Monday, January 11, 2010

Jumping on Reid

When Trent Lott, the GOP Senate Majority Leader back in 2002, made the remark on the occasion of Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday that the country would have been better off had Strom been elected president when he ran in 1948 he was excoriated by the press and forced to resign as majority leader by his party because Strom Thurmond had been a segregationist in the 1940s. Lott wasn't even thinking of that, he was simply trying to say something nice about an elderly colleague, but numerous Democrats, including Mr. Obama, screamed for his head, and so the GOP threw him to the wolves.

In 2007 Virginia Governor George Allen was savaged by the press for calling a heckler "macaca," a word that Allen claims he didn't even know the meaning of and no one else did either (Apparently it's regarded in some parts of the world as a mild insult, like calling someone a monkey). The incident is thought by some to have cost Allen the election in his Senate race against Jim Webb.

Now the victim of the racial insensitivity police is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who, it was reported in a recently released book on the 2008 election, said that Barack Obama was "light skinned" and had "no Negro dialect" and therefore had an electoral advantage. For this indiscretion Reid is apologizing and groveling and being blasted by Republicans.

Indeed, there is poetic justice in this, and I would be happy to see Harry Reid hounded out of the Senate, but not for this. Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't know what was so terribly wrong with what Reid said (nor with what Lott or Allen said). It was grossly unfair and puerile of the Democrats, including Harry Reid himself, and the liberal media, to make a big deal about the Republicans' remarks, and it is just as unfair for the Republicans to do the same now to Reid (and hypocritical of the liberal media to be largely quiet about it since they blasted both Lott and Allen night and day over their comments).

Let me be clear (as our President likes to say), Reid is vulnerable to a lot of criticism. The squalid manner in which he bought off senators' votes on the health care bill, his comparison of health care opponents to those who opposed civil rights for blacks, his hypocrisy in condemning Bill Bennett for remarks not unlike his own, his lack of class in his criticisms of George Bush, and his willingness to play fast and loose with the truth on any number of occasions, are all legitimate targets, but I simply don't see why it's racist or "insensitive" or otherwise offensive to note a man's color and his mode of speech. Nor do I see why it's racist to declaim upon how these characteristics could work to a man's political advantage with an electorate that clearly wanted to vote for a black man but perhaps not one who was too black. To be sure, it may, like neglecting to cover a yawn, flout a social convention to say out loud what everybody can plainly see, but I don't see how it's racist or otherwise beyond tolerable.

Perhaps, someone out there, liberal or conservative, will explain it all to me and make the case for why Reid should step down as Majority Leader because of his comment about Obama's hue and speech. Meanwhile, I'd prefer conservatives focus on the man's real liabilities, which are legion. In the present instance, however, the offense wasn't racism, but rather hypocrisy, both on the part of Reid and those who were quick to condemn Bennett, Lott and Allen but give Reid a pass.

Conservatives should avoid acting like children by parsing every syllable a person utters for signs of racism just so they can use the words as a political smear. It's really small-minded and ugly, and besides, it's the sort of thing the Left does.


Are the Taliban Winning?

Much of the news coming out of the Afghanistan theater suggests that we're losing the war there to a resurgent Taliban. Strategy Page tells us that much of this reportage is the result of the media being "played" by the Taliban whose circumstances may be much more dire than one might think from news reports:

[t]he Taliban had a bad year in 2009, although they managed to play the media well enough to hide a lot of their problems. The biggest defeat for the Taliban was in a continued loss of support by the Afghan people. Opinion surveys have had the percentage of Afghan approving the Taliban going downward for several years, and it's now under ten percent. This is no surprise to anyone living in Afghanistan. The Taliban were always disliked by the majority of Afghans, but now their fellow Pushtuns overwhelmingly hate them as well. This has a lot to do with where the Taliban are operating. That is, mostly in the province of Kandahar, Helmand (where most of the heroin is produced) and Khost. About 80 percent of the violence is taking place in 13 percent of the country, and the Pushtuns in those areas are tired of the Taliban and all their self-righteous violence.

The activity you hear about in the north is usually in those few areas up there occupied by small Pushtun tribes. If the Taliban show up anywhere else (among Uzbek, Turk, Hazara or Tajik people, who dominate the north) they are easily identifiable, and subject to prompt scrutiny by lots of guys with guns. The Taliban not only have to be careful where they go in the north, but in the south as well. An increasing number of southern Pushtun tribes have organized militias to keep the Taliban out of their lands. Often, this is being done with the aid of Afghan or foreign troops. This is what the new American strategy is about, and what all the additional troops are for. Since the Taliban are already restricted to a small area, the new strategy constricts their movement even more.

There's more at the link.

President Obama doesn't like to think in terms of victory, perhaps, but victory is as possible in Afghanistan as it was in Iraq. It just takes a resolute, patient Commander in Chief willing to commit the necessary resources. If the stakes weren't so high it'd be very tempting to say that the fight in those far-off, desolate lands is not worth it, but we must constantly remind ourselves that the Islamists have determined that their struggle against us will be generational. It won't end next year or the year after or even, perhaps, in this century. The fight will go on as long as they're able to mount terrorist operations against the West. They are fanatics whose only purpose in life is to serve Allah by killing infidels. Their war against us will never end until they succeed or they're rendered unable to carry out their "mission."

The day we decide we no longer want to fight is the day we concede victory to those who will destroy us as soon as they possibly can.


Singer on Moral Duties

Peter Singer, the utilitarian philosopher who gained public notoriety for his views on the morality of infanticide, has written a book in which he argues that we have a duty to help the poor around the world. The book is titled The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty and an interview with Singer about his book is summarized at The Philosopher's Magazine(TPM).

Throughout the summary we read statements made by Singer like:

[W]e should accept the deceptively uncontroversial-sounding principle that "if it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it."

"I and everyone else in similar circumstances ought to give as much as possible, that is, at least up to the point at which by giving more one would begin to cause serious suffering for oneself and one's dependents - perhaps even beyond this point to the point of marginal utility, at which by giving more one would cause oneself and one's dependents as much suffering as one would prevent in Bengal."

"I want to persuade as many people as possible to do something about world poverty."

"Most people can give 50% of their income away. I wouldn't say they can't, it's predictable that most of them won't, but I think in the sense that 'ought implies can', they can."

"If it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything morally significant, we ought to do it."

"If you're thinking ethically you ought to try to take this point of view from which you consider whether you could prescribe the action if you were in the position of all of those affected by it. I think that if you consider the situation of poverty and affluence, if you were really to put yourself in the position of the poor person and the affluent person, and ask yourself whether you could support the view that the affluent person doesn't give anything to the poor, you couldn't."

Put simply, Singer believes we have a duty to help the poor, and his book is an attempt to answer objections to his belief that we should give away far more of our wealth than we do to ameliorate the world's suffering. Perhaps we should but this is a very peculiar claim for someone of Peter Singer's metaphysical commitments to make because Singer is an atheist.

Singer seems to assume that everyone agrees with him that we have a moral obligation to help the poor and that the only question concerns the extent of the help we should give. But the fundamental question, as we have written about often here at Viewpoint, is where does an atheist get the notion that we have any moral duties at all?

Duties and obligations are imposed upon us, either by ourselves or by a higher authority. If the duty to help the poor is self-imposed then how can Singer say that anyone but himself ought to give of their resources? If the duty to help the poor is self-imposed then it is purely subjective and arbitrary and is no more rational, probably less so, than imposing a duty upon oneself to be selfish.

If the obligation to minimize suffering is imposed by a higher authority than our individual selves then we need to ask Mr. Singer what that higher authority is. Could it be the state? If the state is to be our moral arbiter then whatever duty the state imposes is right, but surely Mr. Singer doesn't think this is true. It doesn't take too much imagination to picture a state imposing the duty to commit genocide, as some Islamic states would do if given half the chance and which Germany did do in the late thirties and early forties.

This is one of several fundamental quandaries an atheist finds himself in. The only non-arbitrary, objective authority which has the power and the right to impose moral duties upon us is God. For an atheist to talk about our responsibility to the poor and our obligation to give to them until it hurts is simply nonsense. Unless God wills it, which He does, I have no moral obligation to do anything I don't want to do.

Someone may object and say, "but if you were poor you would want the better off to help you." That's certainly true, but it's no reason at all why I should help others. The objection invokes the Golden Rule and admonishes us to abide by it, but what reason is there why we should? Why should I simply not live by the rule that says "Look out for #1?"

To this question the atheist has no answer, and Singer's moralizing about duties to the poor is at bottom just so much hand-waving.


El Dorado?

Those readers with an interest in archaeology will find this article interesting. Apparently, deforestation of the Amazon basin has allowed satellites to detect the remnants of an ancient civilization that dates back to 800 A.D. Some archaeologists suspect it may be the remains of the mythical city of El Dorado.

The article doesn't mention this, but I wonder what the ecological implications are for those of us disheartened by the steady loss of the rain forest biome. What I mean is if an entire city, stretching for 150 miles, was carved out of the forest and then reclaimed by the forest when the civilization died, is it possible that portions of the rain forest could likewise recover some of their former beauty and vigor if those parts which have been destroyed in the last century were allowed to regrow?

Perhaps the loss of the rain forest is not permanent. Tragically, though, the extinction of any species which die out because of habitat loss is.