Bayou Calvinist

A Somewhat Eclectic Discussion by a Law Student Concerning All of Today's Major Topics, as well as, a Few Not So Major Topics

Friday, August 18, 2006

The inevitable Impeachment of President Bush?

Representative John Conyers (D-MI) is the leading Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. If the Democrats were to win a majority in the House in the upcoming November election it is highly likely that Rep. Conyers will become this committee's chairman. It is this committee which is likely to investigate and propose articles of impeachment against the President if they are to come at all. Conyers has recently stated that he is open to looking into the evidence for impeachment of President Bush. In some since he already has. His findings, which are anything but judicious, can be found in The Constitution in Crises: The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution, Coverups in the Iraq War, and Illegal Domestic Surveillance, a report put together by the Democratic staff of the House Judiciary committee. In this report Conyers states that he has uncovered evidence that the President is guilty of the following acts of wrongdoing: "making misleading statements about the decision to go to war; manipulating intelligence; facilitating and countenancing torture; using classified information to out a CIA-agent; and violating federal surveillance and privacy laws." In the days to come I hope to take up each of these charges individually and carefully consider the evidence mentioned by Conyers while weighing it against what is actually known to determine what if any truth is found in them. When my investigation comes to a close it will be apparent to any with eyes to see, that none of the supposed "evidence" comes close to proving that the President is guilty of any "serious crimes [or] misdemeanors" which warrant his impeachment.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Equality and Inequality of Humanity as a Pre-Requisite to democratic governance and Individual Rights

A great article at the Claremont Review website traces the underpinnings of American representative government and argues that without a better understanding of this foundation, both here and abroad, democracy is bound to fail. Especially prescient are the author's contentions about the effects losing this foundation can have on minority rights in a democratic state.

My favorite portions of the article are:

The equality of mankind is best understood in light of a two-fold inequality. The first is the inequality of mankind and of the subhuman classes of living beings that comprise the order of nature. Dogs and horses, for example, are naturally subservient to human beings. But no human being is natural subservient to another human being. No human being has a right to rule another without the other's consent. The second is the inequality of man and God. As God's creatures, we owe unconditional obedience to His will. By that very fact however we do not owe such obedience to anyone else. Legitimate political authority the right of one human being to require obedience of another human being arises only from consent. The fundamental act of consent is, as the 1780 Massachusetts Bill of Rights states, "a social compact by which the whole people covenants with each citizen and each citizen with the whole people that all shall be governed by certain laws for the common good." The "certain laws for the common good" have no other purpose but to preserve and protect the rights that each citizen possesses prior to government, rights with which he or she has been "endowed by their Creator." The rights that governments exist to secure are not the gift of government. They originate in God.

Our difficulty in pursuing a rational foreign policy in the Middle East or anywhere else is compounded by the fact that we ourselves, as a nation, seem to be as confused as the Iraqis concerning the possibility of non-tyrannical majority rule. We continue to enjoy the practical benefits of political institutions founded upon the convictions of our Founding Fathers and Lincoln, but there is little belief in God-given natural rights, which are antecedent to government, and which define and limit the purpose of government. Virtually no one prominent today, in the academy, in law, or on government, subscribes to such beliefs. Indeed, the climate of opinion of our intellectual elites is one of violent hostility to any notion of a rational foundation for political morality. We, in short, engaged in telling others to accept the forms of our own political institutions, without any reference to the principles or convictions that give rise to those institutions.
According to many of our political and intellectual elites, both liberal and conservative, the minority in a democracy enjoys only such rights as the majority chooses to bestow upon them. The Bill of Rights in the American Constitution and similar bills in state Constitutions are regarded as gifts from the majority to the minority. But the American Constitution, and the state constitutions subordinate to it have, at one time or another, sanctioned both slavery and Jim Crow, by which the bills of rights applied to white Americans were denied to black Americans. But according to the elites, it is not undemocratic for the minority to lose. From this perspective, both slavery and Jim Crow were exercises of democratic majority rule. This is precisely the view of democracy by the Sunnis in Iraq, and is the reason they are fighting the United States.
Unless we as a political community can by reasoned discourse re-establish in our own minds the authority of the constitutionalism of the Founding Fathers and of Lincoln, of government devoted to securing the God-given equal rights of every individual human being, we will remain ill equipped to bring the fruits of freedom to others.

I will be taking a temporary hiatus from posting in order to concentrate on school, hunt for employment, and enjoy the upcoming Mardi Gras holiday. In addition I expect to be working and later posting on here a piece concerning race relations in Louisiana. It is an ambitious topic and I hope I'll be able to do it justice. Pray that God leads me in the right direction in my research, understanding and retelling of the issue.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Standing Up for Free speech and a Free Press

How is it that one of the most judgmental of professions, a profession that constantly reminds all in Western Society of their failings when it comes to upholding rights they deem sacred, is for the most part at this moment unable to summon enough courage to support that right most sacred to that profession's very existence?

For all who keep up with the news, it is clear that I am referring to the news media's kowtowing to the wishes of firebrand mullahs and violence wielding Islamist mobs concerning the publishing of a few, mostly innocuous, cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. While I doubt that their reason for doing this is much more than fear combined with overly sympathetic liberal tendencies, the majority of those publications unwilling to run the very cartoons at the heart of the protests which they report on, cite concerns about offending members of the Islamic faith.

This reason, by itself, is neither intelligent nor sincere. First, the sincerity of the Western media for the feelings of members of a religion are strongly discredited in their lack of concern, in the recent past, for members of the Christian faith. The New York Times, along with most other major news corporations, saw nothing wrong in running stories on the infamous "Piss Christ" and "The Holy Virgin Mary" covered in elephant dung. Unsurprisingly these stories ran with pictures of the offending works. The reasoning for including such images, it was stated, was to ensure that the public was aware of the works at the center of a controversy the same news agencies decided needed media coverage. Considering the magnitude of the recent reactions to the Mohammed cartoons it seems odd that the same argument should not be made with equal force for displaying the questionable cartoons, this time.

Secondly, some argue that unlike the Christian tradition, which allows for images of Christ, Mary and its venerated Saints, Islam forbids any images of Mohammed. This statement misconstrues both the facts surrounding the incidents in question, as well as the actual beliefs held by members of both faiths. Other than the one cartoon showing Mohammed wearing a turban made of a lit bomb, none of the "questionable" images denigrate the Prophet. They may not show the respect many Muslims would expect, but that is a far cry from humiliating him. Now consider the Piss Christ and Mary covered in Dung. The first was not only taken as denigrating Christ and Christianity, but that was also the artist's expressed aim. The intention of the second may be more ambiguous, in that dung is apparently a respectful symbol in some African cultures, but the response that should've been expected is certainly not. No sane person could have thought "you know what American Catholics, and perhaps Christians in general, will have no problem with smearing a substance seen by Western eyes as base and gross all over the mother of Christ."

The two religions views on graven images are not so clear cut either. Islam, like all of the world's great religions, is not homogeneous in the views of its believers. Similarly not all Muslims have the same views on images of Mohammed. Historic paintings from Persia, made by Muslim artists, clearly depict Mohammed in many different scenes (at his birth, the Night Journey, seated with his companions). Today, the vast majority of Sunnis (influenced in large part by the Wahabi sect) do hold to the belief that making an image of Mohammed is forbidden. They also hold that making the image of any living thing is forbidden. But, at the same time, Shia Muslims hold to a completely different interpretation. It would not be uncommon to find in a modern Shia home paintings of Mohammed, Ali, and Hussein (the latter two believed by Shia to be in some ways the successors of Mohammed--they both being related to the Prophet).

Likewise, Christianity's interpretation has not been and, because of a few small groups still in existence, is not completely unified. From the beginning some Christians understood the Second Commandment to forbid any image of God, or Jesus, or of any animate object. This view of graven images found a home in the time of the Reformation, especially amongst Clavinists (mainly seen in their opposition to the Catholic Icons of Saints and the image of Christ on the Crucifix but also extending to any image capable of obtaining praise). This incongruity among Christians may be seen in the differing translations of the Second Commandment (Exodus 20:4):

"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth" (King James Version)


"You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below" (New International Version).

Today some denominations and sects still hold to the first translation as the correct one. So to claim that Islam stands in a unique position as it comes to unflattering characterizations of its founding fathers (and in the case of Christianity its founding mothers) is simply untrue.

Finally, the reason this should be seen as so troubling is the importance of the principle of a free press in liberal society (by liberal I simply mean Western democratic societies). Without freedom of speech, slavery of the mind and subjugation of the people is certain. Once, in the distant history of America, a.k.a. the 19th Century, the Press understood this too. It was willing to stand up for this broader principle and to fight for its survival. (I literally mean fight, see this article). But, alas, today our media, much like our oh so principled establishment is too concerned with saving their lives and reputations to care for anything more permanent. All they have left is sentiment and that too is now in short supply.

Which leads to the real reason for the ineffectual coverage of this story; fear:

"[We won't publish the cartoons] out of fear of retaliation from the international brotherhood of radical and bloodthirsty Islamists who seek to impose their will on those who do not believe as they do. This is, frankly, our primary reason for not publishing any of the images in question. Simply stated, we are being terrorized, and as deeply as we believe in the principles of free speech and a free press, we could not in good conscience place the men and women who work at the Phoenix and its related companies in physical jeopardy. As we feel forced, literally, to bend to maniacal pressure, this may be the darkest moment in our 40-year publishing history."

--- The Boston Pheonix

So, I implore all those who support freedom of speech, to also support those rare journalists and editors brave enough to publish the whole story....cartoons included.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Origins of Islamofascism

I have been reading Hannah Arendt's famous book The Origins of Totalitarianism. In it she makes many compelling arguments on the subject of what leads seemingly sane people to back totalitarian leaders such as Stalin and Hitler. Among these arguments were her insights into the affects of promises of stability and certainty, as well as, the power of the movement's momentum in increasing the support of the masses.

In today's NRO Michael Leeden expresses his thoughts on how in-line with these essential understandings (though his source of these understandings is Erich Fromm, not Arendt) of totalitarianism the Islamofascist movements of today seem to be.

Concerning the search for certainty in an uncertain world, which leads many to adopt totalitarian sympathies, Leeden states:

It's not easy for modern intellectuals to accept the true nature of the Islamofascists, because of the long-discredited but still popular theory that revolutions are a good thing, and are invariably a righteous eruption against social and economic misery inflicted by greedy oppressive governments. In that view, revolutions are signs of progress, another step along the road to modernity.
But, especially in the 20th century, many important revolutions were reactionary outbursts against modernity, a desperate attempt to restore an earlier (and often imaginary) style of politics in which the state, or the leader, made most of the fundamental decisions, thereby sparing the citizens the many agonizing choices that afflict modern man. One of the greatest thinkers to grapple with these issues was Erich Fromm, who explained in Escape from Freedom that totalitarian mass movements helped modern man escape from the burdens of freedom, and then later argued that such mass movements fulfilled a collective death wish, what he called a sort of epidemic of political necrophilia. Fromm is an invaluable guide to much of what is going on in the Middle East today.

On the importance of seeming inevitability and momentum for a totalitarian movement's hold on power he writes:

Revolutionary regimes have fallen both because their own people turned against them, and because they were defeated on the battlefield. In each case, the revolutionary ideology was discredited. We humiliated the fascist revolution in the Second World War, and fascism was drained of its mass appeal. We do not know how European fascism would have ended (or indeed if it would have ended) if the Axis had won the war, but I have suggested that China today constitutes the first case of a mature fascist regime, one in which the ideology is now bloodless, but whose regime remains very nasty, corrupt, and potentially aggressive. Communism had lost much of its appeal in other Warsaw Pact countries even before we defeated the Soviet Empire. Years before the wall was breached, very few people wanted their country to become a new Bulgaria, and Pope John Paul II once wryly forecast that the last communist on earth would be a North American nun.
Islamofascism seems to me to be on the same track to the losers' circle. The Iranian people loathe it, and would gladly trade it for the Westminster model or their own fine 1906 Constitution. Most Iraqis, even though they are still voting along 'religious' lines, have shown little affection for a new caliphate or Islamic republic. No sooner had they voted for the religious blocs than they sat down and renegotiated the division of power. It's not textbook post-electoral politics, but it bespeaks a distinctly non-fanatical approach to government. Several recent polls show that al Qaeda's popularity ratings are careening downward, while our own are rising. I think these positive symptoms are the result of four main factors: the failure of the terrorists to drive us out of the Middle East, the recognition by most people that the terrorists, from al Qaeda to Hezbollah (that is, from Sunni to Shiite), are evil and must be defeated, and the near-universal conviction that the Islamic Republic of Iran is not the sort of place where one should want to live. That mullahcracy is the closest thing on earth to the much-ballyhooed "caliphate" so dear to the mouths of the jihadis, and while some alienated middle-class Muslims might dream of its wonders, most think it stinks. As it truly does.

I share the view with Leeden that Islamofascism suffers from the same weaknesses as totalitarian movements of the past, but I am a little less certain as to whether these movements are destined to fail. My doubts are not because I question that those living in the middle east are slowly coming to notice the disconnect between the fake reality that their leaders are painting and the massive failure of the terrorists to push out coalition forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, nor because I doubt that this recognition is slowly leading to a lessening of Islamofascism's potential appeal. Instead, I doubt the ability of most in western society to perceive these changes. With the constant chant of just the opposite being pushed down their throats by politicians and the media, I fear that our will may be sapped and from this loss will arise a withdrawal from the fight. With our withdrawal, the lying prophesies of the Islamofascists will appear to have come true and their despicable movements will gain yet more support as their eventual success becomes seen as both inevitable and the only provider of secure stability.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The False Paradise of Military Technology

Ralph Peters writes in NRO today the many problems with the current revolution in military thinking in the U.S. Two points struck me as particularly prescient.

First among these is his take on what a future military conflict with China would likely entail; and as he points out, some of the greatest threats aren't those we most often consider:

Even in preparing for "big wars," we refuse to take the enemy into account. Increasingly, our military is designed for breathtaking sprints, yet a war with China--were one forced upon us by events--would be a miserable, long march. For all the rhetoric expended and the innumerable wargames played, the best metaphor for a serious struggle with Beijing--perhaps of Homeric length--comes from that inexhaustible little book, Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness, with its pathetic image of a Western gunboat lobbing shells uselessly into a continent.

Given the comprehensive commitment and devastation required to defeat strategically and structurally weaker enemies such as Japan and Germany, how dare we pretend that we could drive China to sue for peace by fighting a well-mannered war with a small military whose shallow stocks of ammunition would be drained swiftly and could not be replaced in meaningful quantities? Would we try Shock and Awe, Part II, over Beijing, hoping to convince China's leaders to surrender at the sight of our special effects? Or would our quantitative incompetence soon force us onto the defensive?

We must be realistic about the military requirements of a war with China, but we also need to grasp that, for such an enemy, the military sphere would be only one field of warfare--and not the decisive one. What would it take to create an atmosphere of defeat in a sprawling nation of over one billion people? A ruthless economic blockade, on the seas, in the air, and on land, would be an essential component of any serious war plan, but the Chinese capability for sheer endurance might surprise us. Could we win against China without inflicting extensive devastation on Chinese cities? Would even that be enough? Without mirror-imaging again, can we identify any incentive China's leaders would have to surrender?

The Chinese version of the counterrevolution in military affairs puts less stress on a head-to-head military confrontation (although that matters, of course) and more on defeating the nation behind our military. Despite the importance Beijing attaches to a strong military, China won't fall into the trap that snared the Soviets--the attempt to compete with our military expenditures. Why fight battles you'll lose, when you can wage war directly against the American population by attacking its digital and physical infrastructure, its confidence and morale? In a war of mutual suffering, which population would be better equipped, practically and psychologically, to endure massive power outages, food-chain disruptions, the obliteration of databases, and even epidemic disease?

Plenty of Americans are tougher than we're credited with being, but what about the now-decisive intelligentsia? What about those conditioned to levels of comfort unimaginable to the generation that fought World War II (or even Vietnam)? Would 21st-century suburban Americans accept rationing without protests? Whenever I encounter Chinese abroad I am astonished by their chauvinism. Their confidence is reminiscent of Americans' a half century ago. Should we pretend that Chinese opinion-makers, such as they are, would feel inclined to attack their government as our journalists attack Washington? A war with China would be a massive contest of wills, and China might need to break the will of only a tiny fraction of our population. It only takes a few hundred men and women in Washington to decide that a war is lost.

As for our military technologies, how, exactly, would an F/A-22 destroy the Chinese will to endure and prevail? How would it counteract a hostile media? If we should worry about any strategic differences with China, they are the greater simplicity and robustness of China's less developed (hence, less fragile) infrastructure, and a greater will to win in Beijing. No matter how well our military might perform, sufficient pain inflicted on the American people could lead a weak national leadership to a capitulation thinly disguised as a compromise. Addicted to trade with China, many in America's business community would push for a rapid end to any conflict, no matter the cost to our nation as a whole. (When Chinese fighters forced down a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft on Hainan Island several years ago, American-business lobbyists rushed to Capitol Hill to plead for patience with China--they had no interest in our aircrew or our national good.)

The Chinese know they cannot defeat our military. So they intend to circumvent it, as surely as Islamist terrorists seek to do, if in more complex ways. For example, China's navy cannot guarantee its merchant vessels access to sea lanes in the Indian Ocean--routes that carry the oil on which modern China runs. So Beijing is working to build a web of formal and informal client relationships in the region that would deny the U.S. Navy port facilities, challenge the United States in global and regional forums, and secure alternate routes and sources of supply. China's next great strategic initiative is going to be an attempt to woo India, the region's key power, away from a closer relationship with the United States. Beijing may fail, but its strategists are thinking in terms of the out-years, while our horizon barely reaches from one Quadrennial Defense Review to the next.

Even in Latin America, China labors to develop capabilities to frustrate American purposes, weaken hemispheric ties, and divert our strategic resources during a Sino-American crisis. We dream of knock-out blows, while Beijing prepares the death of a thousand cuts. The Chinese are the ultimate heirs of B.H. Liddell Hart and his indirect approach: They would have difficulty conquering Taiwan militarily, but believe they could push us into an asymmetrical defeat through economic, diplomatic, and media campaigns in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Latin America--while crippling the lifestyle of America's citizens.

It's become another cliché to observe how much of our manufacturing capability has moved to China while we tolerate, at our own business community's behest, Beijing's cynical undervaluation of its currency. If you don't think this matters, try to go a single week without buying or using a product made in China. A conflict with Beijing might be lost on the empty shelves of Wal-Mart. Indeed, Beijing's most effective international allies are American corporations. In the Second World War we famously converted our consumer industries into producers of wartime materiel. Will a future president find himself trapped by our defense industry's inability to produce consumer goods in wartime?

A war with China would be a total war, waged in spheres where our military is legally forbidden to engage, from data banks to shopping malls. How many readers of this magazine have participated in a wargame that addressed crippling consumer shortages as a conflict with China dragged on for years? Instead, we obsess about the fate of a pair of aircraft carriers. For that matter, how about a scenario that realistically portrayed the global media as siding overwhelmingly with China? The metastasizing power of the media is a true strategic revolution of our time--one to which our narrow revolution in military affairs has no reply.

Oh, by the way: Could we win a war with China without killing hundreds of millions of Chinese?

Secondly, his point of view on the threat posed by false realities and the anti-American vitriol which is constantly and quickly spread through the world-wide media is worth considering and I believe very close to today's reality:

Many of us have struggled to grasp the unreasonable, even fanatical anti-Americanism in the global media--including the hostility in many news outlets and entertainment forums here at home. How can educated men and women, whether they speak Arabic, Spanish, French, or English, condemn America's every move, while glossing over the abuses of dictators and the savagery of terrorists? Why is America blamed even when American involvement is minimal or even nonexistent? How has the most beneficial great power in history been transformed by the international media into a villain of relentless malevolence?

There's a straightforward answer: In their secular way, the world's media elites are as unable to accept the reality confronting them as are Islamist fundamentalists. They hate the world in which they are forced to live, and America has shaped that world.
It isn't that the American-wrought world is so very bad for the global intelligentsia: The freedom they exploit to condemn the United States has been won, preserved, and expanded by American sacrifices and America's example. The problem is that they wanted a different world, the utopia promised by socialist and Marxist theorists, an impossible heaven on earth that captured their imagination as surely as visions of paradise enrapture suicide bombers.
The global media may skew secular, but that doesn't protect them against alternative forms of faith. Europeans, for example, have discarded a belief in God as beneath their sophistication--yet they still need a Satan to explain their own failures, just as their ancestors required devils to explain why the milk soured or the herd sickened. Today, America has replaced the horned, cloven-footed Lucifer of Europe's past; behind their smug assumption of superiority, contemporary Europeans are as superstitious and irrational as any of their ancestors: They simply believe in other demons.

One of the most perverse aspects of anti-Americanism in the global media and among the international intelligentsia is that it's presented as a progressive, liberal movement, when it's bitterly reactionary, a spiteful, elitist revolt against the empowerment of the common man and woman (the core ethos of the United States). Despite their outward differences, intellectuals are the logical allies of Islamist extremists--who are equally opposed to social progress and mass freedom. Of course, the terrorists have the comfort of religious faith, while the global intelligentsia, faced with the death of Marxism and the triumph of capitalism, has only its rage.

Human beings are hard-wired for faith. Deprived of a god, they seek an alternative creed. For a time, nationalism, socialism, Marxism, and a number of other-isms appeared to have a chance of working--as long as secular intellectuals rejected the evidence of Stalin's crimes or Mao's savagery (much as they overlook the brutalities of Islamist terrorists today). The intellectuals who staff the global media experienced the American-made destruction of their secular belief systems, slowly during the Cold War, then jarringly from 1989 to 1991. The experience has been as disorienting and infuriating to them as if we had proved to Muslim fanatics that their god does not exist.

America's triumph shames the Middle East and Europe alike, and has long dented the pride of Latin America. But the brotherhood of Islamist terrorists and the tribe of global intellectuals who dominate the media are the two groups who feel the most fury toward America. The terrorists dream of a paradise beyond the grave; intellectuals fantasized about utopias on earth. Neither can stomach the practical success of the American way of life, with its insistence on individual performance and its resistance to unearned privilege. For the Islamists, America's power threatens the promises of their faith. For world-intellectuals, America is the murderer of their most precious fantasies.

Is it any wonder that these two superficially different groups have drifted into collusion?
The suicide bomber may be the weapon of genius of our time, but the crucial new strategic factor is the rise of a global information culture that pretends to reflect reality, but in fact creates it. Iraq is only the most flagrant example of the disconnect between empirical reality and the redesigned, politically inflected alternative reality delivered by the media. This phenomenon matters far more than the profiteers of the revolution in military affairs can accept--the global information sphere is now a decisive battleground. Image and idea are as powerful as the finest military technologies.

We have reached the point (as evidenced by the first battle of Falluja) where the global media can overturn the verdict of the battlefield. We will not be defeated by suicide bombers in Iraq, but a chance remains that the international media may defeat us. Engaged with enemies to our front, we try to ignore the enemies at our back--enemies at whom we cannot return fire. Indeed, if anything must be profoundly reevaluated, it's our handling of the media in wartime. We have no obligation to open our accounts to proven enemies, yet we allow ourselves to be paralyzed by platitudes.

This doesn't mean that all of the media are evil or dishonest. It means we need to have the common sense and courage to discriminate between media outlets that attempt to report fairly (and don't compromise wartime secrets) and those whose track records demonstrate their hostility to our national purposes or their outright support for terrorists.

We got it right in World War II, but today we cannot count on patriotism among journalists, let alone their acceptance of censorship boards. Our own reporters pretend to be "citizens of the world" with "higher loyalties," and many view patriotism as decidedly down-market. Obsessed with defending their privileges, they refuse to accept that they also have responsibilities as citizens. But after journalistic irresponsibility kills a sufficient number of Americans, reality will force us to question the media's claim that "the public has a right to know" every secret our government holds in wartime.

The media may constitute the decisive element in the global counterrevolution in military affairs, and the video camera--that insatiable accomplice of the terrorist--the cheap negation of our military technology. (And beware the growing capability of digital technology to create American "atrocities" from scratch.) We are proud of our ability to put steel precisely on target anywhere in the world, but guided bombs don't work against faith or an unchallenged flood of lies. We have fallen in love with wind-up dolls and forgotten the preeminence of the soul.

We need to break the mental chains that bind us to a technology-über-alles dream of warfare--a fantasy as absurd and dated as the Marxist dreams of Europe's intellectuals. Certainly, military technologies have their place and can provide our troops with useful tools. But technologies are not paramount. In warfare, flesh and blood are still the supreme currency. And strength of will remains the ultimate weapon. Welcome to the counterrevolution.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Should We Take the Bad or Worse Option?

Yet another great article by VDH today at National Review Online. This one calls out Kerry and Clinton for their recent attacks on Bush's decision to be "multilateral" when it comes to the Iran and North Korea nuclear standoffs.

Here is a sampling:

There are really only two bad choices, Senator Clinton. One is the present “outsourcing” course: Let the Europeans exhaust negotiations, pressure the Chinese and Russians to allow the matter to go to the U.N., bolster Turkey and the Arab Gulf states and advise them to build a regional coalition to contain the problem, hope that Ahmadinejad alienates the world even more. Then, perhaps, sometime during this process, a popular uprising or even a right-wing worried cleric will thwart the nuclear party in Iran before this latest Great Mahdi gets the bomb, and with it impunity through national adulation.

All that is slow, often humiliating, and easily caricatured work; but what Secretary Rice is now doing is pretty much what liberals and Democrats also prefer — except for, apparently, the exasperated and now hawkish Senator Clinton.

The other unmentionable alternative — if we set aside the real appeasement of letting the mullahs have the bomb, or the equally cowardly policy of gently suggesting that the Israelis do the deed, or some Lord of the Rings fantasy about a grand aerial armada of NATO, American, and Russian jets descending in bombing formation over the modern forge of Mordor — is a preemptive (or in-sourced) American “air strike.”

But the singular form of the noun “strike” is disingenuous, more so when it is cloaked in the now-squishy “no option will be taken off the table” lingo.

Instead, if she wants to raise the stakes and contemplate the consequences, the senator should at least apprise her upper-West Side constituents of what the word “strike” entails: Perhaps two or three weeks of messy bombing, shown on CNN round-the-clock. Unavoidable collateral damage served up hourly on Al Jazeera as “genocide”. Missed targets, followed by worries about retribution from terrorists, now armed with nuclear waste and righteous indignation, vowing to “avenge” the infidel attack. Shiite turmoil in Iraq. Investigations into overflights of Muslim airspace. Contention over American use of Turkish, Iraqi, or Kuwaiti facilities to attack another Muslim country. Iranian-backed Hezbollah incursions into Israel. Fierce denunciations from the Russians and Chinese. Private glee and public “remorse” from the Europeans. Pulitzer-prizes and whistle-blower adulation for CIA leakers and Washington Post up-and-coming reporters. More Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky rants, reverberated by yet more shrillness from Sens. Boxer, Durbin, and Kennedy. Sky-high oil prices with the attendant conspiratorial talk about oil grabs and Zionist plotting. And more still.

All that mess is what killing bin Laden and stopping Iranian nukes may well be about, if we don’t “outsource” responsibilities — however glib that sounds on a Democratic blog or thrown out as a gnarly bone to an oohing and aahing academic audience.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Happy Burns Day

As an American of Scottish descent, I feel obligated to share with you the annual Scottish celebration of their National Poet; Robert Burns. On the 25th of January, Scots celebrate Burns birthday with a traditional haggis supper. Since I lack the time and the appetite necessary for such a formal celebration, I thought I should at least post the following (which I found here):

Robert Bruce's March to Bannockburn

by Robert Burns

The battle of Bannockburn took place in midsummer of the year 1314. It marked the conclusion of the wars between England and Scotland that had been going on intermittently since king Alexander of Scotland rode his horse off a cliff in 1286, leaving the nation leaderless. The conclusion was, that Scotland was to be an independent nation. Bannockburn was therefore one of the most consequential battles in British history. King Edward the Second of England, who lost the battle, was literally chased out of Scotland. The victor of the battle, Robert Bruce, became King Robert the First of independent Scotland, recognized as such by the Pope himself in 1323 (though the English did not make formal peace until five years later).
Burns wrote this poem in 1793, at age 34, when he was living in Dumfries. He had given up farming, got an undemanding government job, and was contributing verse and folk ditties to Scottish editors. Just three years later he was dead from heart failure, probably the result of excessive drinking working on the after-effects of rheumatic fever. He has ever since been revered as Scotland's national poet, and the lines read here are considered the unofficial national anthem of Scotland.
[wha, wham = who, whom; hae = have; sae = so. Wallace refers to William Wallace, who struggled unsuccessfully in the 1290s to do what Bruce at last accomplished in 1314. This is the character played by Mel Gibson in the 1995 movie Braveheart. To be fair to Wallace, his opponent, Edward the First, was a much more formidable foe than the silly, vain, and foppish Edward the Second.]

Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led,
Welcome to your gory bed,
Or to victory!

Now's the day, and now's the hour;
See the front o' battle lour,
See approach proud Edward's power—
Chains and slavery!

Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha can fill a coward's grave?
Wha sae base as be a slave?—
Let him turn, and flee!

Wha for Scotland's King and Law
Freedom's sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand of freeman fa',
Let him follow me!

By Oppression's woes and pains,
By your sons in servile chains,
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free!

Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty's in every blow!
Let us do, or die!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Race and the American Polity

In a thought provoking Opinion Journal article, Shelby Steele writes about the use of grievance for political power. Specifically, he concerns himself with the tactics the modern Democratic Party uses to ensure its strangle hold on the Black vote, as seen in Hillary Clinton's recent "Plantation" comment.

Steele goes onto argue that the best way to reveal the condescension found in modern liberalism's approach to race politics would be a Condoleezza Rice candidacy for President.

Here is a taste of the article:

Republicans and conservatives have simply never had an easy or glib mechanism for addressing profound social grievances.

But this Republican "weakness" has now begun to emerge as a great--if still largely potential--Republican advantage. Precisely because Republicans cannot easily pander to black grievance, they have no need to value blacks only for their sense of grievance. Unlike Democrats, they can celebrate what is positive and constructive in minority life without losing power. The dilemma for Democrats, liberals and the civil rights establishment is that they become redundant and lose power the instant blacks move beyond grievance and begin to succeed by dint of their own hard work. So they persecute such blacks, attack their credibility as blacks, just as they pander to blacks who define their political relationship to America through grievance. Republicans are generally freer of the political bigotry by which the left either panders to or persecutes black Americans.

* * * * *

This is why so many Republicans (including Laura Bush) now salivate at the thought of a Rice presidential bid. No other potential Republican candidate could--to borrow an old Marxist phrase--better "heighten the contradictions" of modern liberalism and Democratic power than Ms. Rice. The more ugly her persecution by the civil rights establishment and the left, the more she would give liberalism the look of communism in its last days--an ideology long since hollowed of its idealism and left with nothing save its meanness and repressiveness. Who can say what Ms. Rice will do. But history is calling her, or someone like her. She is the object of a deep longing in America for race to be finally handled, not by political idealism's, but by the classic principles of freedom and fairness.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Arab Democracy Equals Terrorism?

A well reasoned argument is found in the Los Angeles Times, in which Mark Helprin demonstrates that examples from history often belie the point of many pro-Democracy hawks that Democracies don't go to war with democracies. But in discounting some of the more grandiose claims made by the likes of Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Natan Sharansky, Helprin implies an even greater untruth. After reading this article one is incapable of being left with any view other than that the entire basis for Bush's foreign policy is mistaken. I will attempt, in a few words, to demonstrate that Helprin's implied assertion is based primarily upon mistakes made in his characterization of both the justifications and theories surrounding the Bush doctrine.

First, and possibly most importantly, Helprin wrongly suggests that Bush's admiration for a democratic middle east has led America's foreign policy off of a cliff into an idealistic strategic la la land where idealism trumps all other considerations. So important is this characterization of the Bush administration to Helprin's argument, he both begins and ends his article with it:

THE PRESIDENT believes and often states, as if it were a self-evident truth, that "democracies are peaceful countries." This claim, which has been advanced in the past in regard to Christianity, socialism, Islam and ethical culture, is the postulate on which the foreign policy of the United States now rests. Balance of power, deterrence and punitive action have been abandoned in favor of a scheme to recast the political cultures of broad regions, something that would be difficult enough even with a flawless rationale because the power of even the most powerful country in the world is not adequate to transform the world at will.

* * * * *

For the pleasure of displaying our virtue, we may someday suffer innumerable casualties in a terrorist attack that a compromised state might have helped us to prevent.

In foreign policy, carelessness and confusion often lead to tragedy. Thus, a maxim chosen to guide the course of a nation should be weighed in light of history and common sense.

Or is that too much to ask?

Bush and his administration have not forgotten the strategic tools of the past, they have simply redefined their relationship to broader goals. In other words if America could both deter her enemies and promote human rights; if she could both punish those whom wrong her while at the same time push for democratic reform; if America is able to change the balance of power to her advantage while at the same time advancing liberty in a part of the world not use to its presence, then why shouldn't she. Helprin's answer of course is that America cannot do both....and so should wisely choose to protect her own security at the expense of allowing others do what they will.

Helprin also seems to think that the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were begun for the simple reason of experimenting and testing this new democracy theory which those wily neo-conservatives of PNAC had been pushing for since the end of the last Gulf War.

This is flat wrong. It is true that many members of the now famous letter to then President Clinton from PNAC arguing for more aggressive action to be taken against Saddam Hussein also believed deeply that the greater purpose for America was spreading democracy. But it is also true that many of the members then looking for the overthrow of Saddam did so for the exact same strategic reasons to which Helprin now wishes so fervently for the U.S. foreign policy to return (see Richard Armitage, Francis Fukayama, and James Woolsey).

The most obvious reason for discounting any view that Bush decided to invade Iraq and Afghanistan simply to spread Democracy is because of what preceded these attack on the American homeland not rivaled by anything in American history (I realize the many similarities with Pearl Harbor but even Pearl Harbor does not rise to the events of 9-11 for the simple fact of the differences in the targets of the two attacks). Afghanistan was not invaded for the simple purpose of spreading democracy, it had at least something to do with both revenge and deterrence (nothing deters future acts of terrorism by individuals and states like killing said individuals and states). Neither was Iraq merely a petri dish for testing theories of democracy. Despite the many second guessings of defeated or frightened politicians and hypocrites, no one (by no one, I mean no one who was taken seriously on either side of the Atlantic) doubted Saddam's WMD capabilities. And with that seemingly certain knowledge and the less certain knowledge (now ironically the one belief which has been confirmed) of Saddam's support and contacts with terror groups (including al Qaeda), it was a very traditional self defense argument that pushed America, the UK, Australia and thirty-something other nations into invading Iraq. Once we had dethroned the devilish tyrants who led these nations, placing a form of government in conformity with our greatest ideals should have been expected and sought. It appears then that there were and are many non-idealistic reasons for the current wars in which America now finds itself.

So what of Helprin's greater argument that suggests America's idealistic's promotion of Democracy in the broader middle east (and the entire world for that matter)...some how contradicts our greater goal of national security. This, at least, is debatable. Helprin does a good job promoting the reasons for doubting the inteligence in America's attachment to her ideals in foreign affairs. But his argument has its own weaknesses.

First off, if his view of the perfect defense strategy comported perfectly with reality then there would be little reason for America to have changed its policies. Again this leads us to the question of what changed the status quo. Just as before what changed was September 11. It was, of course, not that the world actually changed on that day. But rather, our perceptions changed. It was as if a veil had been lifted. What we once saw as safety was suddenly revealed to be nothing more than a false mirage. One of the big reasons I would argue for the rise in terrorism is in fact the existence of so many despotic rulers in the middle east in the decades preceding 9-11. These tyrants ran their countries into the ground and then blamed their own failings on the outside world, and often they directed this venom at the convenient target of the U.S. In doing so they were able to delay the questioning by their own populace which would eventually have lead to their being held accountable for failings. Also with no outward vent for frustrated dreams (as well as oftentimes no window on the outside world) these same populations became easier prey for Islamists. Even those despots lovingly referred to as "our bastards" seem to have created more strategic trouble than they were worth. The house of Saud's spread of violent wahabism, the backlash to the American backed Shah of Iran, and the lack of thankfulness from the PA leaders past and present are just a trinity of examples. The simple fact remains that in the long run relying on dictators to promote American security is a losing hand.

Secondly, there is truth in the argument that if popular elections were held today throughout the middle east the results would probably give one pause and create justifiable panic throughout America and the west concerning their strategic future. This being said, however, it is premised on a rather short-sited view of America's strategic interests. While in the short term pro-American despots will lead to an increase in security and the promotion of democracy a relative decrease in the same...the long run view reveals just the inverse. So either America is left with no good option in fighting Islamic terrorism or perhaps democracy is the path to long term security.

Finally, in part (a very small part) I agree with Helprin. The administration needs to put more stock in changing the perception of America in the middle east. Despite popular belief this does not mean America should capitulate, in fact our strength (military and otherwise) can work to our advantage. But what I would argue works most to our advantage is the actual support of democratic institutions in the middle east. Those, in that region, who do not look upon any democratic reform as a good thing may in fact be beyond rehabilitation.

I feel that our democratic push is not only not a detriment but more likely one of our great weapons going forward.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

God's Wrath and New Orleans

New Orleans' Mayor Ray Nagin made two relatively controversial statements concerning God's will and New Orleans Monday. The first suggested that the reasons for Hurricane Katrina's devastation were the U.S. war in Iraq and the failure of black America in resolving her own problems.

Just as is the case when any man tries to divinate God's meaning in natural phenomenon, Nagin seems to suffer from an unhealthy overconfidence in his ability to spot the failings of both America and the black community. When Pat Robertson claims to know why Ariel Sharon suffered a debilitating stroke, most of the world cringes in disbelief and disgust. And so, also should the world condemn Nagin's recent pronouncement. The reason for this condemnation, however, might not be the same reason for which many in today's society initially cringed.

It is little debated anymore that the modern West has lost its faith in the supernatural. It should also come as little surprise, then, that modern man is often-times unwilling to admit the role an omniscient God must play in the world. By admitting that all which happens here on earth is done with forethought by God, many people fear that we are attempting to write man out of the calculation or rather that we are writing man's knowledge and insight and potential out of the calculation. There is nothing inherently contrary to human knowledge and potential to be found in the fact that God acts upon and through his creation (by creation I of course am including man himself). If we as human beings act for our own purposes, or understand through our own observations some minor truths concerning how God interacts within the world, or attempt to lay blame for disasters at the feet of the politicians and leaders who we feel have wronged us, we are none the less bound by our very nature to be moved by God. We also will be no less just or unjust because of our actions or pronouncements. For so long as we act for our own selfish purposes, we act unjustly, no matter whether our acts coincide with God's plan (which they most necessarily always do).

All that being said I proffer the idea that to announce that a thing occurred because of God is not wrong, nor should it ever be condemned out of hand. To take upon oneself the unwarranted authority of condemning others or even yourself by claiming with any certainty a causal link between a natural or man-made occurrence and God's greater will is wrong and always contemptible. For some things man is incapable of passing binding judgment and the work of the Lord is always one.

A better example of commenting on the Lord's interaction with mankind is found in Lincoln's 2nd inaugural:

. . . One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh."

If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

In the speech Lincoln made clear that he viewed slavery as an evil worthy of punishment (most would say that today this is a judgment beyond dispute, though at the time some argued with such a characterization), but such was Lincoln's humility that he never expressly states that God would even see slavery as always evil. He further suggested that perhaps the great suffering the Civil War placed upon America was justly deserved for the perceived sin Lincoln believed slavery to be. But one must pay great attention to the presence of an overriding humility and ambiguity with which the subject is approached. Lincoln never states that surely this Civil War was sent by God for this reason, only that slavery might be one possible of many explanations for God's actions. Also, he submits himself totally to the will of God and ventures a guess that if war be the debt due for having allowed slavery for so long, and if God feels the debt still unpaid then more war must be expected and experienced obediently.

Ray Nagin's speech, however, deserves the cringes and condemnation likely to follow because in it, all ambiguity is missing. The lack of uncertainty on Nagin's part is underlined by the fact that the two perceived evils he identifies lack the certainty of being truly evil, which the scourge of slavery, in contrast, has earned and maintained.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A cautious Note to My Overall Support

As most anyone who has read my posts on this blog will know, I believe that the spread of democracy throughout the world should be U.S. policy because it is both strategically beneficial to America and because it is the right thing to do. That having been said, I have never been the most optimistic when it comes to the amount of difficulty this goal will entail. While I can say that there is nothing innate within any race or ethnicity which would keep them from making good republicans (notice I mean small "r" republicans), I do not doubt that other external influences might make large groups more inclined to be incapable of consistently supporting a stable democratic (again small "d" democrat) government. Whether this external influence might include cultural imperatives, I do not know. But in the very least I feel that economic and ideological realities on the ground are likely to impact the success of any plans at democratization the U.S. implements. A great article on this very subject is found in the latest Policy Review. As the author, Gerard Alexander, states those pro-democracy hawks of today with whom I so often agree do stand the very real risk of soon being seen much like the Developmental Economists of the post-war era (in other words as noble failures).

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Iran gone MAD

James S. Robbins pens an outstanding piece concerning the problem with allowing Iran to go nuclear. It appears now that the U.S. decision to allow Europe to try their plan of bribing (I mean "negotiating") Iran away from nukes is likely to fail. And as Robins tells it some on both sides of the pond (U.S. State Department especially) are now fondly misremembering the recent past (more particularly their love affair with the strategic stalemate between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.). So these State Department apparatchiks argue if it was good enough for the Cold War surely it is good enough for the U.S. in the war on terror.

As Robbins correctly argues there are a myriad of mistakes to be found in their logic. Biggest among these is the Cold War wasn't so peachy, especially for those liberals (read classic liberals) who found themselves on the other side of the Iron Curtain (Hungary, Czechoslovakia, etc...). And despite their best attempts at information recall, it wasn't all that great for us, either (Korea or Vietnam, anyone).

My favorite quote from his article:

"The belief that there is an upside to a nuclear-capable Iran is a rationalization of perceived impotence; those who suppose we are unable to prevent this from happening seek to make a virtue out of necessity." [emphasis added]

This statement, particularly the italicized part, seems to me to be a fair restatement of the entirety of European (minus Britain) strategic thinking since WWII.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Pope Benedict on International Relations

From Pope Leo I's confrontation with Atilla in the 5th century to Pope John Paul II's connections with solidarity and the fall of communism, the Pontiff has had a pretty big impact on the international scene (I mean in a secular context, as the greatness of his religious impact should be assumed). And as a protestant, it is the Pope's secular impact which often most intrigues me.

Pope Benedict XVI delivered his annual Message for the World Day of Peace yesterday. In it he mentioned a few things with which I disagree (mainly concerning his overly optimistic view of both the nature and function of international organizations in bringing about peace--especially as he defined peace in his speech).

But, alas, we being different people, it is not surprising that we do not agree on everything. More importantly Pope Benedict, clearly condemned terrorism and, I think, correctly identified its faults, as well as, the likely faults in the world view of the terrorists. Also, equally as important from my viewpoint, the holy father continued his great crusade against nihilism and moral relativism.

Here are but a few words from my favorite section of the Pope's message:

"Nowadays, the truth of peace continues to be dramatically compromised and rejected by terrorism, whose criminal threats and attacks leave the world in a state of fear and insecurity. My predecessors Paul VI and John Paul II frequently pointed out the awful responsibility borne by terrorists, while at the same time condemning their senseless and deadly strategies. These are often the fruit of a tragic and disturbing nihilism which Pope John Paul II described in these words: ''Those who kill by acts of terrorism actually despair of humanity, of life, of the future. In their view, everything is to be hated and destroyed''.(9) Not only nihilism, but also religious fanaticism, today often labeled fundamentalism, can inspire and encourage terrorist thinking and activity. From the beginning, John Paul II was aware of the explosive danger represented by fanatical fundamentalism, and he condemned it unsparingly, while warning against attempts to impose, rather than to propose for others freely to accept, one's own convictions about the truth. As he wrote: ''To try to impose on others by violent means what we consider to be the truth is an offence against the dignity of the human being, and ultimately an offence against God in whose image he is made''.(10)
10. Looked at closely, nihilism and the fundamentalism of which we are speaking share an erroneous relationship to truth: the nihilist denies the very existence of truth, while the fundamentalist claims to be able to impose it by force. Despite their different origins and cultural backgrounds, both show a dangerous contempt for human beings and human life, and ultimately for God himself. Indeed, this shared tragic outcome results from a distortion of the full truth about God: nihilism denies God's existence and his provident presence in history, while fanatical fundamentalism disfigures his loving and merciful countenance, replacing him with idols made in its own image. In analyzing the causes of the contemporary phenomenon of terrorism, consideration should be given, not only to its political and social causes, but also to its deeper cultural, religious and ideological motivations."

Also in what the news report describes as a foreign policy speech to Vatican-based diplomats the Pope stated unequivocally the immorality of terrorism for any cause as well as the need to push for freedom of religion in all the world's nations:

Benedict described a global "clash of civilizations" taking root and said the danger was made even greater by terrorism, whose causes he attributed to politics as well as "aberrant religious ideas."
"No situation can justify such criminal activity, which covers the perpetrators with infamy, and it is all the more deplorable when it hides behind religion, thereby bringing the pure truth of God down to the level of the terrorists' own blindness and moral perversion," he said.
Benedict stressed the need for all human rights to be respected, but said religious freedom was most important because it involves "the most important of human relationships: our relationship with God," he said.
"Unfortunately, in some states, even among those who can boast centuries-old cultural traditions, freedom of religion, far from being guaranteed, is seriously violated, especially where minorities are concerned," he said.

"To all those responsible for the life of nations, I wish to state: if you do not fear truth, you need not fear freedom!" Benedict said.

Homer's Omnipotence Paradox

Wikipedia's hilight for today was the omnipotence paradox, which is probably best described in the form of the following question:

May an omnipotent being limit its own omnipotence?

Truly a question worthy of much speculation. But enough with the serious side of this issue. Upon reading this, I was immediately reminded of my most favorite statement of this riddle. Homer (Simpson, not the Greek poet), while high, asks his religious neighbor Ned Flanders (who has just approached Homer in the well intentioned hope of spreading the good Word), "Could Jesus microwave a burrito so hot, that He Himself could not eat it?"

Bar none, the best omnipotent paradox question ever uttered by man or cartoon.

Apparently, I'm not the only person who thought immediately of Homer, as the exact quote is listed at the end of the Wikipedia entry. According to that entry the Jesus-burrito conundrum was said in season 13, episode 285.

Friday, January 06, 2006

News of Interest to Me and a Little Commentary on the Side

In what is perhaps one of the most consequential stories in recent days, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon remains in coma following several surgeries aimed at saving the political giant from the massive stroke and the fate which eventually awaits us all. Regardless of whether Sharon survives, he is unlikely to recover to a level allowing him to play any significant role in Israeli politics. In the immediate term it seems that the greatest political impact of his prostration, will be the fall of his new centrist political party Kadima in the upcoming parliamentary elections. In the long run, his absence places his strategic peace plan of withdrawal and overwhelming defensive build up in the balance. Several good articles on the many implications and many lessons to be taken from this man's fascinating life and its abrupt end can be found: here, here, here, and here.

On the ever increasing list of reasons to be weary of the "China is democratizing" talk, add the following two stories in today's news:
1) Local officials in China's Shandong Province have hired club-wielding goons to keep
a blind activist and his family in line, after the man telephoned international
newspapers to inform them of his country's policy of forcing certain undesirable
pregnancies to be aborted against the intentions of the mother.
2) Working with American corporate giant Microsoft, China shuts down a blog run by
New York Times Beijing reporter, which discussed "sensitive" political issues facing China.

U.S.-German relations may see a much needed improvement with the rise of the new government in Berlin. Many suspect that while there will be few substantial changes in U.S. or German policies, there seems to be plenty of evidence that the style of diplomacy will change for the better.

The new list from Men's Health is out and it seems that America's fittest city is Baltimore and its fattest is Chicago (no surprise there). But for the first time I can remember New Orleans doesn't even make the top 20 fattest city list. I would be interested in seeing whether the timing of the survey (read Katrina) had anything to do with these results. In related news, it appears that us Americans and our erstwhile French brethren may be on the way to sharing something else in common (the first thing being our hatred of British cuisine). Speaking of New Orleans, perhaps a return to normalcy is not that far away, afterall.

From the world of South American politics, it appears there is yet another reason to hate Chavez on par with Castro. And if there lucky soon Bolivia too will be able to challenge Cuba for having the worst dictator in the Western Hemisphere. Before anyone responds, I do realize that it's arguable that Chavez is a dictator (though arguing against this proposition is becoming slowly more difficult), and Morales has yet to do anything dictator-ish (but give him time he hasn't had the chance yet).

It appears even former members of his own party no longer like the Syrian dictator-king Assad much anymore.

An absolutely fabulous piece touching on the difficulties found in both the Departments of State and Defense in fighting the war on terrorism, by Tony Corn in the latest issue of Policy Review.

Apparently G.W. isn't the only world leader crazy enough to believe that Missile Defense is a good idea (and no I am not talking about the ghost of Reagan). It seems pretty logical to me that those countries (Japan) which are closest to the nuclear missile threat would be the first (other than the forward looking Bush) to see the benefits of a missile defense system. And for all of you wandering to yourselves "but hasn't this guy heard of the argument that such a defense system would destroy the deterrence scheme that has protected us for so long", the answer is yes, I have heard of that argument--I took a class on international security which spent a good deal of time perpetuating that argument--and I don't buy it. I believe that MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), as the end all be all of nuclear threat defense, was passed over a long time ago due to changes in both technology and new security threats. But thank you for your concern.

Steven Spielberg's increasingly controversial take on Israel's response to the massacre of their athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic games is considered in these two articles today. Both disagree with his take but for different reasons.

Friday, December 30, 2005

The Conservative/Progressive False Dichotomy

As a conservative who feels justified in stating wholeheartedly that he is also forward-looking and compassionate, few things upset me more than the false assumption that all Republicans (all conservatives) are concerned only with numbers or only with moral axioms to the exclusion of the people whom are so greatly affected by political policies. While I wouldn't say that I have been greatly influenced (at least in my political outlook) by Edmund Disraeli, the more I read of and about him, the more I find myself agreeing with his understanding of Conservativism (what it is, what it should be). A fantastic article, which demonstrates what I see as Disraeli's proper understanding of conservativism is found at The Weekly Standard online. A few quick quotes from the article which best summarize these views:

"In a progressive country change is constant; and the great question is not whether you should resist change which is inevitable, but whether that change should be carried out in deference to the manners, the customs, the laws and the traditions of a people, or whether it should be carried out in deference to abstract principles, and arbitrary and general doctrines." ~ Disraeli

(Which is exactly the issue that divides Republicans and Democrats today.) If Tories were "national," the Liberal party was ("to give it an epithet," he said, "a noble epithet--which it may perhaps deserve") the "philosophic" party.

In his Vindication of the English Constitution he explained that "the Tory party in this country is the national party; it is the really democratic party of England." The "national" party is the inclusive, universal party--"universal" meaning "all classes of Britain." "If we must find new forces to maintain the ancient throne and immemorial monarchy of England," he said in Parliament, "I for one hope that we may find that novel power in the invigorating energies of an educated and enfranchised people." According to one school of opinion (Cecil Roth reports), had Disraeli lived and got another shot at the premiership in the 1880s, he would have "extended the franchise to women, this being according to The Times of June 13th 1884, the 'trump Conservative card' which he kept up his sleeve."

* * * * *

As Disraeli saw it, liberals and conservatives were equally progressive. But liberals were rational internationalists who worried what the Germans would say. Conservatives were romantic nationalists who worried what their forefathers would have said. (Thus "national" Republicans invoke the wisdom of the people and the authority of the Founding Fathers. "Philosophic" Democrats invoke the wisdom of the intellectuals and the authority of the United Nations.)

* * * * *

One consequence among many: Schoolchildren (Disraeli believed) are natural Tories. During the last generation or two, many Americans figured that youthful idealism made for Democrats and left-wingers automatically. Disraeli saw things just the other way: You are driven to make society better not by ideology but by sense of duty, your sense of oneness with the nation and its history. A romantic idea, he freely admits; the sort of thing that appeals to schoolchildren. Duty and honor were central to Disraeli's worldview. His proudest achievement, after all, was to bring home what he called "peace with honor" from the Berlin Congress. He was no warmonger; he called the Crimean War "just but unnecessary." But he did believe in peace through strength, through courage, through unqualified readiness to do your duty and (if need be) display your valor--ideas that the young once found appealing, intimately tied up as they are with romance and eros. And today, America's young people are indeed--at least by some calculations--more conservative than their elders.

The Liberal says, in despairing disbelief: Can't you sense the world around us? Don't you care about its disapproval? The Conservative says, in despairing disbelief: Can't you sense the generations behind us? Don't you care about their disapproval? Liberals live "horizontally," spiritually in touch (they believe) with all the world's nations. Conservatives live "vertically," spiritually in touch (they believe) with their forebears and with generations to come.

Marx and Disraeli are perfect countertypes--partly the same, partly opposite (like particle and anti-particle in nuclear physics; when they meet, they destroy each other). Marx and Disraeli are the principal creators of the modern left and right respectively--two 19th-century Jews whose fathers had them baptized, who worked mainly in London, who counted on British power to protect the world from a dangerous Czarist Russia, who died within two years of each other, in 1881 (Disraeli) and '83 (Marx). They were both obsessed with Jews and Judaism, but Marx (the atheist left-winger) hated Jews, Judaism, and religion in general; Disraeli (the devout right-winger) felt differently.

Marx says, "Workers of the world, unite!" Disraeli says, Peoples of Britain, unite! Marx foresees one class united around the world. Disraeli envisions all classes united throughout the nation. Socialists had "internationals," but conservatives never felt any need to blend their national parties into transnational organizations.

Yet Marx-to-Disraeli is not finally a left-to-right spectrum. Marx gave birth not only to the modern left but to totalitarianism. Marx's end of the spectrum is the "shame end," Disraeli's the "pride end." Shame was a powerful force in Marx's life; witness his self-hating anti-Semitism. Twentieth-century totalitarianism was created (not only but in large part) by shame. Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany were born out of humiliating defeat in the First World War: Germany beat Russia (Russian communism followed); the allies beat Germany (Nazism followed). Defeat and shame were not the only forces at work, but we can't understand the 20th century without them. Nor can we understand today's radical Islamic terrorism and totalitarianism (totalitarians being terrorists who have already got what they want) without understanding the central role of defeat and shame.

Modern liberals are nothing like Bolsheviks or Nazis. They are closer to Disraeli's end of the spectrum than Marx's. Yet American liberals are more likely than conservatives to focus on the shameful in American history, conservatives on the things that make them proud.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

Iraqi Election Hi-lights Inconsistency in Perceptions

I have found it strange that despite the fact that the essential situation in Iraq has changed only in a positive direction, the commentary on the struggle in Iraq has been almost exclusively pessimistic. My own personal opinion is that this is caused by one of three things: 1) the Western World's relatively short term memory and lack of a sense of proportion; and 2) the unwillingness of many to recognize a shift in the paradigm through which they comprehend the modern world (namely US and Military/War = bad); and finally 3) political opportunism (can't beat the President by supporting him...also need the votes of those whose views on Iraq are shaped by 1 and 2). The following article by Duncan Currie does a much better job of pointing out these inconsistent opinions (that is opinions inconsistent with the realities in Iraq):

Bush's New Arab World
The president's Mideast-democracy project is faring better than you might think.

by Duncan Currie
12/15/2005 12:00:00 AM

REMEMBER THE "Arab Spring"? That ephemeral blip of, oh, six or seven weeks last February and March when scattered Bush critics second-guessed their opposition to the Iraq war and the president's Mideast-democracy project? Given that most Americans now deem the war a mistake, it's easy to forget that, only 9 months ago, conservatives and liberals alike were hailing George W. Bush as the 400-pound gorilla of a nascent transformation in Arab politics.

Those were heady days for the administration. During the infant stages of Beirut's "Cedar Revolution," Lebanese Druze chieftain Walid Jumblatt--hardly a pro-American stooge--remarked that the January 30th Iraqi elections had torn down a "Berlin Wall" of autarkic sclerosis and midwifed "a new Arab world." Spurred by the killing of their popular prime minister, thousands of Lebanese took to the streets in an astounding spectacle. The stock character in Jumblatt's "new Arab world" was a youthful demonstrator baying for responsive governance. Lebanon's Assad-backed puppet soon resigned, and Syria's occupying troops began packing their bags. Meanwhile, Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's president-for-life, sanctioned multi-party elections, Iraqi crowds gathered to denounce terrorism, and notable swathes of Palestinians rebuked the Arafat-linked kleptocrats running their affairs.

Amidst the progress in Iraq, the spate of 1989-style "people power" protests, and Mubarak's unprecedented call for a free vote, many American liberals--along with a host of their counterparts in Canada and Western Europe--found themselves wondering if the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the subsequent push for Iraqi democracy might have been worth the trouble after all. One by one, like falling

dominoes, a veritable "Who's Who" of Bush bashers stepped forward to request a sizable helping of crow.

Toronto Star columnist Richard Gwyn went first. "It is time to set down in type the most difficult sentence in the English language," Gwyn wrote after watching Iraqis trek to the polls. "That sentence is short and simple. It is this: Bush was right." Well then. The New York Times editorial page gave Bush his due--the administration could "claim a healthy share of the credit" for having "boldly proclaimed the cause of Middle East democracy at a time when few in the West thought it had any realistic chance." Not to be outdone was Comedy Central's philosopher-comic, Jon Stewart. "What if Bush . . . has been right about this all along?" he asked on his Daily Show. "I feel like my worldview will not sustain itself and I may . . . implode." One day, Stewart joked, "my kid's gonna go to a high school named after [Bush]."

Across the pond, Claus Christian Malzahn wrote a remarkable cover story for Germany's Der Spiegel. "Germany loves to criticize U.S. President George W. Bush's Middle East policies--just like Germany loved to criticize former president Ronald Reagan," Malzahn wrote. "But Reagan, when he demanded that Mikhail Gorbachev remove the Berlin Wall, turned out to be right. Could history repeat itself?" Nor were French and British leftists immune to the contagion. "The merit of George Bush is to have held firm to his discourse from the day after 9/11," acknowledged an editorial in Le Monde. "He developed the idea that the Muslim peoples have the right to freedom, to democracy, to prosperity." London's Independent captured the baffled sentiments of many Europeans with its front-page headline, "Was Bush Right After All?"

GOOD QUESTION. Here's another: What exactly has changed since then? The Iraqi political process continues apace. For those keen on "timetables," America has yet to miss a single deadline in managing Iraq's post-Saddam transition. The Sunni Arabs, who now realize how foolish their election boycott proved last winter, turned out in droves to vote in the October 15th constitutional referendum (albeit, in most cases, to cast a "no" ballot) and are expected to vote in even greater numbers in this week's parliamentary poll. After a recent visit to Iraq, Sen. Joe Lieberman wrote in the Wall Street Journal that he "was thrilled to see a vigorous political campaign, and a large number of independent television stations and newspapers covering it."

Elsewhere in the Mideast, Egypt held its first multi-candidate presidential election this past September, which, though tainted by the ruling party's shenanigans, nevertheless marked a watershed. "The country's old authoritarian system has broken apart," reported Washington Post columnist David Ignatius from Cairo. Absent the Bush administration's "nagging," opined the Economist, "Mr. Mubarak would never have considered for a second that he should let himself be challenged at the polls for the top job. However clumsy in its promotion and debatable its motives, America's campaign for democracy in the Middle East is making progress."

Indeed, we've also had parliamentary elections in Lebanon, baby steps toward reform in Saudi Arabia, amplified pressure on Syria, and liberal sproutings in Morocco, Palestine, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar. On the hearts-and-minds front, a July 2005 survey by

the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that "large and growing majorities" of Moroccans (83 percent), Jordanians (80 percent), and Lebanese (83 percent) "say democracy can work well and is not just for the West." Meanwhile, more than 200,000 irate Jordanians responded to last month's Amman hotel bombings by pouring into the streets to protest. Chants of "Burn in hell, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi!" and "Death to al Qaeda!" could reportedly be heard.

Admittedly, the progress has at times been uneven. For example, Egypt's recent parliamentary elections were marred by bloody clashes between voters and riot police, which resulted in several deaths. This smacked of the old order, with Mubarak's goons blocking or attacking polling places in many opposition strongholds. Still, those elections yielded historic results for Egyptian pluralism. (Whether or not the Bush administration will like those results--which included major gains for the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood party--is another matter.)

"To venture into the Arab world," observes Johns Hopkins professor Fouad Ajami, "is to travel into Bush Country." Ajami--who earlier this year spent several weeks in Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, and Iraq--reports encountering "people from practically all Arab lands" engaged in "a great debate about the possibility of freedom and liberty." He also "met Syrians in the know who admitted that the fear of American power, and the example of American forces flushing Saddam Hussein out of his spider hole, now drive Syrian policy. They hang on George Bush's words in Damascus, I was told: the rulers wondering if Iraq was a crystal ball in which they could glimpse their future."

So what explains all the pessimism stateside? It could be that many Americans expected ballots, purple fingers, and Muslim people power to summarily quell the Iraqi insurgency. If so, they were disappointed. Car explosions, suicide bombers, mortar blasts, and kidnappings remain a pervasive reality in the Sunni Triangle. And more than 2,000 U.S. servicemen have now made the ultimate sacrifice. That this number is comparatively low by the standards of prior American wars offers no comfort to families who've lost a relative or friend.

But what if U.S. intervention did create "a new Arab world," as Walid Jumblatt claimed? What if it did vanquish the Middle Eastern "Berlin Wall"? And what if it saved untold Americans--and Arabs--from far deadlier wars in the future? While we mourn each and every U.S. casualty, we must never lose sight of what the American military has accomplished. Despite all the setbacks, Iraq's budding democracy continues to move ahead. So does the training of Iraq's fledgling security forces, a prerequisite for any significant withdrawal of U.S. troops.

As for the Bush Doctrine's loftier goal--to reform Arab politics and drain the swamp from which Islamic terrorism draws its chief ideological firepower--that no longer seems a fool's errand. Even the most determined naysayer must acknowledge what American policy--coupled with felicitous circumstances--has wrought. George W. Bush deposed Saddam to remove a dangerous tyranny and promote U.S. interests in a vital region. He may wind up creating the first Arab democracy and changing the political culture of the Middle East--which would deal a severe blow to the forces of militant Islam.

But Bush's is a rearview-mirror presidency: We won't know the final verdict on his radical foreign policy until farther down the road--not for years, perhaps not even for decades. Of course, the preliminary vindication or repudiation of the Bush Doctrine hinges on Iraq. As Joshua Muravchik has argued in Commentary, losing Iraq to the jihadists and Saddamists today would be far more disastrous than losing South Vietnam to the Communists was in 1975. "Vietnam was always a distant corner of the cold war, whose epicenter lay in Berlin," Muravchik writes. "But Iraq is right in the heart of the Arab world, and it is now the central front of World War IV. Defeat there would be more akin to a cold-war defeat in Germany than in Indochina."

Monday, November 21, 2005

How to Lose a War

One of the best articles on the subject.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Links to All that Interests Me Today

Since I have little free time today, I thought it would be best if I just produced a list of links to articles (both news and other) I found exceptionally interesting.

Of course, the big news of the day is President Bush's nomination of Samuel Alito Jr.

The economic news this month continues to be good

Looks like there will be life in Russia after Putin, or will there?

UN Security Council Resolution on Syria's involvement in the assassination of Rafiq Hariri passes unanimously.

A great post concerning the oft misunderstood place for economics in solving environmental problems.

Friday, October 21, 2005

VDH Time

As I often do on Friday's, I highly recommend you read Victor Davis Hanson's article on Iraq. His way with words and ability to cover the entirety of the proponents of the war's arguments in such a concise article is simply impressive. Of course the shortness of the article I think in some ways takes away from his arguments, but still they tend to demonstrate about how I read things.

A Cure for Breast it here already?

Certainly not a 100% success rate but pretty how successful does a treatment need to be to earn the title "cure"? Regardless of one's answer to this question, there is reason to be happy.

USA Today describes the results of recent studies concerning the effectiveness of new breast cancer treatments.

Friday, October 14, 2005

All States are created equal?

This great piece over at the Weekly Standard's website brings up several issues I have been grappling with for the last few weeks.

I am currently taking international Public Law at school and throughout, I have been amazed at how much the world order is premised on the view that the highest good to be sought is international peace. It is not that I do not value international peace. In fact, I tend to consider international peace as one of the most noble goals to be sought after. That being said, should it necessarily be set above individual freedom, life and liberty--above respect for the individual?

Not only do I question the paramount position given by the UN to the idea of a world without international conflict, but I also question the method through which they intend to reach it. In order to maintain world peace, the UN assumes we must maintain equality of states. The problems with this assumption are too many to list in this short post; but just to name a few consider the following: the bringers of war and conflict are not always states-and so the equalities of the states will not always affect them (but instead as I would argue is shown by experiences in the War on Terror, state equality makes it easier for non-state actors to threaten the peace); by allowing all states to be equal, all forms of government are given the legitimacy to pervert their nations and in so doing may eventually become a threat to peace themselves; equality of states makes the enforcement of any sanctions nearly impossible, especially when a martial response is needed (done only twice through the UN in its history).

But back to my first problem and how the equality of states comes into play. Not only does the primacy of international peace as a UN goal many times lead to the destruction of individual liberty (including unlawful imprisonments, torture, enslavement and death) but the sacrosanct equality of states often leads to the further erosion of individual rights. For the reasons why this is the case, see the article I linked to above. Also because the above article focuses on the beliefs of Abe Lincoln in opposition to this very viewpoint, it reminded me of one of my favorite Lincoln quotes:

We shall again be able not to declare, that "all States as States, are equal," but to renew the broader, better declaration...That "all men are created equal."

After reading the above article consider to what extent these intellectual disagreements may be good examples of the Lockean vs. Hobbesean outlooks on human nature, governance and law/justice.