Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Of Ghosts and Governments

Out of curiosity, I clicked on the link to an Islamic blog that had replied to a commentator on my last post, "Islam and Greens Go Postal" (December 22). The blog is "Mainstream Mujahida." The anonymous Mujahida commentator's remarks were snide and completely irrelevant, were not even remotely critical of the "Postal" piece, and so won't be discussed here.

What I discovered on the Mainstream Mujahida site was a kind of "Islam for Idiots" question and answer format. The blog's hostess asks transparently leading questions, and then gives soft-pedaled, rationalistic answers. The "questions" are purportedly "quotes" from some unnamed blog reader or subscriber. Here are some examples:

"Quote: I don't understand how the pope has offended Muslims, he wasn't even talking to any Moslems that I know of."

Answer: "When you say that the beliefs brought by a Prophet beloved by nearly 3 billion people are 'evil and inhumane' and when you say that he spread this religion 'by the sword'...it's kind of hard to deny that he was being offensive...."

The hostess then claims, among other things, that Islam was spread by only a handful of adherents in a mere eleven years to create an empire stretching from Saudi Arabia to Spain and Africa, and that only about five hundred people died in the conquest. "Islam and the Islamic Empire were in fact the most peaceful religious and social revolutions/expansions in the history of the world," characterized, moreover, "by the overwhelming message of tolerance and compassion taught by the Prophet Mohammad."

If you believe such a patently absurd claim, you can be persuaded that Attila and Hitler were just over-zealous missionaries and that only an insignificant number of people died in the course of their political experiments, chiefly from a coincidental outbreak of salmonella, which affected mostly soldiers fed bad fish in their mess halls.

"Quote: I see here that everyone is afraid to criticize the religion of Islam."

Answer: "From a fact based standpoint, can we really say this is true? In one year there have been numerous comics depicting the Prophet Muhammad as an evil, terroristic, mad man..." Then the hostess launches into a denial that Mohammad is evil, that nowhere in Islamic texts are mentioned 72 virgins, that Islam is a "peaceful" religion that doesn't lend itself to suicide bombers, and that CNN and ABC just lie repeatedly about how bad Islam and Muslims are.

Nowhere, however, does she mention Theodore van Gogh, or Ali Hirsi, or Nick Berg, or Salman Rushdie, or the brutalities of Sharia law, or the violent Muslim no-go areas of European cities, or the murderous strife between Sunnis and Shiites...and on and on. Instead, the hostess plays the "victim" card and throughout the question and answer exercise slickly employs the Islamic device of taqiya, or the art of religious dissimulation.

Taqiya is practiced on a much larger scale by Islamic organizations such as CAIR and its brother organizations around the globe. And the news media have largely maintained a politically correct silence about Islam, and cannot be accused of repeatedly denigrating it. I have never heard Brian Williams or Charles Gibson preface news of the latest Islamic outrage with "Those bastards have done it again!"

This is an interesting site to peruse (if you can get onto it), if only to observe the psychology and mental gymnastics of someone whose mind is content to defer to a faceless father figure that tells one what to think and what to do, a figure, moreover, that commands repeated gratitude. Allah is nearly always connected with "merciful," while mention of Mohammad is usually followed by the expression, "blessings and/or peace be upon him."

One minor difference between the exactions of these two species of religious and secular totalitarianism is that neither Allah nor Mohammad is permitted to be concretized in any human form. Winston Smith, in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, was watched by Big Brother every minute, and wherever Smith turned in his waking hours, he could not escape Big Brother's face. But the face is inanimate; Big Brother never appears as a living person in the story, even though he is an entity that governs men by awe and fear.

A commonality exists between the kinds of minds that are comfortable with either religious or secular totalitarian authorities. When Winston Smith is "converted" by terrorism and torture into submitting to Big Brother and the Party, he ends up by expressing gratitude - "But it was all right...the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother" - a gratitude for having been relieved of the responsibility of maintaining an independent mind.

A Muslim is also tested by a personal "jihad" or struggle to resist the temptations of the temporal world - including the application in it of reason itself, there is an important point to O'Brien's insistence that Smith believe that two plus two can equal five - and his inclination to surrender to them to attain a state of spiritual purity not dissimilar from Smith's at the end of Orwell's novel. A Muslim wins a "victory over himself" by submitting body and soul to the will of Allah and the commandments of Mohammad. Further, there are marked similarities in their methods and ends to enforce submission between Allah and Mohammad and the Party and O'Brien, Smith's tormenter.

It is irrelevant here whether Nineteen Eighty-Four was arguably Orwell's embittered allegory on Stalinist Russia or the leviathan state. What he did was capture the nature of totalitarianism and portray the necessary complete submission of the individual to it and his absorption by it for such a system to function. And in doing so he provided an invaluable insight into the requisite voluntary enslavement of the individual by religious or secular totalitarianism.

The blog hostess even quotes from the Koran, Chapter 5, Verse 8: "Oh ye who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety; and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do."

At the beginning of Orwell's novel, Smith, a low-ranking Party member, hates Big Brother, and "swerves" from loyalty to the Party and Big Brother by hoping to join an underground movement that will ultimately destroy them, knowing that the penalty for such a betrayal is death and that too likely Big Brother is also "well-acquainted" with his actions. But, at the end, Smith the apostate is reclaimed.

Christianity also claims that God is "all knowing, all seeing, and all powerful." Without discussing here the inherent contradictions in these attributes, the alleged ubiquitous presence of this entity in one's personal life is much more pronounced in Islam. As I remarked elsewhere, a Christian can go to church one day and for the rest of the week live on earth (or try to). Islam, like Big Brother or Nazism, requires that the faithful live the creed all their waking hours.

I think that one important step in understanding and combating Islam is to grasp what the creed requires of its adherents, which is the development in an individual of a psychology of selflessness that is compatible and comfortable with totalitarianism. The starting point of its appeal in individuals is the ingredient of selflessness stemming from a fear of developing and maintaining a self independent of ghosts and omnipotent government and the morality of living for others.

The commandments of Allah by way of Mohammad are just as baseless and arbitrary as the ten of God by way of Moses. "Thou shalt not kill." On what moral principle is this one founded? None, except perhaps that men are God's creations and it is "wrong" to destroy or harm them. "Thou shalt not steal." Why not? Isn't all property theft, or merely a form of stewardship of it granted by society? Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have certainly acknowledged that "truism." And that particular commandment doesn't restrain legislators, presumably sworn into office on their Bibles, from enacting tax laws or condoning the seizure of private property for pubic or other private use. One supposes that since the theft is for the "public good," God permits it and the legislators feel exonerated.

Grasping the relationship between selflessness and totalitarianism is also necessary to combat Christianity and any other form of mysticism, including the "secular" collectivist kind. At the moment, it is a question of which form today is rearing its irrational head more virulently, given the revival of religion especially in the U.S.: evangelical Christianity or Islam or environmentalism. Our schools for decades have been indoctrinating children from grade school on up through college on the alleged virtues of selflessness and sacrifice.

So it comes to no surprise to me that more and more high school and college students are "finding God" - to "stand out firmly" for something other than one's self - and dedicating themselves to some form of service; whether to society or to environmentalism or to God or to Allah or to some other ghost or icon of mysticism, it makes no difference, as long as it is selfless. It is a generation of "gentle" monsters that advocates of reason and liberty must contend with now and in the future, monsters willing to sacrifice themselves as well as everyone else in selfless pursuits of the irrational.

But, grasping the nature of that enemy is a necessary task to perform if we are ever to make any progress in preserving or reinstating our shrinking liberties.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Islam and Greens Go Postal

At the end of my last commentary, I quoted from Sparrowhawk Virginia burgess Patrick Henry prefacing his introduction of the Stamp Act Resolves in May 1765, then remarked:

The historical irony is that when Henry made his speech, the Wahhabist Saudis were engaged in the conquest of the Arabian Peninsula, which they completed in 1806. Who could have predicted then that their descendents and their hired fellaheen would invade America two and half centuries later with the express purpose of gagging the likes of Henry in the name of Allah?

That was in relation to the request of CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) that the Fox TV network disclaim any "negative" portrayal of Muslims in its popular program "24."

CAIR, as I discussed in that commentary, has been busy with legal activism in the spirit of the ACLU. As though to underscore my Patrick Henry remarks, on December 19th the Muslim "civil liberties" organization has demanded that Republican representative Virgil Goode of Virginia apologize to "members of the Muslim community in his district" for "anti-Muslim" remarks in a private letter to the head of the local Sierra Club. (See CAIR's website under "news releases.")

Goode wrote, in reaction to the expressed wish of newly elected Muslim representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota to be sworn into office on a Koran:

"I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way. The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran."
That is Virgil Goode's position, and he may say what he pleases. He is probably one of those who believe that America was founded on Christian principles, and that any elected official, in any level of government, should be sworn into office with a hand on a Bible. In practice, it may as well be a chunk of the Blarney Stone. I don't believe any elected or appointed official over the last century has ever strictly "upheld the Constitution." If any had, would we be saddled with a wealth-consuming, rights-violating welfare state that is drifting towards out-and-out statism?

Ideally, if some document is required to ritually sanctify an oath of office, elected officials and justices should be sworn in on a copy of the Ten Amendments, not on a tract containing the Ten Commandments or the ravings of any creed's "prophet."

But, there are two things wrong about this latest episode of Islamic arrogance. First, it is that CAIR is demanding an apology for a private opinion stated in a private letter. Although Goode is an elected representative, his letter doubtless expressed something he dare not say in Congress.

Second, there is the question of how that private letter came to the attention of the whirling, scimitar-wielding dervishes of CAIR. Is the head of the local chapter of the Sierra Club a Muslim, or sympathetic to Islam? Did another employee of Sierra send CAIR a copy of the letter? Or did someone in Goode's own office purloin it? Someone turned informer on Goode. From what motive?

On December 21, NBC's Brian Williams claimed that Goode sent the letter to his constituents. Which obfuscated version of the event has any grounding in reality? The network's coverage of the flap was subtly biased in favor of Ellison. It even concluded with a smarmy Nihad Awad, executive director of CAIR, who said:

"In the spirit of the season, I am sending Mr. Goode a Christmas present - a copy of the Constitution."
This is the same Nihad Awad who said a few years ago that he wouldn't mind seeing the Constitution some day replaced with the Koran.

Someone fingered Goode to CAIR. Regardless of how the deed was done, however, CAIR's action will send a chilling message to anyone - politician or private citizen - to keep his mouth shut and his thoughts to himself if he has nothing good to say about Muslims or Islam.

"Representative Goode's Islamphobic remarks send a message of intolerance that is unworthy of anyone elected to public office," said CAIR National Legislative Director Corey Saylor on CAIR's website. "There can be no reasonable defense for such bigotry."

It is a moot point whether or not Goode's remarks were bigoted. Criticism of Islam or of any Muslim should not automatically be deemed indicative of a dangerous and irrational psychological disorder, which is what the term "Islamophobia" implies. Islam and all Muslims are fair critical game, just as are Christianity and all Christians, and any other religion and its followers one cares to name. No religion is founded on reason, and all religions are legitimate subjects of rational scrutiny, caricature, and lampooning.

This is the true target of CAIR's accusation: not bigots or the xenophobic, but any person who subjects Islam to rational scrutiny and has the moral certitude to speak publicly on the matter.

To date, and to his credit, Representative Goode has refused to apologize.

CAIR is expanding its attention to toys, in this instance, video games. CAIR further reports on its website of December 19th:

"CAIR today asked Wal-Mart to stop selling a video game that glorifies religious violence and may harm interfaith relations....CAIR says it has received complaints about the game 'Left Behind: Eternal Forces,' produced by Left Behind Games Inc. the game reportedly rewards players for either converting or killing people of other faiths....The game's enemy team includes people with Muslim-sounding names...."

"We also believe that as a company that prides itself in hiring and offering services to a diverse group of people, it is Wal-Mart's corporate social responsibility to take into account the potential social impact of its decision to sell this harmful game. We, therefore, respectfully request the removal of the video game...from your selves."
I am no fan of the "Left Behind" series of novels - it is, after all, an apocalyptic Christian story - but if CAIR is so concerned about the "negative images" such games and rhetoric promote or perpetuate, it can do something about the violence of Islam's practitioners in the Mideast.

A companion incident occurred when two U.S. senators, Olympia Snowe (R-MA) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) sent the chairman of ExxonMobil a letter dated October 27 castigating the oil company for siding with "global warming deniers" and funding their research.

"We are convinced that ExxonMobil's longstanding support of a small cadre of global climate change skeptics...have made it increasingly difficult for the United States to demonstrate the moral clarity it needs across all facets of its diplomacy." For an excellent analysis of the possible ramifications of the letter, see Tom DeWeese's article, "The Real Inconvenient Truth About Global Warming: Skeptics Have Valid Arguments" on Capitalism Magazine (December 19). Among other things, DeWeese reveals just how "small" that cadre of "skeptics" is.

What concerns this writer is the veiled threat of punishment with special taxes and more regulation if ExxonMobil does not withdraw support from scientists who are either critical of global warming goodthink or who have burst its balloon. This is attempted censorship by the back door. And the only public official who has had the courage to name it comes from an unlikely quarter, Britain.

Lord Monckton, former policy adviser to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, sent Rockefeller and Snowe a stinging letter that upbraided them for playing teeth-baring thugs. (For the full article, go to the PRNewswire, December 18.)

"You defy every tenet of democracy when you invite ExxonMobil to deny itself the right to provide information to 'senior elected and appointed government officials,' who disagree with your opinion," wrote Monckton.

"Skeptics and those who have the courage to support them are actually helpful in getting the science right. They do not, as you improperly suggest, 'obfuscate' the issue: they assist in clarifying it by challenging weaknesses in the 'consensus' argument and they compel necessary corrections."
His letter to Rockefeller and Snowe concludes:

"I challenge you to withdraw [the assertions that ExxonMobil is engaging in fraud and disinformation] or resign because your letter is the latest in what appears to be an internationally-coordinated series of maladroit and malevolent attempts to silence the voices of scientists and others who have sound grounds, rooted firmly in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, to question what you would have us believe is the unanimous agreement of scientists worldwide that global warming will lead to what you excitedly but unjustifiably called 'disastrous' and 'calamitous' consequences."
Or, as Ayn Rand once put it: Fifty million Frenchmen can be as wrong as one - in this instance, innumerable and noisy computer-model obsessed nerds who prefer verisimilitude over reality. His letter would have been faultlessly perfect if Monckton had further stated in it that it is global warming advocates (such as the "Gorebies") and environmentalists who engage in fraud and disinformation. It would be refreshing to hear someone say that the exponents of global warming's alleged disastrous and calamitous consequences and of environmental catastrophe fall into one of two categories: uncritical dupes, and power-lusting, man-hating political opportunists to whom truth is not only irrelevant, but the enemy.

It would be apropos to quote John Milton here, in regards to both Islam and the global warming alarmists and to the subject of the shutting up of their critics, from his Areopagitica (1644), one of the most perceptive political tracts ever written:

"Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?"
It is a free and open encounter that is the nemesis of the religious and environmental totalitarians among us and which they wish to suppress. In a culture of consensus and political power to enforce it, it is Truth that is "out."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Tracinski no longer associated with ARI

A RoR reader sent me the following snip taken from the Ayn Rand Institute's website:

Robert W. Tracinski is no longer associated with the Ayn Rand Institute--neither as a writer nor as a speaker. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.
Objectivists are often criticized for their public break-ups, but I think being forthright when a relationship ends is the more honest approach. Reality demands an unflinching dedication to the truth, including the fact that some relationships deserve to end.

In my opinion, Tracinski has publicly embraced a theory of history that rejects the importance of Objectivism and principled consistency in defining and defending the long term good. As such, it would be dishonest to claim that he continues to be a public advocate for Ayn Rand's philosophy. If the end of Tracinski's association with ARI was brought on by his recent thinking, I am glad for it, for it would be an honest end to recent events.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Eastwood's 'Letters from Iwo Jima' smear

Regular RoR readers will recall that I was sharply critical of director Clint Eastwood’s recent film depiction of the Marines on Iwo Jima during WWII, which I argued failed to dramatize the virtues that allowed the Marines to prevail against the Japanese and unfairly saddled the living with the undeserved guilt of having had survived the battle. You can easily imagine then how I nearly fell out my chair when I read this quote from a review of Clint Eastwood’s upcoming "Letters from Iwo Jima":

Whereas "Flags" was a cynical, skeptical, pointed view of war from the American side, "Letters" offers a pure, almost poetic vision through the eyes and language of the Japanese — an idealistic depiction of duty and dying for one's country.
That’s an accurate statement on Eastwood’s “Flags” and I wager it is an accurate statement on "Letters." Of course Eastwood gave the Japanese the “idealistic” treatment he refused to give the Marines—the Japanese were fighting for a benighted cause, and in Eastwood's seeming world-view, their sacrifice was more total, and thus they are the more spiritually significant force.

The reviewer goes on to underscore that Eastwood's films make "the ultimate point is that, despite being an ocean apart, the men fighting and giving their lives on both sides of the battle weren't so different after all." That's right folks, the walk-away from these two films is that the men who fought for dictatorship and the men who fought for freedom were pretty much the same.

And while I hardly think such was the case for the Marines of Iwo Jima, I certainly think it apples to the morally agnostic who live among us today. After all, just how many times have we heard that one man's terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, or that Islam is a religion of peace . . .

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Our Saudi Foes

Enough about the Iranian bogeyman, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad! He is our certifiable enemy. Let's shift our focus for a moment to our venal ally in the "war on terror," Saudi Arabia, his chief rival in the conquest or destruction of the U.S.

Ahmadinejad, addressing a conference in Tehran a year ago, proclaimed that "those who doubt, to those who ask is it possible, or those who do not believe, I say accomplishment of a world without America and Israel is both possible and feasible." The Saudis agree with half that statement; for them, the eradication of Israel is a mutual goal, but it would rather convert the U.S. into an Islamic nation, instead of destroy it.

"Saudis and Iran prepare to do battle over corpse of Iraq," read the headline in the Sunday Telegraph (London, December 3), and in my previous commentary, "The Sandstorm of Western Confusion," I quoted one interesting paragraph from that article:

"Saudi Arabia, America's closest ally in the Arab world, is considering backing anti-U.S. insurgents because it is so alarmed that Sunnis in Iraq will be left to their fate - military and political - at the hands of the [Iranian-backed] Shia majority."
How would the Saudis accomplish such backing without alienating the prostituted affections of the Bush administration and the State Department? The Associated Press provided an answer in an article headlined, "Saudis reportedly funding Iraqi Sunnis." The report is that of the Iraq Study Group.

"Private Saudi citizens are giving millions of dollars to Sunni Muslim insurgents in Iraq, and much of it is used to buy weapons, including shoulder-fired [Russian Strela] anti-aircraft missiles, according to key Iraqi officials and others familiar with the flow of cash."
This is an interesting subject in the ISG's report that hasn't received the attention it deserves by the American news media, whose news anchors and Washington correspondents are barely able to contain their joy over the bipartisan recommendations that President Bush abandon the idea of victory in Iraq and begin talking with Iran and Syria with the goal of "stabilizing" the chaos in Iraq.

"Saudi government officials deny that any money from their country is being sent to Iraqis fighting the government and the U.S.-led coalition. But the ISG report said Saudis are a source of money for Sunni Arab insurgents. Several truck drivers interviewed by the Associated Press described carrying boxes of cash from Saudi Arabia into Iraq - money they said was headed for insurgents."

"Two high-ranking Iraqi officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity, told the AP most of the Saudi money came from private donations, called zaqat, collected for Islamic causes and charities."
The article reports that the Saudis claim to be tracking "suspicious financial operations." Tracking and policing such operations, however, are two distinct actions. The AP article continues, "The ISG report said that 'funding for the Sunni insurgency comes from private individuals within Saudi Arabia and other (Persian) Gulf states.'" Oman? Kuwait? Qatar? Bahrain? The United Arab Emirates?

In the moral dustbowls of all these medieval enclaves, such "private individuals" must have close political and economic connections to their royalist governments to be wealthy enough to indulge in such generosity. Their "charitable" donations must have the tacit approval and knowledge of the powers in the royal palaces and compounds.

As evil and perversely bizarre as the notion is that an alleged American ally would condone or sanction its citizens enabling "insurgents" to kill American soldiers - but not incite the rage of either the Bush administration or the news media or members of the ISG - the Saudis are also funding another kind of insurgency in the U.S. itself. Its chief front organization is the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

The goal of this "insurgency" is two-fold: to whitewash Islam by projecting it as a benign creed deserving of special dispensations and treatment vis-à-vis American law; and to insinuate the Islamic ethos into American society with the ultimate goal of transforming it from a secular to an Islamic society (which means discarding the Constitution and replacing it with the Koran). Its chief weapons until now have been lawsuits and press releases.

CAIR is a lobby-cum-"civil rights" organization that advances Saudi interests in the U.S. It is staffed by Wahhabists and financially supported by surreptitiously donated Saudi and other "Gulf" money. That is, by American motorists, without their knowledge, at the gas pump.

Now CAIR has allies in Congress. Up to now, it has counted on the gullibility and short-ranged mentalities of the news media and even the White House to lend it an air of innocence and concern. Up to now, the rule has been dinners for Muslim guests at the White House, receptions for them in swank hotels, and a congenial first-name-basis camaraderie.

When Congress reconvenes next year, CAIR and its phalanx of interlinked Muslim organizations in the U.S. will expect their leftist and Democratic allies in the Senate and House to work for and deliver legislation that will protect the Islamic beachhead in America. For a detailed summary of the goals and backgrounds of the "usual suspects" - Nancy Pelosi, John Conyers, and Keith Ellison - see Robert Spencer's article, "CAIR's Congress" in FrontPage Magazine of November 13, 2006; Robert Novak's article in the Chicago Sun-Times of December 10 on Zalmay Khalilzad, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Iraq and a Muslim who will likely become the U.S. envoy at the United Nations; and "John Conyers and the Muslim Caucus" in the Investor's Business Daily of November 9.

More disturbing, however, is another article from the December 4th FrontPage Magazine, "CAIR KOs '24'," by Henry Mark Holzer.

"Early in 2005, CAIR met with representatives of the Fox television network and producers of the hit drama '24' to discuss concerns about the depiction of a 'Muslim' family at the heart of a terror plot on that popular program," cites Holzer from CAIR's Annual Report, titled "The Status of Muslim Civil Rights in the United States 2006, The Struggle for Equality." "CAIR was concerned that the portrayal of the family as a terrorist 'sleeper cell' would cast suspicion over ordinary American Muslims and increase Islamophobia.

"Rabiah Ahmed, spokeswoman for CAIR, said that the show was 'taking everyday American Muslim families and making them suspects. It's very dangerous and very disturbing."
CAIR's Annual Report continues:

"At the meeting, which included CAIR and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), Fox officials agreed to distribute a CAIR public service announcement to network affiliates and ask that it be aired in proximity to '24.' Network officials also agreed to air a disclaimer stating the American Muslims reject terrorism."
Mr. Holzer writes:
"Although many Americans were rightly enraged at Fox's capitulation to CAIR, they wrongly complained of 'censorship.'" Holzer, Professor Emeritus at Brooklyn Law School, correctly counters that Fox's submission - and remember that "Islam" means "submission" - did not constitute censorship. "Only the government has the power to censor (subject to whatever protection that might be afforded by the federal First Amendment and state constitutions)."
What Fox's decision did constitute was: cowardice.

CAIR insisted that Kiefer Sutherland, who plays the intrepid Jack Bauer, a counter-terrorism agent, issue the politically correct version of a parental guidance warning: "...Now while terrorism is obviously one of the most critical challenges facing our nation and the world, is important to recognize that the American Muslim community stands firmly beside their fellow Americans in denouncing and resisting all forms of terrorism. So in watching '24,' please, bear that in mind."

Which Sutherland did. Technically, it was called a "disclaimer." What it disclaims and abdicates, however, is the right of Fox in "24" to portray Muslims as it sees fit, regardless of the accuracy of such a portrayal, regardless of the fact that most American Muslims are an alien fifth column of manqués, conditioned by the Koran and their clerics to do the bidding of Allah, Mohammad, and CAIR. CAIR's Annual Report could just as well have been titled, "The Status of Muslim Civil Rights in the United States 2006, The Struggle for Supremacy."

Holzer then lets fly at CAIR:

"Wrapping itself in the flag, invoking the Constitution, and hiding beneath its veneer of a self-styled 'civil liberties' organization - modeled on its anti-American mentor and template, the American Civil Liberties Union - CAIR is the preeminent domestic mailed fist of Islam in the velvet glove of civil liberties....CAIR is using the American legal system to intimidate the exercise of free speech, to undermine our homeland defense and to advance Muslim cultural infiltration of our domestic institutions by seeking special dispensations concerning dress, national holidays, educational texts, the content of books, movies, television, and more. In addition to its incessant intimidating complaints about the alleged violation of 'Muslim Civil Liberties.'"
(The balance of Holzer's article is a description of the extent of CAIR's legal activism in the U.S., to which the news media and our elected representatives are either oblivious or criminally ambivalent.)

While Fox's decision to "submit" to Islamic sensibilities indeed does not constitute censorship (see Ayn Rand's definition and discussion of censorship in The Ayn Rand Lexicon), it is symptomatic of what could be called "mirror censorship," that is, self-censorship from fear and moral cowardice without the excuse of being subjected to or threatened with government force. In the fog-bound ethics of approximations, relativism, and non-absolutes, the one absolute that pragmatists, "realists" and the "practical" fear to encounter in that fog is: the necessity of opposing censorship. Censorship is the forcible suppression of free speech by the entity that has a monopoly on force, the government. Facing naked censorship, they know they must take a moral stand.

So one must wonder about the moral stature of men who readily submit to faux force, that is, to the whims and wishes of a "community" that threatens lawsuits, demonstrations, or boycotts. Since force is not threatened, the pragmatists and "realists" feel comfortable by acknowledging a group's "displeasure" and claims of "persecution" and by calling their penance "public service." One cannot but conclude that they would rather not face a moral decision at all, and that, confronted with genuine censorship, they would sanction that, as well, in the name of the "public good."

Let us not forget the power behind CAIR, which is chiefly Saudi money. That money has been funding gangs of tribalist killers who target American soldiers in Iraq, as well as funding "civil liberties" insurgents in this country who target the First Amendment. And now the Baker-Hamilton team of compromisers is proposing that the U.S. hold direct talks with Iran and Syria, which have also been sending other tribalist killers money and weapons to Iraq to kill American soldiers.

One of Bush's gravest errors was not asking Congress for a declaration of war against the "axis of evil." As a friend explained, such a declaration would give the U.S. the right to deem an organization like CAIR an enemy agent and to take the appropriate wartime punitive actions. But no such declaration has been made; one consequence of that failure is that the moral behavior of private individuals and organizations like Fox has too often mirrored that of our foreign policy: cowardice and appeasement. Remember the Danish cartoon imbroglio?

At least American soldiers can fight back and kill the enemy in Iraq. But where, Holzer asks, are the "dedicated lawyers with the desire to meet CAIR on the legal battlefield...?" Are they all dead? Are they too busy passing statist legislation in Congress, such as the selective censorship of the Campaign Finance Law, or cooking up class action suits against businesses?

In Book Four - Empire of my Sparrowhawk series, Patrick Henry, a lawyer and freshman burgess, about to introduce his Stamp Act Resolves in the Virginia General Assembly in May of 1765, states:

"We propose that this House adopt and forward to those parties [Parliament and King George the Third], not genuflective beseechments or adulatory objurgations, but pungent resolves of our understanding of the origins and practice of British and American liberty, resolves which will frankly alert them to both the error of their presumptions and our determination to preserve that liberty. These resolves, in order to have some consequence and value, ought not to be expressed by us in the role of effusive mendicants applying for the restitution of what has been wrested from them, but with the cogently blunt mettle of men who refuse to be robbed."
The historical irony is that when Henry made his speech, the Wahhabist Saudis were engaged in the conquest of the Arabian Peninsula, which they completed in 1806. Who could have predicted then that their descendants and their hired fellaheen would invade America unopposed two and half centuries later with the express purpose of gagging the likes of Henry in the name of Allah?

Monday, December 11, 2006

The gulf between the protector and the protected

Last night MSNBC ran its documentary "For God & Country: A Marine Sniper's Story" which tells the story of Matt Orth, a 22-year-old war veteran of both Afghanistan and Iraq. The footage consisted mostly of interviews with Orth as he chronicled his experiences in combat, as well as return to civilian life.

In watching Orth's story, I thought it was interesting when he remarked that he and his fellow snipers did not talk about the larger implications of their killings in their training or among one another on the battlefield. If that's the case, that's clearly a taboo that should be broken. One deserves to be morally and mentally armed as one goes into combat, if only to reduce the likelihood of developing unearned guilt later down the road. One needs to fully think though just what it means to kill another human being, and why, in certain contexts, morality demands that one kill.

And from what I could tell (and not unlike many veterans), Orth suffers from being unable to fully reconcile his life in civilized society with his life on the battlefield. For example, when Orth says sees a parked car, his first thoughts drift toward it being a roadside bomb. He notes that in America, people who murder even one person are sent away to prison for life, yet here he is a man who has killed hundreds of people-in supposed opposition to society's cherished norms. The obvious implication that Orth makes is that he is a murderer, yet he clearly is not a murderer, in the same way that an executioner who puts to death a criminal on death row is not a murderer. The work is protecting America's freedom against its enemies is grisly and draining, yet justice demands it.

So why then the emotional hang-up? It think its source is that few people back home in America ever put in the effort to understand the gravity and the impact of the choices that men like Orth have to make in order to achieve their mission on the battlefield. For example, Orth says he has drifted away from most of the friends he had prior to her service with the Marines. One gets the sense that none of these former friends would ever think to approach him to say, "time and time again, you had to make brutal life and death decisions in order to survive (and you have to carry the weight of decisions that went badly), and I understand and respect you for it." I doubt that such an acknowledgement of the life of a solider would even show up on their radar.

One also hears about the negative effects of "dehumanizing" one's enemy, but in Orth's case, I see the exact opposite-Orth has humanized the enemy to the point that I think it clearly takes away from his own well being. For example, several times he asks if the men he shot said good by to their children that day. So what if they didn't? These enemy men made a deliberate choice to act against America in pursuit of their vile and irrational cause. They created a universe where our men would have no choice but to strike them down. No solider who engages such an enemy should lose a night's sleep as a result of his actions.

And thus one can see the negative fallout from Orth's perception of what constitutes heroism. In the documentary, Orth repeats the mantra that a hero is someone who sacrifices for others, yet how awful it must be for him to realize that if he did sacrifice himself for others, they are utterly clueless about it, and that most of them refuse to put in even the modicum of effort it would take to understand him on his own terms. The irony is that Orth says that he values his relationships all the more, because he is intimately aware of how easily life can be squelched away, yet only a few in his circle seem to be able to respond in kind-and in this, one sees the gulf between the protector and the protected.

By trade, snipers have to make life and death decisions on the battlefield, and they are unusual in that they must individually stalk their targets (and thus their interaction with their opponent is often more intimate than someone who simply drops a bomb from a plane). Nevertheless, the net reasoning and the net result for both the sniper and the aviator the same. In battle, our armed forces exist to kill the enemy and compel him to surrender his cause. Such a task demands a stout heart-and head.

And as a grateful people, I think it falls upon us to help such people develop the tools that they need to return to the peaceable and fulfilling lives that they so deserve. As Orth's story aired, I could not help but say to myself that a little bit of rational egoism would go a long way for this young hero and the others like him.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Foxhole theist syndrome

We have all heard the line that "there are no atheists in foxholes." The argument goes that it is impossible for a person to maintain their rationality when pushed to the extreme; a person must believe in God if they are to endure the challenges of the battlefield. How it empowers anyone to switch focus from facing the facts of reality to believing that a transcendent being will face them for you is never really answered, yet such is the way of those who are animated by their blind beliefs. Besides, the goal in claiming that there are no atheists in foxholes is to smear the rational by simply denying that they exist, or that their reason earns them anything.

It is interesting then to see a variation of this tactic employed by the conservatives in response to C. Bradley Thompson's landmark essay "The Decline and Fall of American Conservatism." For example, blogger Orrin Judd thinks that the American founding was not animated by reason in defense of individualism, but by faith in pursuit of the general welfare.

Mr. Thompson argues that the rights to life, liberty, etc., matter because self-interest is the American ideal. The Declaration, however, states quite clearly that they matter because the Creator endowed us with them. Similarly, when it came time to institutionalize the genuine American ideals, the Founders not only made no mention of self-interest but were quite forthright about their purposes being social, rather than individualist: "We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty, to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." Their concern is general welfare, common defense, etc, not your own welfare or your own defense or other narrow and selfish aims.
This argument on the part of the conservatives shows how they seek to enshrine the aspects of the founders' philosophy that embraced faith while rejecting the more influential (and consequential) aspects of their philosophy that embraced reason. Frankly, to claim that the Declaration of Independence did not establish the principle of individual rights (including the right to pursue one's own selfish happiness) as the governing philosophy of America is ludicrous and dishonest. How does one then explain the Bill of Rights, which limited government power to enter into the individual's private spheres? And almost more importantly, how does one then explain the industrial revolution, were it not an expression of individual men's selfish desire to conqueror nature and prosper accordingly?

In the comments to his post, Judd goes on to reveal his real hand when he chimes that Objectivism is "libertarianism, [but] just more cultish." What else would one expect from a person who believes in an unknowable supernatural entity that demands all our sacrifice, and that it is the goal of our civil government to secure such a benighted worldview? Yet according to some, we should nevertheless align ourselves politically with such people in order to secure and protect our freedom.

Count me as one who fails to see how such an alliance can bring Objectivists anything worthwhile.

What Firearm Fits You Best?

Mine was a tie between the assault rifle and the sniper rifle that I broke in favor of the sniper rifle. In any case, a good arsenal is well served by having both. :-)




You scored as Sniper Rifle. You like sharpshooting. Stealth, accuracy and range are your best friends. So you need sniper rifle (if you don't already have one).

Sniper Rifle

88%

Assault Rifle

88%

SMG

50%

Shotgun

50%

Pistol

38%

Machinegun

31%

Revolver

25%

What Firearm Fits You Best?

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Sandstorm of Western Confusion

One of the most foolish squibs I have ever read outside of State Department pap on how to deal with Islam and Muslims appeared in the Daily Telegraph (London) on November 30th. Michael Burleigh, author and distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, in "Winning Muslim hearts and minds," argues that a key factor in successfully combating terrorism and Muslim "separatism" in Western nations is to somehow communicate with "moderate," non-violent Muslims. "Let's reach out to them," writes Burleigh, "or at least create some forum where we can be reminded of their existence."

"Rather, we lazily allow Islamist fundamentalists to equate our culture with trashy television programs about penile implants rather than Bach, Rubens or Mozart, Newton, Pascal or Einstein. As the philosopher Roger Scruton has written, we should be more careful about what image (and reality) of ourselves we project into more traditional societies."
Translation: We should strive to assure "moderate" Muslims that we are not "profiling" their barbarous creed, and that we really don't believe the jihadists and suicide bombers and ranting imams among them are practicing that creed in its most fundamental terms or are in the least representative of Islam in its ideal state.

Given that Europe is now populated with about 50 million Muslims, I don't think anyone needs to be reminded of their existence. They have invaded and invested Europe, and have established a foothold in the U.S. Their agent provocateurs here are busy testing the legal waters to see if this country is as weak and accommodating as Europe. They are fashioning nooses with which to hang us from the hemp of multiculturalism and tolerance.

(For an excellent appraisal of Europe's future prospects vis-à-vis the Muslim Borg, articulated by German author Henryk M. Broder, see "The Rape of Europe" by Paul Belien in The Brussels Journal of October 25th.)

Conceding that contemporary Western culture is predominantly "trashy" - a appellation that can be applied to most modern art, literature, and music, as well as to television - what would be gained by projecting a better "image" to insular tribal societies such as that of the Muslims? It can't be that Muslim rank-and-file or their fire and brimstone clerics care a fig about Bach, Rubens, Newton or Einstein. Islamists wish to conquer and eliminate the civilization that produced such creators and thinkers. Islam in its "at rest" state is a model of smug, conscientious, cultural stagnancy. It has no room for, and can never produce, the likes of Michelangelo or Jonas Salk. Islam makes no distinction between the Rolling Stones and Berlioz. In Islam's miasmatic, anti-life ethos, all such Western values are decadent and corrupting.

In response to Burleigh's proposed policy of patronizing vacillation, I posted a comment in the reader's column that more or less said:

It is not possible to win the "hearts and minds" of dedicated, or even semi-dedicated Muslims. Islam is one of the most "heartless" of religions. It tolerates good will among only Muslims, and even then it is conditional. As for kaffirs and other non-believers, it is open season on them at the whim of Islam's clerics and rulers.

And as for "minds," Islam is more hostile to them than is Christianity. It is a "God says so because Mohammad said so" faith from top to bottom. This is why one rarely hears from "moderate" Muslims. They are caught between allegiance to the rational and allegiance to the utter irrationality of Islamic tenets and dictates, their convictions divided between remaining loyal to Allah and heeding Mohammad and being loyal to some semblance of wanting to live on earth (just as many Christians are, but much more pathologically).

Unlike Christians, devout Muslims can't pigeonhole their religious beliefs and get on with life. Unlike Christians, they can't spend one morning in mosque and then live on earth the rest of the week without so much as a nod to Mecca; Islam requires their daily expression of submission. Understand the ubiquitous presence of Big Brother in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and what the totalitarian Party expected of its members - which was unswerving, unthinking, goodthink obedience in all things - and you will understand Islam and Muslims.

So, it is futile to attempt to persuade Muslims that theirs is a fatal dichotomy, and to boast of all the wonderful things Western culture has produced and which they, too, can share and appreciate. Reason is the enemy of faith, not its occasional handmaiden (the assertions of Pope Benedict to the contrary notwithstanding), and the truly faithful of any creed are beyond rational persuasion. Since a Muslim possesses the attribute of volition, it is he who must exercise it (and a very, very few have).

I could have added: And they don't care, either. If the works of Beethoven, Shakespeare, or Newton were to suddenly perish, or the statue of David in Florence or the Statue of Liberty was blown to bits by "disenchanted" fellow Muslims, do you think we would witness "moderate" Muslim men and women in Baghdad or Dearborn or London's East End writhing and wailing in hysterical grief? Not likely.

An interesting post followed in the Daily Telegraph on December 1st, in apparent answer to Burleigh's encomium on reciprocity and "reaching out." There was no attribution or credit; it simply appeared on its own page, under the same title. Its theme is that the West should not rush to win Muslim "hearts and minds" when Muslims are the victims of natural disasters, such as the recent Indonesian tsunami and the Pakistani quake.

"...When such a calamity strikes a Muslim population, whom are we trying to rescue? We are rescuing our future murderers. The suicide bombers on the London Tube came from Pakistan. [Actually, they were British citizens of Pakistani origin.] They were the kin of those whom we rescued in Muzafarrabad." [Actually, their more animated spiritual kin.]
Although much of the anonymous post is rambling, it does make a few trenchant observations and draws some legitimate parallels. The best one is this:

"Muslims have always attacked those of their adversaries who have been struck by a natural disaster. When a sandstorm struck a Sassanid Persian army at the battle of Quadisiya in modern day Iraq, the Arab Muslim attackers took full advantage of that Persian discomfiture and slaughtered the entire retreating Persian army."

A little research provided some historical context which the anonymous writer did not establish. The Persian Sassanian Dynasty established an empire in the Mideast between AD 244 and 651, most of which fell to Arab conquerors in 640. Mohammad died in 632, and until then was battling for Arabia, so he can't be blamed for that particular conquest, although his followers can be, busy as they were spreading the faith by sword. The Quadisiya sandstorm debacle probably occurred in the reign of Khosrow II, the last Sassanian king, who died in 628. On his death, the empire quickly disintegrated and became easy pickings for Mohammad's followers. Its capital, Ctesiphon, was taken by them in 637.

Elsewhere in the article, the anonymous writer recommends that the West adopt the same Islamic tactic that has been used against the West, even to the point of adapting the Islamic ultimatum: Abandon Islam, or die. He more or less has the same advice that another correspondent proffered, to wit, that if Mecca and the Kaaba were reduced to molten glass and tens of thousands of pebble-throwing pilgrims vaporized in a small nuclear detonation, nothing would happen. Allah, who does not exist, would neither prevent the attack nor avenge it.

Countless Muslims worldwide would subsequently experience such a crisis of faith that most would adjure Islam. And that would be the end of that. The "war on terror" would be won. As my correspondent noted, this recommendation also came from an ex-Muslim. "The fellow who suggested it was adamant that this would indeed demoralize the Muslim world and convince them that they are not going to inherit the earth."

Nuking Mecca, Medina, Riyadh, Damascus, and Tehran to demoralize Muslims would be an exercise in preemption, certainly heartless but one way of appealing to minds otherwise insensate to reason by way of the primary goal of defending ourselves. After all, Ahmadinejad is promising us the same apocalyptic destruction.

By all available evidence, however, our political leaders are staring straight into the sandstorm of pragmatism, appeasement, wishful thinking, and diplomacy. Taking the moral high ground in a preemptive strike against our enemies is not in the cards. Neither President Bush, nor Secretary of State Rice, nor Prime Minister Tony Blair, nor the Iraq Study Group, nor any European leader can take a moral high ground. They are all value-negating multiculturalists. Since the moral is to defend and preserve a value, their minds are shut to the necessity of defending any Western value.

And while our leaders are being blinded by a sandstorm of their own making, thinking they are constructing a Roman aqueduct when they are actually digging a shallow ditch, our enemies are not only chortling over the dilemma in which the U.S. finds itself in Iraq - an occupation to win Muslim "hearts and minds" by not fighting a true war - but preparing to fight over the spoils. The Persians and the Arabs are again maneuvering to contest control of Iraq. "Saudis and Iran prepare to do battle over corpse of Iraq," reads the headline of the Sunday Telegraph (December 3).

"In Tehran, Iranian leaders have made clear that they believe they are the big winners from America's involvement in Iraq. 'The kind of service that the Americans, with all their hatred, have done us - no superpower has ever done anything similar,' Mohsen Rezal, secretary-general of the powerful Expediency Council that advises the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamanei, boasted on state television recently."
In the meantime:

"Saudi Arabia, America's closest ally in the Arab world, is considering backing anti-U.S. insurgents because it is so alarmed that Sunnis in Iraq will be left to their fate - military and political - at the hands of the [Iranian-backed] Shia majority." Vice President Dick Cheney flew to Riyadh last week to discuss the matter.

An ally so close that he can stick a dagger in our hearts - again. It isn't enough that the Saudis can hold the U.S. hostage with its confiscated oil wealth and produce suicide bombers with which to attack our cities. Now they want to pay "insurgents" to kill American soldiers. I suspect they have been doing this all the while, helping to bankroll Sunni "freedom fighters" in Iraq, and that the Bush administration has known it all the while. But, in the rarefied, oxygen-short realms of diplomacy, it isn't tactful to identify or acknowledge a truth. Two plus two can be any sum one wishes, and somehow translate into "stability" on the ground.

In the meantime, there is to be a "meeting of minds."

"...In a break with previous policy, Mr. Bush will meet tomorrow in Washington with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a party closely tied to Iran."

That, one supposes, to paraphrase Mr. Burleigh, is the political way of "somehow communicating with moderate, non-violent Muslims." Only it is the Islamists who are reminding Bush of their existence. The last vestige of Bush's moral stature, such as it was, has gone up in a little puff of smoke.

Stay tuned, if you can stomach it. The sandstorm can only get worse.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

'Almost reasonable'

In a wonderfully pompous conclusion to an otherwise good post, Volokh Conspirator David Bernstein says a quote by Katherine Cohen, CEO of IvyWise, a college-admissions consulting company in the New York Magazine is "the kind of thing that makes Objectivism look almost reasonable."

Heh. I almost care.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Recycling is BS?

So say Penn and Teller in this video of an episode of the comedic duo's provocatively-named Showtime series that is now propagating across the Internet.

What is remarkable about this video is that Penn and Teller actually track down and confront the federal regulator that is responsible for much of the pro-recycling hype, a one Dr. J. Winston Porter, PhD who was the Assistant Administrator for Solid Waste and Emergency Response at the Environmental Protection Agency during the Reagan and Bush I administrations. Porter was responsible for an 1989 EPA report that claimed that the US would run out of landfill space if it did not recycle at least 25% of is garbage waste—ignoring the salient fact that landfill space is cheaper and ultimately less polluting than the recycling craze he started.

The other refreshing angle is the unvarnished contempt Penn and Teller have for the irrational. They so utterly demolish the pro-recycling environmentalists, one almost feels sorry for the bastards—were they not behind wasteful and inefficient myth-making. Pretty compelling stuff for only a 30-minute program aimed at a mass audience.

NB: The language in this clip may be inappropriate for some viewers—discretion is advised.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving 2006



For something to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day, visit art historian Lee Sandstead's stunning Croton-on-Hudson gallery. Lee writes:

For me, this gallery represents one of the greatest places that I have ever lived—filled with productivity, great memories and beautiful light.
Indeed. And lest I forget, all of Lee's images are available for purchase (and would make great gifts for your favorite capitalist bloggers :-P).

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Eurabian Roundup

Scientology convert and couch-stomping actor Tom Cruise married Katie Holmes in a 15th century castle in Italy in front of celebrity crowd of 150 guests and the rest of the world. Going by the media coverage of the event and the bizarre adulation of the thousands of obsessed bystanders gathered outside the castle, you could have sworn Zeus and Hera were reaffirming their marriage vows on Mount Olympus in an epochal event that would resound through the ages.

In the meantime, Europe dithered.

Thomas Sowell, in a recent Capitalism Magazine column, "Where is the West?" (November 17) observed that the sixty years of European peace was "due to American nuclear weapons, which was all that could deter the Soviet Union's armies from marching right across Europe to the Atlantic Ocean." He also noted that

"Two generations of being insulated from the reality of the international jungle, of not having to defend their own survival because they have been living under the protection of the American nuclear umbrella, have allowed too many Europeans to grow soft and indulge themselves in illusions about brutal realities and dangers."

Sowell was remarking on European protests against Saddam Hussein's death sentence and the alleged torture of Islamic prisoners of war held by Americans. One wonders how contemporary "soft and squeamish" Frenchmen view the execution of Pierre Laval, who as premier headed the collaborating Vichy government during the Nazi occupation and was tried and executed in 1945 as a traitor, or the public humiliation of French women who had fraternized with German officers while Laval was sending their countrymen off to work as slaves in German war plants. Perhaps they would claim Laval deserved a light sentence and a chance at rehabilitation.

Europe has had a double run of luck since the collapse of the Soviet Union. First, it did not need to over-worry about the Soviet threat. The U.S. and its military sidekick, NATO, were sure to protect it. Then the "evil empire" collapsed of its own postponed contradictions, together with an inability to keep pace with American military armaments, and that peril vanished virtually overnight.

No European nation, however, has had to set aside as much tax revenue for military purposes, in proportion to its gross national product, as has the U.S. Thanks to the American outlay, most European nations could afford to earmark their own tax revenues to establish profligate welfare states, which Democrats and other statists here in the U.S. envy and itch to emulate. Point this out to a European politician or an American Democrat, and he will say that it's irrelevant. Welfare states, they would insist with self-righteous indignation, are a matter of social and economic justice, and have nothing to do with external enemies, imaginary or otherwise.

Welfare states, however, tend to go to war, chiefly out of the necessity to compensate for the wealth consumed in sustaining non-productive bureaucracies and growing populations of entitled dependents. Germany did it three times in the span of seventy years, beginning with the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

France will not be outdone. Successive French governments, together with its press and intellectuals, have for decades nurtured a simmering animosity towards Britain for being too recalcitrant about surrendering its sovereignty, independence and identity to an amorphous but tyrannical European Union. But Britain and France are at present like oil and water. Compare just the nominally Lockean legal system of Britain with France's semi-Napoleonic system - or Britain's with the byzantine European Union legal system, and one can begin to understand why Britain has been dragging its feet.

"Ségolène Royal, the Socialist candidate for the French presidency, wants Britain to choose between being a 'vassal' of the United States, and embracing a French-led drive for European integration, her adviser on Europe has revealed," reported the Daily Telegraph on November 20th ("Ségolène urges Britain to choose between Europe and America")

Gilles Savary, a French Member of the European Parliament and Royal's foreign affairs adviser, told the Daily Telegraph:

"Great Britain is absolutely indispensable to the European Union. It is a great nation, a global power. But the question the English have to answer is - do the English consider the English Channel to be wider than the Atlantic? We on the continent have the right to deplore the fact that Great Britain appears to consider the Channel is wider."

Rephrased: We have a right to envy Britain. Dices of roast beef are indispensable to our Continental bouillabaisse, for flavor and consistency.

And the Atlantic between Britain and the U.S. is narrower? So be it. In short, Britain must decide whether to remain a rhetorical "vassal" of the United States, or an actual vanquished "vassal" of European Union bureaucracy.

Such talk seems calculated to offend Britain and guarantee its alienation. If Britain has any pride, it should continue to regard the Channel as wider than the Atlantic, and refuse to accept the role of whipping boy for the U.S. France wants to eat Britain and have it, too. So does the European Union. Like any gang of bullies, the Continentals view Britain as a reproach and a nemesis that must be persuaded to join, or be conquered, or at least be humbled through political and economic ostracism. They cannot tolerate a stand-alone.

A Britain absorbed into the undifferentiated mass of the European Union would also destroy the "special relationship" between Britain and the U.S. Britain certainly has problems - among other things, a Muslim population that wants to be separate but equal, a bureaucracy that rides roughshod in a demonstrably anti-Lockean manner over a variety of rights and liberties, a Scotland that wants to end its 300-year union with England - but it remains the most un-European of European nations.

In reporting the details of Royal's EU policies, Savary said that "Britain would be asked to sign up to the new treaty, but if it rejected calls for increased protectionism, an EU foreign minister, convergence on tax rates and moves to create a European army, then France and her allies [tentatively, Germany, Italy and Spain] would agree to a treaty among themselves."

The "new" treaty Savary spoke of would replace the EU constitution that was shot down by French and Dutch voters last summer. But, one must wonder: Protectionism - against whom? A convergence of tax rates - with what nation paying the most, because it is, among European nations, the freest and most prosperous? Is Royal's goal to guarantee the egalitarian impoverishment of all?

A European army? To defend what political entity against what enemy? And generaled by a bureaucracy, modeled, perhaps, on the Pentagon, which is no longer concerned with winning wars, but instead "hearts and minds"?

Meanwhile, from across the expanse of Eurabia, the long arm of President Vladimir Putin's SMERSH-like Federal Security Bureau has struck in London as well as in Moscow. Alexander Litvinenko, a former colonel of the Russian secret service and an outspoken critic of Putin, was poisoned with thallium in a restaurant while meeting an unknown female journalist who claimed to have evidence concerning the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist who was gunned down in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building in October. The evidence, if authentic, probably pointed to Putin's FSB. If bogus, it was an element of an elaborate plot to exact revenge on Litvinenko, regarded as a traitor in Russia.

Complicating the assassination attempt on Litvinenko is that he is now a British citizen. Politkovskaya was the thirteenth Russian journalist to be assassinated. Her editor, Yuri Shchekochkhin, was poisoned with dioxin in 2003. In 2004 Viktor Yushchenko, a presidential candidate in the Ukraine, was poisoned with dioxin, as well. He survived the attempt on his life, won the election, but remains disfigured. It would be interesting to know how many individuals have been poisoned, shot, garroted, jailed, and kidnapped and never heard from again by Putin's agents since he rose to power.

Vladimir Putin is an incarnation of an Ian Fleming villain. His face is an icy mask of ascetic evil. In addition to directing the murderous projects of the Siloviki, his SMERSH-like faction in the Kremlin (staffed largely with former KGB colleagues) he could just as well be the head of SPECTRE, or the "Special Executive for counter-intelligence, terrorism, revenge and extortion." Putin has practiced all those arts in his bid to consolidate power and to restore Russia as a major player in global politics, using oil as both a bargaining chip and a tool of extortion. Rivals in tyranny, such as the Muslim separatist movement in Chechnya, and free press and capitalists in Russia itself, have been crushed and scattered as efficiently by his brutality as was any opposition to the Czars in the 18th and 19th centuries.

In footage of Bush's recent visit to Russia (on his way to Hanoi) Putin, purportedly an "ally" in the "war on terror," welcomed the president with a pat on the back. It was the gesture that condescends to welcome a useful idiot.

In the Mideast, assassination is also a popular tool of repression, though less subtle than poison. Just this week, Pierre Gemayel, a Christian, member of the Lebanese cabinet, and critic of Syria's (and by implication, Hezbollah's) influence in Lebanon's affairs, was shot and killed outside of Beirut by three gunmen who used, appropriately, silencers.

And in the Gaza, the life of Mohammed Baroud, a leading Palestinian terrorist, was spared extinction by an Israeli airstrike when hundreds of Palestinians formed a "human shield" inside, in front of and atop his home. The Israelis, who have adopted the "humane" policy of warning "militants" that they are about to strike in order to avoid civilian casualties, in this instance telephoned Baroud with a ten-minute warning. Israel cancelled the airstrike. The Palestinians cheered. Baroud will live on to oversee continued rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza. (Daily Telegraph, November 20).

In a militarily absurd explanation for the cancellation, a spokesman for the Israeli military said, "We don't want to hurt uninvolved civilians. The terrorists are using uninvolved civilians as human shields."

Uninvolved? Hundreds of Palestinian cretins rush to protect a killer, and they are considered "uninvolved"? Every one of them deserved to die in that airstrike. They are as much Israel's enemies as the gangsters of Hamas. Who do you think will swarm over the carcass of Israel in orgies of murder, rape and looting if Israel ever succumbs to Ahmadinejad's nuclear blackmail?

If Israel wishes to survive, it must abandon the U.S. warfighting policy of treating enemy populations as "innocent" and blameless, and treat "human shields" as weapons to be eliminated as ruthlessly as are tanks, rockets and gunmen.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Talking Jesus Doll Turns the Marines into Missionaries

The Marines have earned a reputation for standing firm, even when attacked on all sides. Apparently, this legacy no longer applies when the weapon used against them is a talking Jesus doll.

First, some context. For many years now, Christian activists have been fighting to regain Christmas, or more specifically, fighting against anyone who disagrees with them over how Christmas is to be celebrated. Rather ironically, these Christian activists have framed the debate as a war against them.

For example, if you run a business and you instruct your employees to wish your customers a "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" on the grounds that not all your customers are Christians, you are guilty of attacking all that these Christians hold dear. If you think that nativity crèches look great on private property, but violate the First Amendment when placed upon the courthouse lawn, you too are attacking these Christians.

Nether of the above scenarios impacts the ability of Christians to celebrate Christmas as they see fit—on their own property and within their own institutions. Yet what a Christian does in privacy is not the concern of the Christmas crusaders-it is what you and I do in our privacy, or what our public institutions do (institutions that by definition must represent all of us) that is the object of their crusade.

And now we come to our talking Jesus doll. The Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Co. manufactures a Jesus doll that is less a toy and more a tool with which to preach Christianity to children. For example, the toy quotes the Holy Bible with statements like "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." The doll's manufacturer offered to donate 4,000 of its dolls to the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, founded by the Marines in 1947 to ensure that needy children received some toys for Christmas.

The foundation, supported today by the Marine Corps Reserves as part of its official mission, opted to refuse the Jesus dolls on the grounds that the Marines don't profess one faith over another, and that the doll was an inappropriate gift for a non-Christian family. And that's when all hell broke lose.

In responce to its decision, the foundation was peppered with so many calls of Christian outrage that The Washington Post reports that it became impossible for the foundation to perform its mission—which is simply to give some hard-luck kids something nice to play with on Christmas Day. Caving in to the pressure, the foundation reversed itself and agreed to accept the Jesus dolls, and will simply have to make an extra effort in addition to its already large commitments to ensure that these dolls don't go to families that don't want them.

How absolutely obnoxious—but typical of people who think they have the right to force their faith down the rest of our throats and that the government should help them do it. Never mind that our government must remain secular and be guided only by reason if it is to properly fulfill its role of protecting our individual freedoms. And never mind that there is no shortage of religious charities that would have been more than happy to offer scripture-quoting Jesus dolls to willing families. That apparently is not enough for the Christian activists who think that they need to hijack our government in order to deliver their Christmas message.

The last insult is that the Marines are at the heart of a great struggle overseas to keep America free from those who think that they have the right to impose their religious creed upon us by force. It is appalling that the Marines' valor and courage on the battlefield is being twisted by people back home who seek the same ultimate ends as the enemy, only substituting their religious creed for his.

"To men of goodwill, peace" it is not.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Fretful Friendships

Revisiting one of my favorite satirical plays, Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The Critic, I was prompted to note a parallel between Sir Fretful Plagiary's anxious protestations against the charge that he is a talentless playwright (and a plagiarist, as well), and the anxiety of the Bush administration's stance on the Middle East, especially about its relationship with Israel. Lacking any first-hand knowledge of plot, dialogue, and dramaturgy, Sir Fretful rebuffs every criticism of his play by critics who are equally ignorant of dramaturgy, and leaves the stage in furious dudgeon, while his critics, Sneer and Dangle, snicker at his mortification.

Lacking any guiding principle, except that of pragmatism (if that can be called a guiding principle) and the court of "world opinion," the U.S. cannot decide whether to confront Iran, Syria, and their client terrorist groups (Hamas and Hezbollah) and stand without reservation behind Israel and its right to exist, or to force Israel to make concessions with the Palestinians in order to end the ceaseless conflict and tension in the Middle East. Israel, too, has lost its self-confidence; it was U.S. pressure on Israel that it fight Hezbollah on its own terms last July, and as a consequence Israel lost the war in Lebanon.

On November 10th, in London, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain gave a speech in which he verbalized what President Bush dare not say in public. His theme, centered on the ongoing chaos in Iraq and the U.S.'s inability to "stabilize" a country whose inhabitants are at each other's throats in a struggle for religious and political supremacy, was "constructive engagement."

It could only mean that while Bush has sworn never to deal directly with Hamas or any other terrorist group, he has effectively signaled to willingness to negotiate with them through third parties.

"A major part of the answer to Iraq lies not in Iraq itself but outside it, in the whole of the region where the same forces are at work and where the roots of this global terrorism are to be found." (The Daily Telegraph, November 14).
The essential point of his speech was that the U.S. should work to form a diplomatic coalition of the "moderate" Arab states to bring about the desired goal. The chief members of that coalition would be Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. Never mind that there are no "moderate" Arab states on the question of Israel, and that the Daily Telegraph headline of the story which contained Blair's speech was "Iran Plotting to groom bin Laden's successor."

The thorny problem facing Bush, Blair, and others is: How to bring the antagonists together (Saudi Arabia and Iran are, on Islamic religious terms, mortal enemies) to achieve a lasting solution? That is, how to give the Arabs and Iranians everything they want except the eradication of Israel, and also secure Israel's shrinking borders?

The simplest solution to bringing peace to the Mideast would be to blast into oblivion the "roots where global terrorism are to be found" - that is, Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. But to Bush, Blair and others, that is an unacceptable solution. It might, after all, enrage world opinion, especially Muslim opinion. So the solution they will settle on is to cobble together the antagonists in an alliance to work out a compromise.

In the Heraclitean, "realist" universe of professional pragmatists, there are no absolutes. Nor, apparently, should there be. And since they reject the necessity of absolutes - for example, of acknowledging that Hamas and Hezbollah are gangs of killers that should never be brought into any civilized discourse - all they can do is brood and agonize, interminably ponder the crisis, and fret over and over again: "What to do?" and settle for an indefinable "middle course" that itself is an elusive non-absolute solution.

The conflict is insoluble because the U.S. lacks the courage to acknowledge the existence of evil. Evil, presumably, can be cajoled into becoming a "good" through "constructive engagement."

An article by Steven Erlanger of The New York Times in the International Herald Tribune (November 14), underscores Israel's fretful dilemma and U.S.'s fretful vacillation.

"Many Israelis feel that the free world under the leadership of the U.S. is facing a similar situation to Europe in the 1930s, when they watched the rearming of the Nazi Reich," Yuval Steinitz, a member of the Israeli Parliament's foreign and defense committee, is quoted in Erlanger's article. "No one could predict the global catastrophe ten years later, and Iran may be the same."
Erlanger writes:

"Bush says his stance over Iran is unchanged: He will never accept a nuclear-armed Iranian state. Yet Israelis have been increasingly anxious about the Bush approach to Iran, seeing recently a tendency to delay confrontation through further negotiations. They worry that because of Iran's ability to further inflame Iraq, Bush is hesitant to take any steps that could lead to confrontation. And Israelis are worried about what concessions an administration seeking to build an anti-Iran alliance in the Arab world might ask of them on the Palestinian question in order to bolster that alliance."
The midterm elections were watched closely and anxiously by Israel and its Islamic enemies. Islamists abroad and in the U.S. hailed the Democratic sweep of Congress as a victory, especially since a Democrat and Muslim, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, was elected to the House, and also because the Republicans even boast of an "anti-Israel" representative, Darrell Issa of California, who is booster for Hezbollah.

Erlanger writes:

"No Israeli knows if the next American president will be as tough on Iran or as loyal to Israel as Bush. If Bush does not act, Israelis say, by the time the next president takes office in January 2009, Iran will be well on its way to a bomb, and Washington may not back Israeli responses."
It is news to me that Bush has been "tough" on Iran. "Tough" on Iran, in rational, practical terms, means destroying Iran's nuclear fuel-producing facilities and removing its theocratic government, and letting the Iranians sort out the mess, just as the U.S. should have removed Saddam and left the Iraqis to butcher each other. Bush's notion of "tough" is to lapse into a state of denial, coached by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other champions of compromise.

Erlanger cites Yossi Alpher, a former Israel-Palestinian negotiator, who said that if Bush succeeds in beginning talks with Iran, "we need to ensure that the U.S. doesn't sell us down the river.... [I]f the world solves it diplomatically, will it be at our expense?"

He can bet on it. History has taught us that postponing moral crises will only result in the crises blowing up in our faces. In the gnawing, fretful world of unprincipled diplomacy, nothing is surer than failure, betrayal, and catastrophe.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Intellectual Activist’s lost guide

Robert W. Tracinski, editor of The Intellectual Activist, has taken a public stand that makes clear the gulf between his thinking and the philosophy of Objectivism that he had previously claimed to espouse. He recently states in Part 3 of his position, "What Went Right?" that "every thinking man who does honest work in his own field is our ally and is helping to move civilization forward. The work of such men is not mere cultural 'momentum' from a previous era, but an active addition to human knowledge and achievement. And whatever their philosophical errors, in their professional work these men are creating valid and important ideas that do change the course of events."

Counterpoint: Such men are today working in a philosophical vacuum. Unless a philosophy of reason salvages our culture and civilization, civilization cannot move forward and the work of such men will be for nought. Their work will constitute the rubble of a civilization that committed suicide because it rejected a fully consistent philosophy of reason.

"But philosophy does not and cannot dictate the content of a specialized field."

Counterpoint: Yes, philosophy can and will dictate the content of any specialized field. Until men subscribed to reason - reason anchored to reality - they floundered for centuries trying to explain reality and the universe. Much of what constituted knowledge in antiquity was lost in the Dark Ages. It had to be rediscovered - by a philosophy of reason. This philosophy of reason was an incomplete system. Nevertheless, that incomplete philosophy of reason allowed men to abandon attempts to turn lead into gold and discover physics and chemistry. A philosophy of reason allowed them to discover the true properties of lead and gold.

To illustrate his claim that philosophy cannot sire all the "details" of specialized fields, Tracinski quotes Dr. Peikoff from p. 453 in the Epilogue of Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand:

"Philosophy is not the only cause of the course of the centuries. It is the ultimate cause, the cause of all the other causes. The books of philosophers are the beginning. Step by step, the books turn into motives, passions, statues, politicians, and headlines."
This is an incomplete, and dishonest quotation. The full quotation should have been:

"Objectivism does not deny that 'many factors' are involved in historical causation. Economic, psychological, military, and other forces play a role. Ayn Rand does not, however, regard all these forces as primaries.

"There is no dichotomy between philosophy and the specialized factors. Philosophy is not the only cause of the course of the centuries. It is the ultimate cause, the cause of all the other causes. If there is to be an explanation of so vast a sum as human history, which involves all men in all fields, only the science dealing with the widest abstractions can provide it. The reason is that only the widest abstractions can integrate all those fields.

"The books of philosophers are the beginning. Step by step, the books turn into motives, passions, statues, politicians, and headlines.

"Philosophy determines essentials, not details...." (Dutton edition)
And without a determination of the essentials, details will be contextless, unintegrated, and random, as they were in the Dark Ages, and as they are to any modern child or adult until he grasps the role of reason. It was the discovery of essentials by men that allowed them to abandon alchemy and found the sciences of chemistry and physics. And the integrator of essentials is philosophy. The full quotation of Dr. Peikoff's excerpt blows Tracinski's assertions to pieces. Tracinski omitted those parts of the quotation that did not fit his thesis.

Tracinski follows his dishonest quotation of Peikoff with this assertion:

"This is a kind of trickle-down theory of intellectual influence, in which the philosopher is the originator and only source of the ideas that drive the course of history, while the public intellectuals and the men in the specialized sciences are mere transmitters and translators of those ideas."
How would one then explain the "trickle-down" intellectual influence of Kant and his successors in philosophy? Tracinski dwells on "fact-driven" knowledge in the sciences and in the headlines, but discards the ultimate philosophical causes of those facts. If men defy reality and pursue the irrational, regardless of the consequences in reality - such as the Democrats wishing to impose socialism on America or Bush refusing to acknowledge this country's foreign enemies - what will govern and explain the "new" facts of the impoverishment of Americans and Iran's Ahmadinejad developing nuclear bombs? What will explain suicide bombers, or the Amish forgiving the killer of schoolgirls? What would explain advances in stem cell research, or its prohibition by government?

Tracinski is on his way to rejecting Objectivism. The very first sentence of OPAR, in Chapter 1: Reality, reads: "Philosophy is not a bauble of the intellect, but a power from which no man can abstain." Tracinski is following a path of logic that will lead him to more or less state: "Yes, philosophy is a bauble of the intellect. It has its uses, but the true referent is reality and men can abstain from taking it too seriously."

Hailing the investigations and reporting of Internet bloggers versus the standard fare of the news media, Tracinski writes:

"Theirs is a career path with one healthy epistemological consequence: the work of these intellectuals is relentlessly fact-driven. Every day brings new events whose causes and consequences they have to explain."
Explain how? Are they the heirs of Aristotle, or of Kant? While it is not necessary for a journalist to be able to trace the ultimate origin of a fact, the fact remains that philosophy is the origin of facts. If the fact-driven epistemology of a 21st century American is healthier than that of a feudal serf (or of most modern journalists), what can explain the difference?

In trying to explain how philosophy is a kind of "adjunct" to reality, Tracinski writes:

"It is worth noting that the first great pro-reason philosopher, Aristotle, was also his era's greatest biologist and an inheritor of several centuries of progress in Greek science. Or, in a modern context, consider where the defenders of reason would be without Newton and Darwin, men who provided natural, scientific explanations for the nature of the universe and the origin of man, two questions that had traditionally been the exclusive domain of religion."
Counterpoint: Aristotle was a pioneer in his fields and applied reason to them (not always consistently, since, as Rand and Peikoff noted, there were still elements of intrinsicism in his thinking). And, it was the advocates of an incomplete philosophy of reason that allowed Newton and Darwin to accomplish what they did, advocates who lived and wrote before Newton's and Darwin's times.

As for the alleged dependence of the defenders of reason on the discoveries of "fact-driven" scientists such as Newton and Darwin, the philosophy of reason did not have a fully consistent defender until Ayn Rand, from the Renaissance to the 20th century. What validated Newton's and Darwin's discoveries? A philosophy of reason.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Another post-election thought

No, it's not the big one, but . . .

Harold Meyerson is not a writer that I consider to be a particularly thoughtful. The Washington Post columnist mostly carries water for the Democrats in the tired manner of a typical ward heeler (for example, he writes in defense of things such as increasing the minimum wage, which is hardly the mark of someone who understands basic economics, let alone the morality of the free market). So while there is little to agree with in his most recent column, there is this following point:

Republicans generally and conservatives particularly have profited mightily from the rise and politicization of fundamentalism over the past few decades. The decimation of Republican moderates from the Northeast and Midwest in last week's elections came at the hands of centrist and independent voters who'd had it with the Southernized religious conservatism of the Republicans' base -- and with its moderate Republican enablers.
And that's a good thing, unless of course you are Jack Wakeland or Robert Tracinski, and then it's simply time to start cleaning your rifle.

'God-fearing' Literature

Islamists wish to besiege and destroy Western civilization, physically for certain, but also by taking a leaf from Vladimir Lenin and obliging the West to use the rope of multiculturalism to hang itself. That is proving to be a very effective strategy against a culture that proclaims pride and self-assertion as "imperialistic" sins. And when such a culture settles for paying Dane geld or tribute to the barbarian hordes outside its gates, all it can expect in the end is conquest and destruction.

Non-Islamic university professors of literature, as well, bear an animus for Western civilization. Under the postmodernist tie-dyed banner of deconstruction, feminist criticism, and other non-objective literary theories, they are responsible for having virtually banished the "canon" of Western literary classics from the curricula in middle and secondary schools, in community colleges up to the Ivy League schools. And where the classics haven't been banished, they are subjected to relativistic vivisection. Instead of instilling in students an appreciation of great literature, courses now mostly disparage "great" literature and uphold mediocrity.

Conservative literary "theory," however, has a unique "counter-revolutionary" color to it. I received via email an ad for a book being promoted by the Human Events Book Service, The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature, by Elizabeth Kantor. "What politically correct English professors don't want you to know," reads a boxed promo next to a picture of the book's cover. At first glance, the lead copy about the book looks benign and inviting.

"The study of literature is essential to preserving Western Culture and transmitting it to future generations. Yet today's English departments have come under the control of people who teach anything but the English and American literary classics. Even when the subject is Shakespeare or Faulkner, the professor's own politics - Marxism, feminism, or some other radical agenda - will be the real content of the course. Meanwhile, today's politically correct professors are busy replacing the 'dead white males' of the traditional literary canon with the authors of the 1980s bestsellers that hit all the politically correct themes."
The charges are indisputable. Kantor's book is a purported overview of the classics, what they are about and not about. A bulleted list of its value to readers, among other things, asserts that it "empowers you to see through every variety of politically correct 'literary theory,' such as 'deconstruction,'" and also "explains the real purpose of studying English and American literature."

Going by bulleted highlights of the contents, however, beginning with Beowulf and ending with Flannery O'Connor, the purpose of studying that literature is to discover or reaffirm its alleged Christian roots.

Of Christopher Marlowe: "Being 'transgressive' will take you only so far - in art, and in life." Marlowe, playwright and a contemporary of Shakespeare, was an atheist and something of a hellion who died in a tavern fight.

Of John Milton: "Our intellectual freedoms are Christian, not anti-Christian, in origin." Milton was a Christian, but I doubt he would agree with that assertion.

Of the Romantic poets: "Intelligent radicals become conservatives when they grow up - if they grow up." There are a number of conservatives at large today in the intellectual and political world who were intelligent left-wing radicals, David Horowitz and Christopher Hitchens being two of the better-known "grown-ups."

Of the avant-garde and modernist literature: "Christianity trumps the edgy art world." This is a baffling assertion. Picasso paints a recognizable Virgin Mary? John Cage composes a melodic Mass? Ezra Pound writes a mystery play?

Of Evelyn Waugh: "Without religion, human beings are disgustingly selfish and shallow - and in abandoning Christianity, our culture will shrivel and die." I counter by pointing out that America is nominally Christian, and its culture is still shriveling and dying. So, there must be another explanation for its condition. Also, being selfish is not synonymous with being shallow, and selflessness can only lead to shallowness - and death.

Of T.S. Eliot: "Tradition is necessary to culture." But not thinking men? Leave it to a conservative to shill for tradition.

Of Hawthorne, Melville, Poe, and Twain: "Evil isn't 'back there' or 'out there'; it's in the human heart." To which I would reply: Speak for yourself. What is evil is the concept of original sin.

Of William Faulkner and Southern literature in general: "Civilization is valuable. A fatally flawed culture beats no culture at all." Such as the stifling religious culture that dominated the Dark Ages? It was such a flawed culture that the men of the Renaissance and Enlightenment escaped from or rose above.

Of Flannery O'Connor: "Even modern American liberals aren't immune to original sin." O'Connor, a devout Southern Catholic, wrote "Gothic" novels with pungently surreal religious themes as horrifying as "Nightmare on Elm Street."

I do not plan to read this book, but I am betting that Ayn Rand's "classics" are not discussed in it. A conservative, religious take on literature is as invalid, bizarre, and irrational as that of any deconstructionist's or postmodernist's.