond our own. If there are such worlds out there it's possible that an inhabitant of one of them designed our world. If speculations about the existence of other worlds is a legitimate topic of scientific discourse then so must be the possibility of an intelligence in such a world being capable of designing other worlds. Again, the point is that whether ID is a scientific theory or not, it is clearly not religious. It does, however, have religious implications, just as does materialistic Darwinism.


If I Die

Here's a great song written and sung, I believe, by a soldier in Iraq. It's titled If I Die Before You Wake. Give it a listen.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Gettin' Outa' Dodge

While Nancy Pelosi and John Murtha prophesy that Bush's new policy in Iraq will be a dismal failure and seek to cut off funding for the troop surge, ABC pulls the rug out from under them with this report:

While members of the U.S. House of Representatives take turns weighing in on President Bush's planned troop surge in Iraq, the focus in Iraq is not on the arrival of more U.S. troops, but the departure of one of the country's most powerful men, Moqtada al Sadr and members of his army.

According to senior military officials al Sadr left Baghdad two to three weeks ago, and fled to Tehran, Iran, where he has family.

Al Sadr commands the Mahdi Army, one of the most formidable insurgent militias in Iraq, and his move coincides with the announced U.S. troop surge in Baghdad.

Sources believe al Sadr is worried about an increase of 20,000 U.S. troops in the Iraqi capital. One official told ABC News' Martha Raddatz, "He is scared he will get a JDAM [bomb] dropped on his house."

Sources say some of the Mahdi army leadership went with al Sadr.

In other words the chief trouble-maker in Baghdad has hightailed it to Iran, which, of course is being falsely accused by the Bush administration for supporting the insurgency.

Why did the Mookster get out of town? Obviously he wasn't buying the Democrats' rhetoric that the surge would do no good. Apparently his patron in the government, prime minister al-Maliki, had finally grown impatient with Mookie's antics and withdrew his protection. Consequently, the dentally challenged sheik, like his ancestors in Babylon four thousand years ago, read the hand-writing on the wall and decided to take his lieutenants and run.

The question now arises as to how effective he will be as an absentee jihadi. How much street cred has he lost among the rank and file for absconding and leaving them to face the American troops and their firepower alone. If, in fact, al Sadr, far removed from the action, has lost his influence among the faithful then Bush's plan scored at least one major success before it was even implemented.

Don't expect Keith Olberman or Chris Matthews to place much emphasis on the point, though. They're too busy trying to make a big deal out of pentagon sources backing off from earlier claims that the Iranian government must know about the supplies of Iranian weapons being smuggled into Iraq.


GOP Straw Poll

Captain's Quarters offers an opportunity to participate in a GOP straw poll if you wish. Go here and cast your vote for whom you'd like to see representing the Republicans in '08. You can also follow the links to view the overall results of the poll thus far.


Myths About Atheism (Pt. X)

This is the final post in our series on the Ten Myths About Atheism that atheist Sam Harris seeks to refute in an article he wrote for Edge.

The 10th "myth" is one that Viewpoint readers might be forgiven for thinking that we have addressed almost every other day since we started this blog over three years ago, but it is such an important matter, and it seems to pop up so often, that it bears constant attention. Mr. Harris claims it to be a myth that:

Atheism provides no basis for morality.

If a person doesn't already understand that cruelty is wrong, he won't discover this by reading the Bible or the Koran - as these books are bursting with celebrations of cruelty, both human and divine. We do not get our morality from religion. We decide what is good in our good books by recourse to moral intuitions that are (at some level) hard-wired in us and that have been refined by thousands of years of thinking about the causes and possibilities of human happiness.

We have made considerable moral progress over the years, and we didn't make this progress by reading the Bible or the Koran more closely. Both books condone the practice of slavery - and yet every civilized human being now recognizes that slavery is an abomination. Whatever is good in scripture - like the golden rule - can be valued for its ethical wisdom without our believing that it was handed down to us by the creator of the universe.

Harris simply misses the point in the first paragraph above and manages to elicit a host of questions in the reader's mind that he himself leaves unasked and unanswered. Why, for example, does he believe that cruelty is wrong? What makes it wrong? Is it wrong because evolution has hard-wired us to have certain intuitions that cause us to consider it wrong? What if someone (there have been many, many examples) doesn't have such intuitions, would cruelty not be wrong for them? And if our moral intuitions are the products of evolution what could possibly obligate us to abide by them?

He suggests that these moral intuitions have been refined by thousands of years of thinking about how best to promote human happiness, but he does not answer the question why it should be a duty to promote the happiness of others rather than just his own happiness. In other words, an atheistic worldview such as Harris espouses offers no grounds for saying that egoism or selfishness is wrong and more altruistic ethical behaviors are right. Why should I not promote my own happiness even if it comes at the expense of the welfare of others?

Indeed, the only way we can determine that it is better to care about others than to care only for oneself is to hold both views up to a higher ethical standard, a moral dictionary, so to speak, and ask which conforms best to this higher standard. The problem is that for the atheist there is no higher standard. The choice between egoism and altruism reduces to nothing more than personal preference. It's a purely arbitrary selection not binding upon anyone, not even the person who holds the preference.

Harris' secondary claim that our moral progress hasn't come from reading the Bible is historically dubious, as is the assertion that the Bible condones slavery. But be that as it may, his claim that every civilized person now recognizes that slavery is an abomination is an obfuscation. It is only those people whose morality is based on the will of God as revealed through the scripture who have any basis for making such a judgment. Slavery is an abomination for only one reason: All human beings are made in the image of God and are loved by Him. We belong to Him and He has endowed us all with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Thus no man has the right to treat another as his own property. It is interesting in this regard that the abolitionist movement in both England and the United States was lead by Christians and nourished by the church. Had it been left to secularists and secular institutions slavery would probnably still be with us today.

If there is no God then any man has the "right" to do whatever he has the power to do. In a world without God slavery is not an abomination, it is simply one man exercising power over another. Such an exercise is neither good nor bad, it just is. This is why, when a nation becomes officially atheistic, as did communist nations during the twentieth century, one of the first casualties is invariably the concept of human rights.

Previous posts in this series may be accessed by clicking on the following links: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V and VI, Part VII, Part VIII, and Part IX.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Marcotte Resigns

The sweet, demure Amanda Marcotte has regrettably resigned her post as blogmaster for the John Edwards campaign. I'm sure the entire campaign staff breathed a sigh of relief when Amanda chose to decamp depriving the ambulance-chaser of her legendary charm and wit. Here's a sample of what the Edwards folks got when they hired Ms Marcotte. One has to wonder what kind of people John Edwards has put in charge of his campaign that they would have thought this sort of thing appropriate to represent a man who aspires to be president of the United States.

Caution: this is most definitely not for children.

In a way it's too bad Marcotte resigned. She would have provided all of us with many mirthful moments during the primaries.


Panning <i>Jesus Camp</i>

Joe Carter skewers Jesus Camp, a documentary supposedly about Evangelicals but, according to Carter, really about Pentacostals. Jesus Camp has been nominated for an Academy Award (although as PC as Jesus Camp may be, it probably has no chance of winning against Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth), but I haven't seen it so I can't comment on Carter's review. If you've seen the film, you might want to check Carter's post out for yourself.


Is Assassination Moral?

A week or so ago I invited comment on reports that the Israelis had assassinated a key Iranian physicist working on their nuclear weapons program. I asked if killing this man averted a wider war and possibly a nuclear explosion in an American city would it be the morally right thing to do. Here are several of the responses we received. The following opinions should not be assumed to be consonant with our own views:

I am all for the assassination of Iran's top nuclear scientists. It doesn't seem like anything else will stop them from continuing down the dark road to nuclear power. One thing to keep in mind though is that the U.S.A. has to keep its hands "clean" of the matter. Otherwise the world will once again call us a "bully" and constantly attack our world cop nature. Also Iran would most likely be very upset by the time it actually develops nuclear weapons, and be very volatile. Of course from what I understand they're already quite volatile and very likely to use their nuclear prowess when it becomes available. Maybe I'm not really for the assassination of Iran's nuclear scientists, I just like the sound of it. NM


If we are to make the assumption that a war was certainly averted by assassinating Iran's physicist, then I say it was the most moral thing that could have been done. Who can argue that losing one life is not preferred to losing thousands of lives? I suppose that one could argue that had the physicist been allowed to live and war broke out there would still be hope for a positive outcome. What that positive outcome could be I have not the slightest idea. I think that the world would look back after a war and ask why there was not more done to prevent Iran from gaining nukes.

On the other hand, perhaps the guilty party should have spared the man's life and destroyed the nuclear technology the man was working with instead. That would certainly halt the production of nukes, at least until new machinery and equipment could be acquired. That would be the morally superior thing to do, that is, if destroying a nuclear facility could be done with the assurance that people at, or nearby, the facility would not be killed in the process.

The ultimate question here is whether or not more lives were ultimately saved by killing one. But who can really answer that? There are too many variables to consider. We will never know for sure if the actions taken truly result in the saving of lives. Situations like this one are tough because there is no clear right way to go. If it were up to me, I would not have killed the man because I am confident that I should not murder under any personal circumstances. But, under the authority of a government like this was (if it was indeed done by the Israelis), I have no problem choosing to act in favor of the lesser of two evils. SL


I think that every attempt to maintain peace in the Middle East should be made because if it isn't there will be a disasterous affect throughout the world. There might have been better ways to go about this, but this was effective. Taking the lives of people is always a questionable deal, but in this situation I think it might have been the right step. DJ


Is this ethical? Wow, that is a loaded question...even if it can be worked out that assassinations to avert nuclear war are a morally okay thing...who decides who the targets are? Why the scientist overseeing production? Why not the people who are actually ordering the production to exist in the first place? Why not those who run a government which would support such a plan?

It is a difficult thing to say that murder is ever morally fine; however I feel there is precedent in history for such singular acts in order to save lives. If you see a man walking into a school with a gun, do you say please stop, or do you go into action to stop him? Be it you or the police, one would naturally say force. This is because there are situations where our "instinct" to protect, or our desire to avoid a coming calamity shows us the course of action to take. This might, on another day, be considered amoral. However, there are situations where force is warranted. JY


I do not believe that assassinating nuclear scientists is a moral or workable solution to the Iran problem. First of all, killing a man for his abilities is a dangerous thing to do. Arguments could then be made for killing young Arab men who could potentially become suicide bombers that would become a slippery slope. Assassination is viewed worldwide as cowardly and wrong. It is not right to kill a person for their deeds without a proper trial. Not only is this morally wrong, it would not serve its purpose. If nuclear scientists are killed, new ones will receive training, and take over research. Problems are always best settled head on, though that sometimes is not the easiest way. A band aid over the gaping wound that is Iran would do no one any good. MS

All of these comments came from college students.



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Torture on 24

My friend Jason sends along this article in The New Yorker about Joel Surnow, the co-creator of the television hit 24. The article is a little long, but it makes for interesting reading, especially when the author, Jane Mayer, talks about Surnow's youth.

Her main point in the essay, though, seems to be to challenge Surnow's use, and evident approval, of torture in the series. Lots of interrogation experts are trotted out to tut tut about the harmful effects the show is having on the attitudes of American youth and to offer their arguments for absolutizing a ban on torture.

Surnow is given the last word, however, and in the last paragraph I think he blows his critics' arguments right out of the water.

Torture for the purpose of amusing the torturer or punishing the victim is an absolute evil, but if there's a chance that innocent lives may be saved through the application of painful coercion to someone who withholds information that could save them, such coercion is morally justified, if not obligatory.

Anyone who finds this view offensive should put themselves in the place of a parent or spouse whose loved one is threatened with death. We've discussed this problem several times over the last couple of years and the interested reader might wish to check out some of our previous posts on the matter. This one is probably the best one to start with, but others here, here, and here might be helpful in making our position clear.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Sunday Editorial

I was invited to join a number of non-journalists in the York area who will be submitting columns to the local Sunday paper over the next year. My first contribution is on the Iraq war and borrowed from a post I had written some time ago for Viewpoint. It appeared in yesterday's paper:

Feb 11, 2007 - President Bush has taken much criticism, some of it deserved, for the way the post-war has played out in Iraq. Disillusionment with the Iraqis and the rules under which we operate there has led many to favor bringing our troops home as soon as logistically possible. The day may come when we decide to do that, but before the American public signs on to such a step we should understand clearly what withdrawal will entail.

One need not be a military expert to anticipate that the aftermath of an American pullout would likely include at least these seven consequences:

1. Sunni and Shia would be at each others' throats in a desperate civil war for political dominance. It would be a fight for survival because whoever prevails would surely oppress, if not utterly eliminate, the loser.

2. Iran would move into Iraq on behalf of the Shia and to settle old scores with the Iraqi Sunnis dating back to the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. They would doubtless annex the oil fields in the south. Meanwhile, pressure would mount on Sunni nations like Egypt and Saudi Arabia to come to the aid of their beleaguered brethren. Turkey would take advantage of the chaos to settle their chronic Kurdish problem by invading northern Iraq. Syria would be sorely tempted to grab some oil fields wherever it could. Iraq would get carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey among its neighbors and would be almost completely helpless to prevent it.

3. Al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations would exploit Iraq's weakness to establish training areas and safe havens in the country from which to launch terrorist attacks around the world.

4. Anyone who had collaborated with or cooperated with the coalition would be marked for torture and death by insurgent forces. This could amount to perhaps hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Iraqis.

5. The chaos of war and the rape of the country's resources would result in severe shortages of food, water, medical care, sanitation and electricity. Refugees would flood into neighboring states and subsist in squalid camps. Perhaps millions of Iraqis would starve or perish from disease if these conditions persisted more than a few months.

6. The United States would be thoroughly discredited and blamed for the misery and strife in Iraq because of our retreat. No nation would ever trust us again to honor a commitment. Pressure from their people would cause governments in Kuwait, Oman and Qatar to insist we abandon our bases there. Other Muslim nations, like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Indonesia, seeing that we are undependable partners in the war on terror, would ratchet back their cooperation. As the last American helicopter flees Baghdad, every Arab nation with enough money will begin looking for nuclear weapons to protect themselves from the Iranians. Nations like Libya, which had given up the quest for nuclear weapons, would feel safe to resume it.

7. Our lack of credibility in the region would embolden Israel's neighbors to settle the "Zionist problem" once and for all. Once we start pulling out of the Middle East, it would be psychologically impossible to reverse course and go back in. The enemies of Israel would see our withdrawal as presenting them with a golden opportunity to wipe Israel from the Earth, and the Israelis would probably resort to nuclear weapons to keep that from happening.

It may be, of course, that none of these things would occur. It may be that in the vacuum created by our absence the Shia and Sunni would turn their swords into plowshares and live amicably with each other.

It may be that other nations would not be at all tempted to grab what they can of Iraq's oil wealth.

It may be that al-Qaida feels content in the hills of Pakistan and wouldn't move in force into Iraq.

It may be that the insurgents would forgive and forget the collaboration of their fellow Iraqis with the infidels.

It may be that Israel's Arab neighbors would feel sorry for Israel in its isolated and vulnerable state and offer to make peace instead of war.

And it may be that the Second Coming will be tomorrow, but all of our experience tells us it probably won't be, and it is our experience which should inform our judgments and policies, especially our foreign policy.

The status quo in Iraq is certainly not acceptable, and we may soon decide that we've done enough there, but, if so, let us not delude ourselves by thinking we are doing something noble or moral by withdrawing. A premature exit would consign hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Iraqis to almost certain death and would earn us the contempt of history for our betrayal.

There is an opportunity to comment at the link.


Honoring a Hero

Those readers of a certain vintage will remember how the left vilified Ronald Reagan as a trigger happy cowboy who was, they insisted, the greatest threat to the world's existence ever to serve as a head of state. His resolve in refusing to bend to the Soviets' attempt to achieve military dominance in Europe, and his refusal to back down from his plan to place medium range Pershing missiles in Europe within striking distance of Moscow, drove the left into apoplexy.

So it is that those of us who thought his determination to gain peace through strength was the correct course and that his plan to drive the Soviet Union to collapse was absolutely necessary read this article at with particular satisfaction:

Opponents of Poland's former communist regime reportedly want to pay a posthumous homage to US President Ronald Reagan by erecting his statue in the place of a Soviet-era monument.

In an open letter to the mayor of the southwestern city of Katowice, the former anti-regime activists said that the staunchly anti-communist Reagan had been a "symbol of liberty," the Polish news agency PAP reported.

As a result, they said, he deserved to become the centrepiece of the city's Freedom Square, replacing a monument to the Soviet troops who drove out the occupying Nazis in 1945.

They also said that they wanted the site to be rebaptised "Ronald Reagan Freedom Square."

There are already separate plans to erect a statue in memory of Reagan in the centre of the Polish capital, Warsaw, which would be paid-for from private funds.

Reagan, who dubbed the Soviet Union an "evil empire," is widely credited by Poles with having driven communism to the wall.

The conservative Republican made fighting communism the cornerstone of his 1980-1988 presidency, and backed Poland's Solidarity trade union after it went underground when the regime declared martial law in 1981.

I was reminded the other day that while Reagan was working to dismantle the "evil empire," Sen. Ted Kennedy was trying to arrange a meeting with Soviet premier Yuri Andropov to discuss ways that Reagan could be undermined. Some things never change. One of them is the complete unwillingness of the left to stand up to any tyranny that is not allied to the United States.

Anyway, maybe a couple of decades from now Iraqis will be erecting statues of George Bush in Baghdad, Basra, and Mosul. Wouldn't that just drive the Bush-haters completely bonkers.


Unhappy People

One liberal at Daily Kos comes right out and says what a lot of them seem to think:

When pressed, I sometimes reply: "I don't hate America. In fact, think it's one of the best countries anyone ever stole." But, after the laughter dies down, I have a confession to make: If by "America" they mean the elected/appointed officials and the corporations that own them, well, I guess I do hate that America-with justification.

Among many reasons, I hate America for the near-extermination and subsequent oppression of its indigenous population. I hate it for its role in the African slave trade and for dropping atomic bombs on civilians. I hate its control of institutions like the United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organization. I hate it for propping up brutal dictators like Suharto, Pinochet, Duvalier, Hussein, Marcos, and the Shah of Iran. I hate America for its unconditional support for Israel. I hate its bogus two-party system, its one-size-fits-all culture, and its income gap. I could go on for pages but I'll sum up with this: I hate America for being a hypocritical white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

"I'm committed to fighting U.S. foreign policy, the greatest threat to peace and happiness in the world, and being in the United States is the best place for carrying out the battle. This is the belly of the beast, and I try to be an ulcer inside of it."

[N]o, I do not support the troops and yes, I hate what America does.

For the left it's always about what they hate. Very unhappy people, leftists.

HT: Hot Air


Saturday, February 10, 2007

Hoping for Peace, Preparing for War

The Guardian thinks that a strike against Iran, administration denials notwithstanding, will come this spring. The ostensible reason is Iran's nuclear weapons program and their repeated intention to use those weapons once they have them.

Vincent Cannistraro, a Washington-based intelligence analyst, shared the sources' assessment that Pentagon planning was well under way. "Planning is going on, in spite of public disavowals by Gates. Targets have been selected. For a bombing campaign against nuclear sites, it is quite advanced. The military assets to carry this out are being put in place."

He added: "We are planning for war. It is incredibly dangerous."

The bad guys in The Guardian scenario are the neo-cons at The American Enterprise Institute and in the Vice-President's office, including the Great Satan himself:

Neo-conservatives, particularly at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, are urging Mr Bush to open a new front against Iran. So too is the vice-president, Dick Cheney. The state department and the Pentagon are opposed, as are Democratic congressmen and the overwhelming majority of Republicans. The sources said Mr Bush had not yet made a decision. The Bush administration insists the military build-up is not offensive but aimed at containing Iran and forcing it to make diplomatic concessions. The aim is to persuade Tehran to curb its suspect nuclear weapons programme and abandon ambitions for regional expansion.

If another reason were needed surely this would qualify:

The most lethal weapon directed against American troops in Iraq is an explosive-packed cylinder that United States intelligence asserts is being supplied by Iran.

The assertion of an Iranian role in supplying the device to Shiite militias reflects broad agreement among American intelligence agencies, although officials acknowledge that the picture is not entirely complete.

Perhaps the picture is not complete because in recent weeks four American helicopters have been shot down in Iraq with missiles believed to have been supplied by Iran.

Iran is making it clear that they will nor desist from building nuclear bombs and they are doing all they can to kill Americans in Iraq. If diplomacy fails, which it often does, to persuade Iran to give up it's maniacal obsession with triggering Armageddon, what exactly do Bush's critics on the left suggest we do?

The question is important and must be answered now by every person who cares about this country and the world, so that we don't have any ex post facto Kerryesque declamations of having been against the action before one was for it.

The question boils down to this: Should we allow Iran to continue to do what they're doing or should we stop them? Those are the alternatives. Let's not have any flummery about "involving the world community," and other such evasions favored by politicians. Assume we explore every diplomatic strategy and Iran remains obdurate. Should we then resort to force?

Anyone who refuses to go on the record with a forthright answer to this question forfeits, in my mind, his or her right to be taken seriously in the coming debates.


Speaking Their Minds

This video is a shocker, at least to me. Not because the discussion was particularly compelling - it wasn't, in fact it was disappointing - but because of the makeup of the panel, which consisted of three Christians in the media, and most of all because it was on CNN.

This segment was actually the second part of a feature the first part of which presented two atheist couples who alleged having been persecuted because they were atheists, a charge I find a little hard to believe, actually.

Again, neither segment was very enlightening, both were, in fact, pretty shallow, but the fact that CNN would even air the second segment is noteworthy.


Hillary's Nightmare

This must keep Hillary Clinton awake at night:

Veterans of Al Gore's past are quietly assembling a campaign to draft the former vice president into the 2008 presidential race - despite his repeated statements that he's not running.

His top policy adviser from his 2000 presidential campaign and other key supporters met Thursday in Boston to mull a potential Gore campaign.

And, in the background, groups have been lobbying for Gore's return to presidential politics.

"He certainly has the right political climate. How many political candidates are being nominated for Nobel prizes and winning Oscars?" said Dylan Malone, co-founder of and organizer of a political action committee trying to draft Gore.

In 2002, Gore asked Malone to stop a draft effort he had begun; Malone did. Malone started up again and, so far, Gore hasn't waved him off.

"The difference is dramatic. His time has come," Malone said. "We're raising tens of thousands of dollars fairly easily. Our mailing lists are growing so quickly we have to buy new computers."

Now, if Republicans would persuade Newt Gingrich to join the fray we'd have a real contest between ideologies and ideas. Neither man is seen by their respective parties as perfect, but Al Gore is not a Kerryesque flip-flopper with his finger to the wind as Senator Clinton is. He has been nothing if not consistent in his left-wing positions. Hillary seems willing to say whatever she thinks she must to get the nomination and get elected.

Newt, on the other hand, has probably the brightest, most fertile, mind of any of the candidates in the race. He also has the virtue of being a fairly consistent conservative, a trait of which neither Rudy Guiliani nor John McCain can boast. Guiliani is a social liberal or libertarian and McCain is completely unpredictable.

A race between Gore and Gingrich would offer the voter a battle of ideas as classic as it is rare in our politics. It wouldn't be a test of who could fool the most people into thinking that they are what they're not. Gore tried that in 2000 and got burned, and it's doubtful that he'd make the same mistake again. It's too bad that neither man has indicated as yet that he will be a candidate.


Friday, February 9, 2007

Astonishing Power and Brilliance

Two galaxies similar to our own Milky Way collide in space. The collision would be catastrophic for any inhabitants of either of these galaxies:

Fortunately, contrary to popular conceptions about the existence of life in space and even the opinions of many scientists, there is reason to believe that of all the billions of galaxies in the universe and all the trillions of stars in those galaxies, sentient life probably exists near only one - our sun.

Some scoff at this notion. The universe is so incredibly vast and there are so many stars that some of them have to have planets like earth, they reason. But books like Ward and Brownlee's Rare Earth make a good case for the absolute uniqueness of earth as a suitable environment for higher life forms.

It may well be that no other galaxy, no other star, no other planet possesses the characteristics necessary to permit life to emerge and perdure. The entire universe in all of it's vastness may exist just so that we, the inhabitants of this tiny speck orbiting an average star, can. In other words, it's possible that the universe has to be as big as it is and as full of matter as it is in order for life to exist anywhere in it.

Assume that the conventional figure of about 14 billion years for the age of the universe is correct, and assume, too, that scientists pretty much correct about how stars are formed. Suppose further that the universe did, in fact, originate in a Big Bang.

Following this initial creation event the universe would have expanded rapidly. During that expansion stars were formed, lived for millions or billions of years, and then exploded like this star did:

While it lived the star was producing in its core many of the elements necessary for life. When it finally exploded many other elements were formed as well and all of them were spewed into space. Eventually, about 4.5 billion years ago, a small portion of this debris coalesced to form the earth and the rest of the planets in our solar system.

The whole time this process was going on the cosmos was expanding. Thus, life could arise on earth only after the necessary elements had been formed and only after billions of years of cosmic history had elapsed. The universe then, if this scenario is correct, has to be as old as it is, and thus as big as it is, in order for us to be here at all.

God could, of course, have created the universe complete in an instant, but if He chose to do it the way scientists think He did, what an extraordinarily extravagant act of creation He undertook just to eventually produce a world suitable for us to live in.

And what astonishing power and brilliance it must have taken.


Talking the Talk, Declining the Walk

Much is being made of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's request for access to a military jet to fly her, her staff and family to California on the weekends. The cost of the plane to taxpayers would be $300,000 round trip, and the plane she has requested would dump thousands of pounds more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the plane used by her predecessor, Dennis Hastert. It has also been pointed out that her ostensible reason for wanting the larger jet, the ability to fly non-stop without having to refuel and risk terrorist attacks in airports, makes no sense since any military jet would be refueling at air force bases.

To compound the embarrassment, her colleague in the House, John "offer me the bribe later" Murtha, reportedly threatened the Pentagon with budget cuts if Pelosi doesn't get her plane. Whatever the facts of the matter, this is not the first time Pelosi's claims to be a champion of the working class and the environment are out of phase with what she actually does.

For example, News Max offers some snippets from a book by Peter Schweizer titled Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy. One of the excerpts says this about Ms. Pelosi:

Pelosi claims to be a staunch union supporter, and along with her husband has received the Cesar Chavez award from the United Farm Workers Union, notes Schweizer.

Unions are, in her words, "fighting for America's working families" and battling "the union-busting, family-hurting" Bush administration. But Schweizer uncovered that a $25 million Northern California vineyard the Pelosis own is a non-union shop!

The congresswoman is the top recipient among members of Congress in campaign contributions from labor unions, and has received more money from the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union than any other member of Congress in the last several election cycles.

But in addition to the wine business, the Pelosis own a large stake in the exclusive Auberge du Soleil hotel in Rutherford, Calif. The hotel has more than 250 employees, but once again, Schweizer found, it is strictly a non-union shop.

The Pelosis are also partners in a restaurant chain called Piatti, which has 900 employees.

"But a union card is not required to work there bussing tables, washing dishes, serving guests or preparing food," Schweizer wrote in NewsMax Magazine.

"As with Auberge du Soleil, at Piatti the Pelosis' commitment to organized labor ends at the front door."

Pelosi has also demonstrated hypocrisy on the environment. "With us," she proclaims, "the environment is not an issue - it's an ethic. It's a value."

[But] One of her largest investments is a private partnership called Lions Gate Limited, which operates the CordeValle Golf Club and Resort in San Martin, Calif.

To get a permit to build the facility, the partners promised to build a "public course" providing considerable access to non-members, and to abide by several environmental requirements to ensure that there would be minimal ecological damage.

But after the facility opened, the county's Planning Commission found that the golf course was in fact private - and the club had "ignored" many of its permit requirements concerning the environment!

Perhaps, some of what she's upbraided for in this article is beyond her control, but I recall how the media crucified Newt Gingrich because he had asked to be able to deplane Air Force One at the front of the craft, but the Clinton people forced him to leave at the back. Newt felt he had been deliberately dissed by the Clinton staff and was reportedly a little miffed. Whether he really was or not, I don't know, but the media savaged him for days for what they said was childish pique and arrogant vanity. So what is the media saying about Nancy Pelosi's "arrogance"?


Tubing Downstream

Hillary Clinton doesn't need a weatherman to tell her which way the wind's blowing, just a couple of pollsters. NewsMax cites Thursday's lead editorial in the Wall Street Journal which chronicles Senator Clinton's shift on the war in Iraq. There's nothing wrong with changing one's mind as events unfold, of course, but Senator Clinton would have us all believe that her current position has been her position all along when, of course, it hasn't:

On October 10, 2002, Clinton spoke to the Senate in favor of a use-of-force resolution authorizing the invasion of Iraq, saying: "The facts that have brought us to this fateful vote are not in doubt."

On December 15, 2003, when it was clear there were no large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Clinton's support was unwavering. "I was one who supported giving President Bush the authority, if necessary, to use force," she told the Council on Foreign Relations. "We have no option but to stay involved and committed."

On April 20, 2004, Clinton told CNN's Larry King that she did not "regret giving the president the authority," noting that Saddam Hussein "had been a real problem for the international community for more than a decade."

In October 2005, amid growing anti-war sentiment, Clinton still told the Village Voice: "I don't believe it's smart to set a date for withdrawal . . . I don't think it's the right time to withdraw."

By November 2005, Hillary was softening her stance, saying in a letter to constituents: "If Congress had been asked [to authorize the war], based on what we know now, we never would have agreed."

On December 18, 2006, Clinton went even further, saying on the "Today" show: "I certainly wouldn't have voted that way."

On January 13 of this year, Clinton spoke from Baghdad about President Bush's call for a troop surge: "I don't know that the American people or the Congress at this point believe this mission can work."

On January 17, Clinton called for a cap on the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, and suggested withholding funds for the Iraqi government.

Finally, on January 27, Clinton hit the campaign trail in Iowa and demanded that the president "extricate our country from this before he leaves office."

Ms. Clinton went from the view that we have no option but to stay involved and committed in Iraq to the view that we have to get out as soon as possible. That's an odd way to remain committed. Her position on the war seems to track the opinion of the American people. Like someone floating down the river in an inner tube, she goes where the currents of popular opinion take her. That may be good politics, but it's lousy leadership.