Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Christian's, Guilt and Killing

Neil Uchitel at Digital, Finger & Co posts a review of Dave Grossman's 1995 book On Killing. The review is featured on Simon's Showcase, the successor to the now defunct one hosted by N Z Bear. While I lack the expertise to rebut either the book or the review, my sense is that it is only telling a fraction of the story. However, the penultimate paragraph caught my attention as being worthy of an answer and within my sphere of expertise:

From a broader philosophical point of view, however, On Killing is not only a necessary work illuminating the inevitable guilt associated with the act of killing, but more abstractly (and I believe, more importantly), the inevitable guilt associated with hate itself. We all have heard the scripture "Whosoever hates his brother is a murderer..." (I Jn. 3:15). What Grossman does is provide a very clear neuropsychological reason why this is true. It causes one to think that perhaps Christians don't understand true guilt very well. They generally see it as the bad feeling they got from breaking some arbitrary rule, like "no smoking" or "55 MPH Maximum Speed", or perhaps "Thou shalt not covet..." But Grossman's thesis implies that no, the kind of guilt he is talking about is much deeper, much more primal. Killing one's fellow human being is a moral violation of enormously existential proportions, one that even the military with all of its contextualizing structures has only limited success in assuaging. It causes one to think that perhaps the "guilt of sin" that the Gospel aims to remove is not merely that of breaking some arbitrary moral rule(s), but rather of guilt caused by exercising ourselves in matters too high for us -- matters of life and death. That is, not only does God not want us to hate people because its "wrong", but perhaps it is wrong because by "killing" others in our minds, we stain ourselves with "blood-guilt", causing us both spiritual and psychological damage of which we are not even aware. If this is true, it definitely casts a new light on the meaning of the word "redemption".

There are a few things that bear commenting on here:

First, since this is in a military context, the conflation of killing with hatred seems particularly inappropriate. The main thesis of the book he is reviewing is that soldiers are generally unwilling to kill their enemies and must be specifically trained to do so. Furthermore, not only is killing in warfare permissible in the New Testament (Matt 8:9; Luke 3:14), there are times when it is positively commanded (Luke 22:36-38; Rom 13:4). This is in addition to all of the obvious passages in the Old Testament, which some Christians find controversial. So hatred is clearly not a factor either practically or theoretically in most military killing. Since Neil professes to be a Christian, and is obviously a thoughtful one, I find it extremely problematic that he makes this fundamental, but all too common error.

But even apart from the military aspects, the notion that there is "inevitable guilt associated with the act of killing" cannot be justified from a Christian perspective. The commandment is against murder, or unjust killing, not killing as such. Capital punishment is instituted in Gen 9:6, and, as the passage from Romans cited above indicates, this authorization continues into the New Testament era. While we are cautioned against taking vengeance in both Testaments, it is simply not the case that killing in a just cause is universally condemned.

This brings us to the "neuropsychological" explanation. As I admitted above, I lack specific expertise in this area, but it seems to me that claiming such an explanation is "deeper" or more "primal" an account of sin than the more traditional deontological approach lacks support. It would be just as valid to argue that the psychological effects were providentially provided to support the moral principles.

Finally, what I consider the most troubling quote in the piece, is the suggestion that "Christians don’t understand true guilt very well. They generally see it as the bad feeling they got from breaking some arbitrary rule, like 'no smoking' or '55 MPH Maximum Speed', or perhaps 'Thou shalt not covet...'." The first two are, of course, arbitrary to the extent that they deal with prudential rather than moral concerns. But even prudential concerns are not quite arbitrary in the absolute sense. They are negotiable, but usually based on some measure of accumulated wisdom, which should not be dismissed out of hand.

But more telling is the inclusion of the final example, which is a direct command of God. Is this a mere arbitrary rule like the other two? Or is there a fundamental truth that about human nature and its relation to God's will that we are supposed to derive from the 10th Commandment. Its inclusion in the same list as "Thou shalt do no murder" implies the latter. If Christians in general have indeed come to a pass where they regard this as mere "arbitrary moral rule(s)" then it is small wonder that our voice has been muted in the culture at large. But the problem will not be solved merely by appeal to emotional or biological explanations. Ignorance of God's will and the character of sin can best be remedied by immersion in the tradition of Christian thinking, beginning with the Bible but extending through two thousand years of accumulated wisdom.

I commend Mr. Uchitel for his attempt to bring Christian precepts to bear on worldly problems. But I think he has got things somewhat backward if he expects to derive moral principles from observations of human behavior, however insightful they may be in themselves.

Chomsky Again

Pastorius takes me to task over my dismissive tone regarding Noam Chomsky:

Influential voice? Yes, I should say so. He's at the top of the Canon of our age. In the Bloomian sense, we can't help but wrestle with. From Keith Windshchutte's New Criterion article:

... the liberal news media around the world has sought him out for countless interviews as the most prominent intellectual opposed to the American response to the terrorist attacks. Newspaper articles routinely open by reminding readers of his awesome intellectual status. A profile headlined “Conscience of a Nation” in the English daily The Guardian declared: “Chomsky ranks with Marx, Shakespeare, and the Bible as one of the ten most quoted sources in the humanities—and is the only writer among them still alive.” The New York Times has called him “arguably the most important intellectual alive.”

Chomsky has used his status, originally gained in the field of linguistics, to turn himself into the leading voice of the American left. He is not merely a spokesman. His own stance has done much to structure left-wing politics over the past forty years. Today, when actors, rock stars, and protesting students mouth anti-American slogans for the cameras, they are very often expressing sentiments they have gleaned from Chomsky’s voluminous output.

It is unfortunate, but true, that our society hates itself so much that a man like Chomsky is one of the defining voices of our time. We may disagree with the guy, but if he's right up there with the Bible and Shakespeare as a quoted source, then we must be aware of him. We must lance the boil and take a culture of the pus.

Just as it's a good idea to familiarize oneself with the various syllogism's of logic so that one may analyze arguments, we must also understand the rules of illogic posited by Chomsky, so that we may recognize the source material of the West's collective suicide note. Noam Chomsky is the totem of left. He is the monolith around which the apes gather and bash their clubs.

We must understand him. Well, maybe not understand him. But, we must recognize him. There's a power in naming the demon. Thank God for Anti-Chomsky.

I don't exactly deny any of this, but I will say two things in my own defense:

  1. One of the beautiful things about our free, capitalist society (which Chomsky hates) is the division of labor in which we each have liberty to chose our pursuits and pastimes. I acknowledged in my original post that Benjamin Beersheva is "worth reading" and that he performs a "useful, perhaps necessary service". But there are other battles to be fought and, however influential Chomsky may be among the left (and only leftist sources are quoted above), his are not the only bad ideas that cry for rebuttal. And, given his own and his followers' near complete immunity to reason, I am not sure how well-spent the time and energy would be. This is not to be taken as discouraging anyone else from making the effort, of course, especially if they have the interest that I lack.

  2. I take mild exception to the "must" in Pastorius' sentence: "Just as it's a good idea to familiarize oneself with the various syllogism's of logic so that one may analyze arguments, we must also understand the rules of illogic posited by Chomsky..." There are two ways of defeating bad philosophies. One is to attack them directly and refute them point by point. The other is to promote better and more attractive ideas of your own. We can call these the Military and Marketing metaphors, respectively (if you will pardon the alliteration). I make no secret that I incline to the Marketing approach, but both approaches have their virtues and each may be necessary in any given situation. There are certainly times when a knock-down, drag-out fight is called for, in intellectual arenas as well as physical ones. But one advantage of the Marketing metaphor is that it steals the initiative from the opponent and makes him react to you or risk becoming irrelevant. Though he has not been definitively defeated yet, I think Chomsky and all his ilk are on the verge precisely such an irrelevance in the face of the enormous success of the American vision.

I want to reiterate that none of these comments should be taken as criticism of either Mr. Beersheva or of Pastorius. And in partial penance for my earlier flippancy, I hereby add the former's site to my blogroll.

UPDATE: I do want to make one more comment, in a non-controversial sort of way. I think the ultimate problem with Chomsky is not his irrationality, but his hatred of God which leads to a hatred of truth, liberty and all manner of other aspects of God's kingdom. The cure for such a hatred -- for Mr. Chomsky himself, if he will have it, but certainly for anyone else who may be influenced by him -- is the spread of the Gospel. This can be achieved through Apologetics or through Evangelism, thus reinvoking my Military and Marketing metaphors in somewhat less secular terminology. But again, there is no conflict between the two approaches: they are complementary.

Er, did I say non-controversial...?

Book Six Title Revealed

J. K. Rowling has revealed the title of the 6th Harry Potter book: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. I only finished the 4th book last week.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Archdruid of Canterbury: Ahead of the Curve

...the curve in this case measuring the increasing irrelevance of the Church of England.

In a letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair coinciding with the originally planned date for the transfer of Iraqi sovereignty, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, on behalf of the 114 bishops of the C of E, have issued ... wait for it ... their criticism of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse! According to the BBC:

The Times said the letter was sent after a meeting of all the Anglican archbishops and bishops in Liverpool.

The letter reads: "It is clear that the apparent breach of international law in relation to the treatment of Iraqi detainees has been deeply damaging.

"The appearance of double standards inevitably diminishes the credibility of western governments with the people of Iraq and of the Islamic world more generally.

"The credibility of coalition partners in advocating respect for the law and the peaceful resolution of disputes will, we fear, be undermined unless the necessary moral authority is clearly demonstrated at every level."

The archbishops also urged for progress in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

Not bad, really. It only took them two months and they got nearly half the story right. It is certainly true that this fiasco has been deeply damaging to Western credibility and integrity, but there is also the little fact, conveniently unmentioned, that those responsible have been punished. And inquiries are still being made to determine exactly what responsibility the Bush administration's policies had for the abuse. As I noted when this first hit the fan:
It appears that the US is treating this appropriately by putting a stop to the abuse and investigating those responsible. These people, if guilty, must be publicly seen to be punished. The evidence that we are not on the same level of Saddam and his torture state must be clearly shown. Of course, the damage has been done and much of the Arab world will still see this as evidence of American corruption, no matter what we do to rectify the situation. But that does not release us from the responsibility of making the case.

Is it too much to ask that the titular head of the Anglican communion have a similarly balanced response?

And the timing is awful. Of course, I realize that speaking prophetically cannot always mean getting the facts before they occur. Short of Divine revelation, this isn't usually even possible. But couldn't we have gotten this message a little closer to the time when everyone was still talking about it? Or, having waited this long, couldn't it have waited just a bit longer so as not to piss on the sovereignty parade? Just a thought.

UPDATE: ITV posts the same story with an additional snippet from the letter:
"More fundamentally still, there is a wider risk to our own integrity if we no longer experience a sense of moral shock at the enormity of what appears to have been inflicted on those who were in the custody of western security forces."

This would be a good point if it weren't for the fact that everyone on the f-ing planet has expressed "moral shock", including Mr. Blair. And ITV's comment that this letter
"followed the publication of shocking photographs showing mistreatment of detainees at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison."
"Followed" is a good word...

UPDATE: Melanie Phillips has more criticism of the letter, specifically focused on the Anti-Semitic/Anti-Israel aspects. I picked up on this in the "progress in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute" meme quoted in the BBC article, but couldn't find a link to the whole letter so I couldn't comment. The link Ms. Phillips provides is only available to subscribers of the London Times, which I have no intention of becoming. Read her whole post, it is too long to quote here, but here is the conclusion:
The Archbishops are effectively saying that the perpetrators of this war against Israel should be given an equal right to lay down terms for a settlement. What astonishing moral bankruptcy from religious leaders. The Church of England is now squarely supporting the enemies of the west. It is high time other Christians rose up to denounce it and reclaim their religion for truth and moral decency.


The Credibility of Iranian News

MEMRI isn't usually in the humor business but this recent survey of official Iranian news reports borders on the farcical:

Iranian Woman Gives Birth to Frog
"An Iranian woman gave birth to a frog in a bizarre labor in the southeastern city of Iranshahr Saturday. Gynecologist Varasteh, who confirmed the report said the woman, whose period had stopped for six months, underwent a sonography in May which showed she had a cyst in her abdomen, wrote the Farsi-language daily E'temad in its Sunday's edition. Following severe bleeding, the woman, who has not been named, gave birth to a live gray frog accompanied with mud. Varasteh believes the frog larva has most likely entered and grown in the woman's body.

"Other physicians argue that the larva has found its way into her body while she was swimming in a dirty pool, turning to a frog after the fetus has grown. And some specialists blame genetic disorders, saying the so-called frog has similarities with the human's fetus. The woman has two healthy children."

U.S. Beheaded Them Hostages in the Middle East [ the whole thing]
"A few days after the publication [of the news] of the murder of the American trader, a U.S. security official, Joseph Robinson, presented a shocking and documented report showing that Nicholas Berg was slaughtered by American military hangmen and that the place where the video clip was filmed was Abu-Ghureib prison.( [MEMRI found no mention of "Joseph Robinson" in this connection] ) In a section of Robinson's report published in the Kayhan newspaper on May 23, 2004, it is seen that Nicholas is wearing exactly the same orange garment worn by the Abu Ghureib detainees. The yellow wall shown in Nicholas's video clip is the same yellow wall of the Abu Ghureib prison, clearly seen in the published pictures about the tortures at Abu-Ghureib. The tiles shown in the pictures of the tortures of the Abu Ghureib detainees are the same tiles shown in the pictures of the slaughter of Nicholas Berg. The white chair on which Berg sat and which is shown in the video clip is of the same kind as the chairs shown in the pictures of the tortures from Abu Ghureib prison. The armed masked men standing behind the American merchant are husky and white, and wearing bulletproof vests designed for American soldiers.

"Further on in his report, Robinson refers to Nicholas Berg's previous arrest by American soldiers and an interview with his parents. He stresses that these corroborations were sufficient for us to know that Nicholas Berg was slaughtered at Abu Ghureib prison by the Americans. And that those who killed him constructed the arena for the incident so we would think that terrorists slaughtered Nicholas Berg."

Jews Were Involved in September 11th [Of course!]
"Ever since the establishment of the Zionist regime, the American strategy has been under the Zionist lobby's influence. Zionism, as expressed in the Jewish Protocols, nurtures in its mind the dream of taking over the world. With Bush's rise to power, it controls the White House with greater force.

"A short while before the blasts of September 11, Mercury, a local Pennsylvanian newspaper, reported that two Jews were arrested while filming the Twin Towers. At that time, Ha'aretz reported the arrest of five Israelis who had photographed the World Trade Center, a few hours before the blasts. Also, an editor in chief of an American newspaper who brought up Israel's involvement in the Twin Towers' affair was fired. Some hours after the Twin Towers were blasted, the FBI had arrested five Israelis who had planned to blow up the New York Bridge in the Manhattan and New Jersey area. Also, the absence of 4,000 Jews [working] in the Twin Towers strengthened the claim that they took a vacation on that day.

"A while afterwards, a source in American military intelligence raised details pertaining to an intelligence memo regarding Israel's espionage organization, the Mossad, and its role in the events of September 11. In fact, the claim that Israel was involved in the blasts of September 11 and used it as a basis of America's new strategy for fighting the world of Islam, disappeared in the media coverage, but world public opinion still believes this possibility."

The sad part is that the Frog story probably has the greatest credibility of the lot.

How Do You Spell Relief?

L-I-B-Y-A? Who'd a thunk it?

Facing resistance by Sudan's government, the Bush administration has turned to Libya to help mount a $100 million relief operation for the starving and harassed people of Darfur in western Sudan, a White House official said yesterday.

President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said "there is probably more to come" than the initial $100 million dedicated to the region where the US Agency for International Development estimates 350,000 might starve by next spring.


Until recently, such a program would have been impossible. Libya was under sanctions by the United Nations and the United States, and Moammar Khadafy's government and the US administration had no relations.

Libya decided last December to dispose of its deadliest weapons, and the two countries are in the process of establishing normal diplomatic relations.

Yet more fallout from the "illegitimate" war on terror, no doubt, even though the Boston Globe declines to mention this possibility. But then, I guess we're lucky they are reporting on this issue at all.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Upholding Standards on the Right

Captain Ed gives some appropriate criticism to the VP for telling Senator Patrick Leahy to F-himself:

Forget, for the moment, the breathless reporting from the Washington Post. Forget the fact that just about everyone I know says this word from time to time. We are talking about one of our nation's leaders speaking to a representative from Vermont on the floor of what has been called the shrine of democracy. It's absurd, it's unimaginative, and it's completely inappropriate -- even more so than when John Kerry slipped the ol' effenheimer into a Rolling Stone interview to look hip. I didn't like it then, and I sure as hell don't like it now.

Mr. Cheney, you are the Vice President. We expect you to act with proper decorum during official business in our capitol. You owe Senator Leahy an apology.

One of the things I admire about my fellow right-wing fanatics is that we usually hold our own politicians to the same standard we demand from our opponents. Frequently, the standard is actually higher since we expect so much less from the left. I second Captain Ed's call for an apology.

UPDATE: Unfortunately the comments on Captain Ed's post seem to be leaning toward "No Apology Needed". Oh, well. I did say "usually".

UPDATE: On the positive side, Michelle Malkin has weighed in on the proper side. Not only does she reiterate both of Captain Ed's points (unbecoming and uncreative), she gives examples of how to do it proper:
You're a mouse studying to be a rat.
- Wilson Mizner
I regard you with an indifference bordering on aversion.
- Robert Louis Stevenson
If only you'd wash your neck, I'd wring it.
- John Sparrow
The best part of you ran down your mother's legs.
- Jackie Gleason

She even has a semi-contest where you can post your own examples in the comments section. Of course Churchill and Twain figure rather prominently. My own entry:
"Scorn and defiance. Slight regard, contempt,
And anything that may not misbecome
The mighty sender, doth he prize you at." -- Henry V

Digital Brown Shirts

Am I the only one who finds it amusing that Al "Earth Tone" Gore, the inventor of the internet, is complaining about digital Brown Shirts?

UPDATE: Ask and ye shall receive: Ann Althouse also noticed the connection. (Via: You Know Who)


I have been woefully lax in keeping up with the situation in Sudan. Fortunately, Jane at Armies of Liberation is keeping the pressure on. As she rightly points out, there has been no real change in the situation there, despite a bit more acknowledgement from the chattering classes.

One positive development is that Colin Powell will be visiting the Darfur region next week. According to the NY Times:

Mr. Powell has been an outspoken critic of the Sudanese government, which he has accused of ethnic cleansing for having supported attacks against black Africans in the region, creating one of the world's worst calamities.

The Bush administration is currently studying whether the onslaught should be branded a "genocide," which under existing conventions would require aggressive action by the United States and other nations, and American diplomats are seeking further action from the United Nations.

Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, will be in Sudan at the time of Mr. Powell's two-day visit, which will include a tour of the ravaged Darfur region and meetings in the capital.

"The secretary's visit to Sudan is intended to continue to call attention to the dire humanitarian situation in Darfur, to do whatever we can to stop the violence there and to make sure that the needy people of that region are receiving whatever supplies we can get to them,'' said Richard A. Boucher, the State Department spokesman.

The bad news (as noted above) is that Kofi Annan is going as well...

If we were going alone, there might be a chance (although admittedly a slim one) for unilateral US action. As long as we are still trying to work with the UN, expect a lot more talk before anything substantive gets done.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Bushels and Gates

Rob Vischer and Michael Scaperlanda are engaged in a fascinating discussion of the role of Christians in the culture vis a vis the increasingly hostile environment created by the totalitarian left. I lean more toward Scaperlanda's position (but read both posts before you decide):

Where I disagree with Rob is in the response to the growing totalitarian trend among certain defenders of liberalism. Rob says that this "underscores my previously expressed view that religious voices may need to focus more on carving out spheres of community and individual autonomy for themselves, rather than seeking to impose their vision of the common good on a society-wide basis.

I am extremely uncomfortable with this proposed remedy for two reasons. First (and pragmatically), if this brand of intolerant liberalism takes hold and dominates, it will not (indeed, cannot) allow those of us who claim that a particular religion is objectively true the space to raise our children in our religious faith.
Second (and more importantly), our Catholic faith calls us to engage the world, not bargain for separation from it. It is not that we seek to "impose" our vision of the common good on the rest of society. Rather, our task, as I see it, is to "propose" our understanding of the nature of the human person and our vision of the common good. Since we believe that good Catholic anthropology corresponds to the deepest needs of the human person for truth, beauty, and justice (Giussani), our vision ought to attract some fellow travelers and we can begin to build a Culture of Life, much of which will reside in the civilization at large and some of which will come to be reflected in our laws.

I have made both arguments elsewhere, but I wanted to note that the tentativeness with which he makes the second point is not fully warranted. To be sure, in a deliberative culture, such as should exist in all healthy democracies, the Christian is constrained to propose rather than impose his views. But that is a constraint on human use of force, not on divine authority. One of the aspects of the Christian faith that Scaperlanda no doubt acknowledges, but does not mention, is that Christ promises that the church will prevail against the gates of hell. This will be the case, provided that the church does not hide its light under a bushel; in other words: refrains from following the course suggested by Vischer's [first] post. [He has since clarified that this was not his intent.] Gates, it will be noted, are passive architectural constructs not offensive weapons. They can be used to exclude Christian activity from the public square or contain it within a private ghetto, but Jesus' metaphor does not allow interpret them as tools of our oppression. Rather, if we are to prevail against them, we must be seen as taking the active role.

So, the scope for Christian involvement in society is more complex than either the term "impose", suggesting an imperial model, or "propose", suggesting a market approach, implies. By our prayers, we can have confidence that the Holy Spirit is at work undermining the vain works of the World, the Flesh and the Devil. Our job is to speak prophetically when we lack power and to establish justice in the land when we have it, but in both cases we must understand that we are still sinners under the authority of God and subject to his laws and limitations.

Deciding which issues merit the use of force, as demanded by justice, and which can be relegated to the use of persuasion is a difficult task, but there is plenty of guidance in scripture. I would argue, for instance, that the Social Right is correct in seeking to forcibly prevent abortion because innocent human lives are at stake. But persuasion is indicated in the case of homosexual sins, because scripture seems to have repealed the original death penalty for victimless, sexual offenses in favor of excommunication (1 Cor 5:1-11). This is a topic that requires further argument than I am prepared to make at the present, but I think the distinction is clearly defensible. [Vischer seems to agree with this analysis, although he makes his case on more of a Natural Law model than I would be comfortable with.]

UPDATE: Ron Vischer responded between the time I began writing this post and the time I went to look up the links for reference. I have acknowledged his clarifications in brackets above.

Let Me Tell You How It Will Be...

Captain Ed notes a disturbing development in Florida tax law:

Florida state officials are considering taxing home networks that have more than one computer, under a modified 1985 state law that was intended to tax the few businesses that used internal communication networks instead of the local telephone company.
In 1985 the state passed a law to tax businesses using their own communications networks, because otherwise the state could not collect tax revenue on the businesses' local telephone service.

...there's one for you, nineteen for me...
In some cases, it appears the tax would be collected by the providers of communications services such as wireless companies or voice-over-IP firms. The tax would be added to the user's bill and then turned over to the Department of Revenue.

But some substitute communications services don't require a service plan. For those, the state could take the tax from the amount deducted on business, and perhaps personal, tax filings.

...don't ask me what I want it for...
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush would have to approve any rule the tax department suggests. Bush has said he isn't in favor of the tax, but many fear he may be swayed by city and county government officials. The tax would go, in part, toward school construction and other projects.

...if you don't want to pay some more...
If the law is implemented, Florida would have the most wide-reaching state tax on technology. But it may not be the last -- state officials estimate enforcement of the tax could bring in more than $1 billion a year in revenue for the state.

...and you're working for no one but me.

Saudis Offer Limited Amnesty to Terrorists

I can't quite figure out if this is a good thing.

Saudi Arabia promised Wednesday that terrorists in the kingdom will be safe if they surrender within a month -- but after that they will face forceful consequences.

"We are announcing for the last time that we are opening the door to repentance and for those to return to righteousness," said Crown Prince Abdullah in a televised address.

The idea seems to be aimed at getting low-level operatives to turn themselves in without a fight and, presumably, to provide information on the higher-ups. If those goals succeed, it seems worth it to me. But several people (mostly on the radio, but curiously not many in the blogosphere at this point) have noted that this transgresses the Bush doctrine that nations who "harbor" terrorists are themselves inimical to the interests of the United States. The terms of the Saudi amnesty are not clear enough, at least to my reading, to decide whether it constitutes harboring. But given the poor track record of the Saudi government, the grounds for optimism look very dim.

One final point: the religious language in Abdullah's statement is evidently designed to resonate with the fanatical Islam of the terrorists. This may be an attempt to win the battle for the hearts of al Qaeda's potential sympathizers by speaking their language, but my guess is it will be perceived as a sort of capitulation. The dynamic here is that al Qaeda is now setting the tone of the discourse, which is not a positive sign.

UPDATE: The New York Post has similar thoughts.

US War-Crime Immunity Gone

As of June 30, US citizens will no longer be immune to prosecution in the international court for war crimes. The deal brokered in 2002 expires on that date and the US evidently lacks the nine votes needed on a resolution to extend the immunity. According to Reuters:

No member is expected to veto or vote against the resolution but if more than six [out of 15] countries abstain, the measure would fail.

Not surprisingly, this is being reported as a major defeat for the US. The BBC report suggests that the opposition was more active and united than is apparently the case:
The BBC's Susannah Price at the United Nations says the move is a major climb-down for the Americans, who rarely face such united opposition on the Council.

She says the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq and opposition from Mr Annan, helped persuade the majority of council members not to back the proposal. Blanket exemption is wrong. It is of dubious judicial value and I don't think it should be encouraged by the council

The UK was one of the few countries on the 15-member council that planned to back the resolution.

Even the Washington Times story has the following lead:
In a major retreat, the United States abandoned an attempt to win a new exemption for American troops from international prosecution for war crimes - an effort that had faced strong opposition because of the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.

Certainly this is not a favorable development for US diplomacy, but I am not convinced that it signals a major defeat. The problem, as is frequently the case with this administration, is that we were fighting the wrong battle. Our opposition should have been to the very concept of a permanent war crimes tribunal. The notion that citizens of any democratic nation can or should be tried by an international body not subject to democratic control is fundamentally flawed. And non-democratic nations will not have the respect for the rule of law to make such a court effective. In seeking to guarantee American exceptions, we only validated the concept in theory and made the current diplomatic result inevitable.

Several commentators have pointed out that this tribunal would only be a "court of last resort", operating when the nations in question are unwilling or unable to deal with the charges themselves. This would theoretically make it unlikely that citizens of Western nations would ever be prosecuted. But this argument does nothing to remove the objection, since only countries that were willing to abide by the international standard would be subject to its judgment.

One interesting theme that recurs through most of the coverage of the US withdrawal of this resolution is the notion that this would make the US more likely to veto UN peacekeeping operations:
The U.S. move raised concern that Washington might carry out its threat to shut down or stop participating in U.N.-authorized peacekeeping operations.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters that every request would be examined "both in terms of voting for a peacekeeping mission" and providing Americans to participate. A key factor will be "what the risk might be of prosecution by a court to which we're not party," he said.

If this does in fact cause a widening of the rift between the US and the UN, it will be the only good result from any of this debate that I can see.

Monday, June 21, 2004

The Horror of Blimps

I saw this linked to awhile ago on Aaron's blog, but, trying to tell the story to some friends over the weekend, I found that I couldn't get through it without bursting helplessly into laughter. So for any future victims of my inability to tell a funny story, go here.

A Couple of Honest Swedes

Sunday's Opinion Journal comments on a report by Fredrik Bergstrom and Robert Gidehag of Sweden on the economic gap between the US and the EU:

The authors admit that man doesn't live by GDP alone, and that this measure misses output in the "black" economy, which is significant in Europe's high-tax states. GDP also overlooks "the value of leisure or a good environment" or the way prosperity is spread across a society.

But a rising tide still lifts all boats, and U.S. GDP per capita was a whopping 32% higher than the EU average in 2000, and the gap hasn't closed since. It is so wide that if the U.S. economy had frozen in place at 2000 levels while Europe grew, the Continent would still require years to catch up. Ireland, which has lower tax burdens and fewer regulations than the rest of the EU, would be the first but only by 2005. Switzerland, not a member of the EU, and Britain would get there by 2010. But Germany and Spain would need until 2015, while Italy, Sweden and Portugal would have to wait until 2022.


But what about equality? Well, the percentage of Americans living below the poverty line has dropped to 12% from 22% since 1959. In 1999, 25% of American households were considered "low income," meaning they had an annual income of less than $25,000. If Sweden--the very model of a modern welfare state--were judged by the same standard, about 40% of its households would be considered low-income.

In other words poverty is relative, and in the U.S. a large 45.9% of the "poor" own their homes, 72.8% have a car and almost 77% have air conditioning, which remains a luxury in most of Western Europe. The average living space for poor American households is 1,200 square feet. In Europe, the average space for all households, not just the poor, is 1,000 square feet.

The associated graph indicates that the state of Delaware has a higher GDP than any EU nation and that Germany and Italy only barely beat the state of Arkansas. The article concludes with the following thought:
We don't report this with any nationalist glee. The world needs a prosperous, growing Europe, and its relative economic decline is one reason for growing EU-American tension. A poorer Europe lacks the wealth to invest in defense, a fact that in turn affects the willingness of Europeans to join America in confronting global security threats. But at least all of this is a warning to U.S. politicians who want this country to go down the same welfare-state road to decline.

Good points, to be sure, but I think a little nationalist glee may be in order. Especially when you consider that Europe's spiritual state is probably in worse condition than its economic health.
(Via: Steve Bainbridge at Mirror of Justice)

UPDATE: Captain Ed has more comments.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Four More Good Islamists

Looks like we got the bastards that killed Paul Johnson. Or more specifically, the Saudis got them.

"A major blow" has been dealt to al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia with the killing of four of its top leaders in the kingdom, Saudi foreign policy adviser Adel al-Jubeir said Saturday.

Among the dead is Abdel Aziz al-Muqrin, the nation's most-wanted militant and the self-proclaimed leader of al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Al-Muqrin claimed responsibility for the beheading of U.S. hostage Paul Johnson Jr.

Clinton Defends Bush on Iraq

Captain Ed has the scoop from CNN:

"I have repeatedly defended President Bush against the left on Iraq, even though I think he should have waited until the U.N. inspections were over."

As Captain Ed points out, the standard "should have waited until the inspections were over" line is pretty silly. Clinton did wait and the inspections were over.

And, of course, there is the obligatory reference to Abu Ghraib, which the CNN article
couldn't resist putting in the lead. But Clinton's comments on that issue seem fair as well:
"The more we learn about it, the more it seems that some people fairly high up, at least, thought that this was the way it ought to be done," he said.

Implying that the United States should lead by example, Clinton said of the abuses, "No. 1, we can't pull stunts like that, and No. 2, when we do, whoever is responsible has to pay."

I have to admit, Clinton seems to be making a pretty good ex-President. Much better than I had anticipated, at any rate.

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin puts Clinton's praise into perspective:
Bill Clinton on whether he would have supported the Persian Gulf War in 1991:

“I guess I would have voted with the majority if it was a close vote. But I agree with the arguments the minority made.”

Diary Of An Anti-Chomskyite

Pastorius sent me a link to this relatively new blog with the comment that I might find it interesting. I do in the same morbid way that picking at a scab is interesting. Definitely worth reading, if you find analysis of Chomsky's intellectual pus worth bothering about. Personally I find him beneath my notice, so I don't spend a lot of energy lancing that particular boil.

Still, he has an influential voice, so I suppose someone has to do it. It's a useful, maybe even necessary, service. I'm just glad it's you, pal, not me. I would much rather have Ed Norton's job.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Touchstone: Intelligent Design

Touchstone Magazine is reprising their special issue devoted to the Intelligent Design alternative to Darwinism. The first such special issue was July/August 1999. I personally lean more toward a specifically young earth model than most of the authors cited, but their views are certainly consistent with the traditional view. (And, of course, Augustine did not hold to a strict six-day model, so there is room for debate on what the traditional model actually is.)

Returning to a theme first raised five years ago, the July/August issue of Touchstone will present the Intelligent Design movement and its critique of Darwinism and the naturalistic (or secular) approach to science and society.

Intelligent Design (or ID) theory argues that science itself reveals that the cosmos and plant and animal life were designed and did not arise and develop accidentally as evolutionary theory claims. In fact, ID theorists argue that they could not have arisen in the way evolutionary theory claims.

These theorists — most of whom are Christians, but some of whom are not religious at all — also argue that mainstream evolutionary scientists refuse to see the evidence because they have defined science in a way that unscientifically excludes consideration of design. The philosophy of “naturalism” is imposed upon the evidence so that the authority of science is invoked for a secular view of the world. Some in the ID movement have gone on to expose and critique the effect of naturalism in other human enterprises, including ethics, art, and politics.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Sugar High

I was in the cereal aisle of a supermarket a while ago, and I happened to notice that the expression on the face of Lucky the Leprechaun had drastically changed since I was a kid. I realize that not watching TV means I am somewhat sheltered when it comes to advertising, especially advertising directed at children, but this image seemed so over-the-top that I found it rather disturbing. Looking around, I saw that the same transmogrification had been visited on the Trix Rabbit (older version) and Count Chocula (older version here at the bottom of the page). The latter is especially annoying since I was always a big fan of vampire movies (though not scary movies in general until recently) and the indignity that the Count has been subjected to is a bit painful.

Of course you want your mascot to suggest interest in the product, or even enthusiasm, but this is more like blood-vessel-bursting pre-orgasmic ecstasy. I may be over-reacting, but something about this bothers me. Part of it is the deceptiveness -- no one like cereal that much -- but there is something else that I can't quite put my finger on.

Maybe it's the veniality of the image. Here is the face of gluttony itself portrayed not as one of the Seven Deadly Sins but as an admirable, or at least desirable, trait. I don't think that's quite it either, but it is close.

In the back of my mind I think that probably most of America's mothers look at this and say, "Yeah, right. Who are you trying to kid." But I am still kind of offended that people think we will find these blasphemies attractive.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Middle East Goalposts

The Belmont Club has a useful analysis of the situation in Saudi Arabia. The concluding paragraph asks some crucial questions in defining the war on Terror:

Offering up the objective of more United Nations legitimacy or adopting an "exit strategy" in Iraq, as the Democrats have done, does not amount to a strategy. But neither does the open-ended formula of bringing freedom to the Middle East constitute an actionable agenda. It may be a guide to action, but what is needed is a set of intermediate goalposts against which progress can be measured. Some of these might be:

  1. The desired end state in Saudi Arabia: whether or not this includes the survival of the House of Saud or its total overthrow;
  2. The fate of the regime in Damascus;
  3. Whether or not the United States is committed to overthrowing the Mullahs in Iran and the question of what is to replace them;
  4. How far America will tolerate inaction by Iraq security forces before acting unilaterally;
  5. The future of the America's alliance with France and Germany;
  6. The American commitment to the United Nations.

Each of these hard questions must be weighed according to its contribution to the final goal of breaking the back of international terrorism. Somewhere in that maze, if it exists, is a ladder to victory. Leading the horse to drink presumes that we know what purpose watering them serves; what paths we will travel. Answering these questions will be a heuristic process, one that moves towards progressively better solutions. Finding ourselves in the place we first began is equivalent to defeat. Whether we are further along in Saudi Arabia in May 2004 than on November 2003 is one of the indicators of whether we are winning or losing. But someone has to keep score.

I would add a 7th item: What America's stance will be toward states outside the Middle East which attempt to establish an Islamic hegemony, such as Sudan, Nigeria and Indonesia. These countries not only support terror, they represent a growing threat to liberty in their own right. The difficulty, of course, is that America's officially secular and pluralistic policies do not readily adapt to taking a hostile ideology that masquerades as a religion into account.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

How Do You Say "Bibi Andersson" in Arabic?

Hmmm. The False God is back online, but he is strangely silent. Is this supposed to be some sort of Ingmar Bergman thing?

NOTE: Yes, I know Bibi Andersson wasn't in The Silence, but she was in The Seventh Seal which has the same theme and is a much better movie.

New Blogroll Entries

I have been remiss in not adding two blogs which I have known about for a couple of weeks: The Violent Munkee and The Blue Canopy. These are by dear friends that I have slightly lost touch with since they did the Big O about a year and a half ago. In my own defence, it took me awhile to figure out who they were, but the main reason has been laziness on my part. I've been busy over the last couple of weeks, but not that busy.

Also added is the new blog of Michelle Malkin one of my favorite columnists. It isn't very readable yet, having only been started today, but I am sure it will be worth keeping an eye on.

UPDATE: Bah! Of course, Chance also has a blog: In Communion and I would have guessed that he would if I had stopped to think about it. There are probably some other friends out there from that same crowd, but I couldn't find them. If anyone cares to point me to them, I'll update the blogroll later.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

About All About "All About Oil"

Yep. This argument is officially dead according to the AP:

"Today the most important natural resource has been returned to Iraqis to serve all Iraqis," Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said. "I'm pleased to announce that full sovereignty and full control on oil industry has been handed over to the oil ministry today and to the new Iraqi government as of today."


"We are totally now in control, there are no more advisers," Ghadbhan said. "We are running the show, the oil policies will be implemented 100 percent by Iraqis."

There is a legend about George Washington that, after the War of Independence, George III of England expected him to install himself as king of America. When he learned that Washington's intention was to return to his farm he is said to have remarked, "If he does that, he would be the greatest character in history."

When Halliburton was chosen to oversee the restoration on Iraq's oil industry, many claimed that it was proof of America's (or at least Bush's) ulterior motives. Now that we have officially turned all such decisions over to the Iraqi governmnent, I wonder how many of those critics will be willing to acknowledge the statement this makes about American character?

(Via Powerline)

Separation of Knowledge and State

A commenter on Reason Online's blog Hit & Run tells a frightening story about her experience trying to explain a scriptural reference in Shakespeare:

I taught "Merchant of Venice" to seniors one year; in it there's a line where one character is insulting another, by saying something along the lines of "He damns the ears of all who hear him, by calling him 'fool.'" One of the kids asked me what that meant, so I explained that one of the lesser-known verses of the Book of Matthew has Jesus saying that anyone who calls another a fool will be damned. (I recited chapter and verse, though I can't remember it now.) I went on to talk about the very funny use Voltaire made of that in his essay "The Jesuit Berthier" (an angel tells a priest to stop giving his stupid, boring sermons, because instead of winning souls for God he's endangering the souls of all who hear him, because they all call him a fool), and explained also that this is why cartoony villains in movies developed the habit of using "Fool!" as their default insult; for people familiar with the Bible, the fact that the villain always says "Fool!" is just one more proof that this is an evil, evil dude.

"So anyway," I said to the class, "back in Shakespeare's day, when people were far more familiar with the Bible than they are now, instead of insulting someone by saying 'You are a fool,' you'd say 'You are a--well, I can't SAY what you are because then I'd go to hell.' That's what he's doing in the play."

Next day I get called into the principal's office; some parents were FURIOUS that I had told their kids that Jesus said anyone who says 'fool,' will go to Hell.

"But he did," I pointed out.

"It doesn't matter, Jennifer. You can't insult kids' religions."

"Well, the kid asked me what that line from the play meant! What was I supposed to do?"

"Just tell him you don't know." [emphasis mine]

It is bad enough that these fanatics don't want teachers to teach the bible in class, even though it is a crucial part of the history of civilization. It is even worse that they don't want teachers to explain references to it when they occur in historical or literary works. But to command a teacher to feign ignorance when confronted with a direct question is wicked. This brings to mind the concept of "doublethink" that George Orwell describes in 1984:
The Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed -if all records told the same tale -- then the lie passed into history and became truth. 'Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.' And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. 'Reality control', they called it: in Newspeak, 'doublethink'.


To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word 'doublethink' involved the use of doublethink.

Two caveats are necessary: first, the usual cautions about anecdotal evidence such as this story apply. When being reprimanded it is always tempting to make ourselves look better than we really are. Second, even if true, this story doesn't necessarily imply a trend or even a wide-spread phenomenon. The principal is obviously acting illegally and probably more as a result of fear of litigation than actual animosity to the bible. But that, in itself, is an Orwellian scenario, is it not?
(Food Chain: Instapundit -> JoanneJacobs -> Hit & Run)

Sufism in Darfur

Jane at Armies of Liberation clears up a point I have been puzzling about with regard to the Sudanese attacks on their fellow Muslims in Darfur:

The roots of the conflict are many. The collective punishment of the civilian population began as reprisals for an uprising by rebel groups from the disenfranchised western populace. In the Sudan, the Arab ruling class is primarily nomadic cattle and camel herders. The Darfurians are primarily pastoralists, farmers. Drought and desertification has made arable land more scare and placed these groups in conflict. Furthermore, many of the black Darfurians are Sufi Muslims who reject the strict Sharia law imposed by the government in Khartoum. Some point to a racially motivated Arabization policy. [emphasis hers]

If Sufism is the brand of Islam that the Darfurians practice, that makes a little more sense than my hypothesis that Khartoum is under the influence of an Arab supremacist ideology like Baathism. The difficulty for the latter hypothesis has always been that Baathism is not particularly anxious to implement sharia, which the government in Khartoum has done.

To understand why Sufism makes a big difference to this analysis it is necessary to know a little about the background of Islamic sects. Perhaps a broad analogy to Christian denominations may be helpful: if Shia Islam is like Roman Catholicism (because it is concerned with the line of succession from the prophet) and Sunni Islam is like Protestantism (because it is more concerned with content), Sufism would be like the Amish or Quakers, groups more concerned with Inner Light and which neither of the main branches considers part of the true faith. There are many ways in which this analogy is misleading, (and my Orthodox friends will kill me for having left them out of the discussion), but the point is that the more radical sects of Islam do not consider Sufism to be Islamic at all. A more thorough discussion of Sufism may be found here.

Of course, as Jane points out, the hypotheses are not mutually exclusive and it is possibly a mix of several factors, and the real issue is to stop the genocide whatever its cause. But understanding the nature of the enemy is often helpful in combating him.

PS: It isn't really relevant to this topic, but I thought I'd point out that there is an excellent book, now out of print called the Book of Sufi Chivalry. I used to own a copy, but it is now on permanent loan to I-Know-Not-Whom. Sufism is still a false religion, but a false religion with class!

Monday, June 07, 2004

Sometimes a Good PR Move... a light at the end of the tunnel. Israeli Defense Force sets up a hotline for Palestinians to call for help. Pastorius comments:

There are many cases of Israeli human rights organizations reaching out to help Palestinians, but this is notable because it is actually the Israeli government. One could claim the Hotline is just a good P.R. move. I am disinclined to agree. I believe it is set up to be exactly what the spokesperson said, a "light at the end of the tunnel." I believe Israel believes that the Intifada might be close to being over, and realizes they need to hold out an olive branch, if a lasting peace is to be built.

I agree, but the two aren't mutually contradictory. This is known as a win-win situation. The Palestinians get the help they aren't getting from their "Authority", and the Israelis get to look like the good guys for once.

I have actually been advocating a similar approach for years: If the Israelis had annexed the territories seized in the Six Days War and established Israeli law, they would have been in a position to act more like a government and less like a conquering army. Israeli democracy could gradually have been extended to the "Palestinians" until the point came when they would either be fully integrated citizens or perhaps would have the option to secede and form their own country by mutual consent. Certainly a risky proposition, but no less likely to succeed than any of the other "solutions" that have been tried over the years. If this had been attempted in the 1980s, or even in the 1990s when the Soviet Union could not stir up trouble, the Palestinian people would now be living in a democracy.

Of course, I realize that there are many human and political reasons why this would not have worked. But I am glad to see that the IDF is now adopting (or at least experimenting with) the principle of the thing, if not the scale. Democracies succeed by establishing justice and creating markets, not by military force. Sometimes military intervention is necessary, but only to stop or prevent crises, not as a long-term policy.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Iraqi GC Bows Out

In a move unusual for any group of bureaucrats, the Iraqi Governing Council has decided to disband itself a month early, now that the interim government, including president Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, has been selected. Fox News reports:

Just hours after picking a new president to complete the interim government, the Iraqi Governing Council has decided to dissolve immediately rather than wait until June 30th.

That's the day the U-S is scheduled to hand over power. But a senior U-S official says the Coalition Provisional Authority will remain sovereign until June 30th.

The U-N envoy to Iraq congratulated the council on selecting Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer (GAH'-zee MAH'-shahl uh-JEEL' ahl YOW'-ur) as president after the U-S choice said no to the largely ceremonial post.

Al-Yawer calls the interim government a step forward, while Prime Minister-designate Iyad Allawi says Iraq is beginning its march toward sovereignty. Al-Yawer has been critical of the U-S but also denounced violence against coalition forces.

There have been deadly car bomb blasts in Baghdad and the north since the announcement.

Note that last sentence. You can tell when you are doing the right thing in the Middle East, because the terrorists always respond with increased mayhem.

UPDATE: Captain Ed remarks
While the media has, over the past few hours, chosen to treat the newfound Iraqi independence as a slap at the US, in fact it demonstrates that the Iraqis can come together to create a substantial structure for a future representative government. The Iraqis chose a Sunni moderate to lead the transition, a Western-educated engineer who wants to see the occupation end but understands the need for American troops to provide security. The new cabinet says that the first priority will be the elimination of the militias that threaten civil governance, and that cannot be addressed without Anglo-American troops until a stable Iraqi security force can be established.

I haven't actually seen the media trying to spin this against the US, but the rest of his analysis is accurate and insightful as usual.

Useless Victims

Jane at Armies of Liberation makes some good observations about the genocide and slavery in the Darfur region of Sudan:

Considering today’s Victims of a Lethal Regime are Starving, Poor, Black, African, Muslim Women and Children, in theory they should have widespread popular support. Yet, the liberals are not championing these poor and the neocons have no army to spare. Feminists are busy defending Rowe. The Million Moms aren’t tending these children. The Million Men aren’t marching for these brothers. African-Americans aren’t appalled by racial profiling against these blacks. “Never Again” does not apply to these families. CAIR does not express outrage for these Muslims. Perhaps humans have not yet established a collective identity as earthlings, as civilians, and as allies.

Her concluding sentence seems a bit too general to me. The specific problem is that none of these groups have figured out a way to blame the Republicans or the Christian Right. My cynical side suggests that they are possibly afraid that if they make too much noise about it, Bush might actually do something, which will greatly reduce their ability to feel guilty after the fact.