Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Winter Break!

I’m enjoying a vacation from CAC for a little bit, but the following stories came across my desk and I thought they were worthy of some commentary:

On December 7th, the Detroit Free Press reported the death of Amway co-founder Jay Van Andel. The Press reported Van Andel’s support for conservatism.

The company also has been controversial because of its almost evangelical zeal in promoting free enterprise, and gained attention with DeVos' and Van Andel's high-profile participation in Republican politics . . . [Van Andel] chaired the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and was a trustee of the Heritage Foundation, Hudson Institute, Hillsdale College and the Advisory Council for American Private Education.
A businessman willing to defend free enterprise? Sounds like a great thing, right? The trouble is, Van Andel’s supported conservatism.

Much of Van Andel's giving went toward Christian causes, including a creation research station in rural Arizona that sought to prove the world was made in a week.
So Van Andel was willing to pay a team of idiots to confirm the cosmology of a bunch of sheep-herders. And what do you think the chances are that these "researchers" are going to report information that proves to the contrary?

And the defense of the free markets rests here. Brilliant.

On December 10th, the AP reported that the Center for Individual Rights is filing a class action suit for the victims of the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policies.

The motion was filed Wednesday with U.S. District Judge Patrick Duggan in Detroit. It seeks $1 for the nonminority students whose applications were rejected between 1995 and 2003 and asks the university to refund their application fees.
The lawyers also are asking the school to reimburse some of those students who may have attended a more expensive school after being rejected by Michigan and to compensate them for emotional distress, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Developing . . .

The Toronto Star notes that the right has been conspicuously quite about New York attorney-general Eliot Spitzer’s run for governor of New York in 2006 (and by implication, his 2012 run for president).

[W]hile Spitzer's designs on Albany were front-page news in the leading business dailies of Britain and Canada this week, they scarcely attracted notice in Gotham.

Even The Wall Street Journal, whose editorial page has vilified Spitzer as a job-killing publicity hound and sworn enemy of capitalism, joined The New York Times in burying the story Wednesday.

At least on the part of his enemies in the "vast right-wing conspiracy," as Hillary Clinton first dubbed the conservative media-GOP juggernaut in 1998, this indifference to Spitzer's latest move is strategically unwise. The time to stop Spitzer is before he gets to Albany.
Indeed. But that would take a moral argument that defends bussnessmen, something the vast right-wing conspiracy isn’t particularly good at.

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation chairman Donald E. Powell is on a mission to save capitalism. Consider the following:

Powell told students that as they prepare to teach school, enter scientific research or the business world place they "need to be prepared to distinguish between what is right and wrong."

Distinguishing between the two "will not take place in your mind. The battle between good and evil, right and wrong will be conducted in your heart. So, above all else, guard your heart, for therein lies the wellspring of life." Powell said.

He said a breakdown in public integrity throughout many bedrock American institutions has caused the free enterprise system that made the United States a world leader to be "on trial" and "under question" today.

Scandals in business, media, education, and government "have unsettled the very nature of this nation's soul," Powell said.

He said "making money, making profit, is not evil, because without it there is not much public good that you and I can enjoy. It's the abuse of money and the love of money that we need to distinguish.

"It's very important," Powell added, "that you defend the capitalistic way of life and also the rule of law." [AP]
Let us not forget that at heart, Powell is a regulator. I found this line in a speech he gave this fall before the Florida Bankers Association:

[W]e regulators have a role to play, too. We must ensure that we are competent, we are efficient, we are responsive and we are organized to address and deal with the challenges the marketplace will throw at us. This underscores a fundamental philosophy of mine. The marketplace should decide how the business of providing financial services evolves. The regulators should work to make sure this evolution takes place in a way that protects the public's interest in a safe and stable financial system.
Ah, yes, the regulators—the real judges of the marketplace’s conduct. Heaven save us from Powell’s kind of capitalism.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Intellectual Activism: Economics Professor’s Teaching Inspires Devoted Following

Here's this week's Broadside column (and a little background). When I was a student George Washington University, the student Objectivists on campus made the university a worthwhile place. At George Mason, it is a professor. So when I started classes, practically everyone I knew said I'd want to take economics professor Thomas Rustici (and usually said so emphatically). Now that I've had him for a semester, I'm glad I took their advice.

Objectivists will be pleased to hear Rustici requires Ayn Rand's Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal as reading in his course on economics and public policy that I'm currently taking, and that he offers an extra credit book report on Atlas Shrugged in another. Rustici teaches the right ideas in economics in a truly inductive manner, teaching students how to think scientifically about economics and connecting what they learn in class to their lives in a way I've seen few professors match.

For example, his class on the economic devastation wrought by the minimum wage laws was so compelling that I felt that I had ran a marathon after it, and I am one who hardly needs convincing on the evils of the minimum wage. Rustici illustrated his argument though the story of his blind grandfather during the great depression, a man forced to abandon the in-home labor he had secured for himself because it paid less then the minimum wage laws allowed. Rustici pointed out that these laws effectively made his grandfather's life worthless, and devastated his family's ability to survive in a way that I don't think any of the students in attendance will ever forget.

But for this article, written for a general audience, I chose to zero in on Rustici's teaching method. Rustici is the "total cognitive authority" in his classroom. His class is almost entirely lecture, and he's good enough at what he does to anticipate his students' questions in advance, answer them, and leave students with the skills they need to get to the truth on their own. A lot of students I spoke to described Rustici's class as a transformative experience.

As for me, I think Rustici has reminded me how invigorating teaching can be. Teaching is a realm where people with our ideas can have a tremendous impact and see the results of their work first hand, without having to wait for "the culture to change." Rustici's example has certainly inspired me to think about melding my advocacy for capitalism with teaching in ways I hadn't considered before, and for that, I'm grateful.

So without any further adieu, here's the article:

Good teaching takes hard work. A professor must be an expert on his or her subject, understand the what the audience already knows about it, and be able to present new knowledge in a compelling and informative manner. That might explain why so few professors are good at it.

In many classes, the trend is often away from lecture and toward "discussion," where students, and not the professor, do most of the speaking. Discussion classes work well when students are already well-versed in a subject, but when they are not, discussion easily degenerates into the blind leading the blind. The result may be less work for the professor, but bad news for students, who miss out on the benefit of a solid course of instruction.

Yet not all GMU professors are willing to abandon lecturing; some, in fact, excel at it. You ask students on campus who the best lecturer is-and perhaps the best overall professor-odds are you'll hear one name repeated again and again: Prof. Thomas Rustici of the Department of Economics.

Rustici teaches 100-level micro and macroeconomic theory and 300-level economics and public policy. A one time Mason student government "faculty member of the year" in economics, Rustici's enthusiasm permeates his classroom.

"I love economics and I'm passionate about teaching it," says Rustici. "Too many professors shirk their responsibility to be professors. They don't profess their own knowledge and experience in a way that teaches students how to be scholars."

"Other professors place too much emphasis on what they believe students want, going soft on them rather then challenging them to think scientifically," says Rustici. "A class on current events is of no value if a student doesn't first understand the scientific method of his field."

To teach that method, Rustici relies almost exclusively on lecture, with few, if any interruptions.

"I'm a classical professor," says Rustici. "It is my moral and educational duty to provide my students with the fundamentals so they develop into scholars who know what they think and can think on their own."

Isaac DiIanni, a graduate student working toward his PhD in economics at Mason spent a year as Rustici's teaching assistant. DiIanni says Rustici's teaching method allows students to learn economic principles in a way that shapes their thinking in a whole host of disciplines.

"Rustici's curriculum is such that each student is invited to explore their own ideas, discover how they can pursue these ideas within reality, and use critical thought to observe and learn about the world in which they live," says DiIanni.

"Undergraduates leave his classes with a better understanding of economics and human behavior than many graduate students," says DiIanni. "He covers nearly every important area of economics, from government intervention in the economy to the environment, in a way that is interesting and relevant."

Rustici's classes are not without their controversy though. Students are expected to write cogent papers and sloppy thinkers do poorly on his assignments. Yet DiIanni says Rustici is willing to go the extra mile for a student who is having a hard time but willing to work to learn, or needs mentoring.

"While the queue to his office hours is often filled with students stopping by for advice on an assignment, it is equally filled with students coming by just to chat. Many of his students are regular visitors," says DiIanni.

DiIanni also says some Mason professors resent Rustici's impact on students. "They hate it when one of his students takes them to task for something they teach which contradicts what they learned in his class," says DiIanni.

Yet Senior Tim Bainton, a current student in Rustici's public policy class says that is exactly why he likes Rustici's teaching. "He is passionate and not afraid to express controversial positions," says Bainton.

"I think he is the most amazing professor at Mason," says Bainton. "He gives you a wealth of knowledge in a three hour course that would take other instructors 15 hours to communicate."

GMU alumnus Tim Cheadle (SITE '04), a computer engineer at America Online agrees. "Rustici's classes are as much about reality, truth and morality as they are about finances," says Cheadle.

"Rustici's aim, stated clearly during the first 20 minutes of his first lecture, is to exhibit that economics is the bridge between an individual's values and reality," says Cheadle.

"When I took Rustici's class, I wanted to be there," says Cheadle. "It was like watching a master at work, with the side benefit, of course, being that you left the classroom more knowledgeable and reasonable than when you entered."

"Rustici provided a challenge to think that was unparalleled in any other class I attended in my career at Mason," says Cheadle. "Not only do I still vividly remember material from his lectures I attended four years ago, but they also provided a foundation of discovery that I utilize every day."

"Rustici simply pushed me to be a better person," says Cheadle.

And that, perhaps even more then his lecture method, is why Rustici shines as a professor.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The War: Memo to Ayman Zawahiri

Ed Cline is carrying a message to Zawahiri:

Dear Mr. Zawahiri:

This is a memorandum that should have been served by our President and State Department ten years ago on you, your master, Osama bin Laden, your whole killer organization, and your criminal colleagues in Iran and wherever else the servants of your ghastly ideas murder, torture, imprison and enslave men and women.

This is to inform you that you are wanted, dead or alive, but that we are otherwise not interested in you, your creed, or its political manifestation of global hegemony. Not in your primitive, degrading, barbarous religion. Neither in submitting to it, ever, nor even “tolerating” its rights-violating practice in our country.

This is to remind you that your “jihad” against our country and against any of our soldiers and citizens abroad is no better than a “contract” put out by a criminal gang on someone who refuses to submit to extortion. The viciousness of a Mafia conspiracy, however, pales in comparison to the magnitude of your evil actions and designs. Our measure of man is the degree to which he subscribes to reason and how well he exploits the breadth of his freedom. Your measure of man is the degree to which he quavers before a ghost, and how well he unthinkingly submits to your creed’s “commandments” and lives his life in the barbed wire corral of anti-life Mohammedan ethics.

Obviously, there is no compromise possible between those positions. Nor is one possible between living happily in our country and also being a “moderate,” non-violent Muslim in it. If a “moderate” devoted any thought to the matter, he would either need to sabotage his mind to evade his creed’s fundamental killer premise, or repudiate and abandon that creed. But thought and moral honesty are not what your creed encourages or tolerates.

Several days ago, you sent us another message. In it you presumed to deliver a moral injunction. It reveals that you have forgotten one important fact: You declared war on us, though you speak as though we were the invader. But, it was your mindless minions who drove planeloads of civilized people into our World Trade Center, our Pentagon, our Pennsylvania field. Who have murdered hundreds of people since then, and who wish to erase Israel from the map and initiate a second Holocaust. We have not forgotten, nor have we forgiven.

We have responded in kind. You invaded. We retaliated. We have embarked on a crusade to give you the opportunity to die for your cause -- either by our weapons, or by your own hand in an Afghan cave in emulation of Hitler in his Berlin bunker. If anyone can be characterized as “Satan,” it is you and your master. Like your colleague in malice, the late Yassir Arafat, you and your master are caricatures of irredeemable evil.

In your latest message to us, you state that “we will continue fighting you until the last hour.” So be it. When, in that last hour, you and your master are blasted to atoms, we will be rid of you, and we will have many more hours to live as you do not want us to live -- happy, productive, prosperous, and free.

In that same message, you offer “one last advice” on how to deal with you and your primitive culture: “You must choose between two methods in dealing with Muslims. Cooperate with them based on mutual respect and interests, or deal with them as if they are spoils of war. This is your problem, and you must choose.”

You must believe that we have short memories, or that we know nothing of your creed and political ambition. We know that your creed does not respect Western values -- the values expressed in our Declaration of Independence -- and that you declared war on us in a campaign to deny them in men’s lives.

There are fools in this country who wish to replace our Declaration and Constitution with Sharia law. Does not your Koran exhort believers to murder or enslave non-believers? You cannot have it both ways. You know that. You are hoping that we do not know it, and that we concede that “cooperation” is the best way to ameliorate conflict and avoid bloodshed. But, since you and your ilk have repeatedly proclaimed your goal of destroying us, our “cooperation” with you or with any of your “faithful” would simply guarantee more conflict and bloodshed, and our eventual demise. In such a conflict, “mutual respect” is an oxymoron. We are not buying it.

We have no “mutual interests.” We wish to live on earth. You wish us to exist in a miasma of self-immolation, or die by your swords, guns or bombs. You and your spokesmen have made that eminently clear. The onus of moral choice is on you. You made that choice, and it has condemned you.

You are right. It is our problem. We have chosen. And our solution to it is to exterminate you, your master, and whoever else dares to declare war on us. Neither you nor the numberless obedient manqués who submit to Islam would be “spoils of war.” You are not a value to free men; you offer nothing but negation.

So, please, spare us further messages and your unsolicited advice. We, the people of the United States of America, are not interested.

Monday, November 29, 2004

The Culture: They're not just waiting for the end times . . .

. . .they're measuring them out quantitatively. The Rapture Ready Index is a self-proclaimed "Dow Jones Industrial Average of end time activity" that monitors factors such as the crime rate, unemployment, wild weather and the "mark of the Beast," for evidence of activity related to Judgement Day.

For example, the Rapture Ready Index recently dropped to 156, one point from its 2004 high, because of improvement in the global unemployment rate. The "mark of the Beast" category was upgraded though as a result of a nation-wide push to replace bar codes product labels with radio tags.

Amazing.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

The Culture: Look Who Isn't Talking

Journalist and screenwriter Bridget Johnson notes Hollywood's silence over the Van Gogh murder at the Wall Street Journal:

Since Nov. 2, I've had an icky feeling in the pit of my stomach. As an ardent Bush backer, my queasiness has nothing to do with the glorious election results, but is prompted by a murder that occurred the same day in Amsterdam.

Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh's short film "Submission," about the treatment of women in Islam, written by female Dutch parliamentarian and former Muslim Aayan Hirsi Ali, had aired in August on Dutch TV. Van Gogh was riding his bike near his home when a Muslim terrorist shot him, slashed his throat, and pinned to his body a note threatening Ms. Ali. This appears to be an organized effort, not the act of a lone nut; Dutch authorities are holding 13 suspects in the case.

After the slaying, I watched "Submission" (available online at ifilm.com) and my mind is still boggled that 11 minutes decrying violence against women incites such violence. There've been many films over the years that have taken potshots at Catholics, but I don't remember any of us slaughtering filmmakers over the offense. You didn't see the National Rifle Association order a hit on Michael Moore over "Bowling for Columbine."

One would think that in the name of artistic freedom, the creative community would take a stand against filmmakers being sent into hiding à la Salman Rushdie, or left bleeding in the street. Yet we've heard nary a peep from Hollywood about the van Gogh slaying. Indeed Hollywood has long walked on eggshells regarding the topic of Islamic fundamentalism. The film version of Tom Clancy's "The Sum of All Fears" changed Palestinian terrorists to neo-Nazis out a desire to avoid offending Arabs or Muslims. The war on terror is a Tinsel Town taboo, even though a Hollywood Reporter poll showed that roughly two-thirds of filmgoers surveyed would pay to see a film on the topic.

In a recent conversation with a struggling liberal screenwriter, I brought up the Clancy film as an example of Hollywood shying away from what really affects filmgoers--namely, the al Qaeda threat vs. the neo-Nazi threat. He vehemently defended the script switch. "It's an easy target," he said of Arab terrorism, repeating this like a parrot, then adding, "It's a cheap shot." How many American moviegoers would think that scripting Arab terrorists as the enemy in a fiction film is a "cheap shot"? In fact, it's realism; it's what touches lives world-wide. It's this disconnect with filmgoers that has left the Hollywood box office bleeding by the side of the road. [WSJ]
Indeed.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Intellectual Activism: A Moral Killing

Here's this week's Broadside column:

Last week, US Marines in Iraq stormed the hornet’s nest of Fallujah and dealt the anti-American insurgency a crushing blow, pacifying the mosques, murder dens and sniper holes used by the enemy to kill Americans and pro-US Iraqi policemen. They also found the mutilated body of a woman believed to be Margaret Hassan, the British aid worker held hostage by insurgents demanding the removal of United Kingdom solders from Iraq. Yet it was the video-tape of a US Marine shooting to death a wounded man that he believed threatened his life that became the top story out of Fallujah.

Images of the shooting, aired widely on Al-Jazeera television, have enraged Iraqis and other Arabs in the Middle East, prompting the US ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte to express regret for the shooting and promise that the marine involved would be held accountable under military law.

I disagree. The marine acted well within his rights. The battle for Fallujah has been particularly hard-fought; the insurgents have fought house to house, using snipers and booby-trapping the dead in an attempt to delay their inevitable defeat. The theory behind their action is simple; they do not believe the US has the stomach to endure a hard fight. They believe that if they fight ruthlessly, the US will quit Iraq.

The answer to such an enemy is ruthless force. In the American Civil War, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman knew as much when he wrote to the mayor of Atlanta that “war is cruelty” and that those “who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out.” The mayor had requested Sherman rescind his order that Confederate civilians evacuate Atlanta on humanitarian grounds. Sherman argued in reply that Atlanta was the wellspring of Confederacy and that to spare it for any reason would only serve to perpetuate the war. After years of defeat and needless suffering and loss, Sherman’s bold move helped secure the eventual Union victory that came seven months later.

In Iraq, the US is faced with an enemy that has no right to strike. There is no legitimate reason to oppose the US mission—there is no right for the Iraqis to set up a religious dictatorship to replace Saddam. If peace is the goal, the US must root out the Muslim insurgents; it must make action against America synonymous with individual ruin. Rather then apologize for US forces killing the enemy, our leaders should lay the blame for such death exactly where it belongs: with those who fight against the nascent freedom that the US is installing in Iraq.

Yet we are told however that if we act boldly in Iraq, we will incur the wrath of the Arab world. Have we forgotten that we are fighting in Fallujah now because the jihadists did not honor their earlier promise to disarm and return to their productive lives? As far as the Arab world is concerned, it seems the only acceptable deaths in Iraq are American ones. Have we forgotten that the lives of our own men and women are more important than those of the enemy that seeks to destroy us?

So when I see footage of a squad of marines engaged in house-to-house fighting, and one of the marines shoots a man he perceives to be a threat, I say “so be it.” Even if the facts show that the marine was mistaken in his perception of the threat, his actions were nevertheless moral. This marine was a man acting in self-defense against an enemy who has killed brutally in the name of an unjust cause. Such is the hard, yet just nature of war.

And truth be told, our war-fighting strategy in Iraq is ridiculously over-generous to the enemy. Why should we risk any American lives to defeat the insurgents? Why doesn’t the US bomb the jihadists and the cities they occupy into oblivion as it did with the Nazis in Germany and the Shinto cultists in Japan? Our government exists to protect American lives, not to sacrifice them in the name of preventing “collateral damage.” One American life ought to be worth more than 10,000—even 100,000 of the enemy.

So instead of placing our men in harms way in Fallujah and then apologizing when they kill the enemy, we should demand that the Bush administration open up the floodgates and unleash the full power of our military might. We should fight the war in Iraq as it deserves to be fought: as a righteous war to defeat a vicious tyranny that threatened our security. Those who stand with that tyranny or seek to replace it with a new one are an enemy that forfeits their right to exist. They deserve all the harm that comes to them.

That is why I cannot cry for the man killed by the marine. To win in Iraq, those who stand with the insurgents it must be brought to ruin. Until these men choose to put down their arms, that means our killing them. If not, there will be both more death—and no end to it in sight.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Intellectual Activism: Let us never to fail to honor the heroic again

Here's this week's GMU Broadside Column:

Last Thursday was Veterans Day, a holiday dedicated to honoring the valor of those American men and woman who defended the freedoms of the nation though their service in the armed forces. Not unlike Thanksgiving Day, Veterans Day also aims to give thanks, but unlike Thanksgiving Day, which is celebrated though feasts and family get-togethers, Veterans Day is supposed to be celebrated though solemn events that give us pause to commemorate the contributions of our veterans.

So why then did the George Mason University, one of our great civic institutions, offer no such commemoration to mark Veterans Day last week? Nowhere on our campus was any effort made to reflect upon the role of our nation’s military veterans. No great speech or tribute was made, no heroics were honored and no losses reflected upon. It was as if the holiday didn’t even exist.

Yet this university celebrates all sorts of groups and occasions. The history of almost every ethnic minority is recalled in one way or another on campus. One university office is dedicated to “diversity programs” while another office is dedicated to “multicultural research and resource.” Last spring, the entire Johnson Center was decorated from head to toe with flags to celebrate Mason’s international cultures. There are festivities to mark almost every identity that one could imagine.

So again, why then the omission of this one uniquely American holiday? Are we veterans not important? (I say “we” because I am one, courtesy of my five years with the marines). Is it because we were part of a brotherhood of arms that is uncomfortable to contemplate in these controversial times?

The truth is we veterans are as much a part of the George Mason community as any other group. Our military experience makes us unique; we are part of a fraternity not of race or of birth but of choice; we chose to affirm our freedom by serving in the nation’s armed forces. That commitment took us to the ends of the earth, separating us from families and loved ones and testing us in ways unimaginable to most: from tedium, to despair, to the elation many of us feel from being part of hard-won achievement.

I personally know men on campus who have endured the kind of pain only the battlefield can offer; men who, quoting a poet “march[ed] in the ranks hard-prest, and the road unknown,” yet kept their grace and benevolence even in the face of it all. These are men whose courage brought them honors when they wore the uniform, but who here, in our community, receive little credit and no special mention. Universities are sacred places; because of their role in discovering and teaching truth, they are a place where the best within us is reflected. Yet if last week was any indication, the best in our veterans has become hardly worth mentioning.

This failure to properly commemorate our heroes is wrong. The fact is that every discipline and every department on our campus ought to mark Veterans Day. The history department could recall those Mason students who performed heroically in battle. The information technology department could recall the role computer engineers played developing the computers that broke the enemy’s secret codes. The women’s studies center could recall the role women played in the fight for freedom. The philosophy department could reflect on the power of a free and independent people to defeat every tyranny that would seek to enslave them. This list is endless; in the fight for freedom, practitioners of every art and every science have played a role.

Yet that George Mason forgets the role our veterans played in securing the freedoms that make our university and other places of free thought possible is unforgivable; it says we place no value in the struggle it took to bring liberty our people and the effort it takes to preserve it. We should be ashamed of ourselves for this oversight.

I propose that George Mason never let another Veterans Day go unmarked again. I propose that a parcel of land on campus be set aside and a monument be constructed on it to pay tribute to Mason’s military veterans and those Mason alumni who have died in the service of the nation. This memorial should be conspicuous and prominent; it should be a place of awe, reverence and respect that personifies the virtues we seek to honor in our veterans.

On Veterans Day, this monument should be a site of celebration. And perhaps most importantly, this monument should be a palace where a future generation of veterans will remember and draw inspiration in the hour of their testing.

We should do this. I can forgive an error of omission in our failing to properly observe this last Veterans Day. I can not forgive an error of commission that says “no” to a call for us never to fail to honor the heroic again.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The War: Arafat is dead

Reuters reportsArafat is dead. Good riddance.

The War: What If Islam Triumphed?

Ed Cline joins the ranks of those appalled by the murder of Theo van Gogh.

The grisly, broad daylight murder and near-decapitation in Amsterdam last week of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim “suicide” jihadist is a new and ominous twist to Islam’s war on the West. It portends something worse than the massacre of commuters in Madrid and of adults and schoolchildren in Beslan. The publicized beheadings have usually been staged and filmed somewhere in the anonymous hovels of Baghdad, and the victims’ bodies unceremoniously dumped in ditches or beneath overpasses on the outskirts of the city for American troops or Iraqis to find. Then, miraculously and shortly after the event, Al-Jazeera receives videotapes of the murders and gleefully broadcasts them to an appreciative Arab “street.”

No such scoop, this time, for Matt Lauer and Diane Sawyer’s Mideastern counterparts to report, not unless the murder was captured on camcorder by the killer’s cohorts and the tape surfaces some time in the future.

Another unique aspect of the murder is that Dutch investigators subsequently found evidence of a conspiracy -- chiefly a hit list -- to murder any Dutch citizen who was critical of Islam, the Koran, or Muslim society. Several prominent Dutch citizens have received letters threatening them with the same bloody fate, among them the mayor of Amsterdam, a deputy mayor, an immigration official, a television talk show host, and Ayaan Hirsi, a former Somali Muslim and member of the Dutch parliament who produced a movie with van Gogh about the Islamic oppression of women.

Matthew Campbell, writing in the London Times on November 7th, noted that, as a consequence of the van Gogh murder, “All over Europe media pundits, entertainers, and politicians were forced to ponder the chilling possibility that cross-border cooperation among closely connected jihad cells might mean that they, too, were threatened by the new terror.”

Why such surprise?

For over a generation, those jihad cells have been maddeningly and surreptitiously established all over Europe, ever since the first train and plane hijackings of the 1970’s and the murder of Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics. The Netherlands, a small country residence to one million Muslims, is now feeling particularly vulnerable. But the same thing can happen in Germany or Italy. In France, Jews and Jewish-owned property are more and more the targets of Muslim crime, and French girls are raped by Muslims for not wearing veils in public, even though they are not Muslim.

Just as the Democratic left is wondering what went wrong when, despite all its expensive and extralegal efforts, Americans reelected George W. Bush and endorsed the war on terror by a margin that could not be questioned or spun out of context, many Europeans are beginning to wonder what they did wrong to earn the enmity of the alien culture in their midst whose proclaimed end, according to its numerous imams and mullahs, is to end Western civilization. The terror they face cannot be questioned or dismissed as anomalous.

After all, if Europeans are willing to “tolerate” a religion and subculture fundamentally antithetical to Western values and mores, and demonstrably hostile to them, why could not that society reciprocate and “tolerate” their host cultures and all that they hold dear? Such as freedom of thought and speech, private property, individual rights? The rule of reason? The rule of law? The glorification of man?

Perhaps because those countries have systematically denigrated those values for more than a generation in their laws, universities, newspaper columns, and arts. Perhaps because Europeans established welfare states to spare themselves the risks and rewards of living without a “safety net.” Not to mention developed an antipathy for the work they themselves, spoiled by that welfare state, by unions, by protectionist policies, and by an inexplicable sense of superiority, did not care to do. The Europeans invited unwashed millions from impoverished Muslim countries to pick up their garbage, dig their ditches, and clean their commodes.

In the name of multiculturalism, diversity, toleration, and non-judgment, the Europeans have allowed their societies to become infiltrated by an enemy bent on their conversion or conquest.

Campbell wrote that “many of Holland’s 1m Muslims consider the Dutch government to be depraved in its acceptance of ‘abominations’ such as drugs, prostitution, and gay marriage. They want nothing to do with it.”

Perhaps not. But, overall, drugs, prostitution, and gay marriage are minor bogeymen in the Islamic worldview. Muslims have their own peccadilloes they would rather not have discussed in public, least of all by Western infidels, such as honor killings, bestiality, ritual rape, and a concept of “family” that makes Mafia solidarity look like a friendly tea-and-crumpets soiree after a cricket match.

No, the chief abomination -- indeed, the principal nemesis -- in the Islamic worldview is man the unbowed, man astride a world he has mastered, man a being proud of his existence and of his achievements, man the rational being. Man who indignantly refuses to degrade himself by groveling five times a day to bang his head on the ground in ritualistic submission to a ghost and its prophets, never daring to think outside the sealed envelope of Sharia law. Man who scoffs at and dismisses the irrational. Man the being who sends probes to wander over Mars, plunge into the atmosphere of Titan, and collect atoms of the sun. Man who creates new medicines, and new materials, and new wealth from the raw material of the earth, so that he can live happily on it.

Europe has been invaded many times. Most prominently by the Huns. And, now, for a third time, by the Muslims.

It is intriguing to speculate on the status of Europe if one imagines that Charles Martel and his Frankish infantry failed to stem the Muslim tide of invasion at Tours in 732. There is a sub-genre of such hypothetical literature, some of it meritorious, much of it silly. If the Allies had let Hitler overrun Russia to defeat Stalin and his communist dictatorship, and if we had not propped up Stalin with Lend Lease, would the Germans have been able to hold onto that conquest? It is doubtful. We certainly would have been spared the Cold War if that had happened. Not to mention a two-timing Vladimir Putin, whose KGB would have perished along with Stalin and the Politburo. Churchill and Patton would have smoked a box of cigars each in celebration of that collapse.

However, if Martel had been defeated at Tours by Abd-er-Rahman’s 60,000 Saracen horsemen, there was little that could have stopped the Muslims from adding all of France and then the rest of Western Europe to their conquests. Nothing could have kept them out of Germany, Italy and Greece. There would have been no Charlemagne, no Middle Ages, no Renaissance, no Enlightenment. Just a continuation of the Dark Ages.

A European caliphate would not have begrudged tactful rational inquiry, as the Catholic Church did, even for its persecution of freethinkers and heretics. There would have been no corrupt Catholic Church for Martin Luther to revolt against, and no Martin Luther. No Vatican, no Michelangelo, no David of Florence or Sistine Chapel, no Leonardo da Vinci. No Copernicus, no Galileo. No arts, science or literature as we know them.

Perhaps the Scandinavian kingdoms would have proven too chilly for the Muslims. No problem. Exact a tribute from them, in the great tradition of the Barbary pirates, in exchange for a promise not to lay those lands to waste or raid their commerce on the high seas for loot and hostages.

No Queen Isabella of Spain to send Columbus across the Atlantic. No Columbus, and no discovery of America. No Shakespeare, if the Muslims ventured across the Channel. No John Locke. No London, or two British empires. No Declaration of Independence. No United States. No Beethoven, or Liszt, or Rachmaninoff. No Industrial Revolution. No New York City. No moon landings, no Voyagers hurtling through interstellar space.

Muslim science? An oxymoron. Science requires a population of free minds. Islam does not tolerate free minds. Where it has tolerated them in the past, and where it does at present, such as in Indonesia or Malaysia, it is only on conditional sufferance.

A European caliphate would have smothered any political, intellectual, or religious move to freedom, or postponed it for at least another millennium. Frankly, there would have been no “Europe.” It would have become a collection of forested provinces governed by satraps of the Grand Caliphate in Mecca or Medina.

Is this too severe a judgment of Islam? Islam means “submission.” Period. No questions asked or tolerated. There have been exceptions to that rule, but they are exceptions, and they disappeared almost as quickly as they occurred. Once the Muslims had settled into a conquered Spain and accomplished the necessary “submission” of its inhabitants, one or two of its governors tolerated inquiry beyond the bounds of the Koran and orthodoxy, and even left Christians and Jews alone, as long as they avoided trouble and kept to their places, in uncharacteristic experiments in “toleration.” They gave us algebra, more efficient numbers, and unearthed Aristotle. But Aristotle proved to be incompatible with Islamic orthodoxy, more than he ever was with the Catholic Church. Better the faithful stay dumbed down.

The conflict could not last. The Koran is inflexible. It demands absolute orthodoxy, an unconditional acceptance by its adherents of its mythology and official history, requiring an abject, voluntary surrender of the mind graphically described by Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Instead of demanding that one love Big Brother, it demands that one love Allah. The Koran is riven with contradictions, the most prominent of which is a declaration of war on all unbelievers, sanctioning their murder, extermination or enslavement. Those imperatives render superfluous any afterthoughts in the text about peace, charity and tolerance.

Contradictions cannot long cohabit in a dogma; one or the other must give way. The Islamic creed is fundamentally a creed of war, of conquest, of submission. President Bush would do his country a great favor if he would grasp that Islam is not a “religion of peace.” If Muslims ever disavowed the totalitarian elements of their religion, that would be the end of it. Muslims then may as well convert to Methodism, or join the Amish.

Europe is now reaping the fruits of its policy of “toleration” of the irrational in more respects than one. The one that will capture the headlines will be the demand for self-censorship of Europeans regarding their Muslim neighbors and citizens. Dare to question the wisdom of the Koran, or satirize Muslims, or claim that the rule of law should supersede the primitive, concrete-bound precepts of Islam, and the censor may be a man with a carving knife, ready and willing to silence the offender forever. Europe has been put on notice: Heads will roll. Literally.

Can it happen here, in the United States? Possibly. Canada is already showing signs of surrendering to its Muslim activists in the field of law. Our own multiculturalists and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, among others, are working on the terms of surrender here.

Will Europe take action to preserve its civilization, or will it tolerate this new brand of terror at the price of being assimilated by its barbarian “guests”? Will Theo van Gogh serve as the modern Roland of Roncesvalles, or will Europeans blink if Michelangelo’s David is smashed by Islamic puritans in a campaign to eradicate infidel idolatry?

Happy Birthday US Marine Corps

Happy 229th to the men and women of the Corps.

The War: The Movie that led to Murder

Not since the fatwa against Salman Rushdie has their been an offensive and morally vicious act committed against art and artists as the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh. Van Gogh had the audacity to dramatize Islamic brutality against women and for this he was murdered by a 26 year-old Muslim of Dutch-Moroccan descent.

Thankfully, van Gogh's "Submission," is now available for free viewing at IFILM.

Weighing in at only eleven minutes, everyone with an Internet connection should see it—and see just what an adherent of the religion of peace was willing to murder for.

The Culture: Red Not So Red and Blue Not So Blue

Michael Gastner, Cosma Shalizi, and Mark Newman of the University of Michigan show that the Red/Blue divide is not as stark as one might think just looking at state election tallies.



Their other maps are worth looking at too.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The Culture: Why the Left Lost

Christopher Hitchens explains it at Slate:

Only one faction in American politics has found itself able to make excuses for the kind of religious fanaticism that immediately menaces us in the here and now. And that faction, I am sorry and furious to say, is the left. From the first day of the immolation of the World Trade Center, right down to the present moment, a gallery of pseudointellectuals has been willing to represent the worst face of Islam as the voice of the oppressed. How can these people bear to reread their own propaganda? Suicide murderers in Palestine—disowned and denounced by the new leader of the PLO—described as the victims of "despair." The forces of al-Qaida and the Taliban represented as misguided spokespeople for antiglobalization. The blood-maddened thugs in Iraq, who would rather bring down the roof on a suffering people than allow them to vote, pictured prettily as "insurgents" or even, by Michael Moore, as the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers. If this is liberal secularism, I'll take a modest, God-fearing, deer-hunting Baptist from Kentucky every time, as long as he didn't want to impose his principles on me (which our Constitution forbids him to do).


Indeed.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Intellectual Activism: The Revolution will be Philosophic

Here's the week's Broadside column:

According to Edison/Mitofsky Research’s exit polls from last Tuesday’s election, the leading issue on the mind of Americans was not the war on terrorism, the war in Iraq or the state of the economy. Instead, the leading issue was “moral values,” a seemingly odd choice for a nation in the throes of a polarizing war. Of the 22% of people who considered moral values to be the primary issue motivating their vote, 80% chose to re-elect President Bush compared to only 18% for Senator Kerry. Yet of all the issues ranked as important by voters, morality is the most central issue—the one issue that shapes all the others.

There are two competing theories of morality that dominate America today. The moral code that dominates the left is one of subjectivism. According to the left, no lifestyle (and no country) is better or worse than any other; there is no absolute right or wrong, save for one—the American people must defer their interests to the considerations and interests of others.

Contrast the left’s view with the religious code that dominates the right. Under this morality, the subjectivism of the left is repudiated and replaced with the certainty that comes from mysticism and adherence to God’s revealed word. Under this view, the American people must defer their interests to the considerations and interests of the Judeo-Christian God.

Of the two moral codes, it is the religious one that is gaining ground in America. It’s not hard to see why. Rather than treat morality like a free-for-all, religion purports to take morality seriously. One would be hard pressed to find a person willing to tell a recovering drug addict that he needs more subjectivism in his life, but one could easily find a host of people willing to tell the addict that he needs to get right with Jesus. In the absence of a rational code, religion provides its adherents with a moral confidence that subjectivism can not provide.

Yet religion is nonsense on stilts. Instead of relying on rational principles, religion turns morality into an article of faith. After all, gays seeking the right to codify their relationships under the law is not a coercive threat to anyone, let alone an institution as old as marriage. Yet if the success of the anti-gay initiatives in the states is any indication, the religious think otherwise.

Religious nonsense also infects other realms. How many times have we heard President Bush make the moral case for freedom in the Middle East on the grounds that freedom is a gift from the Almighty, rather than a necessary (and rationally provable) requirement of human survival and prosperity?

And how does the president reconcile his argument with a Muslim whose own faith leads him to believe in submission to Allah, adherence to the Shari`ah, and global Islamic jihad? Rather than offer a compelling alternative, the president calls the philosophy that animates the murder of our people a religion of peace. President Bush is leader who makes faith-based arguments against a faith-based enemy. Such a strategy cannot hope to win.

We are locked in a contest between ourselves and the proponents of a new dark age—both foreign and domestic. If the left’s subjectivist morality is impotent and will lead to our downfall, the right’s religious morality is not far behind it. Yet choosing between the two was our only option this election day.

We need better. The answer is not to say all things are equal or all things are in the hands of God. The answer is to reject the past and embrace a new, pro-reason philosophy. The founders did as much when they rejected the divine right of kings and proclaimed that they had a fundamental right to their life, liberty and property. You say you want a revolution? Study philosophy from those who say it is in your power to perceive reality objectively, act according to the evidence before you and form a rational moral code and you will have it.

The Culture: Your Government at Work

This USA Today report is awe-inspiring:

Star Trek fans may be happy to hear that the Air Force has paid to study psychic teleportation.

But scientists aren't so thrilled.

The Air Force Research Lab's August "Teleportation Physics Report," posted earlier this week on the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) Web site, struck a raw nerve with physicists and critics of wasteful military spending.

In the report, author Eric Davis says psychic teleportation, moving yourself from location to location through mind powers, is "quite real and can be controlled." The 88-page report also reviews a range of teleportation concepts and experiments:

• Quantum teleportation, a technique demonstrated in the last decade that shifts the characteristics, but not the location, of sub-atomic particles at great distances.

• Wormholes, a highly theoretical possibility whereby the intense gravitational field near black holes could rip open entrances to distant locales.

• Psychokinesis, or psychic teleportation. In support of the idea, the report cites UFO reports, Soviet and Chinese studies of psychics and U.S. military studies of spoon-bending phenomena.

[. . .]

Davis, a physicist with Warp Drive Metrics of Las Vegas, couldn't be reached for comment. The Air Force paid $25,000 for the report, part of a $20.5 million advanced rocket and missile design contract. The report calls for $7.5 million to conduct psychic teleportation experiments.
So the Air Force just paid $25,000 for a report that has zero scientific value.

"The views expressed in the report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Air Force, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government," says an Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) statement sent to USA TODAY. "There are no plans by the AFRL Propulsion Directorate for additional funding on this contract."
The report does not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Air Force. Oh, the humanity.

This is what happens when people who have the power to tax you do not understand the nature of the arbitrary and why they must refuse to deal with it.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The Culture: Understanding the Election

I came across an article (reg. req.) in the New Republic by Tom Frank on the US Senate race between perennial losing candidate Alan Keyes and now senator-elect Barack Obama in Illinois. Writing on Keyes’ performance in a debate against Obama, Frank observes:

As people know, Keyes is candid, eloquent, and intellectually consistent. He argues rather than spins, allowing his logic to take him where it will. He panders to no (earthly) constituency. And he may well have pulled off the impossible last night: lowering his poll numbers even more. Obama is an unconventionally gifted politician, but even an incompetent one--let's go farther, actually: even a dolphin or trained seal--could have done better last night than Alan Keyes. All Obama had to do yesterday was play the Earthling card; Keyes took care of the rest.
Yes. Alan Keyes is a moon bat, albeit an internally consistent one. Frank’s essay goes on to explore just how funny it can be to see a moon bat in flight. But it’s the cashing-in paragraphs where Frank address Keyes' consistency that his essay gets interesting:
[K]eyes is [a] vital contributor to social cohesion in America, because, somehow, he makes us realize we are all--regardless of our political beliefs--Obama. It's not because we disagree with Keyes, or even because we find stridency inherently suspect. Most of us have used our reasoning to reach unexpected conclusions once in a while. Sometimes the results are weird--"It follows, therefore, that we should abolish bricks and live in trees!"--and we reexamine our premises or toss the thoughts altogether. Other times they may be logically valid--"Stubbing my toe hurts, and being burned at the stake hurts, so, actually, both Joan of Arc and I have experienced pain"--but so likely to give offense that we keep them to ourselves. In other words, we recognize that life among other people often requires applying the brakes. Alan Keyes, to his credit, does not. This makes him more courageous, more consistent, and more interesting than most of us. Fortunately, it also makes him unelectable.
Franks is not saying reason requires a commitment to reality that is impossible in a man animated as Keyes is. He’s saying think what you will, but remember that “life among other people often requires applying the brakes.” That’s why you don’t see Objectivists running for office. How could one hope to win?

Religious intrinsicism vs. philosophic skepticism: that was what this election--both in Illinois and nationally--was about this cycle. And that is not a choice. President Bush won his election last night and to the degree it was an affirmation of the American sense of life over the nihilists, I can find comfort with the outcome. That said, the lesson I take from this election is that if Objectivist values are ever to triumph, we have a long, hard road ahead of us.

Monday, November 01, 2004

The Election: Some choice for president

Diana Hsieh is pulling for the turd sandwich.

The War: Iran's Endorsement for President Bush

John Lewis notes that Iran has endorsed President Bush:

President Bush received a new endorsement this week: from Hasan Rowhani, head of Iran's Security Council. This should give pause to those who think that Mr. Bush is viewed everywhere as an enemy by America’s enemies, and Senator Kerry as their friend. In fact, many Middle Eastern leaders will prefer to stick with President Bush.

Rowhani said that a Bush victory would be good for Iran, because, he claims, Democrats have often hurt Tehran more than Republicans. “We should not forget that most sanctions and economic pressures were imposed on Iran during the time of Clinton,” he said. “Despite his hard-line and baseless rhetoric against Iran, he didn't take, in practical terms, any dangerous action against Iran,” said Rowhani.

Iranian political analyst Mohsen Mofidi said that "Democrats usually insist on human rights and they will have more excuses to pressure Iran." In other words, since he knows that America under Bush will not act against Iran—only talk—he sees Kerry as more of a threat. Kerry might actually get international sanctions passed, and at least bring economic pressure to bear against Iran.

But what about the destruction of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein?

In terms both of regional politics and Islamic beliefs, Iran has always viewed those regimes as enemies. Iran spent years—and thousands of lives—trying to destroy Saddam. It took our help to make the dream a reality. The Iranians were similarly happy when the Taliban fell.

Mofidi said that getting rid of the Saddam and the Taliban was the "biggest service any administration could have done for Iran." Bush has ended the most direct regional threat to Iran, creating a power vacuum—and a more porous border—that the Shiites are struggling to fill. Hopefully the Iraqis will fill this vacuum, since Mr. Bush has chosen not to allow the American army to win.

Iraq has also made it more difficult for Bush to make the choices needed to use military force against Iran. "The experience of two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the responsibility Bush had, will make it a very remote possibility for him to risk attacking a much bigger and more powerful country like Iran," Mofidi said.

By all indications, Mofidi is right, although not because Iran—which could not beat Iraq—is as yet any great power. But to attack Iran, Bush will have to overcome massive opposition at home, confront his friend Putin of Russia, convince an international coalition—central to all of his actions to this point—to join us, and counter Iran’s claim that they, like us, have a right to nuclear weapons. The Iranians know how hard this will be.

"It's not an endorsement we'll be accepting anytime soon," said a Bush campaign spokesman. "Iran should stop its pursuit of nuclear weapons and if they continue in the direction they are going, then we will have to look at what additional action may need to be taken including looking to the U.N. Security Council."

American troops in Iraq should be a huge deterrent to the Iranians. But, if the mullahs think we lack the will to act against them, then that force will be no threat. To Mr. Rowhani, economic boycotts and human rights condemnations are more dangerous than any potential American military attack. He obviously thinks that Kerry will be more dangerous at the UN than Bush.

Rowhani is not alone in his endorsement. The Middle East Media and Research Institute, which monitors the Middle Eastern media, presents many reports in which the leadership in the Middle East prefers Bush to Kerry. To cite one commentator, Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, former editor-in-chief of the London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat and director-general of Al-Arabiyya TV:

"Regarding Bush, the truth is that he is the only president who publicly undertook to support the establishment of a Palestinian state … And perhaps he is [also] the only one who can do this in the next four years, [as he will be] less subject to pressure – as was done by his predecessor Bill Clinton . . ..”

Syrian Information Minister Mahdi Dahlallah told Al-ManarTV: "Whether it is Bush or Kerry, he will present the Israeli solutions and the Arabs will have to take it." "The question is not who will be president of the United States. This isn't important. "

Raghida Dughram wrote in the London Arabic-language Al-Hayat:"Most of the Arab governments have decided [to bet on] George W. Bush for a second term . . . The motivation to host conferences [with the U.S.], and daring to cooperate and tighten ties between [their] intelligence [apparatuses and those of the U.S.] are the Arab governments' 'vote' for Bush in the U.S. presidential election . . . These governments have reached the conclusion that they prefer to 'aid' Bush in the elections, so that maybe Bush will then exempt them from the change of [dictatorial] regimes that he wants.”

Galal Dwidar, editor of Egyptian state newspaper Al-Akhbar: "Bush and Kerry – despite the claim of a dispute between them – stressed that the war in Iraq sought to defend Israel's interests. In order to avoid losing any Jewish or Zionist vote, the two made sure not to discuss in any way [the issue] of advancing towards the solution of peace in the Middle East . . . After the Bush-Kerry debate, there is no place for optimism. We must realize that the solution to our problems as Arabs and as Muslims is in our hands only, and that Arab solidarity is the only path to salvation . . .."

Columnist Radhwan Al-Sayedwrote in the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal: "Most of the Arab regimes think that it is in their interest to stick with Bush Jr., even if they are somewhat concerned by his administration… The Arab public, on the other hand, despairs greatly of America in general, and of Bush's administration in particular . . . But this trend is not the trend of the Arab regimes in general . . . Most regimes today, even if they do not explicitly declare it – except for Saudi Ambassador to Washington Prince Bandar – think that it is better for them to stick with President Bush for another four years.”

It is of course true that many Arab intellectuals—especially in the US—favor Mr. Kerry. But this is far from unanimous. Arab governments increasingly realize that the person in the White House is less important than their capacity to influence policy through lobbying. In this regard, many are siding with Mr. Bush—for he is the one that will strengthen their own political positions, in the name of the “war on terror.”

Sources: Ali Akbar Dareini, Associated Press, “Bush Receives Endorsement From Iran,” 10/19/04.
Middle East Media and Research Institute (MEMRI), Inquiry and Analysis series #194, “Arab and Iranian Media on the U.S. Presidential Election” by Y. Yehoshua. 10/29/04.



Intellectual Activism: Drafts--Real and Imagined

Here's the week's Broadside column.

If you are John Kerry, how do you strike fear in the hearts of twenty-somethings—a demographic that typically leans left but is notoriously unlikely to show up at the polls on Election Day? One way is to hint that your opponent plans to draft them into the military. Fanned by Internet speculation and MTV’s “Rock the Vote” campaign, draft rumors have a lot more legs on them then they should.

Truth be told, neither side is seriously considering a draft to meet the manpower needs of the armed forces. In 2003, two bills to reinstate the draft were introduced by Senator Ernest F. Hollings (D-SC), and Rep. Charlie Rangal (D-NY) on the grounds that the armed forces should have a “more equitable representation of people making sacrifices," but these bills were resoundingly defeated in the Congress when Pro-Kerry partisan activists tried to link them to the Bush administration.

Even more tellingly, the military itself does not want a draft. The switch in the 1970’s to an all-volunteer force in the crown jewel of today’s modern military. There’s an old saying in the Marine Corps that one volunteer is worth ten impressed men—a righteous cause and effective leadership does more to compel men to act in defense of their freedom then a draft board. Military commanders know this, and they understand that a military draft will lessen standards, destroy moral and make it harder to defend America, not easier.

That said, we still need to be concerned about press gangs: there are those on both the right and left who still pine for a draft, not to serve a military need, but a spiritual one.

In 1997, proponents from both sides of the aisle, including all of the then-living ex-presidents, joined Colin Powell in his call for “mandatory volunteerism” for high school students. This summer, Kerry included a “volunteerism” plank in his presidential platform, only to remove it when rumor of a military draft began to circulate. A military draft may be unpopular, but “volunteerism” isn’t.

The idea behind the “volunteerism” movement is that young people today are too self-involved and that in order to have better communities, we need to teach our young the value of service to others—not by choice, but by compulsion. Service requirements would be added to all high school curriculums and students would be held to them in order to graduate. By this thinking, the teenager who chooses to use his spare time for work so he can pay for his college would be better served by having his time allocated for him by the government in the name of those in need.

Why? Because many people today consider selflessness and not selfish interest to be the moral ideal. Even though we are a nation dedicated to protecting the life, liberty and happiness of the individual, too many Americans are nagged by the problem of the “greater good” and how best to sacrifice to it.

Yet an individualist sacrifices for no one. He rightfully lives for himself, and to appeal to him, you must appeal to his values. To convince men and women to serve in the military, for example, you need to impress upon them of the gravity of the threat today and the manner in which it impacts them. You need to convince them of the benefits of the martial lifestyle, and pay them enough so that the cost of their service is not the derailment of every other aspect of their lives. And lastly, you must keep the promise that if they are wounded or fall in battle, they and their loved ones will be cared for by a grateful nation.

No values are appealed to by the proponents of either the draft or “volunteerism”; instead a different message is delivered: your life is ours and you’ll do with it what we tell you. The idea of the draft or “volunteerism” should be anathema to any person dedicated to human freedom.

Yes, we have a host of threats and challenges arrayed against us. We do not answer them by betraying our core values, or sacrificing our freedom. It will take men and women of substance to successfully build our communities and defend our nation. Such men and women will not be found by a draft board.

Monday, October 18, 2004

The War: Turning the other Cheek

How much do you want to bet this will be on Al Jazeera?

The Culture: Feminists vs. a Woman's Right to Self-Defense

After a nice vacation, here's this week's column:

George Mason University is dedicated to empowering women. Take, for example, the “Turn Off the Violence Week” event that ran October 3rd-9th.

The event, like similar events offered on college campus throughout the country, was a partnership between Mason’s women’s groups, various academic departments, the campus police department and local law enforcement. The week offered a host of activities that included a feminist professor of sociology who lectured on his theories connecting men in sports and sexual assault, a talk by a former college student who was a victim of rape, classes in self-defense, an art project commemorating the victims of sexual assault and a march on campus.

The goal of this event and ones like it is obvious: it seeks to eradicate violence against women and empower women to defend themselves. Yet it does not address the one thing women can choose to do to defend themselves from violent attack—it does not address women carrying firearms for personal protection.

I asked the organizers of this program about this omission. Dr. Nancy Weiss Hanrahan, director of GMU’s Women's Studies Research and Resource Center explained to me that her group “like[s] to think about ways to empower women (and men) that mitigate, rather than escalate, the level of potential violence.” She said her organization wants “to focus attention on broader, societal responses to the problem of gender violence, as opposed to the individual solution of fighting force with force.”

Connie Kirkland, coordinator of GMU’s Sexual Assault Services echoes Weiss Hanrahan’s view. According to Kirkland, GMU is not equipped to teach women how to handle firearms—both practically and philosophically. “Our philosophy is one of empowerment rather than using guns for self-defense.”

“[Our] hope is for a greater awareness of the issues at hand with the goal of creating a need in women (and men) to increase their personal safety and security,” says Kirkland.

“The means they choose are purely their own,” says Kirkland. “However, I would never want women to believe that they could prevent their own victimization by becoming an expert in gun use.”

Not all GMU women agree with Weiss Hanrahan and Kirkland. Mary Walker, a 2004 GMU alumnus who currently takes courses at Mason in preparation for graduate school has a Virginia permit to carry a concealed firearm for personal protection.

“For me, knowing how to use a gun for self-defense is very empowering, and it is an essential and critical element of my personal self-defense,” says Walker. “Being able to defend yourself from serious harm or injury boosts your self-esteem; you go from a position of fear to knowing that you are able to protect yourself.”

Walker also disagrees with the premise that a woman defending herself from attack escalates violence.

“When you are attacked with violent force, the only appropriate form of empowerment to respond with is force,” says Walker. “Sometimes using a gun effectively is just as simple as pointing the barrel of the gun at an attacker. A gun can be effective without even firing a shot.”

“I do not see what could be more empowering than forcing a rapist to stare down the barrel of a gun,” says Walker.

Walker is right. Women deserve to be free from violence, but since no one can guarantee a violence-free world, women need to assert their right to effective self-defense.

And this is what makes the position of the leaders of GMU’s women’s groups so puzzling. It is considered axiomatic that feminism seeks to liberate women, unshackling them from mistreatment and injustice. But here the case is the opposite: feminism treats women as a member of a perpetually abused and inferior class. Here it neither unshackles women nor protects them from injustice.

If we were speaking of abortion, there would be no question among feminists that a women’s right to her life supercedes the potential rights of the unborn fetus. Yet GMU’s feminists reject the idea that a woman has a right to use deadly force to protect herself from violent attack on the grounds that it leads to violence against their attacker. Yet not all violence is immoral—a woman has a right to defend herself from rape. For GMU’s feminists to say otherwise is an egregious injustice to women—a way of enforcing victimhood, not liberation.

The headquarters of the National Rifle Association is just a few short minutes away from the GMU campus. I spoke with NRA spokesman Jorge Amselle who told me that the NRA offers firearms training to women in partnership with a host of college campuses across the country. “Anyone who wishes to receive firearms training from an NRA certified instructor can locate one through our web site or receive a list of instructors in their area by calling or writing NRA,” says Amselle.

GMU should do even more. Partnering with the NRA in training women in the proper techniques in weapons handling and self-defense should be a top priority for GMU’s women’s groups.

It’s sad to say this, but just like women had to fight for the right to vote, the right to have property and the have right to have an abortion, GMU women will have to fight for the right to receive training in how to protect themselves with firearms.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Rights and Reason: Rationing Life

Another good one from Monica White as she concretizes the evils of heath care rationing in the United Kingdom at Th' inkwell

In this system, we must give up our earnings – earnings that we could use to make life saving, life extending and life enriching decisions for ourselves – to the state. We are told that we will be taken care of – that we will be given education, roads, protection and health care as and when we need it. Instead, the state then doles out health, education and protection according to some soul-crushing scale of individual pathos or a demonic gauge of how much a person can ‘give back’ to society. We rarely get back – measure for measure – what we put in. Rigorous thinking applied to this process of centralized garnering and redistribution will reveal the obvious – that it is in no way fair, equitable or moral.
Indeed.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Rights and Reason: Understanding the Impotence of the Right

There has been no commentary in this election cycle as consistently cogent and valuable as that produced by John Lewis. Most Objectivists recognize that winning the war is the central issue in this election. Lewis has explained in clear, precise form how the right is utterly impotent in achieving that goal.

His latest leaves little doubt:

Some admirer's of Ayn Rand have concluded that the political values of her philosophy, Objectivism, and the values of Bush conservatives are fundamentally the same. They claim, for instance, that Objectivists and conservatives both value freedom, even though the conservatives are inconsistent in the actions they take to preserve it. In this view, Objectivists should actively support President Bush, while urging him to act more robustly to defend America.

They claim that Mr. Bush’s military aims are good; we simply need to expose the practice of sending Americans overseas to die for others. His espousal of the free market is good; we only need clarify that a half-trillion dollar deficit and an exploding budget are contradictions. Respect for American founding values is good; we simply need to oppose the religious foundations of their reverence and promote a secular agenda.

We could of course say similar things of the New Left, which claims to support freedom by opposing aggressive wars, censorship, political secrecy, religion in government, poverty, anti-abortion laws, attacks on privacy, etc. But New Left liberals do not in fact support freedom, because what they are pursuing is not a free society. The actual results of their actions—not their claimed intentions—are what matters. What they are pursuing, in fact, is a massive welfare state, increasing taxation, government control over our lives and military timidity. These are their values, and these are what must be repudiated.

So it goes for Mr. Bush. His “forward strategy of freedom” means exactly what he has done in Iraq: to order Americans to fight and die for others. His assertion that "you are either with us or with the terrorists" means begging for international allies and asking Iran to join our coalition. "Offensive war" means placing US troops in harm’s way, and then ordering them to act only with foreign permission. A "bold offense" means billions coerced from US taxpayers in welfare for foreigners. These results are not perversions of his values; they are their actual meaning.Objectivism recognizes that the meaning of an idea is the facts it refers to in reality. A value is a fact that is objectively beneficial to human life. “A value,” said Ayn Rand, “is that which one acts to gain and/or keep”--it is not an idea divorced from action. For example, men are free when the government protects their rights; this is what freedom means. Freedom is a value because the facts of man’s nature will not allow him to live under coercion.

But this view of values contrasts utterly with the views of the neoconservative team behind Mr. Bush. They see values as ideas from a higher reality, whether religious or secular, and then applied imperfectly to this world. This is Platonism, so called after the philosopher Plato, who implanted it into western thought. “Freedom” becomes an idea from intuition, or a dictate of the almighty, that can be applied only imperfectly in the real world. This is not necessarily religious faith, but also “common sense”--stuff that all of us just know, as I was once told by a conservative atheist.

The chasm is not between their values and their actions to preserve them, but rather between their values and reality.

The neoconservative movement is the explicit inculcation of Platonism into American politics. The main figure here is Leo Strauss (1899-1973), the intellectual force behind the neoconservatives and founder of the only serious conservative academic movement. Straussians include Paul Wolfowitz, William Bennett, Allan Bloom, Irving Kristol, Richard Perle, and Abram Shulsky, Director of the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans. Within ten years of Strauss’s death the neoconservatives had attained national prominence in Ronald Reagan’s administration. The neoconservatives have become the philosophical alternative to the religious right in the Republican Party.

Followers of Strauss are united by the notion that ideas--especially political principles--are in essence pure theory, and cannot be directly applied in reality. As Strauss wrote in his book Natural Right and History, “Prudence [“practical” reasoning, how you deal with the world of men] and ‘this lower world’ cannot be seen without some knowledge of ‘the higher world’--without genuine theorie.” Theorie is the abstract idea, of which the real world in which we live is at best a shadowy reflection.

According to Strauss, ancient philosophical texts, such as Plato and Aristotle--the source of political wisdom--have esoteric and exoteric meanings. The former is a hidden dimension or code reserved for academics (or a Pentagon clique); the latter is what average people understand and act on in this world. Every theory, idea and principle includes the proviso that its use in the world cannot be perfect; it must be negotiated. To compromise a principle, in this view, is not an error; it is inherent in principles as such. Conflicts between theory and practice are in the nature of reality.

The ancient answer to Plato was Aristotle, the philosopher who explicitly denied such a higher reality; he said that there was only one world for us to understand. But this is not how Straussians choose to read him. Consider one admiring editor’s view: “Aristotle assumes that reality consists primarily of transcendent immaterial ideals and, to a lesser extent, as transitory representations of these ideals.” A Straussian would counter that Aristotle was giving you his philosophy as you can grasp it (exoteric meaning), while HE really believed something else (esoteric meaning). To this editor, Aristotle is an authority, to be used in support of a massive split between ideas and reality.

This is how the neoconservatives understand values: as ideas that must be taken authoritatively, and adapted to an imperfect reality among people who cannot really understand them. For instance, many Straussian academics privately reject belief in God (Strauss was an atheist), but promote religion in their students, because impressionable people--especially the young--need it as a basis for their values.

Contrary to one common view, such men do not attract people with the value of freedom and then substitute a religious agenda. In their world-view, freedom is a religious--or more broadly, a Platonic--agenda. What they call “freedom” is something other than individual rights, because they do not understand such values as derived from this world. Values are rather intuited as ideas (“freedom is from the almighty, not a gift from us”) that can only be applied imperfectly (“which all men will strive for, if America provides the necessary conditions”). This is the religious form in which Mr. Bush conceives the Platonic universe.

As a result of this transcendent view of ideas and principles, political compromise is not an error; it is how the world works. Compromise is the process by which principles are pursued in politics.

Following this method one can promote the principle of, say, freedom. But, to apply this perfect idea to an imperfect world, one must "compromise." One must accept, for instance, the existence of the welfare state. One must manage it, but never challenge it directly; that would be unrealistic. So they become defenders of what they once opposed. The same goes for foreign policy. I once heard at a conservative forum that the UN is destroying US sovereignty, draining US taxpayers, preventing us from defending ourselves and strengthening our enemies. But it would be “imprudent” to leave it, because “politics is not done that way.” When I pointed out the contradiction and its terrible consequences, they said I was “impractical” and “not nuanced enough.” Such men are immune to contradictions, because, to them, a contradiction is normal. It is what happens when you adapt principles to the real world.

Some people think that philosophy is irrelevant in this election; after all, there is a real emergency to be solved. But philosophy matters; it is why we have a deadly emergency. The Platonic view demands tough talk--the expression of a principle--followed by compromise, the application of the principle. This has had horrendous consequences.

For example, the Iranians released our hostages the day Ronald Reagan took office--they took his stated ideas seriously. Two years later, after attacks by Iranian puppet groups, he withdrew from Lebanon--and our enemies learned that no fear was necessary. Arms for hostages made the point undeniable. His words were the statement of the ideal; his actions were its meaning. Thus he demonstrated to America’s enemies that they had nothing to fear. Reagan’s ideal of a strong national defense is pragmatic compromise from a position of overwhelming strength.

When President Bush named Iran and North Korea as part of an “axis of evil,” he stated an idea in its “perfect” form. He then applied the idea by engaging in talks with the Koreans and asking the UN to pressure Iran. In other words, he did exactly what Mr. Kerry promises, while cloaking it in a principle. His tough but toothless talk all but guaranteed that aggressive enemies would accelerate their nuclear programs, while the US would lose the capacity to stop them. We are now less than a year away from an Iranian nuke. President Gore would have done no worse. Were he now president, the election would be a referendum on the failure of appeasement, not on the failure of self-assertion, pre-emption and offense--ideas which have, in fact, been perverted into their opposites by their alleged defenders.

I am indeed among those who, to cite one writer’s criticism, “have even concluded that the effect [of repeatedly affirming a “correct idea” while acting against it] is to destroy the meaning of the good principle.” This occurs because the concrete referents to the principle change, and the false alternative replaces the true. This is not identifying a correct idea and then failing to practice it properly. This is following a false idea as it must be followed.

Objectivists who claim to share common values with conservatives, while differing in the actions to pursue them, make a fatal compromise that buys directly into the theory / practice split that is at the heart of Platonic conservatism. This separates values from facts and considers them as transcendent ideas, leaving us to quibble about the practice. But this is wrong. There is no higher dimension. Values have referents in reality. What someone pursues especially repeatedly, on a grand scale, over years is their value, words notwithstanding. “Practice” and “pragmatism” come from the same root word, and lead inexorably to the same result, if Aristotle or Ayn Rand is read as Plato.
The right is not our ally in this war—their intellectual leaders are perhaps our greatest obstacle to victory.

America needs Objectivism now more than ever. We need to get Objectivists trained and able to defend the good where the good goes undefended. This is not an impossible goal: there are practical steps we can take toward victory. Throwing votes at the right when they don’t deserve it is not one of them.

We need to let the right know that we won’t turn a blind eye to their half-measures in defense of our lives. We need to let the them know that we won’t ignore the speech that reflects values we support and the deed that reflects something altogether different. We need to let the right know that we will not be held hostage to the lesser of two evils. Objectivism is a radical philosophy that utterly rejects today’s status quo. Bravo to John Lewis for making it clear.

The Culture: Remembering Berlin

Monica White crossed a line the other day in the city of Berlin.

It's been 23 years since I was in this city last and had someone told me (or, more likely, my parents) the circumstances under which I would stand here today, they would not have believed a word. I was then 3 years old and the citizen of a Soviet empire that looked too frighteningly solid to ever crumble.

My future was to be simple and secure. I would never starve, exactly, nor want for shelter or a minimum of functional clothing. I would be provided with as much state-approved (and therefore heavily censored) education as I wished. When that was done, I would opt for some profession or other with the state - the only employer in existence, of course - then settle down with some nice Soviet boy whereupon I could produce a few more healthy workers. We would be allocated housing according to our needs and status within society or the party.

I would be given everything that a human would need to subsist but not more. Nor was there a point in wanting more as there was no way to achieve it honestly - to attain a better life, I could become a party apparatchik or a devious underhanded swindler (same thing, really, when you think about it) - working hard or harder than anyone else or taking a business risk was pointless as there was no reward for it at all.

Risk was, theoretically, taken out of my life and the price exacted was my freedom. Freedom of association, location, thought, profession, achievement and attainment of self-determined goals - all the things that make life worth living. This life was determined for me without my consent and I could not make the choice to leave as an adult, I was very much a chattel of the state.

Berlin, then, to me existed only as half a city. The other side - West Berlin - was surrounded by a wall, by barbed wire, by sentries with machine guns, by land mines, by anti-tank ditches and by a psychological barrier that was at least as formiddable as all these put together. The last may not have yet been formed in my young mind but would eventually be there as potently restrictive in me as in the rest of the population - my free education would have seen to that.

23 years ago, I would have been shot dead for what I did today.
How true, and how glad I am that the world turned for the better.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

The Culture: The Faith of John Kerry

Conventional wisdom says President George W. Bush is animated by faith and John Kerry is not. Not so says the New York Times, which reports that Kerry says "me too" when it comes to faith in the divine.

In the interview, Mr. Kerry countered by doing something rare for him - appealing to the left-leaning Catholic tradition of helping the poor and criticizing the war.

"If you look at Catholic teaching," he said, mentioning his days in church school, "it teaches about the environment, our responsibilities to the next generation. It teaches about poverty, our responsibility to the poor. It teaches about fairness. It teaches about peace and brotherhood and a whole series of things which I think this administration is failing on."
The article goes on to chronicle Kerry's claim that "Faith is central to [his] life."

I believe it.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Intellectual Activism: Brainwashing 101

Filmmakers Evan Coyne Maloney, Stuart E. Browning and Blaine Greenberg are currently producing a feature-length documentary film (scheduled for release in 2005) exploring political correctness on college campuses. They just released some of their work in progress on their website.

Their work thus far exposes not just the leftist bias at universities, but more importantly, the selective use of "speech codes" to harass and silence campus groups that stray from today's entrenched philosophic and political orthodoxy.

Great stuff--I can't wait to see the final product.

Intellectual Activism: Hawks for Kerry

Craig Biddle says he's one.

With Bush in the White House, the debate is between his half-battle, with which the Right is content—and something less, which is what the Left would prefer. With Kerry in the White House, the debate would be between his half-battle, which is the least that America would let him get away with—and something more, which is what the Right would demand no matter what Kerry were to do. In other words, whereas Bush is willing to wage only a half-battle and will never be pressured to do more, Kerry would have to wage at least a half-battle and would constantly be pressured to do more. And regardless of what Kerry were to do—even if he somehow were to get away with doing less than Bush has done or nothing at all—at least his actions or non-actions would not be called hawkish.

That "a half-battle is worse than none" is not hyperbole; it is a principle.
Interesting.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Rights and Reason: Google Conforms to Chinese Censorship

This is not a good sign.

Intellectual Activism: Alexander Marriot's Book

Alexander Marriot has a book. That's a pretty neat idea.

Rights and Reason: Scientists for State Science

Even a group of scientists have jumped on the 527 bandwagon:

While Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews and other rock stars sing on a "Vote for Change" concert tour, another disgruntled group - this one of scientists - will crisscross the well-worn landscape of battleground states over the next month, giving lectures that will argue that the Bush administration has ignored and misused science.

The group, Scientists and Engineers for Change, another addition to the flood of so-called 527 advocacy groups that have filled this year's election discourse, announced its existence and plans yesterday in a telephone news conference. At least 25 scientists will give talks in 10 contested states: Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Among the headlining lecturers are 10 Nobel Prize winners, including Dr. Douglas D. Osheroff, a professor of physics at Stanford; Dr. Peter C. Agre, a professor of biological chemistry at Johns Hopkins; and Dr. Harold Varmus, former director of the National Institutes of Health.

[. . .]

The group has no direct ties to the campaign of Senator John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, but 9 members were among 48 Nobel laureates who signed a June 21 letter endorsing Mr. Kerry. Several of the scientists have also signed a statement from the Union of Concerned Scientists that accuses the Bush administration of manipulating scientific findings to support its policies. The union opposes the administration on numerous issues, including the environment and energy.

At the news conference, Dr. Vinton G. Cerf, one of the architects of the Internet in the 1960's and 1970's and current chairman of Icann, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, said, "Science counts, and it has not counted sufficiently in this administration."

Dr. Cerf said he was a registered Republican, but that he joined the group "in the hope that we bring debate, science and technology, into the political debate so that the electorate understands the importance that it has in our society."

Dr. Cerf said the United States was "at risk of losing the edge" in technology because the Bush administration was cutting basic research budgets at the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. [New York Times]
Manipulating scientific findings to support its policies? How about scientists who manipulate scientific findings to secure government grants?

The Bush record on science is certainly appalling, not because it allegedly cuts funding (it doesn't) but because it interferes with the freedom necessary to conduct science. The Republican’s attempt to squelch cloning science with the seeming support of the administration is a disgrace. That said, it look like "Scientists and Engineers for Change" are hardly any improvement.

The War: Taking the Nihilism of Islamifascism Personally

Ed Cline is, and I agree with him as well.

Rights and Reason: God save us from the Christians

Don Watkins is calling it the way he sees it and I like the way he sees it.

Rights and Reason: Doctor-Assisted Price Fixing?

Ex-CACer Skip Oliva takes an intelligent look at the Bush administration's contradicting policies with respect to physicians?calling for medical malpractice reform on the one hand, while simultaneously prosecuting doctors in record numbers for alleged antitrust infractions at the von Mises Institute.

Update: Skip also has a worthwhile review of the US Supreme Court's antitrust cases from last term here. See page 10 for his review of the case in which CAC filed an amicus brief with the court.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

The Culture: The Fake is Never Accurate

Note: Been pretty busy so not much time for blogging, but here's this week's column:

The feeling in the newsroom must have been exhilarating: in the face of blistering attacks questioning the heroism of John Kerry in Viet Nam made by supporters of President Bush, CBS News would offer damning evidence that would indict the president as a hypocrite. CBS’s report would reveal that George Bush avoided being drafted to fight in Viet Nam by landing a coveted National Guard spot through family influence, and then subsequently failed to live up to the terms of his enlistment.

The problem with this story is that the memos that CBS relied upon for its story are forgeries—and bad ones at that. Yet when confronted with evidence that it was duped, instead of admitting its error, CBS attacked its critics.

Jonathan Klein, a former executive at CBS News, assailed the Internet bloggers who brought attention to inconsistencies in the typesetting of the memos by claiming that, “You couldn't have a starker contrast between the multiple layers of check and balances [at CBS news] and a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing.”

CBS News anchor Dan Rather was equally contemptuous, dismissing what he called a “counterattack” from “partisan political operatives.” Then, the New York Times encapsulated CBS’s position in a headline that will go down in linguistic infamy: the documents in question were “fake, but accurate.”

Inaccuracy in journalism is not a new story. Even experienced reporters can make mistakes; they can get names wrong, misquote subjects and commit a host of other errors.

Yet none of these errors are necessarily damming. Instead, what counts is one’s loyalty to the truth. Mistakes are embarrassing, but owning up to them does not hurt one’s credibility—it enhances it. Reporting facts out of context, or fishing for facts that support a desired conclusion in defiance of reality is not so easily forgiven.

A journalist’s mission is to present concrete, objective facts based on their experience in judging what is important to their audience. A journalist presents facts that anyone would see if they could stand in the journalist’s shoes themselves. If the facts being reported are controversial, journalists are expected to report as much.

Yet it is not the job of the journalist to support particular beliefs. Journalists serve as the eyes and ears of their audience, but not their mind. It is left to the reader to draw whatever conclusions are appropriate from the news—not to the reporter.

It is interesting then to note how many journalists believe that their ability to report facts objectively is impossible—an ideal that can be approached, but never reached. Every communications professor I have studied under at George Mason has argued that facts are not observable aspects of the world, but instead are consensually agreed upon statements about it. By this view, the mere perception of facts distorts them. Truth is not determined by hardnosed perception, but by committee. Instead of objectivity, we are left with pseudo-objectivity.

This explains why so many journalists can claim with a straight face that they are not biased even when it is so plain that they are. Most journalists do not actively think and select, they simply reflect the conventions that have long ago imprinted themselves upon their minds. These conventions are dominated by a left-of-center world view.

A typical example: Reuters’ tortured attempts to avoid identifying the acts of militant Islamists as terrorist acts on the grounds that, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” The left holds that all cultures are equal: think of John Kerry arguing that the North Vietnamese communists were no different from the Americans in his 1972 Senate testimony. So an act of murder might not actually be an act of murder; after all, who are we to judge?

And if we did judge, we would not be objective. A journalist’s mind is a literal blank and he gives all claims credence, even those that are painfully false—and obviously dangerous to their audience.

Yet no one, not even a journalist or a communications professor can honestly defend dishonesty. The fake is never accurate. Objectivity demands an active mind that can identify facts, sort out extraneous noise, and present the truth in a useful way.

Yet if the last two weeks are any judge, CBS has failed in its responsibility to live up to this purpose.