Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bush and the Chronically Homeless

A New York Times report notes that, due largely to a Bush administration initiative, chronic homelessness in the U.S. has declined by 52,000 people from 175,914 to 123,833, a 30% drop, between 2005 and 2007.

I wonder what the decline was during the halcyon years of the Clinton administration.

In any event, this is another data point that future historians will factor into their assessment of Bush's presidency. Combined with his achievements on behalf of the poor in Africa and his liberation from tyranny of 50 million people in the Middle East, those who really care about human rights and human welfare, as opposed to those who simply pay lip service to these concepts, will be forced to conclude that Bush has done more good for the people they're concerned about than any president or world leader in the last 100 years.

For many this will no doubt be an awkward and uncomfortable realization.

Perhaps this is one reason liberals despise him. While they have talked endlessly about their concern for the poor, he has made them look impotent and hypocritical by actually doing something to alleviate their suffering.


Religious Renaissance

A generation or so ago it looked as though theistic belief in general and Christian belief in particular were on the ropes. The atheists had all the good arguments, it was thought, the liberal church was embracing them, and it was just a matter of time until skepticism trickled down from the ivory towers of the academy to the pulpits and pews of parish churches and wiped out religious belief altogether.

Along the way to this denouement, however, a funny thing happened. A number of Christian philosophers remained unimpressed by the force of the secularists' arguments and were quietly churning out powerful philosophical arguments in defense of traditional Christian belief. This effort was epitomized, perhaps, with the publication in the late sixties of Alvin Plantinga's God and Other Minds, a work which completely altered the terms of the debate. Other philosophers contributed additional efforts over the next couple of decades and some, like William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, became powerful public debators.

In addition, the creationist critique of Darwinism and the rise of the intelligent design movement hewed away at an essential prop in the atheistic worldview. All this, coupled with the utter failure of secular assumptions to provide a framework for social well-being - the devastation wrought by the sexual revolution and the horrors of street crime and the ubiquity of white collar crime - cast into unmistakeable highlights the moral inadequacies of secular atheism.

Douglas Groothius at Books and Culture gives us an interesting glimpse of the current state of the controversy with emphasis on books by three of the participants, Alistir McGrath, Antony Flew, and a debate between William Lane Craig and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong. It's a good read.


Terrorism's Most Effective Weapons

This article at Strategy Page discusses some interesting aspects to the war in Iraq from the standpoint of the military:

Throughout the current conflict, the military made no secret of what they were doing, and just kept focused on winning. They knew they would be dealing with an unusual enemy, a stateless force based on ideology and religion based hatred. This foe was weak, in the conventional military sense, but was armed with two powerful weapons.

First, there was the suicide bomber, and terrorism in general. Against civilian populations, this was a very effective weapon. Against a professional and resourceful military foe, it was much less so. But the enemy had another weapon; the media and political opposition in their opponents homeland. The media is eager to report real or imagined disasters and mistakes. This is how the news business has stayed solvent since the mass media first appeared in the mid 19th century. Al Qaeda was run by people who were aware of this, and knew how to exploit it, both among friendly (Moslem) populations, and in nations they had declared their enemy. This they did by exploiting the proclivities of the political oppositions in the West.

There is much more at the link, especially regarding how the liberal media and our political leadership has been one of terrorism's most effective weapons.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Evolution vs. Naturalism

Alvin Plantinga, professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, has for several decades been pressing the argument that it is literally irrational to be an evolutionary naturalist. Naturalism is the view that there is no God nor anything like God. It holds that nature is all there is. For the purposes of Plantinga's argument we can think of naturalism as being synonymous with atheism.

Plantinga argues that if evolution is true we have no reason to believe that naturalism is. He notes, for instance, that:

Richard Dawkins once claimed that evolution made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. I believe he is dead wrong: I don't think it's possible at all to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist; but in any event you can't rationally accept both evolution and naturalism.

This is a claim that strikes many atheists as risible until they examine the argument that lies behind it. Once they do, the snickers cease.

Books and Culture has an essay by Plantinga in which he lays out his case in clear, easily comprehendable fashion. It's an important argument, one that both Christians and atheists should make themselves familiar with. Give it a few minutes of your time.


Whatever You Can Get Away With

There are lots of possible explanations for Senator Obama's apparent ability to hold every side of a contentious issue. One such possibility, the one to which I subscribe, is that the senator is simply the product of his post modern times, an era in which "texts" have no fixed meaning, and truth is, to quote the late Richard Rorty, whatever your peers will let you get away with saying.

David Bueche at The American Thinker agrees and offers a catalogue of Obama's statements on Iraq to illustrate what the MSM, another product of the Rortian school of epistemology, is letting him get away with. The display of rhetorical gymnastics to which Obama has treated us over the last year and a half is worthy of a gold at Beijing. Here's Bueche's recitation:

  • January 10, 2007, on MSNBC: "I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse."
  • Also from January 2007: "We cannot impose a military solution on what has effectively become a civil war. And until we acknowledge that reality, uh, we can send 15,000 more troops; 20,000 more troops; 30,000 more troops. Uh, I don't know any, uh, expert on the region or any military officer that I've spoken to, uh, privately that believes that that is gonna make a substantial difference on the situation on the ground."
  • May 25th, 2007: "And what I know is that what our troops deserve is not just rhetoric, they deserve a new plan. Governor Romney and Senator McCain clearly believe that the course that we're on in Iraq is working, I do not."
  • July, 2007: "Here's what we know. The surge has not worked. And they said today, 'Well, even in September, we're going to need more time.' So we're going to kick this can all the way down to the next president, under the president's plan."
  • September 13th, 2007: "After putting an additional 30,000 troops in, far longer and more troops than the president had initially said, we have gone from a horrendous situation of violence in Iraq to the same intolerable levels of violence that we had back in June of 2006. So, essentially, after all this we're back where we were 15 months ago. And what has not happened is any movement with respect to the sort of political accommodations among the various factions, the Shia, the Sunni, and Kurds that were the rationale for [the] surge and that ultimately is going to be what stabilizes Iraq. So, I think it is fair to say that the president has simply tried to gain another six months to continue on the same course that he's been on for several years now. It is a course that will not succeed."
  • November 11, 2007: "Finally, in 2006-2007, we started to see that, even after an election, George Bush continued to want to pursue a course that didn't withdraw troops from Iraq but actually doubled them and initiated a surge and at that stage I said very clearly, not only have we not seen improvements, but we're actually worsening, potentially, a situation there."

In early 2008, as statistical proof of The Surge's incredible success became indisputable, Mr. Obama abruptly reversed his assessment of the situation and his recollection of his own recent history:

  • January 5, 2008: "I had no doubt, and I said when I opposed the surge, that given how wonderfully our troops perform, if we place 30,000 more troops in there, then we would see an improvement in the security situation and we would see a reduction in the violence."

And now this:

  • July 21, 2008: When asked if - knowing what he knows now - would Mr. Obama support the Troop Surge. He replied, "No." When asked to explain he added, "These kinds of hypotheticals are very difficult," he said. "Hindsight is 20/20. But I think that what I am absolutely convinced of is, at that time, we had to change the political debate because the view of the Bush administration at that time was one that I just disagreed with, and one that I continue to disagree with -- is to look narrowly at Iraq and not focus on these broader issues."

This is astonishing. Having claimed that he was saying all along that the surge would reduce violence and increase security when in fact he had for a year been insisting on precisely the opposite, he now says that even had he known that Iraqi lives would be saved by the surge and that stability would come to that land, he still would have opposed increasing troop levels.

It's one thing to have opposed the surge because you thought at the time that it would cause more harm to befall the long-suffering Iraqis, but to say that you would have opposed it even if you knew that it would end the violence and bring peace to that land is the babbling of one who is either morally or intellectually ill-equipped to serve as Commander-in-Chief.


Sudden Death

Unconfirmed reports out of Pakistan say that an unmanned drone aircraft fired a missile that killed Abu Khabab in southern Waziristan in Pakistan today. Abu Khabab headed up al Qaeda's WMD program and had worked on chemical agents that could cause mass deaths in a terror attack. He had a 5 million dollar bounty on his head which has presumably been dissociated into atom-sized particles. Perhaps he saw the missile coming and had a moment to reflect upon his crimes.

Meanwhile, another Taliban raid in Afghanistan resulted in losses approaching 70% for the attackers:

The Taliban launched their assault on the Spera district center at 2 AM local time, the International Security Assistance Force reported in a press release. The attacking force, estimated at 100 Taliban fighters, attacked using small arms and machineguns.

The Afghan National Police manning the outpost held off the attack and radioed US forces for backup. The US responded by sending ground forces and supporting fire from artillery as well as helicopter and aircraft.

US and Afghan forces then surrounded the Taliban force and pounded the position with small-arms fire, artillery, and airstrikes.

The Taliban force was routed. "The number of insurgents killed is in double-digit figures," the International Security Assistance Force reported. Arsala Jamal, the governor of Khost, said between 50 and 70 Taliban fighters were killed. "A small number" of police officers were reported killed. No US troops were reported killed or wounded during the engagement.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Po-Mo Crackup

A couple of Saturdays ago I posted on an old Chuck Colson column in which he critiqued postmodernism. I mentioned that Brian McLaren, a Maryland pastor who has become well-known for his books urging the church to accomodate itself to the postmodern mindset, wrote a rejoinder to Colson and then Colson wrote a response to McLaren. Despite the fact that the exchange is almost five years old all three essays are very much worth the time it takes to read them, and the latter two can be found here.

HT: Byron


Grand Finale

The last of the Loser Letters is up at National Review Online. All's well that ends well.


Iowa and New Orleans

In the wake of the Iowa floods Dick Francis passed along a few pertinent questions:

  • Where was the hysterical 24/7 media coverage, complete with reports of cannibalism?
  • Where was the media asking the tough questions about why the federal government hadn't solved the problem and where the FEMA trucks (and trailers) were?
  • Why wasn't the Federal Government relocating Iowa people to free hotels in Chicago?
  • When will Spike Lee say that the Federal Government blew up the levees that failed in Des Moines?
  • Where were Sean Penn and the Dixie Chicks?
  • Where were all the looters stealing high-end tennis shoes and big screen television sets?
  • When will we hear Governor Chet Culver say that he wants to rebuild a 'vanilla' Iowa, because that's the way God wants it?
  • Where are the people declaring that George Bush hates white, rural people?
  • How come 2 weeks afterwards you never heard anything more about the Iowa flood disaster?

Well, why was the media response to Iowa so much different than the response to Katrina, and why was the reaction of the victims of the Iowa floods so much different than the reaction of the victims of Katrina?

Perhaps we have fostered a culture of dependency among urban blacks that has all but extinguished in many of them the qualities of self-reliance and initiative that were so much in evidence in the people along the upper Mississippi. Could it be that the media sees members of the black underclass as fundamentally incapable of taking care of themselves and considers it unfair to expect them to be able to react to crisis with the same moxie as white middle class Americans? Do poor blacks feel that way about themselves?

It would be interesting if the media and others engaged in a little self-examination of the racial assumptions at play in the way these two natural disasters were covered and responded to.


Twilight of the War

The Associated Press has a story on Iraq that all but declares "Mission Accomplished". This is the AP, mind you, so there's no praise in the story for the White House, although Gen. Petraeus gets some grudging credit for the surge. The writers of the piece declare as if it were news what anyone who had been paying attention has known for some time, "The United States is now winning the war that two years ago seemed lost".

The scales having fallen from the AP's eyes, Senator Obama's narrative over the last two years that Iraq is irretrievably lost is deeply complicated and compromised. The Senator now appears to be the only person left in American politics, outside of a handful of left-wing diehards, who still thinks that the surge was the wrong thing to do. Like the Japanese soldier holding out on some lonely atoll still fighting the war thirty years after it had ended, Senator Obama still refuses to admit that the surge was a strategic and tactical success and that it has made an enormous difference in the lives of ordinary Iraqis.

He's in a tough spot, actually. If he acknowledges the success of the Bush/Petraeus/McCain surge he concedes that his own judgment of such matters is greatly inferior to that of his rival, but if he continues to refuse to acknowledge that the surge was the right thing to do then he looks like a man who can't see the sun at noon on a clear day.

P.S. We wrote a few days ago that, by choosing the Victory Column as the site for his speech in Berlin Obama "tacitly endorses the Nazi symbolism of the Column and makes himself appear just as blissfully ignorant of European history and culture as the feckless tourist who speaks no French."

It was objected by a reader that this was too strong. It's possible, the reader rightly pointed out, that Obama doesn't know the history of the column or that he will use the backdrop to denounce militarism. Unfortunately, the senator surely knew by the time of the event what the monument represented and there was nothing in his speech which would redeem his choice of the site for his rally. So, I think the original point stands - Obama tacitly endorsed the symbolism of the monument by holding his rally there, or, at best, simply chose to ignore the symbolism. Imagine the media reaction had John McCain done something similar.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Planet of the Apes

My friend Linda gives us a heads-up on a Weekly Standard column by Wesley Smith in which he foresees very disturbing consequences of Spain's recent decision to confer certain rights upon apes that heretofore had been reserved solely for human beings. Smith asks:

But why grant apes rights? After all, if the Spanish parliament deems these animals insufficiently protected, it can enact more stringent protections, as other countries have. But improving the treatment of apes--of which there are few in Spain--is not really the game that is afoot. Rather, [as animal rights activist Pedro] Pozas chortled after the environment committee of the Spanish parliament passed the resolutions committing Spain to the Great Ape Project, this precedent will be the "spear point" that breaks the "species barrier."

And why break the species barrier? Why, to destroy the unique status of man and thus initiate a wholesale transformation of Western civilization.

Specifically, by including animals in the "community of equals" and in effect declaring apes to be persons, the Great Ape Project would break the spine of Judeo-Christian moral philosophy, which holds that humans enjoy equal and incalculable moral worth, regardless of our respective capacities, age, and state of health. Once man is demoted to merely another animal in the forest, universal human rights will have to be tossed out and new criteria devised to determine which human/animal lives matter and which individuals can be treated like, well, animals.

The Great Ape Project does indeed seem to be a logical consequence of the loss of belief that we are created in the image of God. Indeed, in a secularized, Darwinized cultural environment we truly are descended from apes, and a number of bleak consequences follow from no longer regarding human beings as if they were in some sense special. Smith talks about some of these consequences in the rest of his fine article.


Bush and the Dark Knight

Novelist Andrew Klavan compares Batman to Bush in an excellent column at the Wall Street Journal. Klavan writes that:

There seems to me no question that the Batman film "The Dark Knight," currently breaking every box office record in history, is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war. Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past. And like W, Batman understands that there is no moral equivalence between a free society -- in which people sometimes make the wrong choices -- and a criminal sect bent on destruction. The former must be cherished even in its moments of folly; the latter must be hounded to the gates of Hell.

"The Dark Knight," then, is a conservative movie about the war on terror. And like another such film, last year's "300," "The Dark Knight" is making a fortune depicting the values and necessities that the Bush administration cannot seem to articulate for beans.

He goes on to ask:

Why is it, indeed, that the conservative values that power our defense -- values like morality, faith, self-sacrifice and the nobility of fighting for the right -- only appear in fantasy or comic-inspired films like "300," "Lord of the Rings," "Narnia," "Spiderman 3" and now "The Dark Knight"?

The moment filmmakers take on the problem of Islamic terrorism in realistic films, suddenly those values vanish. The good guys become indistinguishable from the bad guys, and we end up denigrating the very heroes who defend us. Why should this be?

Do read the rest at the link, it's just outstanding stuff.

I haven't seen the new Batman, but Klavan has just convinced me that I need to rectify the omission.


Tale of Two Judgments

While Senator Obama was sucking up all the media oxygen in Europe Senator McCain was in Denver dispensing some hard truths about his rival. Here's part of what the Arizona senator said about the differences between him and Obama on the surge:

Senator Obama and I also faced a decision, which amounted to a real-time test for a future commander-in-chief. America passed that test. I believe my judgment passed that test. And I believe Senator Obama's failed.

We both knew the politically safe choice was to support some form of retreat. All the polls said the "surge" was unpopular. Many pundits, experts and policymakers opposed it and advocated withdrawing our troops and accepting the consequences. I chose to support the new counterinsurgency strategy backed by additional troops -- which I had advocated since 2003, after my first trip to Iraq. Many observers said my position would end my hopes of becoming president. I said I would rather lose a campaign than see America lose a war. My choice was not smart politics. It didn't test well in focus groups. It ignored all the polls. It also didn't matter. The country I love had one final chance to succeed in Iraq. The new strategy was it. So I supported it. Today, the effects of the new strategy are obvious. The surge has succeeded, and we are, at long last, finally winning this war.

Senator Obama made a different choice. He not only opposed the new strategy, but actually tried to prevent us from implementing it. He didn't just advocate defeat, he tried to legislate it. When his efforts failed, he continued to predict the failure of our troops. As our soldiers and Marines prepared to move into Baghdad neighborhoods and Anbari villages, Senator Obama predicted that their efforts would make the sectarian violence in Iraq worse, not better.

And as our troops took the fight to the enemy, Senator Obama tried to cut off funding for them. He was one of only 14 senators to vote against the emergency funding in May 2007 that supported our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. ...

Three weeks after Senator Obama voted to deny funding for our troops in the field, General Ray Odierno launched the first major combat operations of the surge. Senator Obama declared defeat one month later: "My assessment is that the surge has not worked and we will not see a different report eight weeks from now." His assessment was popular at the time. But it couldn't have been more wrong.

By November 2007, the success of the surge was becoming apparent. Attacks on Coalition forces had dropped almost 60 percent from pre-surge levels. American casualties had fallen by more than half. Iraqi civilian deaths had fallen by more than two-thirds. But Senator Obama ignored the new and encouraging reality. "Not only have we not seen improvements," he said, "but we're actually worsening, potentially, a situation there."

If Senator Obama had prevailed, American forces would have had to retreat under fire. The Iraqi Army would have collapsed. Civilian casualties would have increased dramatically. Al Qaeda would have killed the Sunni sheikhs who had begun to cooperate with us, and the "Sunni Awakening" would have been strangled at birth. Al Qaeda fighters would have safe havens, from where they could train Iraqis and foreigners, and turn Iraq into a base for launching attacks on Americans elsewhere. Civil war, genocide and wider conflict would have been likely.

Above all, America would have been humiliated and weakened. Our military, strained by years of sacrifice, would have suffered a demoralizing defeat. Our enemies around the globe would have been emboldened. ...

Senator Obama told the American people what he thought you wanted to hear. I told you the truth.

Fortunately, Senator Obama failed, not our military. We rejected the audacity of hopelessness, and we were right. Violence in Iraq fell to such low levels for such a long time that Senator Obama, detecting the success he never believed possible, falsely claimed that he had always predicted it. ... In Iraq, we are no longer on the doorstep of defeat, but on the road to victory.

Senator Obama said this week that even knowing what he knows today that he still would have opposed the surge. In retrospect, given the opportunity to choose between failure and success, he chooses failure. I cannot conceive of a Commander in Chief making that choice.

Whereas Obama gives the impression of determining his positions by looking at the political weathervane, McCain does what he thinks is right regardless of which way the wind is blowing. Obama's judgment has been impugned by the success of the surge and McCain's has been vindicated.

HT: Powerline


Summer Symposium

Kathryn Lopez at National Review Online distributed a number of questions on books, movies and politics to some of the folks at NRO, and their responses are posted here.

These are the questions, and though I was not invited to participate in the symposium (an oversight on their part, I'm sure), just for fun I'll supply my answers to them anyway:

What's the best political novel you've ever read? Why is it the best? I read Advise and Consent so long ago I can't remember anything about it other than it inspired me to pursue a career in politics. The inspiration subsided after a couple of days. Since then maybe 1984 is the best, because it paints such a chilling, dreary picture of the world as the left would make it.

If there were only one book on conservatism you could recommend to a newcomer, what would it be and why? The Conservative Mind by Russell Kirk because it gives such a masterful overview of the history of conservative thought. If Kirk's tome is a little bit daunting I'd probably recommend Barry Goldwater's Conscience of a Conservative.

Is there one book that you'd recommend to uplift and inspire depressed conservatives this summer? Perhaps Michael Gerson's Heroic Conservatism, but in truth it would take more than a book to uplift conservatives faced with having to vote in November for John McDole and faced with the prospect of at least four years of an Obama presidency. That's depression for which there is no anodyne.

What's your favorite WFB book and why? All the Buckley books I've read I read decades ago and can't recall which of them, if any, was my favorite. I do know that I never read a Buckley book I didn't enjoy.

What's your favorite political movie and why? Man for All Seasons featuring Paul Scofield is my second choice. My first selection is The Lives of Others. It's a film everyone should see who wants to understand the sort of world to which leftist ideas logically leads. It's a great movie with lots of drama and redemption.

If you could read or reread one classic this summer, what would it be? What are the odds you actually do? Well, it's not a reread, and I'm embarrassed to say that I've never read it before, but I recently started Tolstoy's War and Peace. I expect to have it finished by the summer of 2010.

Is there any recent book that's made you want to buy copies for everyone you know and love? Did you actually make the purchases? I actually did buy copies of Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax for my son and daughter who have children of their own. Two other recent books I'd be willing to buy for people are Tim Keller's Reason for God, and Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism. Unfortunately, I have very little success getting people to read books I recommend to them so I haven't bought either of these for anyone. Yet.

Are there any summer movies you're looking forward to? I'm hearing interesting things about The Dark Knight, so I might see that. It's not a summer movie, I guess, but I do recommend Bellah for anyone looking for a wonderful film about real people.

Would you rather listen to John McCain's convention speech or read Dick Morris's new book? I'd rather be assured that John McCain was reading Dick Morris' new book.

Name one book we're going to be shocked you read. The Devil Wears Prada. I read it for a book club I was in. In my defense I should mention that I never finished it.

Thanks to Jason for passing on the link.


Supporting the Troops

The MSNBC website tells us that:

"During his trip as part of the CODEL to Afghanistan and Iraq, Senator Obama visited the combat support hospital in the Green Zone in Baghdad and had a number of other visits with the troops," Obama strategist Robert Gibbs said in a statement. "For the second part of his trip, the senator wanted to visit the men and women at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center to express his gratitude for their service and sacrifice. The senator decided out of respect for these servicemen and women that it would be inappropriate to make a stop to visit troops at a U.S. military facility as part of a trip funded by the campaign."

A U.S. military official tells NBC News they were making preparations for Sen. Barack Obama to visit wounded troops at the Landstuhl Medical Center at Ramstein, Germany on Friday, but "for some reason the visit was called off."

One military official who was working on the Obama visit said because political candidates are prohibited from using military installations as campaign backdrops, Obama's representatives were told, "he could only bring two or three of his Senate staff member, no campaign officials or workers." In addition, "Obama could not bring any media. Only military photographers would be permitted to record Obama's visit."

The official said "We didn't know why" the request to visit the wounded troops was withdrawn. "He (Obama) was more than welcome. We were all ready for him."

I sure hope that he didn't cancel the visit to the wounded troops just because he couldn't take along photographers. I heard yesterday, but cannot confirm, that instead of the hospital visit Obama went shopping and worked out.

If he did cancel the hospital trip because it wasn't a politically advantageous use of his time then what are we to think of him? The reason he gave, that it wasn't appropriate to visit the troops as part of a trip funded by the campaign, doesn't make any sense at all since he visited wounded troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The decision to cancel the visit makes it look an awful lot as though Obama's just exploiting the wounded troops for his own political purposes.

The cancellation makes it appear that if Obama's going to visit our wounded and maimed soldiers and Marines he wants everyone to know that he's doing it. I wonder how many visits to our kids McCain has made that nobody but his people and the hospital staff and patients know about.


The Giant Amoeba

Throughout his tour of the Middle East Barack Obama sounded as though he were a member of the Bush administration when talking about Iraq, Israel, and the Palestinians. Almost nothing he said, except for his 16 month timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, differs substantively from what the White House has been saying for years. This was especially true of his thoughts on Iran:

Barack Obama asserted that he would bring "big sticks and big carrots" to make Iran stand down on its nuclear program, but take no option off the table. Answering reporters' questions in the missile-battered southern town of Sderot, July 23, Obama stressed that preventing Iran [from] acquiring a nuclear weapon must be of paramount concern for any US administration. It would lead to the disintegration of the non-proliferation regime, other Middle East nations would also obtain nuclear weapons and some would reach terrorists. "This is the single most important threat to Israel and the US."

The logic of Senator Obama's words leads to this: If the nuclearization of Iran is the single most important threat to this country then, if all else fails, military force would be justified to prevent it. This is exactly the Bush/McCain position.

I don't know whether Obama actually means what he's saying, but if he does it's a significant departure from the Obama who campaigned in the primaries as the candidate least likely to ever go to war. He has now moved so close to McCain on foreign policy that the two are almost occupying the same ground.

Like a giant amoeba Obama he's slowly engulfing and absorbing the differences which had distinguished McCain from himself. He seems eager to make the campaign not about policy distinctions but about image, style, and charisma. He realizes that on the issues McCain is pretty much where the country is, but that the old man can't compete with Obama's charm, wit and afflatus, qualities which seduce many voters who haven't a clue what the issues are or where the candidates stand on them.

The rookie Senator appears to recognize that on policy matters and experience he has nothing much to offer so in order to win the presidency he has to maximize his strengths, and neutralize McCain's by making McCain's positions his own. If this is correct, then Obama is going to continue moving right and continue to look just like many another politician - a dishonest, insincere opportunist.

I hope for the country's sake that this is not what Obama is up to, but if we see him moderate his views on taxes, health care, and/or off-shore drilling then we'll know that it is.


Saturday, July 26, 2008

Sound Advice

I'm told by a friend that the letter below appeared in Letters to the Editor in the Richmond Times Dispatch, Richmond , VA on July 7, 2008.

The writer has an important lesson to impart here although he goes a little too far with his analogy:

Editor, Times-Dispatch:

Each year I get to celebrate Independence Day twice. On June 30 I celebrate my independence day and on July 4 I celebrate America's. This year is special, because it marks the 40th anniversary of my independence.

On June 30, 1968, I escaped Communist Cuba, and a few months later I was in the United States to stay. That I happened to arrive in Richmond on Thanksgiving Day is just part of the story, but I digress.

I've thought a lot about the anniversary this year. The election-year rhetoric has made me think a lot about Cuba and what transpired there. In the late 1950s, most Cubans thought Cuba needed a change, and they were right. So when a young leader came along, every Cuban was at least receptive.

When the young leader spoke eloquently and passionately and denounced the old system, the press fell in love with him. They never questioned who his friends were or what he really believed in. When he said he would help the farmers and the poor and bring free medical care and education to all, everyone followed. When he said he would bring justice and equality to all, everyone said "Praise the Lord." And when the young leader said, "I will be for change and I'll bring you change," everyone yelled, "Viva Fidel!"

But nobody asked about the change, so by the time the executioner's guns went silent the people's guns had been taken away. By the time everyone was equal, they were equally poor, hungry, and oppressed. By the time everyone received their free education it was worth nothing. By the time the press noticed, it was too late, because they were now working for him. By the time the change was finally implemented Cuba had been knocked down a couple of notches to third-world status. By the time the change was over more than a million people had taken to boats, rafts, and inner tubes. You can call those who made it ashore anywhere else in the world the most fortunate Cubans. And now I'm back to the beginning of my story.

Luckily, we would never fall in America for a young leader who promised change without asking, what change? How will you carry it out? What will it cost America? Would we?

In America he would could be voted out of office after 4 years, the longest he could be in office is 8 years, but his actions could take years to fix.

The lesson we should take from this letter from a Cuban refugee is not that Senator Obama will turn out to be another Castro, but rather that when people give their support to a virtual unknown without asking any really tough questions just because that individual is charismatic and youthful, they put at grave risk the future of their children and their nation. The Cubans did that and it has cost them dearly for two generations.

I think the letter writer is urging us to ignore the "tingling feeling up our legs" (Chris Matthews on MSNBC) that the candidates might give us, to refuse to be beguiled by their eloquence and charm, and to find out all we can about who they are before we give them our vote.

I think that's pretty sound advice.

HT: Dick Francis


Postmodern F-Word

Comment Magazine's Peter Menzies has a few interesting reflections on Bono, John Lennon, Josh Hamilton, and the inability of journalists to sift the gold from the dross. Here's an excerpt:

Journalists and faith have never had a comfortable relationship. Given the skeptical role of media in society, that isn't surprising.

Neither is the awkward news that journalists are not typically very good with ideas. Yes, some are brilliant and most are okay with facts, great with controversial quotes (such as when John Lennon described the Beatles as bigger than Christ), and anything hypocritical. They are even okay when it comes to faith leaders such as the Pope or the Dalai Lama whom they understand to have political roles.

But when it comes to ideas-concepts that demand texture, nuance, and precision of thought-most journalists and their editors are lost. Too many have little memory of their social responsibilities, and they are unconscious as to how their suppositions undermine public confidence in the veracity of news and therefore their own credibility. Trust me on this: I have been directly involved in journalism for thirty years. I know. Too few of my colleagues understand that the stories they choose not to tell can be every bit as important as the ones they do tell. And they are.

If you read it all you'll probably learn something about John Lennon that you never knew.

Menzies refers in his piece to C&W star Paul Brandt's acceptance speech upon being recognized for humanitarian service. Here's the speech (9:50):


The Pilgrimmage

Gerard Baker at the UK Times Online has some fun with those in the media who seem to regard Senator Obama as the savior of the world in this send up of how the Obama World Tour might have been conceived, if not actually chronicled, by the Western press. It's pretty good.

The only thing he might have included would have been the narrative of how The One takes the three network anchors, Couric, Gibson, and Williams, to the Mount of Transfiguration where they behold his glory in raptures too ineffable for words.


Friday, July 25, 2008

Necessary and Sufficient

One of the tropes to which the media has been treating us of late, and which Senator Obama has himself danced close to endorsing, is that the improved conditions in Iraq are due to all sorts of factors - the Sunni awakening, the improved economy, the al Qaeda atrocities, the improvement of the Iraqi security forces - everything but the American military surge. The role played by the surge is often dismissed as an almost coincidental event in Iraq that really had little to do with changing the conditions there.

Despite the persistence with which this notion has been advanced, I think it's just obtuse to believe that any of those other factors would have had any effect at all were it not for American military might being brought to bear to subdue both al Qaeda and the Sunni insurgents. It's possible that, by itself, adding more troops would have failed to pacify Iraq, but it seems to me undeniable that had we followed Senator Obama's advice and never implemented the surge, he would not have been able to safely walk around that country this week. In other words, even if the surge was not in itself sufficient to pacify Iraq it certainly can't be concluded that it therefore wasn't necessary. It's like arguing that just because scoring runs in a baseball game is not enough to guarantee victory that therefore runs aren't crucial to winning.

For Obama and his sycophantic media to downplay the decisive importance of the surge in bringing us to where we are in Iraq is symptomatic of an inability either to be objective, clear-headed, or honest, or all three.



Jack Shafer at thinks there's a double standard at work in the press' refusal to run the story of John Edwards' recent late night visit to a Los Angeles hotel. Shafer thinks that, though the Edwards story is not exactly analogous to Senator Larry Craig's airport restroom solicitations, still there's a huge disparity between the way the press played Craig's homosexual peccadillo and the almost total news blackout on Edwards' possible tryst and illegitimate child.

Shafer thinks that the explanation is, in part, that:

[The press is] observing a double standard that says homo-hypocrisy is indefensible but that hetero-hypocrisy deserves an automatic bye.

That may be part of it, but there's another big difference between Craig and Edwards. Craig is a Republican and Edwards is a Democrat. Republicans are held to a much higher moral standard by the media than are Democrats, and when they fall the media is much more enthusiastic as they close for the kill than they are when a Democrat is caught en flagrante delicto.

At any rate, it looks like Edwards' hopes of being named Obama's veep have pretty much evaporated.


Why Jackson Hates Obama

Shelby Steele, a former English professor and author of several excellent books on race in America, including White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era, writes a fascinating analysis at The Wall Street Journal of why Jesse Jackson wants to geld Barack Obama.

Steele explains in plausible accents not only Jackson's antipathy for Obama but also Obama's wide cultural appeal among both whites and blacks. Here's a glimpse:

Mr. Obama's great political ingenuity was very simple: to trade moral leverage for gratitude. Give up moral leverage over whites, refuse to shame them with America's racist past, and the gratitude they show you will constitute a new form of black power. They will love you for the faith you show in them.

So it is not hard to see why Mr. Jackson might have experienced Mr. Obama's emergence as something of a stiletto in the heart. Mr. Obama is a white "race card" -- moral leverage that whites can use against the moral leverage black leaders have wielded against them for decades. He is the nullification of Jesse Jackson -- the anti-Jackson.

It's an outstanding column and you should waste no time getting to it.


Loser Letter #9

Mary Eberstadt finally gets around to explaining why she left the Dulls to join the Brights in the ninth installment of her wonderful Loser Letters.


Thursday, July 24, 2008


In a recent column at Christopher Hitchens displays his ignorance of the issues at stake in the intelligent design/Darwinism debate on several different levels. He flatters himself to think that he has discovered a novel argument against intelligent design when in fact the argument he has stumbled upon has been around for at least a century:

It is extremely seldom that one has the opportunity to think a new thought about a familiar subject, let alone an original thought on a contested subject, so when I had a moment of eureka a few nights ago, my very first instinct was to distrust my very first instinct. To phrase it briefly, I was watching the astonishing TV series Planet Earth ....Various creatures were found doing their thing far away from the light, and as they were caught by the camera, I noticed-in particular of the salamanders-that they had typical faces. In other words, they had mouths and muzzles and eyes arranged in the same way as most animals. Except that the eyes were denoted only by little concavities or indentations. Even as I was grasping the implications of this, the fine voice of Sir David Attenborough was telling me how many millions of years it had taken for these denizens of the underworld to lose the eyes they had once possessed.

Hitchens believes that he has discovered a powerful refutation of intelligent design:

But what of the creatures who turned around and headed back in the opposite direction, from complex to primitive in point of eyesight, and ended up losing even the eyes they did have? Whoever benefits from this inquiry, it cannot possibly be [intelligent design advocates]. The most they can do is to intone that "the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away." Whereas the likelihood that the post-ocular blindness of underground salamanders is another aspect of evolution by natural selection seems, when you think about it at all, so overwhelmingly probable as to constitute a near certainty.

Of course, only someone completely ignorant of the issues in the debate between Darwinian evolutionists and intelligent design theorists would suggest that functionless eyes in cave salamanders is an argument against intelligent design. The only thing that Hitchens has stumbled upon is an argument against the doctrine of fixity of species which no one has held for over a hundred years anyway.

Everyone acknowledges that organs can lose their function and atrophy through disuse. Mutations that would diminish the ability of the salamander embryo to produce functional eyes would be eliminated in a lighted environment via the death of the young salamander, but they would not necessarily be eliminated in a dark environment where eyes are of little use anyway. Thus there'd be no selective pressure in a cave environment to retain eyes. Not even the most stalwart special creationist disputes this.

The challenge is not in explaining the degeneration of biological organs and machines, it is explaining through random genetic drift, mutation and natural selection their origin.

Hitchens has great fun ridiculing the ID folks, but his ignorance makes him look like a buffoon. He'd do better to approach matters beyond his competence with a little more humility.


Simply Irresponsible

The Washington Post, one of the most reliably liberal papers in the nation, is skeptical of the spin Obama's campaign and media supporters have put on the Iraqi response to his plan to have American combat forces out of Iraq by April of 2010. Here's part of their recent editorial:

The initial media coverage of Barack Obama's visit to Iraq suggested that the Democratic candidate found agreement with his plan to withdraw all U.S. combat forces on a 16-month timetable. So it seems worthwhile to point out that, by Mr. Obama's own account, neither U.S. commanders nor Iraq's principal political leaders actually support his strategy.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the architect of the dramatic turnaround in U.S. fortunes, "does not want a timetable," Mr. Obama reported with welcome candor during a news conference yesterday. In an interview with ABC, he explained that "there are deep concerns about . . . a timetable that doesn't take into account what [American commanders] anticipate might be some sort of change in conditions."

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has a history of tailoring his public statements for political purposes, made headlines by saying he would support a withdrawal of American forces by 2010. But an Iraqi government statement made clear that Mr. Maliki's timetable would extend at least seven months beyond Mr. Obama's. More significant, it would be "a timetable which Iraqis set" -- not the Washington-imposed schedule that Mr. Obama has in mind. It would also be conditioned on the readiness of Iraqi forces, the same linkage that Gen. Petraeus seeks. As Mr. Obama put it, Mr. Maliki "wants some flexibility in terms of how that's carried out."

Other Iraqi leaders were more directly critical. As Mr. Obama acknowledged, Sunni leaders in Anbar province told him that American troops are essential to maintaining the peace among Iraq's rival sects and said they were worried about a rapid drawdown.

Mr. Obama's account of his strategic vision remains eccentric. He insists that Afghanistan is "the central front" for the United States, along with the border areas of Pakistan. But there are no known al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan, and any additional U.S. forces sent there would not be able to operate in the Pakistani territories where Osama bin Laden is headquartered. While the United States has an interest in preventing the resurgence of the Afghan Taliban, the country's strategic importance pales beside that of Iraq, which lies at the geopolitical center of the Middle East and contains some of the world's largest oil reserves. If Mr. Obama's antiwar stance has blinded him to those realities, that could prove far more debilitating to him as president than any particular timetable.

Then there is a piece by WaPo columnist Max Boot who examines Iraqi president Nouri al Maliki's apparent agreement with Barack Obama's 16 month pullout and concludes it is purely for domestic consumption. Boot goes on to make this observation:

But Maliki's public utterances do not provide a reliable guide as to when it will be safe to pull out U.S. troops. Better to listen to the military professionals. The Post recently quoted Brig. Gen. Bilal al-Dayni, commander of Iraqi troops in Basra, as saying of the Americans, "We hope they will stay until 2020." That is similar to the expectation of Iraq's defense minister, Abdul Qadir, who says his forces cannot assume full responsibility for internal security until 2012 and for external security until 2018.

What would happen if we were to pull out much faster, on a 16-month timetable? Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond, commander of coalition forces in Baghdad, says that would be "very dangerous" -- the same words used by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The upshot of all this is that, if the WaPo writers are correct, almost nobody in Iraq, Iraqi or American, who has any sense of what's happening outside the Green Zone in Baghdad, thinks that Obama's timetable for withdrawal, so far from being irresistible, is anything but irresponsible.



One of the most frequent criticisms of those who believe that life and the physical universe are intentionally designed is that those who believe this cannot adduce any mechanism for how the designer would have accomplished the feat. Since design theorists can't posit a means by which the designer would have created a universe or biological structures and organisms the design theory is said to be unscientific. It may be philosophy, skeptics concede, but it's not science. Science is based on empirical evidence, not faith.

This last claim may be so but if it is much of what passes for science is no more supported by empirical evidence and every bit as faith based as is intelligent design. This is especially true of the belief that life arose purely through the laws of chemistry and chance. Here's part of what Paul Geim at Uncommon Descent says about the problem:

[This belief] is heavily faith-based. We have no experimental evidence for this belief, and the theoretical problems appear insoluble. We have here belief against all the evidence, analogous to the most daring leaps of religious faith imaginable, that is to say, faith not only without evidence but in the teeth of evidence. And it is even worse; there is no appeal to a God Who could reasonably do the feat that needs explaining. It is a miracle without God.

The rationale that I have seen for this leap of faith is usually that "science" has solved all previous problems and will solve this one too. But this argument is wrong, on two counts. First, even if successful, it would only establish that there was relative parity between the argument for the supernatural origin of life and those for abiogenesis (the origin of life from non-life). We would still be completely dependent on faith to believe in abiogenesis.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, "science" has in fact not solved all previous problems. Science has come up to a stone wall regarding the origin of the universe. In fact, "science" has come up to several difficult obstacles, issued promissory notes, and moved on without actually solving the problems. The origin of the Cambrian fauna is something that non-interventionalist evolutionary theory has simply postulated without fossil evidence. The origin of the flagellum in a step-by-step manner has never actually been demonstrated (the best try, that of Matzke, was actually a leap-by-leap explanation, and even then without any experimental evidence to back up his scenario). This insistence that nature must be self-contained is in fact faith against the weight of evidence.

Geim has much more to say about the problems inherent in any naturalistic explanation of the origin of life (OOL) at the link.

For more on the things scientists take on faith, often with little empirical warrant, see my letter (May 2006) to First Things.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Nice People

I wonder how many McCain supporters there are in this crowd:

HT: Wolking's World


Flew on Dawkins

In The God Delusion author Richard Dawkins has a few snide comments to make about Antony Flew's much heralded conversion from atheism to deism which was based largely on Flew's belief that there's too much evidence of the universe having been designed to discount it.

Now Flew replies to Dawkins. The riposte is reproduced at, but unfortunately there is no link there to the original paper.

For a much more extensive critique of Dawkins' book click on The God Delusion listed in the left margin of this page under the heading of Hall of Fame.

HT: Uncommon Descent


Great Conservation News

It's easy to get depressed when thinking about the rapidity with which natural lands and habitat are being gobbled up by development throughout North and, especially, South America. For those who delight in the wonders of nature and the beauty it offers, the statistics on its rate of disappearance are glum. So this news out of Ontario, Canada is as welcome as it is surprising:

Ontario has made the largest conservation commitment in Canadian history, setting aside at least half the Northern Boreal region - 225,000 square kilometres - for permanent protection from development, Premier Dalton McGuinty announced yesterday.

It's an area almost the size of the United Kingdom.

"It is, in a word, immense. It's also unique and precious. It's home to the largest untouched forest in Canada and the third largest wetland in the world," McGuinty said.

The Northern Boreal region covers 43 per cent of Ontario but few people call it home. About 24,000 people, mostly in native communities accessible only by air, live there. It is home to approximately 200 sensitive species of animals, including woodland caribou, wolverine and lake sturgeon, which have been driven from large parts of the more southern forest by logging and other development.

The land that Ontario will permanently protect from timbering and mining is also home to 5 million juncos, 4 million magnolia warblers, 3 million palm warblers, 3 million Swainson's thrushes, and 2 million Tennessee warblers, just to name a few species.

See also this article by Scott Weidensaul at The Nature Conservancy.

A small portion of the preserved wilderness in Ontario.


Campaign Contribution

Having run an editorial by Barack Obama last week on his Iraq policy, the New York Times has chosen to reject a similar piece by John McCain. The ostensible reasons are given here by editor David Shipley. McCain's editorial can also be read at the same site.

Consider it a campaign contribution by the Times to the Obama campaign.

UPDATE: NEW YORK (AP) - New York Times Co. says its second-quarter earnings fell 82 percent from the year-ago quarter boosted by a one-time gain. Meanwhile, print advertising revenue continued to shrink.

Wonder why.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Radovan Karadzic

It took thirteen years, but former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic, accused architect of massacres and the politician considered most responsible for the deadly siege of Sarajevo, was arrested Monday evening in a Serbian-U.N. raid ending his reign as the world's most-wanted war crimes fugitive:

His alleged partner in the persecution and "cleansing" of tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats, former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic, remained at large.

A psychiatrist turned diehard Serbian nationalist politician, Karadzic is the suspected mastermind of mass killings that the U.N. war crimes tribunal described as "scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history." They include the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica, Europe's worst slaughter since World War II.

Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador who negotiated an end to the Bosnian War, ....calculated that Karadzic is responsible, directly or indirectly, for the deaths of 300,000 people, because without him there would have been no war or genocide.

The charges against him, last amended in May 2000, include genocide, extermination, murder, deportation, inhumane acts, and other crimes committed against Bosnian Muslim, Bosnian Croat and other non-Serb civilians in Bosnia during the 1992-1995 war.

"These offenses include a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing directed at non-Serbs, organized attacks on places of worship, the operation of concentration camps, and the mass murder of thousands of Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat civilians," the White House statement added.

It's hard to believe that Europe stood by and watched this genocide take place only fifty years after Hitler, but they pretty much did. It was only when the United States decided that we could no longer allow Muslims to be slaughtered by the tens of thousands and began bombing Bosnian targets that the killing stopped.

Quick quiz: Were we right to intervene militarily in Bosnia to stop the killing? If so, was there a significant difference between Bosnia under Karadzic and Milosevic and Iraq under Saddam? If not, were we justified in deposing Saddam? Explain your reasoning.


Ten Years?

A couple of months ago Senator Obama said he would campaign in all 57 states and now it appears that he expects to be president for the next "eight to ten years" (see video). I'm sure that the Senator knows that he's limited by the constitution to two four year terms, he was educated as a constitutional lawyer, after all, and I don't want to make too much of his lapses. Such things happen to the best of people.

Nevertheless, Dan Quayle was positively crucified for misspelling "potato" by the same media that lets these howlers from Obama just float on off into the ether, and no one needs to be reminded how George Bush has been made the object of contemptuous ridicule because of his various solecisms. Yet the media which found ample time to chortle at Quayle and Bush is too preoccupied striving to touch the hem of Obama's garment to apply the same standards of rhetorical punctilio to him.

Perhaps the MSM should be required to file with the elections commission as a 527 group.


Innumerable Piles of Corpses

Richard Weikart, author of From Darwin to Hitler, writes a longish but important essay which traces the main lineaments of Western thought about human nature through the 19th and 20th century. The essay is titled The Dehumanizing Impact of Modern Thought: Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, and Their Followers, and it shows clearly how the ideas of these thinkers prepared the ground for the horrors of the 20th century.

Weikart begins by recalling the words of Viktor Frankl:

Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor who endured the horrors of Auschwitz, astutely commented on the way that modern European thought had helped prepare the way for Nazi atrocities (and his own misery). He stated, "If we present a man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present man as an automaton of reflexes, as a mind-machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drives and reactions, as a mere product of instinct, heredity and environment, we feed the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case, prone. I became acquainted," Frankl continued, "with the last stage of that corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment--or, as the Nazi liked to say, of 'Blood and Soil.' I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers."

Read the whole essay at the link. It will help you to understand why a lot of people are convinced that atheistic materialism leads ineluctably, in the enthusiastic words of 19th century Darwinian Ludwig Büchner, to "innumerable piles of corpses".


Monday, July 21, 2008

Other Possibilities

My friend Byron chides me for the post immediately below this one where I said that: "By choosing this site for his speech Obama tacitly endorses the symbolism of the Victory Column and makes himself appear just as blissfully ignorant of European history and culture as the feckless tourist who speaks no French."

Byron correctly points out that I should not have said that Obama was "tacitly endorsing" the symbol since there are other posible explanations for his choice of this venue. For one, it's possible that Obama knows the history behind the Victory Column and is going to use this backdrop to somehow criticize the mindset which lies behind it.

It's also possible that he actually doesn't know the history of the Column and would not have chosen it if he had.

Of course, if the Senator doesn't know the history then the last clause of the passage quoted above obtains, and if he doesn't use the occasion to make a speech which "deconstructs" (to use Byron's word) this expression of German military power then it seems we're back to my original formulation.


Innocent Abroad

Having been rebuffed in his attempt to hold a rally at the Brandenburg Gate in Germany Senator Obama has settled on the Siegessaeule or Victory Column in the heart of downtown Berlin. This is an odd choice for the candidate who scoffed at American visitors to Europe who can only say merci beaucoup. The Victory Column celebrates German military victories over our allies (France, Denmark, and Austria) and was placed there by Adolf Hitler who looked at it as a symbol of German military prowess. By choosing this site for his speech Obama tacitly endorses the symbolism of the Victory Column and makes himself appear just as blissfully ignorant of European history and culture as the feckless tourist who speaks no French.

And why does he need such symbolic backdrops anyway? The man is a candidate, not a President. Is he hoping to draw huge crowds of enthusiastic Germans in order to convince undecided Americans that the Europeans would love us if only we elected him as President?

Ed Morrissey writes:

Hitler didn't just move the monument to its more central location. He had a taller column built for it as well, to emphasize its message of German military domination over Europe. He saw it as a message to Germans of their destiny - as well as to other Europeans as their destiny as well. It was never meant as a symbol of peaceful, multicultural co-existence.

Team Obama has outdone themselves on symbolism with this choice. They've managed to make their hosts uncomfortable for a second time with their choice of rallying point, and perhaps more so this time. If one wanted to talk peace, what worse location could one choose than Adolf Hitler's favorite monument to militaristic domination? One has to wonder how France, Denmark, and Austria will feel about Obama rallying German masses under the Siegess�ule. Deja vu?

Obama could be excused for his gaffe, except for two reasons. His team certainly understood the historical weight that the Brandenburg Gate would have lent his event, so why didn't they bother to ask the Germans about the Siegess�ule? Quite obviously, the Germans understand the meaning and subtext of the monument, and most of them wonder why Obama does not. Maybe this is a better example of clueless Americans traveling abroad than those who can only say merci beaucoup.

The more basic question is why Obama feels the need to conduct a campaign event among Germans. Meeting with foreign leaders makes sense for a man with no foreign policy experience whatsoever, but that doesn't require massive rallies among people who aren't voting in this election. In his rush to look impressive for no one's purposes but his own, Obama has made himself look ignorant and arrogant all over again.


Giving Peace a Chance

The Bush administration has taken considerable heat from the right for meeting with the Iranians to discuss their nuclear weapons program. I don't think this criticism is really warranted. Surely the administration anticipated that they would have near zero success persuading the Iranians to draw down, but they did the right thing by meeting with them for two reasons:

First, there was a vanishingly small chance that the Iranians would have a Libyan moment and decide that they couldn't sustain the opprobrium of the world nor the fear of U.S. military action. Too much is at stake for President Bush not to at least allow for the possibility that a face-to-face meeting might provoke Iranian second-thoughts.

Second, and more importantly, the U.S., if it's going to take more serious measures down the road, simply has to make every effort to settle this matter peacefully. To take more aggressive action against Iran without at least having tried face-to-face talks would have been precipitous and unforgiveable. Doubtless, too, some of our allies are insisting that their support for a strike on Iran is contingent upon our exhausting every other avenue first.

Now that the talks have come to naught the next steps will likely be deep sanctions and a blockade, either of which are likely to provoke an aggressive response from Iran and a consequent all-out massive retaliatory strike against their nuclear facilities, military, and government. The most likely window for an escalation is after the November elections but before the next president takes office.

We may have little choice in the end but to do what's necessary to prevent the Iranians from getting these horrific weapons, but we're not there yet. President Bush, in my view, did the right thing by giving peace a chance.


Facts and Theories

Casey Luskin at Evolution News and Views is beginning a five part series of posts on these five questions:

  1. Are Darwinists correct to define "theory" as "a well-substantiated scientific explanation of some aspect of the natural world" or "a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence"?
  2. Under such a strong definition of "theory," does evolution qualify as a "theory"?
  3. Is it correct to call evolution a "fact"?
  4. Is it best for Darwin skeptics to call evolution "just a theory, not a fact"?
  5. "All I wanted to say is that I'm a scientific skeptic of neo-Darwinism. How can I convey such skepticism without stepping on a semantic land mine and getting scolded by Darwinists?"

His response to #1 can be read here.


Saturday, July 19, 2008


Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has called President Bush a "total failure":

"You know, God bless him, bless his heart, president of the United States, a total failure, losing all credibility with the American people on the economy, on the war, on energy, you name the subject," Pelosi replied. She then tsk-tsked Bush for "challenging Congress when we are trying to sweep up after his mess over and over and over again."

Pelosi's outburst was a departure. Her usual practice in public has been to call Bush's policies a failure - not his presidency or him, personally. Pelosi's remarks are the latest evidence of the Democrats' throw-caution-to-the-wind approach to Bush in the waning days of a presidency weighed down by an unpopular war and soaring gasoline prices.

President Bush's approval ratings hover around 28%. The Congress which Ms Pelosi leads is at 8%. Congress has done nothing since Pelosi took the reins except try futilely to defund the troops in Iraq, harass Bush administration officials, and obstruct whatever the President has attempted to do. Even in these dubious pursuits she has had few successes, and yet she has the chutzpah to call Bush -- a man who has liberated 50 million people from oppression, rescued millions more Africans from the ravages of disease and starvation, kept the U.S. free for seven years from a terrorist attack, kept an economy which has experienced several critical shocks from going into recession -- a total failure.

Ms Pelosi has given us a good example of how little people sometimes try to make themselves look big and important by tearing down those who dwarf them.



Charles Krauthammer is not Senator Obama's biggest fan, but he has an idea who is. Read his clever and amusing essay to see who gets his vote.


Post-modern Crackup

A student of mine, Tim, reminds me of this 2003 article in Christianity Today by Chuck Colson who writes about what he sees as the post-modern crackup. I recall that Brian McLaren took exception in CT to Colson's analysis of the faults and future of post-modern thinking, but McLaren's writings on the subject suffer from the fact that he never seems able to bring himself to define exactly what he means by "post-modern". As a result, his critique seemed unfocussed.

Anyway, I couldn't find McLaren's piece so I can't link to it and won't say any more about it.

In Colson's essay he points out that people cannot live with the assumption that there's no ultimate truth, that the only truth is what's true for me and the group I identify with:

Is postmodernism-the philosophy that claims there is no transcendent truth-on life support? It may be premature to sign the death certificate, but there are signs postmodernism is losing strength:

I spoke at my alma mater, Brown University, in June, arguing that without acknowledging moral truth, it's impossible for colleges to teach ethics. I've been saying this since the late 1980s, all over America, and I've yet to be successfully contradicted. Whenever someone claims his alma mater teaches ethics, I ask him to send me the curriculum, which invariably turns out to be pure pragmatism, utilitarianism, or social issues like diversity and the environment-good things, but not ethics. At Brown-one of the most liberal campuses in the country-I was shocked when the professor who introduced me acknowledged that he could no longer teach ethics, adding: "Chuck Colson will explain why."

Read the rest of what Colson says at the link. He talks about how young people seem to be abandoning the assumptions of post-modernity for something more solid, but I'm not so sure this is really happening today. Barack Obama, for example, has waged a campaign that appeals to all of society's post-modern impulses - his campaign's emphasis on style and image over substance, their shifting truth claims, etc. - and young people are soaking it up.

Even so, Colson's piece is a good read.

UPDATE: Byron has sent along links to McLaren's response to Colson along with Colson's reply. Check it out here. RLC

Friday, July 18, 2008


Byron and I have been having a back and forth over whether Obama has been prevaricating on his plans for Iraq or whether his position is simply so nuanced that it only seems like he's flip-flopping or talking out of both sides of his mouth when, in fact, he's merely been stressing different elements of his plan to different audiences.

Now comes a McCain campaign video that quotes Obama in a before and after format. I don't care much for their "translations", but the juxtaposition of what Obama has said on different aspects of his Iraq policy at different times makes it pretty hard to get a fix on what he actually believes and what he'll actually do.

The video is a little long, but at the very least it is cumulatively a pretty powerful indictment of Obama's ability to remain consistent:

HT:Hot Air


Which Makes More Sense?

We posted yesterday on what seems to be the Democrats' lack of seriousness about doing something to increase oil supplies. Today we read that Nancy Pelosi is insisting that oil companies drill on federal lands to which they have already been granted access. The oil companies say that the cost of exploring these lands for oil is prohibitively high and the risk is that there's too little oil on these lands to make drilling profitable.

The oil companies want to drill where they know there's oil, and the Democrats want them to drill where there might be none.

HT: Ramirez



Patterico wonders why the LA Times, which has to approve all comments made to its blog, would have allowed about one fourth of the comments concerning Tony Snow's death to be such vile, despicable trash.

I read that Michelle Malkin's site got some bad stuff in her comments section when she posted on the news of Ted Kennedy's cancer, and, if so, it's not just the left that reacts in such abominable ways, but some of this has to be seen in order to be believed. It's hard to imagine that there really are people this sick and deranged out there.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Loser Letter #8

In her next installment in her series of Loser Letters Mary Eberstedt writes the first of a two-part explanation for how she went from a Christian Dull to an atheist Bright. Citing the works of atheist heroes Peter Singer and Stephen Pinker, inter alia, she reveals how the loss of belief in "The Loser" is leading to a grand new moral paganism.



Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats urge us to open up our Strategic Petroleum Reserve to lower the price of gas at the pump and also to cut back on our exports. If Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority leader, has his facts right, Pelosi's proposal simply reveals how unserious the Democrats are about reducing prices:

The fact is that, though they won't say it, the Democrats have long been pushing for higher gas prices as a conservation measure - Obama even admitted that his only problem with high costs is that we got there too soon - and now that we have them they don't want to see them lowered. This is an odd position for a party that claims to be concerned about the pain felt by the little guy who is paying more for everything because gas is more expensive. The rich aren't suffering from higher pump prices, its the poor and the middle class that are being squeezed, and their champions in Congress don't seem willing to do much about it.


More from Real Change

Here are a few snippets from Newt Gingrich's book Real Change:

  • The U.S, Department of Agriculture has paid more than a billion dollars in subsidies to deceased farmers over the last seven years.
  • The GAO reports that there are about 55,322 criminal illegal aliens in the country who have been arrested over 459,614 times. About 15,000 of these illegals have eleven of more arrests.
  • It's not a crime in California for a public employee to lie while trying to get a disability pension.
  • Unions are demanding, and the Democratic party supports, the right to get rid of secret ballot elections. This would eliminate seventy years of laws protecting workers from intimidation and coercion.
  • FEMA spent $67 million on ice for Katrina victims that was never delivered. It was stored for two years and then FEMA spent another $3.4 million to melt it.
  • FEMA spent $878.8 million on 25,000 manufactured homes for people displaced by Katrina. Eleven thousand of them were never used because FEMA prohibits placing homes in a flood plain.
  • Only 25% of ninth graders in Detroit's public schools graduate on time. In most American cities the number is less than 50%.
  • A white businessman in Detroit was called a racist for offering the city school district $200 million dollars to build fifteen charter schools to help poor black kids get an education. His offer was declined when the Detroit Federation of Teachers threatened to strike if it was accepted.
  • In 1960 Ghana had the same per capita income as South Korea. South Korea adopted a free market approach to economic growth and Ghana adopted socialism. Today South Korea is the twelfth wealthiest nation in the world and Ghana languishes at number 100. Ireland was among the poorest countries in Europe two generations ago. Today, after a generation of cutting taxes, investing in infrastructure, and becoming investment-friendly, it's close to the wealthiest per capita nation on the continent.
  • Meanwhile, our Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley act in 2002 which piles massive accounting burdens on American business creating a regulatory environment which, together with our laws regulating litigation, is driving business overseas. As a result, New York is at risk of losing its position as the center of world financial activity. If it does it could mean the loss of $15 to $30 billion dollars and as many as 60,000 jobs.
  • Unless Social Security is fixed it will run out of funds to pay benefits by 2042, but in 2017 it will be paying out more than it takes in. In order to finance the pay-outs it will have to sell its trust fund bonds. Since there is no cash to buy them they will have to be paid for by raising taxes $6.5 trillion dollars.
  • Under the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Award Act of 1976 anybody who brings an even partially successful civil rights suit may have the defendant pay all the legal fees for both parties. Successful defendents, however, still have to pay their own fees. There is thus an enormous incentive to press civil rights cases on school districts and municipalities and defendents find it cheaper to settle than to fight. The result of this is that those with an anti-religious agenda have little to lose by continually harrassing schools with litigation and schools often give up without a fight.
  • In 2005 a $286 billion transportation bill was loaded down with $20 billion in earmarks which are essentially handouts to constituents for things like sprucing up neighborhoods in which a Congressman lives, museums about prisons, and millions of dollars to organizations whose existence can't even be confirmed. The bill was signed into law by President Bush.

We need a government which is responsible to the people and which will not treat our money as wealth to which it's entitled. We need to get rid of those who protect and feed off bureaucracy and elect those who will make government work. First, though, we need more citizens who care enough to find out which of these the candidates asking for their votes are.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Obama's Christianity

Newsweek's Richard Wolffe has a fine piece in the recent edition of Newsweek which probes Senator Obama's religious history and convictions. It's a helpful article and Obama comes across in it as a man for whom the Christian Gospel plays a central role in forming his life and his politics.

I'm curious, though, as to why there has been so little vexation on the left over the strong influence exerted by Christian belief on Obama's worldview. When George Bush was running for president there was much hand-wringing about how Bush "talks to God" (Obama says he prays every day), and the impression was given that because Bush was a devout Christian he was either delusional or his election would be at best religiously divisive and at worst push us to the verge of a theocracy.

Now comes a Christian who expresses the obligations his faith imposes in ways just as all-encompassing as Bush did but in ways more overtly compatible with leftist sensibilities, and it seems as if even the secular left is willing to overlook this unfortunate eccentricity in Obama's character.

The reaction of the left to Obama's Christian committment is perhaps similar to their reaction to the involvement of Christians in the public square. They're often outraged by the involvement of Christian churches in conservative politics or in public education, and demand that the wall of separation have a few more rows of legal bricks and mortar added to shore it up, but they're enthusiastic about the far more blatant political involvement of liberal white and black churches and preachers who often line up with them on the issues.

All of which is to say that when the left is complaining about religion in the public arena there's a good chance that what they're upset about is not so much the religion, nor the transgression by the church into the domain of the state, but the ideological flavor of the particular transgression in question. It is conservative points of view, the political beliefs of people like James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell, that they want silenced. Contrarily, the wall of separation is as porous as the Mexican border to the views espoused by religious figures on the left such as Jeremiah Wright, Fr. Pfleger, Jesse Jackson, et al.

So, we're not holding our breath waiting for the stories to come out about the threat Obama's "fundamentalism" poses to our nation's freedoms. They're as likely as a story in the liberal press about the threat to the nation posed by the sentiments expressed by Martin Luther King in his Letter from a Birmingham City Jail.


Real Change

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has written a book titled Real Change in which he lays out a vision for America's future. His vision seems eminently desirable, and in a better world than this one it would also be fairly easy to attain. Yet it seems to cynical old me that, given our political culture, it's highly unlikely that what he proposes will ever be realized.

Before talking about what that vision is, Gingrich tells us how both the GOP and the Democrats stand in the way of its being achieved. Simply put, the Republicans too often fail to govern consistently with their principles, and the Democrats too often do succeed in governing consistently with theirs. Even so, despite the enormous blame that must be laid to the charge of our political leaders, I think most of the fault lies with us, the electorate.

Gingrich cites poll after poll which reveals what the American people favor and blames our political leadership for not giving it to us, but the problem is that though the American public may know what it wants, it doesn't vote for it. It doesn't have the foggiest idea who in Congress stands for what, and consequently it elects people who actually oppose the very things that Americans say they want. For example:

  • Ninety six percent want the Social Security system fixed now.
  • Seventy one percent want a flat tax.
  • Sixty five percent want nuclear power plants built.
  • Eighty seven percent want English declared the official language.

Yet Congress is run by people who refuse to do any of these things.

Gingrich rightly faults Republicans for failing to lead on these and other issues when they had the majority, and he rightly faults Democrats for thwarting reform largely because they're beholden to bureaucracies, unions and interest groups which would lose power and money were real reforms to be enacted. But he nowhere faults the American people for their slothful approach to politics and their indifference to the responsibility imposed upon them by the rigtht to vote.

To take just one example of the many he offers of how bureaucracy is slowly crippling the American system of governance, he notes that Medicaid fraud and abuse siphons off $18 billion just in New York every year, but there is little or no will to do anything about it because powerful bureaucracies and unions and their lackeys in the legislatures fight reform and punish legislative reformers. He cites case after case of how left-wing ideology and entrenched special interests are ruining cities and states all across the nation. New Orleans and Detroit are served up as two examples of cities which have been devastated in different ways by political failure and bureaucratic incompetence.

He also has a chapter on how liberalism, bureaucracy and unions have all but destroyed education in most of our major cities.

In the remainder of the book he talks about how we can move from the world that fails to the world that works and argues that government can learn much from studying entrepreneurs and free markets. For example:

He writes that "in free markets, customers define the value of goods and services and make their own decisions. They are always free to look for better or cheaper alternatives. Entrepreneurs must know their markets and provide customers with goods and services they will voluntarily purchase. In bureaucracies, by contrast, bureaucrats define the rules and make the decisions. Recipients must wait for bureaucracies to decide to pay attention to them, and they must accept the bureaucrats' conditions to get the goods and services they want."

He might've also added that in a free market there are tremendous incentives for competence and efficiency and tremendous disincentives for failure to please the customer. In bureaucracies there are no incentives or disincentives at all. There are no real consequences for bureaucratic failure and thus we get plenty of it.

He goes on for the balance of the book applying his model of the entrepreneurial principles in the world that works versus the world that fails to Iraq, immigration, social security, health care, energy, the economy, and so on.

Real Change is a book every political candidate should study and certainly every voter should read. It lays out two different philosophies of governance and two different kinds of futures. The governance we have now is leading us to a future that looks depressingly bleak, but don't take my word for it, read the book (It can be ordered from Hearts and Minds Bookstore)and see what the world our children will inhabit could be like.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

On Behalf of Freedom

Senators Arlen Specter (R, PA) and Joe Leiberman (I, CT) have submitted a bill to the Senate that would protect the free speech rights of Americans against the abuses of foreign jurists and plaintiffs. The problem, as Specter and Leiberman outline it in the Wall Street Journal, is that American authors are being sued by Islamic plaintiffs in foreign courts for writing books and articles critical of Islam. In the U.S. the plaintiff has to prove that a claim is false in order to establish libel, but in England the defendant has to prove the contested claim is true. If he can't he has to pay all costs and damages.

The Senators write that:

Consequently, English courts have become a popular destination for libel suits against American authors. In 2003, U.S. scholar Rachel Ehrenfeld asserted in her book, "Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed and How to Stop It," that Saudi banker Khalid Bin Mahfouz helped fund Osama bin Laden. The book was published in the U.S. by a U.S. company. But 23 copies were bought online by English residents, so English courts permitted the Saudi to file a libel suit there.

Ms. Ehrenfeld did not appear in court, so Mr. Bin Mahfouz won a $250,000 default judgment against her. He has filed or threatened to file at least 30 other suits in England.

To counter this lawsuit trend, we have introduced the Free Speech Protection Act of 2008, a Senate companion to a House bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Pete King (R., N.Y.) and co-sponsored by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D., N.Y.). This legislation builds on New York State's "Libel Terrorism Protection Act," signed into law by Gov. David Paterson on May 1.

Our bill bars U.S. courts from enforcing libel judgments issued in foreign courts against U.S. residents, if the speech would not be libelous under American law. The bill also permits American authors and publishers to countersue if the material is protected by the First Amendment. If a jury finds that the foreign suit is part of a scheme to suppress free speech rights, it may award treble damages.

Kudos to senators Specter and Leiberman and to representatives King and Weiner. It will be interesting to see who votes against these bills and why.


Paging Al Sharpton

At a recent meeting of city officials in Dallas County, Texas, county commissioners were hashing out difficulties with the way traffic tickets are handled. Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield observed that the bureaucracy "has become a black hole" for lost paperwork and for this he was immediately pounced upon by fellow commissioner John Price, who is black and whose education is sadly deficient in the rudiments of scientific terminology.

According to the Dallas Morning News' City Hall Blog, Price took umbrage shouting, "Excuse me! That office has become a white hole."

Seizing on the opportunity to also be offended, Judge Thomas Jones demanded that Mayfield apologize for the "racially insensitive analogy".

The problem obviously is that none of the aggrieved has any idea what a black hole is or why it's called that. Since Mayfield used the word "black" in connection with the bureaucracy his African American colleagues simple-mindedly assumed he was making an offensive racial reference.

The episode reminds me of the incident in Washington, D.C. a couple of years ago when a white councilman lost his job for correctly applying the word "niggardly". None of the people who demanded his ouster for this outrage were familiar enough with the workings of a dictionary to actually look the word up.

It might not have mattered if they did, of course, since they might well have looked up the wrong word.

It's embarrassing enough that politically correct illiterates like these are in positions of public responsibility, but it's unconscionable that they have the power to make life miserable for more intelligent colleagues.