Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Re: Absolute Evil

Byron offers some comments on our post titled Absolute Evil. You can read his thoughts on our Feedback page.


Paging Ray Bradbury

Of course not all Darwinians are childish, ignorant and officious, but this one, and a bunch of her commenters, sure are.

The woman, who calls herself Shandon, boasts about walking into a Barnes and Noble bookstore and taking it upon herself to remove Michael Behe's Edge of Evolution from the science section and placing it with religious fiction. This bit of callow Darwinian hilarity is evidently a big hit with a lot, but not all, of her readers.

I doubt very much that the self-righteous Shandon has taken the trouble to read any of the book she so glibly dismisses as religious fiction, but when you just know you're right, being intellectually fair is optional, and imposing your views on others is obligatory.

Maybe instead of "Shandon" she should have called herself "Montag" after the fireman in Fahrenheit 451 who burned books for a living.

HT: Denyse O'Leary.


The Skunk at the Garden Party

The first thing to understand is that this article was written by two members of the Brookings Institution (Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack) which is a very liberal think-tank, and their op-ed appeared yesterday in the New York Times, which is perhaps the most liberal mainstream newspaper in America.

The second thing to understand is that it sounds as if it were written by White House speech writers:

Viewed from Iraq, where we just spent eight days meeting with American and Iraqi military and civilian personnel, the political debate in Washington is surreal. The Bush administration has over four years lost essentially all credibility. Yet now the administration's critics, in part as a result, seem unaware of the significant changes taking place.

Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration's miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily "victory" but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

After the furnace-like heat, the first thing you notice when you land in Baghdad is the morale of our troops. In previous trips to Iraq we often found American troops angry and frustrated - many sensed they had the wrong strategy, were using the wrong tactics and were risking their lives in pursuit of an approach that could not work.

Today, morale is high. The soldiers and marines told us they feel that they now have a superb commander in Gen. David Petraeus; they are confident in his strategy, they see real results, and they feel now they have the numbers needed to make a real difference.

Everywhere, Army and Marine units were focused on securing the Iraqi population, working with Iraqi security units, creating new political and economic arrangements at the local level and providing basic services - electricity, fuel, clean water and sanitation - to the people. Yet in each place, operations had been appropriately tailored to the specific needs of the community. As a result, civilian fatality rates are down roughly a third since the surge began - though they remain very high, underscoring how much more still needs to be done.

In Ramadi, for example, we talked with an outstanding Marine captain whose company was living in harmony in a complex with a (largely Sunni) Iraqi police company and a (largely Shiite) Iraqi Army unit. He and his men had built an Arab-style living room, where he met with the local Sunni sheiks - all formerly allies of Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups - who were now competing to secure his friendship.

In Baghdad's Ghazaliya neighborhood, which has seen some of the worst sectarian combat, we walked a street slowly coming back to life with stores and shoppers. The Sunni residents were unhappy with the nearby police checkpoint, where Shiite officers reportedly abused them, but they seemed genuinely happy with the American soldiers and a mostly Kurdish Iraqi Army company patrolling the street. The local Sunni militia even had agreed to confine itself to its compound once the Americans and Iraqi units arrived.

We traveled to the northern cities of Tal Afar and Mosul. This is an ethnically rich area, with large numbers of Sunni Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens. American troop levels in both cities now number only in the hundreds because the Iraqis have stepped up to the plate. Reliable police officers man the checkpoints in the cities, while Iraqi Army troops cover the countryside. A local mayor told us his greatest fear was an overly rapid American departure from Iraq. All across the country, the dependability of Iraqi security forces over the long term remains a major question mark.

But for now, things look much better than before. American advisers told us that many of the corrupt and sectarian Iraqi commanders who once infested the force have been removed. The American high command assesses that more than three-quarters of the Iraqi Army battalion commanders in Baghdad are now reliable partners (at least for as long as American forces remain in Iraq).

In addition, far more Iraqi units are well integrated in terms of ethnicity and religion. The Iraqi Army's highly effective Third Infantry Division started out as overwhelmingly Kurdish in 2005. Today, it is 45 percent Shiite, 28 percent Kurdish, and 27 percent Sunni Arab.

In the past, few Iraqi units could do more than provide a few "jundis" (soldiers) to put a thin Iraqi face on largely American operations. Today, in only a few sectors did we find American commanders complaining that their Iraqi formations were useless - something that was the rule, not the exception, on a previous trip to Iraq in late 2005.

The additional American military formations brought in as part of the surge, General Petraeus's determination to hold areas until they are truly secure before redeploying units, and the increasing competence of the Iraqis has had another critical effect: no more whack-a-mole, with insurgents popping back up after the Americans leave.

In war, sometimes it's important to pick the right adversary, and in Iraq we seem to have done so. A major factor in the sudden change in American fortunes has been the outpouring of popular animus against Al Qaeda and other Salafist groups, as well as (to a lesser extent) against Moktada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army.

These groups have tried to impose Shariah law, brutalized average Iraqis to keep them in line, killed important local leaders and seized young women to marry off to their loyalists. The result has been that in the last six months Iraqis have begun to turn on the extremists and turn to the Americans for security and help. The most important and best-known example of this is in Anbar Province, which in less than six months has gone from the worst part of Iraq to the best (outside the Kurdish areas). Today the Sunni sheiks there are close to crippling Al Qaeda and its Salafist allies. Just a few months ago, American marines were fighting for every yard of Ramadi; last week we strolled down its streets without body armor.

Another surprise was how well the coalition's new Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams are working. Wherever we found a fully staffed team, we also found local Iraqi leaders and businessmen cooperating with it to revive the local economy and build new political structures. Although much more needs to be done to create jobs, a new emphasis on microloans and small-scale projects was having some success where the previous aid programs often built white elephants.

In some places where we have failed to provide the civilian manpower to fill out the reconstruction teams, the surge has still allowed the military to fashion its own advisory groups from battalion, brigade and division staffs. We talked to dozens of military officers who before the war had known little about governance or business but were now ably immersing themselves in projects to provide the average Iraqi with a decent life.

Outside Baghdad, one of the biggest factors in the progress so far has been the efforts to decentralize power to the provinces and local governments. But more must be done. For example, the Iraqi National Police, which are controlled by the Interior Ministry, remain mostly a disaster. In response, many towns and neighborhoods are standing up local police forces, which generally prove more effective, less corrupt and less sectarian. The coalition has to force the warlords in Baghdad to allow the creation of neutral security forces beyond their control.

In the end, the situation in Iraq remains grave. In particular, we still face huge hurdles on the political front. Iraqi politicians of all stripes continue to dawdle and maneuver for position against one another when major steps towards reconciliation - or at least accommodation - are needed. This cannot continue indefinitely. Otherwise, once we begin to downsize, important communities may not feel committed to the status quo, and Iraqi security forces may splinter along ethnic and religious lines.

How much longer should American troops keep fighting and dying to build a new Iraq while Iraqi leaders fail to do their part? And how much longer can we wear down our forces in this mission? These haunting questions underscore the reality that the surge cannot go on forever. But there is enough good happening on the battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008.

Well, Senator Reid, what do you say to that? The distinguished gentleman and many of his Democratic colleagues have just been telling us in the last couple of weeks that the war is lost, the surge isn't working, Iraq is in chaos, and that we must pull out ASAP. Surely, though, the Democrats know what the writers of this column know. Why then, have the Dems been saying what they have? Why put the worst possible construction on things? Could it be that they're actually willing to risk the lives and well-being of millions of Iraqis for short-term political advantage? Let's honestly hope not, but how else do we explain their behavior?

Of course, nothing in the op-ed is news to those who've been following developments in Iraq (or reading Viewpoint), but like a skunk at the Democratic garden party, it'll certainly send a lot of The Last Helicopter crowd scurrying for cover. It'll also pull a few wayward Republicans back from the brink of rebelling against the President's effort to make the surge work in Iraq, and it will earn O'Hanlon and Pollack the undying hostility and hatred of their erstwhile comrades in the left-wing blogosphere.

See here for updates and video.


Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007)

Master filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, one of the greatest artists in cinema history, died yesterday at his home on an island off the coast of Sweden. He was 89.

Bergman made two of my favorite films: The Seventh Seal (1957) and Winter Light (1962), both of which featured Gunnar Bjornstrand and Max von Sydow. The Seventh Seal is about a knight (von Sydow) and his squire (Bjornstrand) returning home from the crusades. Along their journey several philosophical and theological perplexities, especially the problems of death and evil, receive fascinating attention. Most engrossing is the psychological struggle between the knight and the angel of death.

Winter Light is about a Lutheran pastor (Bjornstrand) who has lost his faith after the death of his wife. Bergman does a wonderful job of depicting the sterility of the European state church whose Christianity is merely a formality. The dialogue in Winter Light is as moving as it is spare. Two soliloquies, one by the pastor's girlfriend and the other by the church sexton, are simply riveting.

Every thoughtful, intelligent person should watch these two films and discuss them with their friends. There are very few movie-makers who pack as much meaning onto celluloid as did Bergman in these two works.


Monday, July 30, 2007

Olby's on the Case

Left-wing media icon Keith Olberman offers some possible reasons why the administration hasn't been completely forthcoming on the death of army ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan. With about three minutes left in the video Olberman throws this out to his listening audience:

"Cpl. Tillman held a number of personal views that were unpopular within the context of the Bush administration, perhaps also within the army. He reportedly favored John Kerry...We know he opposed the invasion of Iraq, he thought it illegal. He had plans to meet with Noam Chomsky...."

Let's see, in Olberman's world the military may have covered up a soldier's death because he voted for John Kerry and planned to visit with Noam Chomsky. Makes sense to us.

Heck, maybe Bush even put the contract out on Tillman because the former NFL player thought invading Iraq was illegal. We wouldn't be surprised if such a nefarious deed was instigated by the White House, and neither, of course, would Olberman. After all, they outed Valerie Plame, didn't they? They spy on terrorist phone calls don't they?

Keep after 'em, Keith. We think there's something really stinky here - especially that visit to Chomsky business. If that's not a motive for having a guy whacked, what is?



Here's another story of a man who would probably be dead today if those who wish to take away a citizen's right to self-defense have their way:

An elderly man beaten unconscious by an assailant wielding a soda can awoke and shot the man during an attempted robbery, police said.

Willie Lee Hill, 93, told police he saw the robber while in his bedroom Wednesday night. Hill confronted the man and was struck at least 50 times, police said. He was knocked unconscious.

Covered in blood, Hill regained consciousness a short time later and pulled a .38-caliber handgun on his attacker. The suspect, Douglas B. Williams Jr., saw the gun and charged the man, who fired a bullet that struck Williams in the throat, police said.

"I got what I deserved," Williams, 24, told police when they arrived, officers said. Investigators reported finding, among other items, a Craftsman drill bit set, three pocket knives and two hearing aids inside his pockets.

Actually, Mr. Williams didn't get what he deserved. What he deserved was for the bullet to have hit him a couple of inches higher. Nevertheless, Mr. Hill is alive today because he had a weapon at hand. There's a lesson in that for those who would take that right away if they could.


American Dhimmis

You can burn the American flag. You can spit on the Bible. You can put a crucifix in a jar of urine. You can throw dung on a picture of the Virgin Mary. You can say that the 9/11 victims deserved it. All of that is free expression and art. But don't you dare throw the Koran into the commode. That's a hate crime:

A 23-year-old man was arrested Friday on hate-crime charges after he threw a Quran in a toilet at Pace University on two separate occasions, police said.

Stanislav Shmulevich of Brooklyn was arrested on charges of criminal mischief and aggravated harassment, both hate crimes, police said. It was unclear if he was a student at the school. A message left at the Shmulevich home was not immediately returned.

The Islamic holy book was found in a toilet at Pace's lower Manhattan campus by a teacher on Oct. 13. A student discovered another book in a toilet on Nov. 21, police said.

Muslim activists had called on Pace University to crack down on hate crimes after the incidents. As a result, the university said it would offer sensitivity training to its students.

So now it's not just rude, boorish, disrespectful or insensitive to treat with contempt that which others revere, it's also against the law. But only, evidently, if the others are Muslims. You're still free in the U.S. to treat that which is sacred to Christians and anybody else with as much contempt as you like. The government, which is not supposed to show any favoritism among religions, certainly has decided, in New York, at least, to favor Islam.

And at Pace University the line of academics queuing up to kiss the feet of the closest Muslim is already several city blocks long.


Saturday, July 28, 2007

State of Aphasia

President George Bush (sort of) gives the State of the Union address. The guy has the President down pretty well, unfortunately.


Packing the Court

Jean Edward Smith is upset that the Supreme Court has entered a "political thicket" (i.e. it's rulings are not such as Mr. Smith approves). His solution, offered in a New York Times op-ed piece, is to expand the Court's size to ten or eleven Justices so that a more liberal president could change the Court's direction without having to wait for resignations, retirements or deaths.

This is a variation on the standard liberal reaction to a stymied agenda. When the representatives of the people are not with you, then resort to the courts. If the courts are not with you then change the courts until they are. This was FDR's strategy in the 1930's, and Mr. Smith believes it has again become necessary today.

He tacitly recognizes that the vacuousness of liberal ideas persuades only the true-believers, thus those ideas, if they are to prevail, must be imposed by judicial fiat. This proposal amounts, of course, to an abrogation of representative democracy and the implementation of a judicial oligarchy.

Perhaps the biggest irony in Smith's suggestion is that he calls Roosevelt's effort to get a Court more amenable to his policies a "scheme," a "subterfuge," and "chicanery." Yet he's forthrightly proposing that the Democrats do precisely the same thing that Roosevelt did:

Roosevelt's convoluted scheme fooled no one and ultimately sank under its own weight.

Roosevelt claimed the justices were too old to keep up with the workload, and urged that for every justice who reached the age of 70 and did not retire within six months, the president should be able to appoint a younger justice to help out. Six of the Supreme Court justices in 1937 were older than 70. But the court was not behind in its docket, and Roosevelt's subterfuge was exposed. In the Senate, the president could muster only 20 supporters.

Still, there is nothing sacrosanct about having nine justices on the Supreme Court. Roosevelt's 1937 chicanery has given court-packing a bad name, but it is a hallowed American political tradition participated in by Republicans and Democrats alike.

If the current five-man majority persists in thumbing its nose at popular values, the election of a Democratic president and Congress could provide a corrective. It requires only a majority vote in both houses to add a justice or two. Chief Justice John Roberts and his conservative colleagues might do well to bear in mind that the roll call of presidents who have used this option includes not just Roosevelt but also Adams, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln and Grant.

It would be interesting to ask Mr. Smith precisely which "popular values" are being nose-thumbed by the present court. I doubt that he could answer that question. In other words, his justification for packing the Court is weaker even than FDR's

Anyway, can you imagine the caterwauling that would be echoing through the liberal press, including the NYT, if Republicans had suggested doing what Mr. Smith advises when they still controlled the Congress? Their outrage would have been volcanic.


The Clock Is Ticking

NewsMax is reporting that:

The U.S. is retrofitting its B-2 Stealth bombers with massive bunker-buster bombs - a move that could be a prelude to an attack on Iran and its nuclear facilities.

Iran has refused to comply with international demands that it stop its nuclear weapons programs.

Experts have noted that a U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear program could be difficult due to the large number of installations - some of which are buried deep underground in hardened bunkers.

Northrop Grumman announced last week in a little noticed release that the company had begun integrating on the B-2's a new 30,000-pound-class "penetrator bomb" or bunker buster.

"The U.S. Air Force's B-2 Stealth bomber would be able to attack and destroy an expanded set of hardened, deeply buried military targets" using the monster bunker buster, the company said in its release.

The new Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), which is being developed by the Boeing Co., is a GPS-guided weapon containing more than 5,300 pounds of conventional explosives inside a 20.5-foot-long enclosure of hardened steel. It is designed to penetrate dirt, rock and reinforced concrete to reach enemy bunker or tunnel installations.

The B-2 is capable of carrying two MOPs, one in each weapons bay.

Taken together with the fact that there are now, or soon will be, four carrier battle groups in the waters within striking distance of Iran, one gets the feeling that Ahmadinejad doesn't have much time left. The clock is ticking and he must either change the course of his support for global terrorism and his determination to build nuclear weapons with which to strike Israel and, ultimately, the U.S. or it looks like there will be war.


Friday, July 27, 2007

How Much Brain Do We Need?

The conventional wisdom is that brain injury unavoidably results in impairment, but Denyse O'Leary has a post up that strongly suggests that this is not necessarily so. I don't know if the inferences she draws from the data are warranted or not (She thinks the evidence she discusses refutes materialism by demonstrating that the mind and the brain are different entities), but it's fascinating reading nonetheless.


Absolute Evil

I am at a loss for words to describe the savagery of people who would kill their own daughter because she left a forced marriage:

A Kurdish woman was brutally raped, stamped on and strangled by members of her family and their friends in an "honor killing" carried out at her London home because she had fallen in love with the wrong man.

Banaz Mahmod, 20, was subjected to the 2-1/2 hour ordeal before she was garroted with a bootlace. Her body was stuffed into a suitcase and taken about 100 miles to Birmingham where it was buried in the back garden of a house.

Last month a jury found her father Mahmod Mahmod, 52, and his brother Ari Mahmod, 51, guilty of murder after a three-month trial. Their associate Mohamad Hama, 30, had earlier admitted killing her.

They believed Banaz had brought shame on the family by leaving her husband, an Iraqi Kurd she had been forced to marry at 17, and falling in love with Rahmat Suleimani, an Iranian Kurd.

Her former unnamed partner had raped her as well as repeatedly beating her, the court heard.

Hama, who prosecutors said had been a ringleader in the murder, was caught by listening devices talking to a friend in prison about the murder.

In the recordings, transcripts of which were relayed to the court, Hama and his friend are heard laughing as he described how she was killed with Banaz's uncle "supervising".

"I was kicking and stamping on her neck to get the soul out. I saw her stark naked, only wearing pants or underwear," Hama is recorded as saying.

There are terribly brutal murders in the United States all the time, to be sure, and Americans must recognize that we live in a diseased culture. Even so, we have not yet descended to the place where whole families laugh at torturing and killing a daughter because she has embarrassed them by leaving a marriage she had no say about in the first place.

And where are the feminists who have over the years repeatedly condemned the White House for denying funding for abortions in third world countries because that denial allegedly oppresses women? Where is their outrage at a culture that treats women as lower than dogs? Why are they silent?


Military Update

Here's a good update from Bill Roggio on military progress in Iraq. Also check out this site for information on Iraq that the lefties don't want you to have. As the summer wears on there has been a subtle shift in the news from that forlorn region. It seems clear that the coalition forces are gaining momentum and that as long as the voices of defeat and retreat in the media and Congress are not allowed to prevail, there is reason to be confident that the situation on the ground will be considerably improved, especially in Baghdad, by October.

We can save Iraq and effect a monumental change in the direction of history but only if we ignore the negativism of those who fear the loss of their own credibility and political power more than they fear the impact defeat would have on the future of our nation.

Some will ask how many lives we should be willing to sacrifice to bring stability to that region. My answer is that the stakes are so high that we should heed the words of John Kennedy at his inaugural about paying any price and bearing any burden. The cost of fighting in Iraq is high, but the cost of surrender would be astronomical. It's not the Iraqis for whom we fight, although they certainly benefit, but for the entire world and especially for ourselves.

We have lost 632 Americans in Iraq so far this year. That is a terrible price, but it doesn't follow that we should therefore abandon that mission. Two hundred thirty two Americans have been murdered in one city alone so far this year - Philadelphia, and the media shrugs, perhaps because Philadelphia is run by their party.

It may add a little perspective to note that more Pennsylvanians have been killed this year in almost every city in that state than have been killed in the entire country of Iraq. And I'm sure this is true for just about every state in the U.S.

In any event, casualties must be measured against the stakes, and the stakes in Iraq couldn't be higher.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

General Patton Speaks

Jason links us to Mike Kaminski doing an updated George C. Scott doing General George Patton from the movie "Patton." It's pretty good but the Last Helicopter crowd won't like it.


A Man in Full

"We have a lot of work to do. The president already has the mark of the American people - he's the worst president we ever had. I don't think we need a censure resolution in the Senate to prove that." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Perhaps not but you at least need an argument, and the senator, of course, offers us none. Reid, who has led a congress whose approval ratings have sunk to less than half of those of President Bush, is like the skunk criticizing the horse because he smells. The fact of the matter is that George Bush is far from the worst president in history (worse than Kennedy? Johnson? Nixon? Carter?) and may even turn out to be one of the best. Harry Reid, however, will be forgotten the day he leaves office.

Bill Kristol makes the case that we've been making, only not so well as he, for the fact that history will view George Bush's presidency much differently than current approval ratings would indicate. There are still two years to go, but Bush is on track to be regarded as a successful, perhaps even outstanding, president.

Those who get their opinions from the MSM, the opposition journals or Senator Reid will recoil from such a claim in shock, but I think it's true.

Here's part of what I wrote in October of 2005. I think it still holds today:

The economy is growing steadily. Note that the Democrats rarely refer to the economy anymore by way of criticizing the president. Yet our economic health is the most crucial issue, as the Dems insisted in 1992, in determining which party will prevail in an election. If the Democrats could use our economic condition against Bush they would be doing it, but they can't so they aren't. If the economy continues to grow - and with gas prices falling to less extortionist levels there's reason for optimism in this regard - the public will forget the troubles of the last two or three months like one forgets a dream upon waking.

Iraq seems to be progressing steadily toward a historically unprecedented Arab democracy. Despite the steady drizzle of left-wing criticism and negativity, Bush's strategy in Iraq might well ultimately succeed. It's still unclear if it will, of course, but if it does, history will hail his effort, and that of our military, as an astonishing political, strategic, and human rights achievement, perhaps the greatest that any president or world leader ever accomplished. Success in Iraq will reverberate and ramify throughout the entire region and around the globe for generations. It's very difficult to overstate the significance and importance of such a consummation.

With the withdrawal of Harriet Miers the president has been given an unusual second chance to appoint someone of the very finest timber to the Supreme Court. Miers may have been a good appointment, but there was cause for serious skepticism. Mr. Bush can now name someone about whom there is no doubt. Another conservative justice in the mold of Antonin Scalia, as we were promised in the campaign, and the legal course of this country could be altered for the good for the next thirty to fifty years. Such a nomination would also unify the president's base and make him much more politically formidable.

Assuming there are no further indictments, the Scooter Libby affair will scarcely register on the historical record. On the other hand, it could serve, as did Katrina, as a prod to rouse the administration from complacency. There are signs that this is already happening. We're beginning to hear noises about getting the budget and our borders under control. Success breeds success. If the administration recovers its legislative momentum it may even try again to reform social security. If by 2008 just some of these things are happening, or at least appear to be under way, George Bush, to the everlasting chagrin of the portside media, will be regarded as surpassing even Ronald Reagan and FDR.

This is not to say that the President hasn't tried to undo the legacy he's building. His immigration reform proposal was awful, but it lost and will consequently be forgotten, just like the Harriet Miers fiasco has been forgotten now that Samuel Alito is on the Supreme Court, if real reform is eventually enacted.

Add to all this the failure, so far, of terrorists to strike again within our borders and the fact that European elections have thrust into office in both France and Germany leaders much more compatible with Bush than their predecessors and all, or many, of the ingredients necessary to be regarded as a successful president are in the pot.

If it should happen that Bush's presidency comes to be highly regarded Harry Reid will probably have to be carried out of the Senate in a straight jacket, twitching and muttering, like Inspector Dreyfus in the old Pink Panther movies.



The New York Times asks just who is the "Baghdad Diarist"? Is he legit or is The New Republic, and its readers, being scammed again? Here's the NYT story:

It is a question that many people are asking The New Republic, the Washington political magazine that has been running articles attributed to an American soldier in Baghdad.

The author, who used the pen name Scott Thomas, has written three articles for the magazine since February, describing gruesome incidents in Iraq. Last week, The Weekly Standard questioned the veracity of The New Republic articles and invited readers with knowledge about the military or Baghdad to comment.

Since then, several readers and a spokesman for the base where the soldier is supposedly based have written in, raising more questions.

"Absolutely every piece of information that's come out since we put that call up has cast further doubt on that story," said Michael Goldfarb, the online editor of The Weekly Standard. "There's not a single person that has come forward and said, 'It sounds plausible.'"

Franklin Foer, the editor of The New Republic, will not reveal the author's identity but says the magazine is investigating the accuracy of his articles. In the late 1990s, under different editors, the magazine fired an associate editor, Stephen Glass, for fabrications.

The diaries have described some shocking incidents of military life, including soldiers openly mocking a disfigured woman on their base and a private wearing a found piece of a child's skull under his helmet.

The magazine granted anonymity to the writer to keep him from being punished by his military superiors and to allow him to write candidly, Mr. Foer said. He said that he had met the writer and that he knows that he is, in fact, a soldier.

It will be interesting to see if the liberal press has once again fallen victim to their own preconceptions, prejudices and wishful thinking. When you just know that our soldiers are cruel and callous killers then reports which confirm what you already know just have to be true. We'll see.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Update on Killing Christians

The Taliban have executed one of the twenty three Korean hostages they've been holding. In so doing they show the world once again the contrast between modern Islam (which is actually pretty primitive) and modern Christianity.

Pastor Bae Hyung-kyu (on the right in the photo below), following Christian tenets to their logical conclusion, traveled to Afghanistan to serve the Afghan people in any way he could. The Taliban, following Islamic tenets to their logical conclusion, show themselves to be blood-thirsty savages, reminiscent of J.R.R.Tolkien's orcs, for whom killing is a pastime. A more pellucid picture of the contrast between good and evil would be hard to imagine.

The next time Muslims go off in a frenzy over cartoons that they say make Muslims look bad someone should ask them how fiercely they protested the murder of Bae Hyung-kyu. My guess is they'll just make excuses for it.


Killing Christians? (Yawn)

Here in the U.S. you may not have heard about these unfortunate people:

They are twenty three Korean Christians who went to Afghanistan to work in hospitals and among the poor who have been kidnapped by the Taliban and threatened with beheading unless the Afghan government releases a bunch of terrorists.

As Bryan at Hot Air says:

It's hard to find a more stark contrast than that between the way members of two of the world's great religions are behaving in this ordeal. The South Koreans left their safe country and traveled to Afghanistan to work in hospitals among the country's outcasts; the Taliban captured them at gunpoint and are threatening to behead them in order to gain concessions from the Afghan government en route to recapturing power in that country.

These Koreans are living out the Christian faith in ways most of us can't and won't live up to. The Talibanis are unfortunately living up to their faith in a way that's become all too common.

Bryan tells us this is the lead story around much of the world, but in the States Muslims threatening Christians with death is apparently not newsworthy. Do you suppose that's because the perpetrators are Muslims behaving as we've come to expect of Muslims or is it because the victims are Christians and therefore not deemed worthy of media concern? I wonder what our media's reaction would be to the story if the hostages were, say, twenty three French physicians from Doctors Without Frontiers.


Do's and Don'ts

P.Z.(Zarathustra) Myers gave a talk to a group of Minnesota atheists last Sunday on the topic of a materialist view of mind and soul - to wit, that there aren't any such things. Michael Engor has some fun with it here. Check it out if you're interested in neuroscience and the mind/matter debate. It's funny stuff.


Immunity for John Doe

Buried deep in a Washington Post article on the Homeland Security bill which a Senate/House conference committee reached tentative agreement on was this piece of very welcome news:

The last obstacle was cleared when negotiators crafted language to satisfy a Republican demand giving immunity from lawsuits to people who report suspicious behavior. The issue grew out of an incident last fall where six Muslim scholars were removed from a flight in Minneapolis after other passengers said they were acting suspiciously. The imams have since filed a lawsuit, saying their civil rights were violated.

Apparently the Democrats realized that by continuing to oppose this provision they were grasping a political high voltage wire. Let's hope the provision makes it into the final draft of the bill, especially in light of this:

Airport security officers around the nation have been alerted by federal officials to look out for terrorists practicing to carry explosive components onto aircraft, based on four curious seizures at airports since last September:

San Diego, July 7. A U.S. person either a citizen or a foreigner legally here checked baggage containing two ice packs covered in duct tape. The ice packs had clay inside them rather than the normal blue gel.

Milwaukee, June 4. A U.S. person's carry-on baggage contained wire coil wrapped around a possible initiator, an electrical switch, batteries, three tubes and two blocks of cheese. The bulletin said block cheese has a consistency similar to some explosives.

Houston, Nov. 8, 2006. A U.S. person's checked baggage contained a plastic bag with a 9-volt battery, wires, a block of brown clay-like minerals and pipes.

Baltimore, Sept. 16, 2006. A couple's checked baggage contained a plastic bag with a block of processed cheese taped to another plastic bag holding a cellular phone charger.

Indeed, this all does sound awfully suspicious, but we wonder: If a passenger had spotted something like this and report it to the authorities, when in fact there was nothing to it, how many Democrats would favor suing the person who reported it?

We also wonder if there was something left out of the above reports. Might there have been another common factor in these episodes? Well, I don't know what, exactly, - maybe ethnicity and religion? Is there some reason why those facts have been omitted? Are they entirely irrelevant?Are we supposed to pretend that terrorists don't fit a profile in order to demonstrate what broad-minded and tolerant people we all are?


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Turing Test and the Chinese Room

Materialists have a difficult time fitting human consciousness into their worldview, because consciousness is a phenomenon which defies material explanation.

How does it happen that mere matter can produce qualia (e.g. the sensation of red or the taste of sweet)? How does matter produce a belief, a value, a doubt, gratitude, regret, or disappointment? How does material substance produce forgiveness, resentment, or wishes, hopes, and desires? How does it appreciate (e.g. beauty, music, or a book). How does it want, worry, have intentions, or understand something? How does matter come to be aware of itself and its surroundings? These are vexing questions for a materialist view of the world, yet some materialist philosophers remain unmoved by them.

Someday, they believe, computers will be able to do all that human minds can do and then we'll have a denotative example of how matter can produce the phenomena of consciousness. Indeed 57 years ago Alan Turing suggested a test for consciousness in a machine. In the Turing test, an investigator would interact with both a person and a machine, but would be blindfolded so that he did not know ahead of time which was which. If, after interacting with both of them, the investigator still couldn't tell which was the person and which was the machine, it would be reasonable to conclude that the machine, for all intents and purposes, was just as "conscious" as the person.

Proponents of Artificial Intelligence (AI) are confident that the day when the Turing test can actually be carried out is not far off, but many other philosophers are skeptical. Just because a computer can give the same answers to various questions as a person would doesn't mean that the computer experiences what the person experiences.

Philosopher John Searle illustrates the problem that AI faces with a thought experiment he published in 1980 that he calls "the Chinese Room:"

Imagine a native English speaker who knows no Chinese locked in a room full of boxes of Chinese symbols (a data base) together with a book of instructions for manipulating the symbols (the program). Imagine that people outside the room send in other Chinese symbols which, unknown to the person in the room, are questions in Chinese (the input). And imagine that by following the instructions in the book the man in the room is able to pass out Chinese symbols which are correct answers to the questions (the output). The program enables the person in the room to pass the Turing Test for understanding Chinese but he does not understand a word of Chinese.

Searle goes on to say, "The point of the argument is this: if the man in the room does not understand Chinese on the basis of implementing the appropriate program for understanding Chinese then neither does any other digital computer solely on that basis because no computer, qua computer, has anything the man does not have."

In other words, human minds understand, they feel and experience, computers do not. Minds, whatever they are, are conscious. Machines are not.

So the big questions are, what exactly is consciousness and where did it come from? The materialist answer is simply to deny that consciousness exists. That seems a little counter-intuitive.


Summer in the City

Journalist Michael Totten tells us what it's like being in Iraq in the summer. It sounds oppressive, but one of the points he makes in a somewhat incidental fashion drew my attention:

After having spent several days Baghdad's Green Zone and Red Zone, I still haven't heard or seen any explosions. It's a peculiar war. It is almost a not-war. Last July's war in Northern Israel and Southern Lebanon was hundreds of times more violent and terrifying than this one. Explosions on both sides of the Lebanese-Israeli border were constant when I was there.

You'd think explosions and gunfire define Iraq if you look at this country from far away on the news. They do not. The media is a total distortion machine. Certain areas are still extremely violent, but the country as a whole is defined by heat, not war, at least in the summer. It is Iraq's most singular characteristic. I dread going outside because it's hot, not because I'm afraid I will get hurt...

...Baghdad is gigantic and sprawling. It looks much less ramshackle from the air than I expected. Individual cities-within-a-city are home to millions of people all by themselves. The sheer enormity of the place puts the almost daily car bomb attacks into perspective. The odds that you personally will be anywhere near the next car bomb or IED are microscopic.

It doesn't sound nearly as chaotic in Baghdad as Harry Reid and the other cut and runners in Congress make it out to be, does it? By September it may very well seem even less so. Will the Democrats still be calling for withdrawal if it looks like we're winning? We'll learn much about their character if and when this question is answered.


Hate Speech

Some Hispanic spokespersons are pulling out one of the favorite plays in the leftist playbook: Smear those who disagree with you with the label "haters." Don't worry about evidence, the allegation itself carries all the power. Trying to build a case for the smear only weakens its force since evidence is almost always lacking anyway. Just call the opposition "haters" and the uncritical masses will swarm to your side.

The tactic is blatant demagoguery, but when evidence is not on your side, when reason is not on your side, demagoguery is often all you have and it often works:

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. - The nation's largest Hispanic advocacy group says it must come up with a strategy to combat "a wave of hate" its leaders say came from talk radio's efforts to sink the Senate's immigration bill.

"That had an extraordinary impact in the Senate, and as a nation, I don't think we should be comfortable with the fact that the United States Senate responded to what was largely a wave of hate," Cecilia Munoz, the National Council of La Raza's senior vice president for research, advocacy and legislation, told The Washington Times after meeting with NCLR affiliates to talk about a new strategy.

According to Ms. Munoz, it's "hatred" to want to control our borders, to limit who can come in, and to believe that we cannot afford to subsidize millions of poor immigrants. It's hatred to want the United States to be able to assimilate its immigrants and not to be a dumping ground for corrupt, dysfunctional states like Mexico. Ms Munoz's rhetoric is either dishonest or stupid.

I have a couple of questions for Ms Munoz and for anyone who agrees with her that opposing open borders is an act of hate. Is it hate that causes people, including probably Ms Munoz, to lock the doors to their homes or to build a fence around their property? Is it a sign of hate that people live in gated communities in retirement villages? Is it a sign of hate that people want to control who wanders into their home to avail themselves of kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom? If an indigent family in Miami were to walk into Ms Munoz home, raid the refrigerator, refuse to leave, and demand that she allow their relatives to join them, and demand that she pay their education, food and medical bills, would she call the police? Would it be "hate" if she did?

I doubt that many people would see any of this as a sign of hate, but our country is our home writ large. Just as we have a right, indeed a duty, to exercise control over who comes into our home we have a right and a duty to exercise control over who comes into our country. For Ms Munoz to claim that those who call upon Congress to effecetively exercise that right are engaging in hate talk is frivolous and asinine.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Thus Spake Zarathustra

The anti-theistic Darwinian P.Z. Myers condescends to come down from Mt. Olympus to help benighted souls languishing in ignorance discover the truth. How can we ever repay his selflessness:

There was an immense amount of speculation about my motives [for trashing theists]. People were arguing about whether this helps the cause of atheism, whether it hurts the cause of science education, whether it's all part of my plan to rally the godless to my uncompromising, invigorating banner, yadda yadda yadda. I hate to tell you all this, but in all the guesswork, no one, not even those sympathetic to me, got the right answer, except for Revere. The explanation is very, very simple, and you're going to kick yourself when I say it.

I said it because it was true.

There is no god, or to say it in the most optimistic and sensitive way possible for a rational person, there is absolutely no evidence for a god. In particular, there is no sensible support for the multitude of peculiar doctrinal, dogmatic, and delusional weirdnesses documented in this (much better) map. You've got crazy-ass megalomaniacal evangelical kooks telling people to hate their gay/muslim/hindu/godless/female/evolutionist neighbors, you've got mobs believing them, you've got people electing presidents on the basis of how fanatically they will wage a crusade, and you've got even more swooning with the vapors at anyone who criticizes religious belief. Religion makes you nuts. It makes ordinary people identify with invisible spirits, it turns them into caterwauling flibbertigibbet idiots at any slight to a magic man who has never done a thing for them, and it makes them center their lives around head-dunkings and cracker-eating and gibbering chants to an unheeding phantasm.

I'm not saying you're a bad person or even stupid if you're a believer. I'm saying that you are possibly wicked if you're promoting it, probably ignorant if you accept its contradictions with reality, almost certainly foolish if you think rituals will get you into heaven, definitely deluded by centuries' worth of lies, and most definitely oppressed by your deference to baseless superstition.

Let me interrupt to point out the sleight of hand to which Myers, and many other atheists, resorts. He states his conclusion, i.e. there is no God, and then offers as reasons for the conclusion the eccentric religious beliefs people hold. Even a junior high school student would recognize the irrelevance of his premises to his conclusion. The fact is that if he's going to assert that there's no evidence that God exists he's going to have to grapple with some powerful thinkers who have argued to the contrary, and this he avoids doing.

As for my cause, ultimately it's not anti-religion or pro-science education, although those are subsidiary goals. My cause is simply the truth - the truth stated plainly and openly.

So all those people squawking that they were offended were wasting their efforts. I don't care if you were offended. There is no god (or no evidence of one), and you aren't rebutting my claims by telling me how deeply your feelings are hurt.

You've been given your prescription, people of faith: you believe in a lot of goofy, stupid, ridiculous ideas. You can resign yourself to them if you aren't strong enough to part from them - I'm not going to follow you to church and drag you out with a choke-chain - or you can wake up. It's all up to you. One thing you don't get to do is silence the people who point and laugh.

As for those other causes, truth is always going to be anti-religion, and science is a process that aspires to uncover the truth, so I'm entirely self-consistent. It's those who think they can reconcile a mythology of lies with honest attempts to learn the nature of reality who have muddled objectives.

Actually, consistent is the last thing Myers is. Myers frequently makes moral judgments on one hand while implicitly denying the possibility of morality on the other. He frequently talks about about human rights and dignity on one hand while implicitly denying any basis for these values on the other. He is fond of reason's ability to lead him to truth, but his whole worldview calls into question the trustworthiness of reason as a generator of truth. He values science while undercutting all values.

P.Z.Myers (Does he think his middle initial stands for Zarathustra?) offers us an argument like the above, an argument unworthy of a middle school student, and then, tone deaf to irony, says that he and those like him point at believers and laugh. Whew.


Cheney Speaks

Stephen Hayes writes an essay in The Weekly Standard which offers us an excellent glimpse of the man conservatives love and liberals hate. The essay is based on his forthcoming book, Cheney: The Untold Story of America's Most Powerful and Controversial Vice President. Here's an excerpt that recounts events of the morning of 9/11:

Moments later Cheney spoke to Bush for the third time. The Secret Service had told Cheney that another aircraft was rapidly approaching Washington, D.C. The combat air patrol had been scrambled to patrol the area. We have a decision to make, Cheney told the president: Should we give the pilots an order authorizing them to shoot down civilian aircraft that could be used to conduct further attacks in Washington? Cheney told Bush that he supported such a directive. The president agreed.

Within minutes, Cheney was told that an unidentified aircraft was 80 miles outside of Washington. "We were all dividing 80 by 500 miles an hour to see what the windows were," Scooter Libby would later say. A military aide asked Cheney for authorization to take out the aircraft.

Cheney gave it without hesitating.

The military aide seemed surprised that the answer came so quickly. He asked again, and Cheney once again gave the authorization.

The military aide seemed to think that because Cheney had answered so quickly, he must have misunderstood the question. So he asked the vice president a third time.

"I said yes," Cheney said, not angrily but with authority.

"He was very steady, very calm," says Josh Bolten, then deputy White House chief of staff. "He clearly had been through crises before and did not appear to be in shock like many of us."

Cheney says there wasn't time to consider the gravity of the order he had just communicated. It was "just bang, bang, bang," says Cheney, one life-or-death decision after another.

The entire room paused after Cheney had given the final order as the gravity of his order became clear. At 10:18 A.M., Bolten suggested that Cheney notify the president that he had communicated the "shoot-down" order. Shortly after Cheney hung up, the officials in the bunker were advised that a plane had crashed in Pennsylvania.

Everyone had the same question, says Rice. "Was it down because it had been shot down or had it crashed?" Rice and Cheney were both filled with "intense emotion," she recalls, because they both made the same assumption. "His first thought, my first thought--we had exactly the same reaction--was it must have been shot down by the fighters. And you know, that's a pretty heady moment, a pretty heavy burden."

Both Rice and Cheney worked the phones in a desperate search for more information. "We couldn't get an answer from the Pentagon," says Rice. They kept trying.

"You must know," Rice insisted in one phone call to the Pentagon. "I mean, you must know!"

Cheney, too, was exasperated. We have to know whether we actually engaged and shot down a civilian aircraft, he said, incredulously. They did not. For several impossible minutes, Cheney believed that a pilot following his orders had brought down a plane full of civilians in rural Pennsylvania. Even then, he had no regrets.

It had to be done. It was a -- once you made the decision, once the plane became hijacked, even if it had a load of passengers on board who, obviously, weren't part of any hijacking attempt, once it was hijacked, and having seen what had happened in New York and the Pentagon, you really didn't have any choice. It wasn't a close call. I think a lot of people emotionally look at that and say, my gosh, you just shot down a planeload of Americans. On the other hand, you maybe saved thousands of lives. And so it was a matter that required a decision, that required action. It was the right call.

At 10:28, the north tower collapsed. The frenzy in the bunker came to a halt and, but for an occasional whisper, the room went silent. On the television, one floor after another gave way, a bit of order amidst the catastrophe. The building must have been charged, thought David Addington, counsel to the vice president, who was standing against the outer wall of the bunker.

Cheney, seated at the conference table, stared at the screen. Bolten and Mineta stood behind him to his left, Libby and Rice to his right. All wore virtually the same stunned expressions.

But the group in the bunker had little time to reflect on the tragedy. Two minutes later came yet another warning: An unidentified aircraft was in flight less than 10 miles out. Cheney again gave the order to shoot it down.

They waited for news. None came.

Read the whole thing. It's good stuff.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Viking Treasure

Here's an interesting story for anyone who enjoys antiques and archaeological artifacts:

LONDON (July 21) - One of the biggest Viking treasures ever found has been discovered on an English farm by a father-son team of treasure hunters, the British Museum announced Thursday.

The trove of coins and jewelry was buried more than 1,000 years ago, a collection of items from Ireland, France, Russia and Scandinavia that testified to the raiders' international reach.

"It's a fascinating find, it's the largest find of its type of over 150 years," said Gareth Williams, an expert at the British Museum who examined the items.

He said it was the largest such find in Britain since the 1840 discovery of the Cuerdale Hoard, a mass of 8,500 silver coins, chains, and amulets.

The BBC reported that the treasure could be worth as much as $2 million. "This is a discovery that isn't just once a generation, but once a century," said Jonathan Williams of the British Museum.

David Whelan, 60, and his 35-year-old son Andrew were trawling [with a metal detector] through a farmer's field near Harrogate, in northern England, on Jan. 6 when their detector squealed. The pair began digging, finding a silver bowl more than a foot beneath the soil.

The pair turned the bowl over to archaeological experts, who discovered it was packed with coins and jewelry. The bowl, a 9th century gilt silver container probably seized by Vikings from a monastery, had been used as an improvised treasure chest before being buried.

"We thought it was marvelous," David Whelan told The Associated Press. "But we didn't know for nearly a month what was in it."

In all, more than 600 coins and dozens of other objects, including a gold arm band, silver ingots and fragments of silver were found in and around the container.

Some of the coins mixed Christian and pagan imagery, shedding light on the beliefs of newly Christianized Vikings, said Gareth Williams, a curator of early medieval coins at the British Museum.

The booty was likely accumulated through a combination of commerce and warfare, Williams said. Its quantity indicated that at least some of it was taken by force, perhaps in raids on northern Europe or Scandinavia, he added.

The items were manufactured as far afield as Afghanistan, Russia and Scandinavia.

Go to the link for more on the find, including photos.


Brave New World

Leon Kass has written an interesting though lengthy article in Commentary titled "Science, Religion, and the Human Future." The essay offers us a perceptive look at where the naturalistic, materialistic metaphysics of "scientism," the belief that science is the key to all knowledge and whatever can't be known through the scientific method is not worth talking about, is taking us. Kass has many excellent things to say in the piece, but perhaps the most important is his claim that scientism is self-refuting. I find this important because of what it entails about the future. Here's what Kass says:

[O]n the scientists' own grounds, they will be unable to refute our intransigent insistence on our own freedom and psychic awareness. For how are they going to explain our resistance to their subversive ideas, save by conceding that we must just be hard-wired by nature to resist them? If all truth claims of science - and the philosophical convictions that some people derive from them - are merely the verbalized expressions of certain underlying brain states in the scientists who offer these claims, then there can be no way to refute the contrary opinions of those whose nervous systems, differently wired, see things the opposite way.

And why, indeed, should anyone choose to accept as true the results of someone else's "electrochemical brain processes" over his own? Truth and error, no less than human freedom and dignity, become empty notions when the soul is reduced to chemicals.

This is frightening stuff when you consider the inmplications. If all knowledge is just a series of chemical reactions in the brain there's no "true" opinion anymore than there are "true" reactions. Moreover, no one can be held responsible for the opinion they hold since it is a product of environmental factors over which they have no control. In other words, all knowledge is determined by our brain chemistry.

This being so, how does one promote one's ideas of what's true among people whose brain chemistry is ill-disposed to accomodate it? The ineluctable answer is that truth and tolerance will give way to compulsion. Different groups will seek to impose their will by the exercise of power. If dissenters are troublesome, then like Rousseau and totalitarians before and since have advocated, they must be eliminated.

This is the logical endpoint of the view that man is just a chemical machine. Machines have no worth beyond their usefulness to their masters. They have no dignity and they have no rights.

Kass continues:

No one should underestimate the growing cultural power of scientific materialism and reductionism. As we have seen, the materialism of science, useful as a heuristic hypothesis, is increasingly being peddled as the one true account of human life, citing as evidence the powers obtainable on the basis of just such reductive approaches. Many laymen, ignorant of any defensible scientific alternative to materialism, are swallowing and regurgitating the shallow doctrines of "the selfish gene" and "the mind is the brain," because they seem to be vindicated by scientific advance. The cultural result is likely to be serious damage to human self-understanding and the subversion of all highminded views of the good life.

Materialist science cannot answer the question, How should we use our technology? The question is nonsense in a worldview bereft of moral value. So, eschewing the moral questions, scientism ...

... tacitly preaches its own version of faith, hope, and charity: faith in the goodness of scientific progress, hope in the promise of transcendence of our biological limitations, charity in promising everyone ultimate relief from, and transcendence of, the human condition. No religious faith rests on flimsier ground. And yet the project for the mastery of human nature proceeds apace, and most people stand on the sidelines and cheer.

Like the German citizens of the 1930s, they stand on the sidelines and cheer as we hurtle toward a brave, new, and horrifying world.


Suicide by Political Correctness

The Senate failed yesterday to pass the "John Doe" amendment to the Homeland Security bill. The vote was 57-39, but sixty votes were needed for passage. Every nay vote was cast by a Democrat. Michelle Malkin has the details, including the roll call (Be sure to scroll down to watch the video).

For those of you who may not have been following this issue, the John Doe amendment was attached to the Homeland Security bill by rep. Peter King of N.Y. King wanted to immunize against lawsuits citizens who may erroneously report activity that looks like it may be terror-related. The amendment grew out of the case of the six Muslim imams who were behaving in such a bizzare fashion in an airport and aboard their U.S. Air flight last year that a number of passengers reported them to authorities. The imams are now suing these people, who have been designated as John Doe, and they stand to lose everything they own because they were concerned for their safety and the safety of their families.

It's not hard to imagine the chilling effect a successful lawsuit would have on others who observe strange behavior. It is hard, though, to imagine how anyone could vote against this amendment. Little wonder that the country does not trust Democrats to handle national security. These people disqualify themselves every chance they get from having the right to hold the reigns of power. Heaven help us if they get more of it in 2008.

Andrew McCarthy at NRO writes:

The Democrats' maneuver here is also an obnoxious assertion of state power over the individual: If the state subpoenas you for information, you are compelled to provide it to the authorities whether you want to or not; but if you want to provide it voluntarily in order to protect your community, the Democrats say, "prepare to be sued."

What possible good reason is there to silence people who want to tell the police they saw suspicious behavior? Under circumstances where we are under threat from covert terror networks which secretly embed themselves in our society to prepare and carry out WMD attacks? Planet earth to the Democrats: To execute such attacks, terrorists have to act suspiciously at some point. There are only a few thousand federal agents in the country. There are many more local police, but even they are relatively sparse in a country of 300 million. If we are going to stop the people trying to kill us, we need ordinary citizens on their toes. Again, this is just common sense.

Unfortunately, common sense is not a resource in abundant supply among congressional Democrats.

The good news is that the amendment may be revived in conference. You can find your senator's contact information here and find your House representative's phone and e-mail here. Or you can call the Congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask to be put through to your Congressperson.


Friday, July 20, 2007

At the Center of the Universe

Byron sends along a link to an article by novelist Anthony Doerr who writes a lovely meditation on the Hubble Deep Field photograph that shows the universe to be populated with billions of galaxies. Doerr considers this picture the most important picture ever taken because it shows us how incredibly vast the cosmos is and how incredibly puny we are.

Every speck in this photo is a galaxy like our Milky Way.

In the course of his wonderment Doerr asks whether it can be "even remotely possible that our one, tiny, eggshell world is the only one encrusted with life?"

The answer to this question, according to some astronomers, is that not only is it possible, it's probable (See, for example Gonzalez and Richards' Privileged Planet or Ward and Brownlee's Rare Earth), but as Doerr exclaims elsewhere in his essay, whether there are trillions of earths or just one the circumstances are mind-boggling.

It used to be the case that astronomers argued that the Copernican revolution showed the earth to be an insignificant backwater in the universe and that it was foolishness to think that we were somehow at the center of things as medieval theologians said we were. It turns out, though, that the medieval theologians were more correct than they were given credit for. It appears that the universe pretty much has to be as big as it is in order for us to be here at all.

Scientists believe that the universe started in an enormous explosion of space-time and energy about 14 billion years ago. There was no matter at the instant of that initial "Big Bang," only energy, but in the milliseconds after the Bang matter, in the form of protons and electrons, began to condense out of the enormous energy produced by the explosion, and, as the nascent cosmos expanded it cooled and the protons and electrons combined to form hydrogen gas.

The hydrogen clumped in massive spheres to form the first stars and these huge balls of gas produced in their cores a fusion furnace that generated all the other elements necessary for life. This process took billions of years and all the while the universe was expanding, growing larger and populated by galaxies of these stars.

Eventually, some of the stars themselves exploded, spewing the elements in their cores out into space in great clouds of debris. Some of this debris was captured by the gravitational field of our sun and cooled to form molten spheres which cooled further to become planets.

This happened about 5 billion years ago, and out of the star dust that became earth God fashioned living things.

Now, if this is how creation came about then it took about 10 billion years for the conditions in the universe to be such that the raw materials necessary for life were available. All that time the universe was expanding, getting bigger and more beautiful with every year that passed until man appeared. So, and this is the point, the universe has to be as old as it is and thus as vast as it is in order for life to exist in it at all.

Man may be not at the physical center of the universe but rather at the ontological or existential center. As incomprehensibly big as it is, it all exists so that man can exist. That truly is mind-boggling.



My friend Steve links us to an article by former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson who puts his finger on one of several existential problems that the atheist needs to confront but rarely does. It's a problem we've discussed often here at Viewpoint and Gerson starts off his piece this way:

British author G.K. Chesterton argued that every act of blasphemy is a kind of tribute to God, because it is based on belief. "If anyone doubts this," he wrote, "let him sit down seriously and try to think blasphemous thoughts about Thor."

By the evidence of the New York Times bestseller list, God has recently been bathed in such tributes. An irreverent trinity -- Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins -- has sold a lot of books accusing theism of fostering hatred, repressing sexuality and mutilating children (Hitchens doesn't approve of male circumcision). Every miracle is a fraud. Every mystic is a madman. And this atheism is presented as a war of liberation against centuries of spiritual tyranny.

Proving God's existence in 750 words or fewer would daunt even Thomas Aquinas. And I suspect that a certain kind of skeptic would remain skeptical even after a squadron of angels landed on his front lawn. So I merely want to pose a question: If the atheists are right, what would be the effect on human morality?

Read the rest of the essay to see how Gerson answers his own question. I said above that it's one of several existential problems that the atheist often avoids facing. To read a little bit about some of the others go here.

UPDATE 1: Christopher Hitchens offers a reply to Gerson that completely misses the point.

UPDATE 2: Years ago Wendy's ran television adds which asked the question of their competitors, "Where's the beef?" I'm reminded of these adds as I try to keep up with the flurry of articles asking the anti-theistic writers pretty much that same question. Where's the philosophical meat? Peter Berkowitz is one example of a writer unimpressed with the "new, new atheists." Taking Christopher Hitchens' god [sic]is Not Great as the best of the lot of the recent spate of anti-religious books he does a fine job of exposing the shallowness of the theological and philosophical pools in which these authors, despite their popularity, are wading.

Dinesh D'Souza adds Stanley Fish to the chorus of serious thinkers who find the arguments of the current crop of anti-theists to be worthy of little more than the indulgent smile one might confer upon a child's inchoate attempts at drawing a flower.

I'm sure many more thinkers will be soon rushing to the fray since the books by Dawkins et al. are such easy sport for anyone who has seriously thought about the matters about which they write.


Report Suspicious Activity? No Way.

Here's a piece of news guaranteed to have steam shooting out of your ears:

Democrats are trying to pull a provision from a homeland security bill that will protect the public from being sued for reporting suspicious behavior that may lead to a terrorist attack, according to House Republican leadership aides.

Rep. Pete King, New York Republican and ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Rep. Steve Pearce, New Mexico Republican, sponsored the bill after a group of Muslim imams filed a lawsuit against U.S. Airways and unknown or "John Doe" passengers after they were removed for suspicious behavior aboard Flight 300 from Minneapolis to Phoenix on Nov. 20 before their removal.

"Democrats are trying to find any technical excuse to keep immunity out of the language of the bill to protect citizens, who in good faith, report suspicious activity to police or law enforcement," Mr. King said in an interview last night.

"This is a slap in the face of good citizens who do their patriotic duty and come forward, and it caves in to radical Islamists," Mr. King said. "I don't see how you can have a homeland security bill without protecting people who come forward to report suspicious activity," Mr. King said.

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, initially opposed the legislation for fear it would lead to racial profiling.

Why would they do this? Why would they not want to immunize people from lawsuit who witness suspicious behavior that turns out to be benign? How can the government on one hand urge citizens to be vigilant and report suspicious behavior and on the other tell us that if we're wrong we can lose everything we own in a lawsuit?

It's hard to take Rep. Thompson's racial profiling excuse seriously so what's the real reason? Are the Democrats that beholden to the trial lawyers? Are they in the back pocket of CAIR (Council for American-Islamic Relations)? Whatever the answer it's astonishing that Americans would continue to vote for these people.


Thursday, July 19, 2007


Michael Yon's latest dispatch from Iraq is riveting reading. Check it out here.



Byron writes:

Not that my little voice matters much, but I would truly encourage your readers to follow your advice and read the article from First Things (http://wscleary.com/pov/home?month=07&year=2007#3533 Unseen Toll of Illegal Immigration) about illegal workers.

I sometimes find that the conservative voice on this issue, reasonable as it seems, seems nearly unaware of the broader social context, the greed and complexities of the social fabric that permits the daily practices that are people's lives.

This writer was refreshing in showing deep empathy for all involved, I thought, and it was so commonplace and practical a reflection that even those not drawn to the policy debate should read it.

Thanks for the good link.

Illegal immigration is a complex problem which has been allowed to fester and grow worse largely because American employers profit from cheap labor. Linton's essay at First Things does a good job of showing how allowing this system to continue corrupts everyone involved.


Musharraf's War

Stephen Brown writes at FrontPage Mag of the coming war in Pakistan. What Brown writes about is long overdue. It will be interesting to see whether, and in what manner, U.S. forces get involved in the fighting.


Just Deserts

Lisa Schiffren at NRO's The Corner cites a piece at FrontPage Mag by John Perazzo that shows how Byzantine things are in Washington. Perazzo convincingly explains that the force behind the sacking of Don Imus was none other than Hillary Clinton, and, if you read Schiffren's summary of Perazzo's column, you can understand exactly why she did it, or, more precisely, had it done.

We're no fans of Hillary, or Imus, for that matter, but he had it coming.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Back From the Brink

Conservation efforts have brought another beautiful bird back from the brink of extinction. The Lear's macaw of Brazil now numbers around 750 birds, according to this Reuters story, ten times as many as there were twenty years ago. What a beautiful creature. What a tragedy it would have been had they been allowed to succumb to hunters and the illegal exotic bird trade.


Why Couples Should Stay Together

According to FamilyFacts.org, having grandparents who divorced was associated with having a lower level of educational attainment, a greater likelihood of marital discord, and a poorer quality of parent-child relationship. This association held even if the grandparents' divorce occurred before the grandchild was born.

French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre said that when we choose we choose for all mankind. Well, that may have been a bit of an exaggeration, but the choices we make certainly reverberate down through the generations. Divorce is always a tragedy when children are involved, but a divorce without having made every reasonable effort to make a marriage succeed is especially so. It does the children and grandchildren a great disservice.

HT: Joe Carter


Fight Them Where They Are

Michael Yon's most recent dispatch from Iraq discusses the very important shift away from alliances with al Qaeda that many Sunni Muslims are making. Sunnis who had once been at war with American troops are now fighting alongside them to rid Iraq of al Qaeda.

This is an important point to note as many war critics refer to the conflict as a civil war and also minimize the role of al Qaeda in Iraq. For now, at least, it's not a civil war. Al Qaeda has become the common enemy in large parts of Anbar and Diyala provinces.

Secondly, if this is so, the argument that we should withdraw from Iraq is undercut. Almost everyone, even among the Democrats, acknowledges that we should be fighting al Qaeda, and that it's better to fight them elsewhere than here. Up till now, however, the President's critics have been claiming that we've not been fighting al Qaeda in Iraq and that we should be placing our resources in Afghanistan where al Qaeda is located and operating.

In fact, we should be fighting al Qaeda wherever they are and clearly they're in Anbar and Diyala.

A recent column by Jack Kelly amplifies Yon's analysis and claims that the U.S. has al Qaeda on the run in Iraq. This is a remarkable claim given the MSM's coverage of the war which portrays Iraq as in a state of total chaos. Read Yon's dispatch and Kelly's column for a completely different picture of what's happening there.


Behe Vs. The Critics

Biochemist Michael Behe, author of The Edge of Evolution, continues to politely but firmly embarrass his critics at his Amazon blog. So far he has taken on Sean Carroll, Jerry Coyne, and Ken Miller and left the corpses of their arguments, such as they are, littering the field.

Behe has accomplished something truly noteworthy. The debate between IDers and Darwinists had pretty much ground to a standstill because Darwinists could always say that, as improbable as the machinery of the cell might be, natural selection working in tandem with random mutation could achieve wonders, and, of course, there was no hard evidence that they were wrong.

The Darwinians believed in the power of NS+RM and the IDers, relying heavily upon intuition and probability, demurred. Now Behe has advanced the argument by showing that, based upon new empirical data, there is good reason to think that a limit exists to how much genetic novelty can be introduced into the genome through random genetic mutation. In other words what hard evidence we have points to there being an edge, or boundary, to how much evolutionary progress can be made through undirected blind processes, and it's not much.

The inference is clear. If complex life, including man, has evolved from metazoan ancestors it can only be because the changes necessary to produce increasing complexity were not blind at all, but were intentional. And if they were intentional they were the product of a mind.

The Edge of Evolution drives yet another nail into the coffin of materialistic, naturalistic Darwinism, and that's why the book is so important and why the critics are so hostile. The hostility is not directed at Behe because he denies evolutionary descent from common ancestors, because he doesn't. It's directed at him because he denies and exposes the materialist religion that underlies the science of so many Darwinists.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Top Twenty Five Talkers

NewsMax lists the twenty five most influential talk-radio personalities in America. There are a couple of surprises on the list. You can read the critieria which were used to rank them at the link and also see the complete list. Here are the top ten:

  1. Rush Limbaugh
  2. Bill O'Reilly
  3. Don Imus
  4. Michael Savage
  5. Sean Hannity
  6. Laura Ingraham
  7. Glenn Beck
  8. Dr. Laura Schlessinger
  9. Neal Boortz
  10. Al Franken

It's interesting that only the last of these is a liberal (unless you count Imus as a liberal). Personally, I find Imus, Savage, and Franken very hard to listen to and O'Reilly almost as hard to watch on his tv show. I haven't heard Laura Ingraham's show, but I like her style when I see her on television. Schlessinger doesn't do politics so its hard to compare her to the others.

In my opinion, Rush and Glen Beck are the two best hosts on this list. Hannity is good on occasion, in the rare moments when he's not talking about himself and his other enterprises, when he's not fishing for praise, and when he gives his guests a chance to say something.


Confirming Jeremiah

The UK Telegraph reports on a fascinating archeological discovery:

The sound of unbridled joy seldom breaks the quiet of the British Museum's great Arched Room, which holds its collection of 130,000 Assyrian cuneiform tablets, dating back 5,000 years.

But Michael Jursa, a visiting professor from Vienna, let out such a cry last Thursday. He had made what has been called the most important find in Biblical archaeology for 100 years, a discovery that supports the view that the historical books of the Old Testament are based on fact.

Searching for Babylonian financial accounts among the tablets, Prof Jursa suddenly came across a name he half remembered - Nabu-sharrussu-ukin, described there in a hand 2,500 years old, as "the chief eunuch" of Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon.

Prof Jursa, an Assyriologist, checked the Old Testament and there in chapter 39 of the Book of Jeremiah, he found, spelled differently, the same name - Nebo-Sarsekim.

Nebo-Sarsekim, according to Jeremiah, was Nebuchadnezzar II's "chief officer" and was with him at the siege of Jerusalem in 587 BC, when the Babylonians overran the city.

The small tablet, the size of "a packet of 10 cigarettes" according to Irving Finkel, a British Museum expert, is a bill of receipt acknowledging Nabu-sharrussu-ukin's payment of 0.75 kg of gold to a temple in Babylon.

The tablet is dated to the 10th year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, 595BC, 12 years before the siege of Jerusalem.

Evidence from non-Biblical sources of people named in the Bible is not unknown, but Nabu-sharrussu-ukin would have been a relatively insignificant figure.

"This is a fantastic discovery, a world-class find," Dr Finkel said yesterday. "If Nebo-Sarsekim existed, which other lesser figures in the Old Testament existed? A throwaway detail in the Old Testament turns out to be accurate and true. I think that it means that the whole of the narrative [of Jeremiah] takes on a new kind of power."

There's more at the link.

No doubt this find is causing a bit of squirming among a few Biblical critics who have spent their careers promoting the idea that the Old Testament record is historically unreliable.

HT: Joe Carter

Unseen Toll of Illegal Immigration

Michael Linton writes at First Things about how illegal immigration, and the businesses that rely upon and promote it, corrupt everyone involved.

His is a personal anecdote about a restaurant at which his daughter worked. It's not a story about illegals committing atrocious crimes but rather how the very circumstances under which these men live and work corrodes their moral lives and the lives of those who work with them. It's a good read.


Modern Ed

Viewpoint readers in college or concerned about the education on offer from many of our institutions of higher ed might want to read Victor Davis Hanson's recent column titled Blissfully Uneducated. He begins with this:

Is "ho"-the rapper slang for the slur "whore"-a bad word? Always, sometimes, or just when an obnoxious white male like Don Imus says it? But not when the equally obnoxious Snoop Dogg serially employs it?

Is the Iraq war, as we are often told, the "greatest mistake" in our nation's history?

Because Israel and the United States have a bomb, is it then O.K. for theocratic Iran to have one too?

Americans increasingly cannot seem to answer questions like these adequately because they are blissfully uneducated. They have not acquired a broad knowledge of language, literature, philosophy, and history.

Sometime in the 1960s-perhaps due to frustration over the Vietnam War, perhaps as a manifestation of the cultural transformations of the age-the university jettisoned the classical approach [to education] and adopted the therapeutic.

Instead, our youth for a generation have been fed a "Studies" curriculum. Fill in the blanks: Women's Studies, Gay Studies, Environmental Studies, Peace Studies, Chicano Studies, Film Studies, and so on. These courses aim to indoctrinate students about perceived pathologies in contemporary American culture-specifically, race, class, gender, and environmental oppression.

Such courses are by design deductive. The student is expected to arrive at the instructor's own preconceived conclusions. The courses are also captives of the present-hostages of the contemporary media and popular culture from which they draw their information and earn their relevance.

The theme of all such therapeutic curricula is relativism. There are no eternal truths, only passing assertions that gain credence through power and authority. Once students understand how gender, race, and class distinctions are used to oppress others, they are then free to ignore absolute "truth," since it is only a reflection of one's own privilege.

Read the whole thing at the link. A lot of people are saying what Hanson is saying - our colleges and universities, or at least too many of them, have abandoned the idea of grounding their students in the knowledge gained by our forebears and have become instead a simulacrum of the communist re-education camps where students are sent to be inculcated with leftist orthodoxies about race, gender, and class.

Perhaps the fate of Antioch College will serve as a salutary object lesson for some of these "schools."


Monday, July 16, 2007

College Prospects

Students and parents of students might want to read a column my friend Byron wrote for yesterday's local paper. He says a number of interesting things and makes some good suggestions for those preparing for the challenges that college life will present. Here's the heart of his essay:

It has been a hard year for higher education. The massacre at Virginia Tech, the revelations of debauchery that came to light in the fiasco of the Duke rape trial, the reports of widespread cheating at some of our most prestigious schools. The arrest on sex charges of a mid-state professor reminds us of the complexities of navigating the college experience.

Books like "Binge: Campus Life in an Age of Disconnection and Excess" claim to report "what your college student won't tell you," while memoirs like "Goat" tell of brutal hazing within the fraternity system. Novels like Tom Wolfe's important "I Am Charlotte Simons" tell of the moral confusion amidst the "hooking up" culture of the postmodern campus. In a hipster sociological work, "My Freshman Year," a prof goes undercover posing as a first-year student living in the dorm. She was surprised to hear what the students said, how little they studied, and what they really thought of her tenured colleagues. She was surprised to see the lewd posters un- ashamedly displayed on many girls' doors.

Happily, there are reports that indicate a cultural, intellectual and spiritual renaissance among college students. Wall Street Journal reporter Naomi Riley's "God on the Quad" documents the increase in religious activities on many campuses. Groups like Hillel, the Newman Center and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship are flourishing. Riley makes it clear that such groups help with the often-tumultuous college transition.

Congregations that have cared for their children through high school are thinking about how to equip them to be faithful in what some have described as Babylon U. Locally, at least one church, Asbury United Methodist, has hired a campus worker whose job it is to represent the church to local colleges. With college and technical school enrollments rising, congregations may need to explore partnerships with para-church college ministry organizations and think creatively about ways to maintain an appropriate presence on campus.

A central Pennsylvania campus worker, Derek Melleby, has recently co-written an upbeat book to help Christian students bring their deepest convictions into their college classrooms. "The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness" is a guide for students that captures, I think, the longing of my confirmation class: to discover a purpose-laden sense of calling for the vocation of being a student. It tells stories of collegians who hungered for intellectual and moral coherence in their young adult lives, an outrageously idealistic sense of making a difference, meshing their faith and their college experience in ways that are exciting and sustainable.

What will become of the 2007 graduates who will leave us next month college-bound?

Some, I am confident, will thrive, holding in fresh ways the values and visions nurtured by home churches, synagogues, schools and community organizations. Let us wish them well. More, let us offer support and encouragement, starting in their freshman year.

Read the whole thing at the link.


Nobel-Caliber Inanity

If awards were given for pure rhetorical inanity Nobel Peace Prize winner Betty Williams of Ireland would surely be in the running. The other day she delivered herself of the following piece of gentle, peace-prize caliber nonsense:

"Right now, I could kill George Bush," she said. "No, I don't mean that. How could you nonviolently kill somebody? I would love to be able to do that." About half the crowd gave her a standing ovation after she called for Mr. Bush's removal from power.

"The Muslim world right now is suffering beyond belief," she said.

"Unless the president of the United States is held responsible for what he's doing and what he has done, there's no one in the Muslim world who will forgive him."

When an audience member told Ms. Williams that Vice President Dick Cheney would become president if George Bush were impeached, she said, "Can't you impeach them both?"

"It's twisted. It's all wrong," she said. "There are so many lies being told. It's hard to be an American and go out into the world right now."

Forget the hypocrisy of a peace-prize winner wishing she could kill someone, that sort of talk is common among the Left and has long ago ceased to surprise or shock us. Focus instead on her implication that the Muslim world right now is "suffering beyond belief" because of George Bush. This is as daft a statement as any that Bush Derangement Syndrome sufferers have levelled at him since 9/11.

Exactly where are Muslims suffering? Afghanistan? Are Muslims there pining for the good old days under the Taliban when women were stoned to death simply for talking to a man who wasn't her husband? Iraq? Are Muslims there worse off today than they were under Saddam Hussein who starved, tortured and murdered them by the hundreds of thousands? Gaza? Are Muslims in Gaza suffering, which they certainly are, because of Bush or because of the corrupt butchers of Hamas? How about Lebanon? Is the suffering in that pitiable land due to George Bush or to the machinations of Hezebollah, Syria, and Iran?

Exactly where and how, Ms. Williams, are Muslims suffering because of American policies under Bush? Of course she doesn't tell us because that would require facts, and it's much easier to get a standing ovation if you don't let inconvenient things like facts get in the way of your demagoguery.

Her statement is so incredibly uninformed, so dumb, as to make one wonder whether Ms. Williams knows anything at all about the world for which she presumes to speak.