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.


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 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]

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).


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.