Saturday, July 31, 2004

Blue Moon Tonight?

Actually, no, according to Sky and Telescope. Modern folklore calls the second full moon in a month a "blue moon" but that definition is less that 60 years old. The original definition was the third full moon in a season that had four. This older type of blue moon can only occur in the month before the equinoxes and solstices (February, May, August or November) and usually falls around the 20th day so it could never be the second full moon in a month (which must fall after the 29th).

The sky and telescope article tells specifically how the error occurred, which is a fascinating, but somewhat long and convoluted, story. Here is an excerpt that explains the older definition:

The almanac also follows certain rules laid down as part of the Gregorian calendar reform in 1582. The ecclesiastical vernal (spring) equinox always falls on March 21st, regardless of the position of the Sun. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, 46 days before Easter, and must contain the Lenten Moon, considered to be the last full Moon of winter. The first full Moon of spring is called the Egg Moon (or Easter Moon, or Paschal Moon) and must fall within the week before Easter.

[...] Seasonal Moon names are assigned near the spring equinox in accordance with the ecclesiastical rules for determining the dates of Easter and Lent. [...] When a season contains four full Moons, the third is called a Blue Moon.

Why is the third full Moon identified as the extra one in a season with four? Because only then will the names of the other full Moons, such as the Moon Before Yule and the Moon After Yule, fall at the proper times relative to the solstices and equinoxes.

So the blue moon was added in years that had an extra full moon, in order to keep the calendar straight for religious purposes. Since people have largely stopped caring about such things, it is hardly surprising that the newer definition, which is, after all, easier to remember, has become so popular.

Syrian Ambassador Gets Surreal

The story of the 14 Syrian "musicians" just got much more disturbing. Michelle Malkin links the Syrian Ambassador's letter to the Washington times and the follow-up by Annie Jacobson in Women's Wall Street. Ambassador Imad Moustapha wrote:

Your reporter failed to mention that the only "crimes" these professional musicians were accused of committing were going to the lavatory, eating McDonald's food and talking to one another. [But they were also traveling with expired visas, weren't they? -- JoC]

The fact that they have performed in the past six months in places such as the Kennedy Center, the Lincoln Center and the Juilliard School did not prevent Mrs. Jacobsen from saying, "[C]ouldn't 14 terrorists learn to play instruments?"

Annie Jacobson responds:
...I asked Dr. Moustapha why his letter suggested that these 14 Syrians played at the Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, and the Julliard [sic] School, when according to my research, that's not at all the case.

Dr. Moustapha said Nour Mehana and his back-up band had not played there, but that other Syrian musicians had. I told Dr. Moustapha that his letter to The Washington Times was at best misleading, and at worst, completely misrepresenting the facts. I added that I didn't consider doing so either diplomatic or fair.

So let me get this straight; when Moustapha says "they" in the second paragraph quoted above, he doesn't mean the same musicians as in the first paragraph, but some completely different set of Syrian musicians? That isn't just undiplomatic, it's insane. Who says things like that?

Oh, wait, I get it! He is suggesting that there is such unity among Syrians that what one does, they all do. So if some Syrian musicians played in Juilliard, then they all played in Juilliard. This must be that Eastern logic they told me about in High School. It's just our fragmented, individualistic Western culture that prevents us from understanding.

But wouldn't that imply that since some Syrians are terrorists, they all...? Uh, no, never mind, I won't go there. But it seems like something similar occurred to Ms. Jacobson. She continues:
Dr. Moustapha told me that I was a paranoid racist.

I asked Dr. Moustapha if, by suggesting that all Syrian musicians are innocent (not to mention talented) just because they are Syrian, wasn't that the same kind of gross generalization he'd accused me of?

Dr. Moustapha told me again that I was a paranoid person and that the men did nothing wrong.

I reminded him that it was the in-flight behavior of the men (which has now been corroborated by other passengers) which caused alarm, not their Syrian heritage.


He said a few more things that aren't fit to print.

I suggested to Dr. Moustapha that we focus on a diplomatic solution, that perhaps he himself could help to locate the 14 Syrian musicians in question so that they could share their side of the story. I waited for an answer, but instead, Dr. Moustapha hung up on me.
[Emphasis mine]

I'm sorry, but this has gone quite beyond misunderstanding. One of these people is flat-out lying. Since there are other corroborating stories to back up Ms. Jacobson, I'm betting it's Moustapha. And that is just not a good thing. If these fellows were innocent, it's hard to see why a trained diplomat should be acting so completely freakish.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Haiku Contest at Ace of Spades

My fellow playing card is hosting a Kerry-bashing haiku contest. This isn't my normal style, but it's Friday night and it's all good, clean fun. The contest entries are pretty good,so far and there is even a minor flame-war with an infiltrating Lefty. Not partiularly chivalrous, perhaps, but very literate.

My favorite so far:

Ever'body was
Haiku fighting. Those boys were
fast as lightening!

which is cheating, but what the hell.

Passion of the Present

I have added a new Sudan-oriented blog to the blogroll: Passion of the Present.

The site collects news and commentary about the genocide in Sudan as well as several "Contact Your Congressman" type resources. Looks like the articles are fairly well written and thoroughly researched as well, but I haven't had a whole lot of time to dig deeply. This article, on the history of Sudan's relationship to Al Qaeda, is very well written and informative.

Thanks to Seldom Sober for the link.

Also, until the crisis is past, I have reorganized the blogroll to include a special Sudan section. The links in this section are duplicated elsewhere. If you know of anyone who has a blog or news-site dedicated to this atrocity, send me an email and I will add them to the list. (Only serious sites need apply. I will not add anyone who, in my subjective judment, is using this crisis for political ends, whether on the Left or the Right.)

Update: I emailed Jane at Armies of Liberation about this site and she was kind enough to link back to me as well. As usual, she has much more to say about this than I and is much better informed. Check out her site if you haven't already.

Upstaged by the Balloon Drop

My guess is that this quote will be the most memorable line of the convention. Sad.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

High Level Al Qaeda Leader Caught in Pakistan

The BBC reports:

Mr Ghailani has been indicted in the US over the bombings of the American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, nearly six years ago.


Mr Ghailani is on the FBI's list of 22 "most wanted terrorists".


The BBC's Zaffar Abbas, in the Pakistani capital Islamabad, says the Pakistani security forces have killed or arrested several suspected Islamic militants in recent months.

But he adds that Mr Ghailani is the most significant Al-Qaeda suspect to be apprehended since the arrest of the mastermind of the 11 September 2001 attacks, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, more than a year ago.

Well, I've never heard of him, but this is still good news. If he is as significant as all that, he may be able to lead us to more arrests.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan protests that he does not see grounds for a conspiracy theory in the timing of this arrest:
Pakistan gets a major al Qaeda figure the day of Kerry's speech. No I don't believe the conspiracy theories, but it doesn't help that TNR's John Judis predicted something quite close to this.

That's a good thing because the arrest was not on the same day as the speesh, but was actually made Sunday after a 24-hour standoff according the the CNN article he links to. Although, I suppose one could say that the timing of the announcement was suspicious if you were inclined to conspiracy theories ... unlike Mr Sullivan ... who isn't.

Gang of Oversized Women Terrorizes South Africa

No kidding:

A GANG of oversized women shoplifters has been terrorising shopkeepers and supermarkets in the South African port city of Durban over the past two months, police said.

The gang targeted stores in the city's crime-prone business district and diverted security staff with "commotion" while others packed their bags with goodies, Inspector Michael Read told AFP from Durban.

"Size is a factor in that they use it to intimidate the staff," he said, adding that the women operated in gangs of between four and 10.

"The modus operandi is that some of them pick up [sic] a mock fight or cause commotion while the others fill oversized bags with clothes. They usually target clothes shops and cosmetic outlets and then sell them to streetside vendors at cheap prices."

Read said "several arrests have been made but some of these women are still at large."

You should, like, pardon the pun.

Kerry's Speech

I only caught the last 15 minutes on the radio, but have read the Drudge Report version of the transcript. My first impression: it sounds like it was written by Andrew Sullivan. With a few exceptions, it was optimistic, patriotic, faith-friendly and pro-military. I am as skeptical as anyone that Kerry can keep this tone for the rest of the campaign, much less impose it on the Democratic party throughout a possible presidency. And no one really believes Convention speeches anyway. But there is no doubt that Kerry said the right things, and I think that is worthy of note.

But even if we don't believe them, it is profoundly encouraging that the Democrats have taken a rhetorical turn to the right. That indicates that they have recognized the overwhelmingly conservative character of the American people. I would love to believe, as Mr. Sullivan seems to, that the Democratic party has finally shaken off the influence of its left wing and has re-emerged as the populist party it was in the first half of the 20th Century. I don't actually believe that. But it would be nice to live in an America where the political differences were truly matters of policy, of how to achieve our shared ends, not over the ends themselves. The fact that the Dems have adopted our rhetoric gives me hope that such a scenario is possible, even if not immanent.

But I mentioned there were exceptions to the positive message, and I think those are worth emphasizing. I do not have time to do a thorough fisking of Kerry's speech (and it will probably be done better by others anyway) but the following points stand out as problematic:

As President, I will ask hard questions and demand hard evidence. I will immediately reform the intelligence system - so policy is guided by facts, and facts are never distorted by politics. And as President, I will bring back this nation's time-honored tradition: the United States of America never goes to war because we want to, we only go to war because we have to.

If Kerry wants to reassure people that he will not go soft on the War on Terror, this seems like a culpable misunderstanding. The suggestion, of course, is that Bush didn't need to take us to war against Iraq because we were not in immanent danger of attack. But Kerry himself made the connection between Saddam and terrorism and even disagreed with McCain whether the issue of an actual attack on the US was the primary danger. Suggesting that we went to war because we "wanted to" is simply slanderous.

But it gets worse:

And on my first day in office, I will send a message to every man and woman in our armed forces: You will never be asked to fight a war without a plan to win the peace.
I defended this country as a young man and I will defend it as President. Let there be no mistake: I will never hesitate to use force when it is required. Any attack will be met with a swift and certain response. I will never give any nation or international institution a veto over our national security. And I will build a stronger American military.

I'm glad to hear the line about building a stronger military. But, given his record in the Senate, we only have his word to go on that he has finally seen the light and won't veto legislation for reasons of nuance and complexity. I, for one, am skeptical.

But the real problem here is the wait and see attitude. If we only respond to attacks we are handing the initiative over to the terrorists. That is the fundamental issue in the Bush doctrine. It may be that Bush deserves some criticism for his handling of the intelligence community, but he at least understood that it is better to risk a misstep than to wait for the enemy to show his hand. Kerry doesn't get this crucial point yet and that is frightening.

On the domestic front:
For four years, we've heard a lot of talk about values. But values spoken without actions taken are just slogans. Values are not just words. They're what we live by. They're about the causes we champion and the people we fight for. And it is time for those who talk about family values to start valuing families.

You don't value families by kicking kids out of after school programs and taking cops off our streets, so that Enron can get another tax break.

We believe in the family value of caring for our children and protecting the neighborhoods where they walk and play.

Neither of these issues, education and police, are rightly federal responsibilities. If such problems exist, they were not caused by Bush policies, and they will not be solved by a Kerry administration. And don't forget about the gratuitous Enron reference. The fact is the Bush administration prosecuted Enron where the Clinton administration did not. This is just typical demagoguery and it is hard to see how this fits with the message of unity that Kerry thinks he is promoting.

We believe in the family value expressed in one of the oldest Commandments: "Honor thy father and thy mother." As President, I will not privatize Social Security. I will not cut benefits. And together, we will make sure that senior citizens never have to cut their pills in half because they can't afford life-saving medicine.

Well, you really can't expect better from a Democrat, so I will pass over the point that not privatizing Social Security is the surest way force cuts in benefits. But my real concern here is with the false biblicism of this canard. We do not honor our fathers and mothers by foisting their care off on the federal government. The Commandment speaks to a personal responsibility, not an excuse to redistribute wealth.

Since we are quoting the Bible, how about this one Senator: "Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly"? (Lev 19:15)
And let me tell you what we won't do: we won't raise taxes on the middle class. You've heard a lot of false charges about this in recent months. So let me say straight out what I will do as President: I will cut middle class taxes. I will reduce the tax burden on small business. And I will roll back the tax cuts for the wealthiest individuals who make over $200,000 a year, so we can invest in job creation, health care and education.

I guess that answers my question.

But let me end this on a positive note. I came in on the radio broadcast at about this point:
I want to address these next words directly to President George W. Bush: In the weeks ahead, let's be optimists, not just opponents. Let's build unity in the American family, not angry division. Let's honor this nation's diversity; let's respect one another; and let's never misuse for political purposes the most precious document in American history, the Constitution of the United States.

My friends, the high road may be harder, but it leads to a better place. And that's why Republicans and Democrats must make this election a contest of big ideas, not small-minded attacks. This is our time to reject the kind of politics calculated to divide race from race, group from group, region from region. Maybe some just see us divided into red states and blue states, but I see us as one America - red, white, and blue. And when I am President, the government I lead will enlist people of talent, Republicans as well as Democrats, to find the common ground - so that no one who has something to contribute will be left on the sidelines.

And let me say it plainly: in that cause, and in this campaign, we welcome people of faith. America is not us and them. I think of what Ron Reagan said of his father a few weeks ago, and I want to say this to you tonight: I don't wear my own faith on my sleeve. But faith has given me values and hope to live by, from Vietnam to this day, from Sunday to Sunday. I don't want to claim that God is on our side. As Abraham Lincoln told us, I want to pray humbly that we are on God's side. And whatever our faith, one belief should bind us all: The measure of our character is our willingness to give of ourselves for others and for our country.

I think this is a fair challenge. I have already suggested that I doubt Kerry's sincerity on these points or at least his ability to deliver. But the Republican party has a history of optimism and we are very well placed to meet Kerry's ante and raise him. I have long advocated exactly this approach to the political and social arena. We can beat them on the merits of our own arguments, without resorting to personal attacks, however clever.

UPDATE: And it already doesn't look like the left wing is buying Kerry's move to the right:
After three days of calm, protests turned ugly at the Democratic National Convention as demonstrators burned a two-faced effigy depicting President Bush on one side and Sen. John Kerry on the other.

UPDATE: It also looks like Pastorius' prediction was accurate as well:
Maybe Kerry wouldn't have the conviction and charisma to pull off such a statement. Don't count on it. I have a feeling he's going to surprise a lot of people tonight.

UPDATE: But it looks like I failed to predict Sullivan's assessment of this speech. Oh well, I guess that's why I keep reading him. He has exactly the same concern I mention about Kerry's wait-until-we're-attacked military policy. But overall he is less impressed than I was:
There will be time to judge his proposals against Bush's and to observe the progress of the war in the next few months. At some point both he and Bush will surely be asked what they will do about Iran. Their responses will be revealing (and probably indistinguishable). Until then, I think this convention has been a huge success, tempered by a bad candidate. They have found the right stance in general, but they may not have found the right general for the stance. Bush, in other words, may remain the luckiest man alive.

Coming from a man who obviously wants Kerry to be a viable candidate, that's gotta hurt.

Evidently, Damian doesn't...

... believe in Hell, that is. At least that is the conclusion I draw from this post:

Saddam had a stroke?
That's what his lawyers say. A stroke is not something I would wish on many people, but gosh darn it, Saddam Hussein is one of the few.

If this story is true, I hope his stroke was just enough to leave him partially disabled - but not so debilitated that he won't be able to stand trial. Whatever punishment this man must endure isn't enough.
Emphasis mine.

Religion is the Opiate of the Prosperous

Reuters reports that a belief in Hell is good for a nation's financial health:

Economists searching for reasons why some nations are richer than others have found that those with a wide belief in hell are less corrupt and more prosperous, according to a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Researchers at the regional Federal Reserve bank acknowledged the importance of productivity and investment in the economic process but looked at some recent unconventional efforts to explain differences in national prosperity.

The St. Louis Fed drew on work by outside economists who studied 35 countries, including the United States, European nations, Japan, India and Turkey, and found that religion shed some useful light.

"In countries where large percentages of the population believe in hell, there seems to be less corruption and a higher standard of living," the St. Louis Fed said in its July quarterly review.

"A belief in hell tends to mean less corruption, and less corruption tends to mean a higher per capita income," they wrote. It correlated the belief in hell findings of the World Value Series with a measure of corruption produced by Transparency International.

It then looked at the relationship between corruption and per capita gross domestic product and found "a strong tendency for countries with relatively low levels of corruption to have relatively high levels of per capita GDP."

The researchers also noted the long tradition among classical economists to equate a society's honesty, and the strength of the rule of law, with economic vitality.

There are all sorts of caveats here, not least the one Glenn Reynolds notes below about correlation and causation. Also, a sample size of 35 does not seem very representative. I would like to know what the stats for the other 158 countries. And surely the belief in hell usually correlates with other religious beliefs that would be relevant to economic health.

Still, the argument that belief in Hell is a useful proxy for ethical behavior seems like a natural one. Karl Marx must be rolling over in his... well, wherever he is.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Moral Ills and Social Dysfunction

My fellow members of the Religious Right, who often like to argue for laws against things like pornography, prostitution or drug use based on the social consequences of these actions, might want to consider Glenn Reynolds' Tech Central Station column "Porn and Violence: Good for America's Children?"

When teen crime and pregnancy rates were going up, people looked at things that were going on -- including increased availability of porn and violent imagery -- and concluded that there might be something to that correlation. It turned out that there wasn't. Porn and Duke Nukem took over the land, and yet teenagers became more responsible and less violent.

Maybe the porn, and the videogames, provided catharsis, serving as substitutes for the real thing. Maybe. And maybe there's no connection at all. (Or maybe it's a different one -- research indicates that teenagers, though safer and healthier, are also fatter -- so perhaps the other improvements are the result of teens sitting around looking at porn and videogames until they're too out-of-shape and unattractive for the real thing…) Most likely, the lesson is that -- once again -- correlation isn't causation, despite policy entrepreneurs' efforts to claim otherwise.

But regardless, the fears of the doomsayers were proven wrong. People can continue to claim that psychological research suggests that videogames lead to violence and that porn leads to promiscuity, but in the real world the evidence seems to suggest otherwise. That's an argument against regulating videogames -- and it's an argument for taking other claims of impending social doom with a grain of salt.

Obviously, there is a large degree of facetiousness in the article but the general point is worth noting. If you have argued that behaviour X is wrong because it leads to consequence Y, and it is later shown not to lead to this consequence, people may rightly become suspicious of your claim that the behavior is wrong. Not necessarily, of course, because it might still be wrong for reasons you haven't mentioned. But the very fact that such reasons went unmentioned the first time naturally leads people to suspect a boy-who-cried-wolf scenario, especially if they are not inclined to support the agenda in the first place.

Of course, Reynolds makes the same mistake in the opposite direction by stating that this in an argument agaisnt regulation. It isn't. It is merely a rebuttal against one argument for regulation. And since, as he rightly points out, there may be other factors complicating the research, it may not even amount to that.

But in any case, his article highlights the dangers of tying moral arguments to secular outcomes. If we do not have the courage to admit that we think that legislation ought to be pleasing to God, quite apart from human sociological concerns, then we should either rethink our agenda or try to implement it in a way that does not involve legislation.

Europe, Orthodoxy and Islam

Pastorius has developed a real talent for asking questions that take me till 3:00 AM to answer. His latest is in the post titled "Those Primitive Religious People All Look The Same To Me" which relates to this quote from the High Level Advisory Group's "Dialogue Between Peoples and Cultures in the Euro-Mediterranean Area"

"... the enlarged Europe will move beyond the traditional relationship between Western Judeo-Christian Culture and Islam by incorporating people of Orthodox religion and culture: in addition to strengthening the role of Orthodoxy within the EU and beyond, this incorporation will transform the dialogue into a "trialogue". Furthermore, Orthodoxy sometimes leads to behavior which is surprisingly similar with that of Islam - particularly in relation to secularisation - which will have a major impact on, even radically change, the relationship between the enlarged Union and the Arab-Muslim world..."

Pastorius comments:
Now Jack, I believe you are a fan of Orthodoxy. And, while I don't know much about it, Orthodoxy seems to be a fine branch of Christianity, more formal and grounded in liturgy than American Protestant Christianity (which I like), however, at the same time, more likely to substitute ritual and tradition for an emphasis on a relationship with God. But, what do you think of this idea?

It doesn't seem workable to me. What are they going to do, run government-funded commercials on European television promoting the benefits of orthodoxy?

And what do they mean by saying Orthodoxy leads to behavior similar to that of Islam? Man that's a loaded statement. Do they mean that Orthodoxy leads to a Jihad mentality? To seeing the world, like the Taliban, in terms of black and white, so that anything which is not of Allah, be it art, architecture, or Western products, should be destroyed?

Do they mean that Orthodoxy might help Europeans swallow such behavior as Saudi Arabia posting, on their official state website, that "Jews" are not allowed to enter Saudi Arabia?

I am inclined to believe that for the European bureaucrats on the delegation that drafted this paper, their statement does not mean anything of the like. Because they do not, in the least, consider any of those frightening developments to be the consequences of Islamic culture. I'm guessing they buy the common panacea that Jihad is not "true Islam", that Jihad means merely to struggle within oneself.

Instead, I am inclined to believe that, once again, for Europe, it's all about the fashion. I'll bet they look at those Orthodox women and see that they are inclined to dress in black, and that they often wear head coverings, and they think to themselves, "Ahem, now is that a Muslim women, or an Orthodox women? All those primitive religious people look the same to me."

What do you think?

I don't know that I could be called a fan of Orthodoxy, since the Orthodox exclude me and my fellow protestants from communion, but I do acknowledge a greater affinity for this branch of Christianity than, say, for the average sub-Baptist Bible Fellowship that predominates the American religious scene. But to answer Pastorius' question, here is the email with which I replied:

Unfortunately there is not sufficient elaboration in the article to know exactly what they meant by the comparison between Orthodoxy and Islam. In my initial reading I had thought the reference was to the Orthodox Christians in Palestine, which would mean a basic similarity in their anti-Israeli stance. While this would certainly be an accurate observation (many Palestinian Christians refer to their Muslim fellow-Arabs as "brothers"), on a closer reading of the text it is clear that this is not what was intended. The Orthodox populations in question are evidently from the former Soviet Bloc countries that are now considering membership in the EU -- what Rumsfeld has referred to as New Europe.

In light of the second point, which refers to the Balkan region and which you do not quote, it seemed possible that the Orthodox in question were the Serbian people. This would also make a certain amount of sense in that the Serbs have been at war with their Muslim neighbors and can be said to have adopted similarly militant tactics. But it is difficult to see how this interpretation would square with the phrase "particularly in relation to secularisation" since Serbia is almost completely secularized.

So, I think your analysis that this is a secular culture looking with bemusement at all religions is probably pretty fair. The similarities in this case would be that both Orthodoxy and Islam have been resistant to modernization and both tend to be predominantly ethnic in distinction from the more cosmopolitan vision of Europe that is being advocated in this paper.

One point that may have occurred to you, but which you don't mention, is that this comparison is made specifically to de-emphasize the Jihad element of Islam. That is, it is not so much that the authors don't believe that this represents a real aspect of Islamic culture, but that they strongly suspect it does and want to hide that fact from themselves and their readers. Obviously, I have no direct evidence for this assertion, but some of the statements made in the executive summary and the earlier part of the article suggest this possibility to my imagination.

For instance, this statement about culture:
"Culture is by nature egalitarian, giving equal weight to all its forms: it is therefore both the basis of and vehicle for an equitable relationship. But in no other area is there such scope for both misunderstanding and understanding: it is therefore the ideal area for equals to work together to clarify and enrich a Euro-Mediterranean relationship still littered with obstacles (mutual perceptions, role of the media, etc.) and denials (of rights, dignity, liberty, equality, etc.). Why should this relationship be made a priority? Certainly not to prevent a very hypothetical clash of civilisations, but rather in the certainty that the principal complementarities of the two halves of the Euro-Mediterranean area will, in the next half century, have been integrated into their day-to-day life: what we now have to do is prepare the ground for this." [emphasis mine]

To fully unpack this statement, and others like it throughout the article, would require a thorough discussion of the history of European thought, which we obviously do not have time for. But briefly this thinking divides cultures into three basic categories, often called Pre-modern, Modern and Post-modern.

The temporal element is crucial to this division, implying as it does a progression and, therefore, a necessary evolution of thought. This coincides with the "certainty that the ... two halves ... will have been integrated" in the quote above. The idea is to disallow the notion that ideas are to be judged on the basis of their truth, but rather to be accepted on the basis of their currency. Since I reject this notion, I prefer not to use the terminology and simply classify the three groups as Sacramental, Secular and Skeptical respectively. This has, admittedly, a somewhat Christocentric bias, since it would put groups like Islam and, say, the animist of Sudan in the Sacramental category, which is not a description they would probably approve. But since I do, in fact, see such cultures as essentially deviant from Christian truth, I am not particularly averse to this consequence.

The Sacramental or Pre-modern culture views all aspects of life as essentially integrated and related directly to a design of the universe as a whole. This design is usually expressed as the Will of God, although some cultures, such as Buddhism and Taoism, have a more impersonal view of the divine nature. In this view such disparate concerns as sexuality, politics, art and agriculture, though they can be discussed separately, are ultimately interrelated to each other and united under the divine plan. Thus the search for truth in one area has consequences in all other areas, and often implies very strict responsibilities that many people desire to escape. I could give examples, but I think most people can come up with plenty of their own without much prompting.

The Secular, or Modern, worldview was essentially designed to provide an escape from the responsibilities of Sacramentalism, without abandoning its comforting capacity to order existence. The main theme of secularism has been a mechanical view of the universe which operates on principles accessible to human reason. On this view of things, everything that occurs has a causal explanation but, lacking an intelligent will, makes no inconvenient demands upon human behavior. Initially, of course, it was thought that ethical standards could be derived from the nature of man, but such projects had a tendency to result in such disasters a the French Revolution and ultimately culminated in the concentration camps and gulags of the 20th century.

This failure, among other things, led to the view or set of views known as Post-modernism, which I have dubbed Skepticism. The post-modern critique of Modernism is based on the insight that Modernism's claim to Universal Truth was just as subjective and prejudicial as the earlier religious views it attempted to transcend. Every theory attempting to order life in accordance with some "meta-narrative" is questionable and is generally assumed to have its a basis in a will to dominance over others. Thus the post-modern ethic is based, not on Divine Will or its paler cousin Reason, but on such tropes as Cooperation, Understanding and, somewhat less robustly, Multi-Culturalism. An avoidance of conflict is thus a chief characteristic of this view, often resulting in the sort of denial seen in the quote cited above.

The curious thing about this view is that, though it pretends to a moral superiority over such retrograde cultures as Christianity and Islam, it cannot, by its very nature, directly confront them. To do so would be to admit the existence of some commonly accessible vantage point from which to offer its critique, in other words a meta-narrative, which is anathema to the whole project of this brand of Skepticism. At best it can note the putative "denials (of rights, dignity, liberty, equality, etc.)" which it ascribes to all such primitivisms. But such a critique relies on the moral inhibitions of the critiqued cultures to motivate them to respond accordingly. When it encounters a culture that rejects the very basis of the critique, such as militant Islam, this Skepticism really has no alternative but to retreat into condescending hauteur.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Bad Idea

The House Republicans have passed legislation restricting the federal courts from ruling on state bans on gay marriage by stripping their jurisdiction. Contrary to those quoted in the article, this is probably constitutional due to the provision in Article III, Section 2:

In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.

That doesn't make this a good idea, however. I will have more to say on this, when I get a free moment but Eugene Volokh already made some excellent points back in February:
But just how useful would that be? Even if federal courts lose jurisdiction over objections to some statute, state courts would still be able to entertain them -- state courts must enforce the U.S. Constitution just as much as federal courts do (that's in art. VI, sec. 2). If people are worried that the U.S. Supreme Court may strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, then they should be worried that state supreme courts may do the same; and even those state supreme courts that might n t take this view on their own might feel moved by precedents from other states, since courts throughout the country tend to try to interpret the U.S. Constitution consistently with the decisions of other courts.

What's more, if a state supreme court does hold DOMA unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution, then there'll be no remedy (short of impeaching the state supreme court Justices). Amending the state constitution, which is a remedy for state supreme court decisions based on the state constitution (such as the Goodridge gay marriage decision in the Massachusetts) will do nothing to change the state court's interpretation of the U.S. constitution. And an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court won't be possible, because the Court has been stripped of jurisdiction to hear the case. (I suppose one could strip the Court of jurisdiction to hear appeals from decisions upholding DOMA but not from decisions invalidating DOMA, but then if the Court upholds a decision invalidating DOMA, DOMA will be invalid throughout the country.)

UPDATEA: Eugene Volokh has reposted his original remarks with some further comments here. An interesting fact about his second point
Such a jurisdiction-stripping statute would nonetheless probably be constitutional, because of article III, section 2, clause 2 of the Constitution

is that he emphasizes the word "probably". As I noted above, a plain reading of the text makes it perfectly obvious that Congress does have the Constitutional authority to do this, but Volokh is rightly cautious. The original intent of the Constitution was to make the laws clear to every citizen, but the days when we could rely on judges and lawyers to see the obvious are long gone.

UPDATE: And -- just when you thought the waters were muddy enough -- French judges have just anulled the first Gay marriage:
Members of the ruling conservative party, Roman Catholic church leaders and some opposition Socialists have opposed gay marriage on the grounds that children need a mother and a father. The couple's lawyer, Emmanuel Pierrat, said the court had based its ruling on the argument that marriage is traditionally considered the foundation of the family and that one of its main functions is to have children.

I wonder if this will make the Democrats stop drinking Bordeaux.

On a more realistic note, I don't think this argument will survive long. As the article continues:
Mr Pierrat said the judgment was based on an extremely traditional concept of the family, given that over half of French children are born outside of marriage.

However praiseworthy this decision may be, the very fact that that it comes as such a surprise suggests that it will be overturned on appeal. And in this country, it will take a huge effort to bring the culture back around to the point where marriage, sex and children form a natural progression rather than a collection of unrelated options. The courts are not the best battlefield for the traditional position, and will not be until there is a popular consensus on the subject.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

American Vigilantes on Trial in Afghanistan

A rather strange story from the NY Times:

Three Americans went on trial Wednesday on charges they tortured eight prisoners in a private jail, with the group's leader saying he had tacit support from senior Pentagon officials who once offered to put his team under contract.

The U.S. military says the men were freelancers operating outside the law and without their knowledge.

Jonathan Idema, Brett Bennett and Edward Caraballo were arrested when Afghan security forces raided their makeshift jail in Kabul on July 5.


Idema said a four-star Pentagon official named Heather Anderson "applauded our efforts" and wanted to place the group "under contract" -- an offer they refused for fear it would limit their freedom to operate.

There are no four-star female officers in the entire U.S. military. The name Heather Anderson is not listed in the Pentagon phone book.

"The American authorities absolutely condoned what we did, they absolutely supported what we did," Idema told reporters crowding around the dock. "We have extensive evidence of that."


There was no attorney for Idema, a bearded former American soldier once convicted of fraud, who appeared in court in a khaki uniform with a reversed American flag on the shoulder.

Idema wore sunglasses in the courtroom, completing a look that once fooled even NATO peacekeepers, who sent explosives experts to help him with three raids before realizing they had been duped into thinking he was with U.S. special forces.

My guess is this isn't going to be a big story since there doesn't seem to be any political capital to be made from it. But a word of advice to future trouble makers: making up the names of four-star generals isn't a smart way to establish your credibility.

9/11 Attack Not Preventable?

In what might seem a rare display of integrity and common sense, the 9/11 Commission's final report will not claim that the attack was preventable; instead, it will allow the public to make up its own mind:

The Sept. 11 commission's final report won't declare that the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history was preventable, though some panelists said during the 20-month investigation they believed the hijackers could have been stopped.

In the end, the panel's five Democrats and five Republicans did not want to draw a conclusion on that major point, believing it could open the way to partisan sniping in a presidential election year.

"My personal view is that the intelligence system we have has been broken for a long time," said Republican commissioner John Lehman, a former Navy secretary. "But we wanted to let the American people make up their mind. They don't need our editorializing."


Commissioners won't point to individuals in the Clinton or Bush administrations, instead laying out what they consider a factual accounting of events.

"What's worked for us all along is looking at what the facts are and not trying to put any spin," said Democratic commissioner Jamie Gorelick, a former deputy attorney general. "We will lay out the facts with as much particularity as we can."

However, several commissioners say those facts could lead readers to conclude the attacks were preventable had the government done a better job following up on intelligence tips and tracking the 19 hijackers, some of whom entered the country illegally.

So, they are not saying the attack was preventable, but they are saying that readers could conclude that it was preventable.

Good. Glad we got that straightened out.

Johnson's Murderers Killed

...some of them, at least.

The head of slain American hostage Paul M. Johnson Jr., who was kidnapped and beheaded by militants in Saudi Arabia last month, was found in a raid on the house of Saudi Arabia's al-Qaida leader, the Interior Ministry said Wednesday.

Authorities said the head was found as Saudi security forces raided the home of Saleh Mohammed al-Aoofi. Two militants were killed and three were wounded in the sweep, but it was not clear if al-Aoofi was among them.

(Via: Rambling's Journal)

In related news: it appears that the Philippine pullout may have emboldened attackers to kidnap 6 more hostages:
Iraqi and U.S. officials had warned of a potential surge in threats and hostage-taking when the Philippines withdrew its 51-troop contingent from Iraq on Monday, giving in to the demands of militants holding a Filipino truck driver. The driver, Angelo dela Cruz, was released Tuesday.

A militant group calling itself "The Holders of the Black Banners," announced Wednesday it had taken two Kenyans, three Indians and an Egyptian hostage, and said it would behead a captive every 72 hours beginning Saturday night if their countries do not announce their intentions to withdraw troops and citizens from Iraq.

(Via: Powerline)

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Berger's Pants vs Fawn Hall's Bra

Everyone seems to be talking about this story:

Sandy Berger, former President Clinton's national security adviser, is under criminal investigation by the Justice Department after highly classified terrorism documents disappeared while he was reviewing what should be turned over to the Sept. 11 commission.


Berger and his lawyer said Monday night he knowingly removed the handwritten notes by placing them in his jacket and pants, and also inadvertently took copies of actual classified documents in a leather portfolio.

At least republican scandals happen in interesting places.

(Instapundit has a roundup. Wizbang summarizes the non-coverage by the NY Times. And Belmont Club has further commentary.)

One Jew Not Welcome In France

Jacque Chirac is trying to snub Ariel Sharon after the latter urged French Jews to leave France immediately:

Chirac had written that "after some weeks of contacts concerning such a visit it turns out that it is impossible ... and you are not welcome following your comments," [...]

Sharon sparked anger in Paris with a speech on Sunday in which he urged all French Jews to move immediately to Israel in order to escape what he called the "spread of the wildest anti-Semitism".

This has an aspect of the old "you can't quit, you're fired" joke.
(Via deacon at Powerline, who has more thoughts)

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Prayer Book Society Contest

The Society for the Preservation of the Book of Common Prayer is sponsoring a "godly competition to encourage the revival of the production and provision of contemporary prayers and hymns in the traditional religious language found in The Book of Common Prayer". The idea is to get people to write new prayers that are not in the "hey, dude" vernacular of "contemporary worship" services.

There will be six categories -- collects, prayers, litanies, hymns, liturgies and homilies. And there will be two age-groups -- those who have not yet reached their eighteenth birthday and those over eighteen years. All entries must be in English and may be submitted from any part of the world with British or American spelling. Each entrant shall make a statement to the effect that the submission is his own work.

I will be submitting the following collect, which I wrote in 1991 for St. Luke's. Every year we dedicate the Feast of Holy Innocents (Dec 28) to a prayer service for the unborn:
Lord God, who hast taught us to call thee "Father"; who hast created man from the dust of the earth and raised him, in Christ, to the very throne of Heaven; let us never cease praising thee for the unspeakable blessing of life and for the lives of our fellow men which are precious in our sight; Grant that we may more and more perceive thine image in our brothers, even those yet unborn, and that we may love them more and more; Make all nations and all peoples to know thy gospel and obey thy laws, that man may no more be a curse unto man; For his sake who, despising not the Virgin's womb, became a man for our salvation, thy Son, Jesus Christ.

Since the competition requires a minimum of three for the Collects category, I will have to come up with two more. Of course, this one is a bit longer than usual so I might be able to break it up into two separate collects.

Anyway, I think this is a wonderful idea and encourage anyone who reads this blog to give the competition some thought.

(Via: my friend and "Best Woman", Cindy who doesn't have a blog yet.)

Friday, July 16, 2004

A Belated Thanks to Jollyblogger

I saw this post by fellow theonomist, David Wayne, at Jollyblogger a couple of weeks ago, and meant to comment on it at the time, but ... well you know the story.  He is kind enough to compare my strategy of beating bad ideas with better ideas to similar words by Thomas Chalmers, the early 19th century scottish evangelical:

There are two ways in which a practical moralist may attempt to displace from the human heart its love of the world; either by a demonstration of the world's vanity, so as that the heart shall be prevailed upon simply to withdraw its regards from an object that is not worthy of it; or, by setting forth another object, even God, as more worthy of its attachment; so as that the heart shall be prevailed upon, not to resign an old affection which shall have nothing to succeed it, but to exchange an old affection for a new one. My purpose is to show, that from the constitution of our nature, the former method is altogether incompetent and ineffectual and that the latter method will alone suffice for the rescue and recovery of the heart from the wrong affection that domineers over it.

I was not specifically familiar with this discourse when I wrote my comments, but it does not surprise me that others thinkers in the Reformed tradition would have enunciated similar ideas.   American and European Christians have largely abandoned their birthright as intellectual leaders for the past century and a half, but it was not always so.   I think we are mired in the attitude of the Ephesian church noted in Revelation 2:1-5
I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.  You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.  Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.  Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.

Except that we don't do such a good job at weeding out the false apostles either...
For a taste of what Christian intellectual leadership looks like, I would recommend the editors of Touchstone Magazine. And, now that I know he is there, Jollyblogger,  himself, who is doing the work I should be doing were I not so slothful.

UPDATE: Oops. I guess he doesn't exactly consider himself a theonomist. But he seems to be "not a theonomist" in the same sense that I am not a theonomist -- to wit: generally sympathetic to their principles but wanting to keep a reasonable distance from the more absolutist elements. Fair enough. I will let him speak for himself, but I think the term can be used in a broader sense to indicate people who think that Christian principles provide the best foundation for society and government. Maybe this is too imprecise, since it would basically cover anyone faithful to the reformed tradition, but I still think we need some word to distinguish those who wish the kingdom to advance from those who wish to retreat. Theonomy works for me in the qualified sense noted above, but I am well aware of the criticisms that can rightly be leveled at the various theonomic groups.

UPDATE: On further reading, it looks like he is using the term "theonomist" as synonymous with "reconstructionist". This is a reasonable use of the term, since the Reconstructionists pretty much invented the current theories of theonomy. But I use the term theonomy as a genus and reconstruction as one species (and not the most exemplary species, at that). I sort of see my role as giving theonomy a more reasonable and irenic spirit than its representatives have heretofore shown. Since this could easily be a whole discussion in itself, I will save any future remarks on this subject for a seaparate post.

Abortion and the Bible for 100, Alex

Pastorius issued a challenge to me a week ago which I haven't had the time to respond to:

Reuters brings us this article on a European Union Court decision regarding fetal right to life:

STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - A doctor who aborted a fetus accidentally cannot be charged with manslaughter because European states do not agree whether an unborn baby is a person, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday. The court ruled that it could not answer the question of when the right to life begins and had to leave decisions on the issue to be taken at a national level. The ruling, which carries the weight of a precedent in European countries, contrasts with United States laws that have increasingly given fetuses some legal rights. (Huh?)The court turned down an appeal by Thi-Nho Vo, a French citizen of Vietnamese origin, against the hospital doctor who pierced her amniotic sac during an examination and had to abort her six-month-old fetus.

It has always been my position that abortion is the deliberate ending of a life. However, I have never been an absolutist on the issue of abortion. There are the issues of viability, and of the mothers health, and I have been, on occasion susceptible to the Beloved argument (Toni Morrision novel) about whether it is worth bringing a child into certain worlds, such as Nazi Germany or pestilential/famished Africa. And while we're at it, if you were a thinking woman, would you really want to bring a female child into a Taliban world?
It would seem that, for most people, the embryo is a child if they want it, and "just tissue" if they don't. The above Reuters story challenges just such a notion.
And, I believe the EU Court came up with a great answer. Certainly, the Court's answer flies in the face of many of the national sovereignty arguments that are made against the EU. Who would thunk it?
Anyway, here's my challenge to my man Jack: What's the Biblical answer to this question? There is a specific Torah remedy, as I recall. I'm hoping you remember chapter and verse. Please don't make me look it up. That would take me hours. 

First, the Biblical question -- I believe the passage Pastorius is referring to is Exodus 21: 22-23:

If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely; but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life... (NIV)
There are two problems with this passage for modern discussions of abortion.  The first is the ambiguity with regard to who is being injured.  The above translation has "gives birth prematurely" and therefore suggests that the "serious injury" applies to the child.  But the King James has:
If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.  And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life

which allows the inerpretation that it is the woman who is suffering the "mischief" and that the phrase "fruit depart from her" indicates a miscarriage.  I tend to the former interpretation, but even the NIV has "miscarriage" as a possible translation, so the text is not clear.
But in either case, the passage is only concerned with unintentional harm so it is not really applicable to the abortion issue which involves intentional harm.  There is no specific passage that deals with the question of abortion in the Old or New Testament, so we have to argue on the principle of whether the Bible treats the fetus as a person.   Several sources are available online for this discussion, but I will offer a few points that seem to give a pretty definitive answer.
First look at Luke 1:41-45:
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!  But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.  Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!"

This seems a pretty obvious case of the Bible ascribing human emotions to an unborn child.  "Pieces of tissue" do not experience joy.  But it could be argued that this child had already reached the point of viability.  I don't honestly see that as relevant, since any non-viable fetus would become viable if you just leave it alone, but we will ignore that point.  Yet in Psalm 51:5 we read:
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

I really don't see how you can get around this point if you are seriously trying to understand the question of when "personhood" begins from a biblical perspective.  Of course, most people dismiss this as poetic hyperbole, but such an argument can be applied to any passage that we find inconvenient.  But Christians have always looked to this passage in light of the doctrine of Original Sin, and if that begins at conception then so, presumably, does human life.  People that strive to be faithful to the historic teaching of the Christianity really do not have any alternative on this point.
But one final point about Pastorius' post disturbs me:
I have been, on occasion susceptible to the Beloved argument (Toni Morrision novel) about whether it is worth bringing a child into certain worlds, such as Nazi Germany or pestilential/famished Africa. And while we're at it, if you were a thinking woman, would you really want to bring a female child into a Taliban world?

This may be a good argument for not having children in those circumstances, although I would dispute that point.  But surely it has no bearing on the abortion question.  Do we really want to start judging whose life is and isn't worth living?  Job complains in 10:18-19
Why then did you bring me out of the womb? I wish I had died before any eye saw me.  If only I had never come into being, or had been carried straight from the womb to the grave!

But as the end of that book reminds us, "The LORD blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first."  Hardly an endorsement of the accuracy of quality of life predictions.

Whiskey Douses Rall...

... at Captains Quarters

“I'd rather sleep under a bridge, eating trash out of a Dumpster, than murder human beings for Halliburton.”
I think I'd rather do either than see another Rall cartoon. Thanks, Whiskey, for yet another sacrifice in the service of our country.

While he's busy boycotting military service I wonder if Rall will also be boycotting military protection. Is it now safe for terrorists and other foreign powers to attack him? My suspicion is they won't take his leftist views into account if he ever finds himself the star of the next orange jumpsuit video, if that's what he's counting on.
And by the way, Whiskey, welcome back.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Keep Guns in School?

Blogger Joel Keralis at Good Morning America thinks so:

The debate concerns the Trap Shooting program at Norris High School.

Many towns in rural areas across the country have trap shooting programs, but what is different about the one here at Norris is that we have a trap shooting range on school property; something that sets our program apart from just about every other school in the nation.
The problem is that certain people are convinced that one day, for no apparent reason, some deranged kid is going to take one of the shotguns used for trap and go on a shooting spree. The leader of this group of individuals is a certain Sandy Wescott of Hickman. Wescott claims to be a "concerned parent" although she doesn't even have any children that attend Norris.
Now for the truth about the apparent safety issues. First off, all trap team members are required to take a firearms safety course before they can be a member of the team. This effectively eliminates incompetence from the scene. Next, the safety rules are extremely strict, and must be followed to the letter of the law if the students want to remain on the team. There are staff members on hand at all times during practice, and no horseplay whatsoever is tolerated. Thirdly, the Trap team has the best safety record of all the extracurricular activities at Norris. There have been many more serious injuries to Marching Band members. In fact, there have been no injury accidents in the history of the Norris trap program.
(Via ShowCase)

I would go one step further and require that all public schools have a gun safety course instituted as part of the curriculum, which would require at least some target practice, although I would be flexible about how that requirement was fulfilled. Airguns would be acceptable in extremely poor settings, but actual firearms should be used where practical. The point is to get people familiar with the operation of guns and eliminate or reduce their irrational fear of them.

People who advocate "sensible gun laws" usually promote requiring handgun owners to obtain a license before purchasing a gun. One major argument they frequently use is that we already require a license for driving a car, and gun use is at least as dangerous. (It isn't really: cars are involved in injuries or fatalities much more frequently than firearms -- by a factor of about 40 -- but we'll let that pass.) Taking the argument at face value, we should note that we also require schools to provide driver training classes to all students, frequently including behind-the-wheel training. Why should guns be different.

On a similar note, one commonly advocated remedy for the prevalence of AIDS and other STDs is sex-education. While this doesn't usually involve "behind-the-wheel" training, (at least not in my high school -- that was left as homework), there are programs that hand out free condoms. It seems strange that a similar focus on education is not usually advocated for the issue of gun-safety.

IMAO Gets Official

He's wrong about the Coke/Pepsi thing, but otherwise pretty much on target. Oh, and Happy Blogiversary.

Monday, July 05, 2004

God, Chomsky and Reason

Andrew from Ambient Irony emails a mild difference of opinion on my Chomsky posts:

I disagree with you about Chomsky. I'm not actually sure whether he hates God or not (and indeed I'm not entirely sure what you mean by that).

But I strongly feel that the biggest problem with Chomsky is his anti-rationality. He's not just irrational; he actively attacks rational thought.

His linguistic theories are really just cargo-cult linguistics - pretty words that *look like* a linguistic theory but don't actually mean anything. His broader philosophy suffers from the same problem. His approach is that if you dress it up prettily enough, people won't notice that there's nothing there.

But it gets even worse: The post-modernist notion that all points of view are equally valid - and that science is a construct of Western bias and has no special validity - flat out contradicts everything we actually know. This nonsense has caused brain rot throughout academia all around the world.

An the cure for that is to make every student take and pass a course in engineering. That will thin the buggers out a bit. :)

I am not sure that this is actually a disagreement but rather a difference in emphasis. What I said was "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." This entails that Chomsky's irrationality (or anti-rationality as Andrew aptly puts it) is part of his problem, just not the most fundamental part.

I agree that anti-rationality is a major problem, but I suggest that one does not come to be anti-rational unless there is a more basic motivation at work. After all, Chomsky, and others like him, will use the tools of reason in their arguments so, at least to that extent they pay homage to reason even while arguing that objective reason is a myth. This is the same principle that makes a hypocrite pay lip service to virtue, even while living a morally reprehensible life. But what motivates this hatred of reason in a man obviously not willing to make the final step of explicitly embracing madness?

I submit that anti-reason is a misguided attempt to strike out at God, who, being invulnerable, does not present as promising a target. Similar principles hold with anti-Semitism -- also one of Chomsky's vices -- by the way. It is the moral equivalent of the man who, angry at his boss, goes home and yells at his wife, beats the kids or maybe just kicks the dog. It is the same principle that Milton attributed to Satan in Paradise Lost:
Nor will occasion want, nor shall we need
With dangerous expedition to invade
Heav'n, whose high walls fear no assault or Siege,
Or ambush from the Deep. What if we find
Some easier enterprize?

As to the question of whether or not Chomsky hates God: it is true that he tends to present himself as more of an agnostic in such quotes as this:
How do I define God? I don't. Divinities have been understood in various ways in the cultural traditions that we know. Take, say, the core of the established religions today: the Bible. It is basically polytheistic, with the warrior God demanding of his chosen people that they not worship the other Gods and destroy those who do -- in an extremely brutal way, in fact. It would be hard to find a more genocidal text in the literary canon, or a more violent and destructive character than the God who was to be worshipped. So that's one definition.
Looking beyond, we find other conceptions, of many kinds. But I have nothing to propose. People who find such conceptions important for themselves have every right to frame them as they like. Personally, I don't. That's why you haven't found my "thoughts on this [for you] criticaI question." I have none, because I see no need for them (apart from the -- often extremely interesting and revealing -- inquiry into human culture an history).

But reading between the lines, it is not at all difficult to see his utter contempt for the God of the Bible and for religious people in general. And yet he frequently casts himself as a defender of people whose religion is vastly more violent and imperialistic than Christianity. My conclusion is that his fundamental war is with his creator and that the hatred of Capitalism, of Jews, of Western civilization, and of Reason itself are symptoms of this more basic disease.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Laugh if You Must...

...but I think this might actually have possibilities:

Al Sharpton [...] now has a job on a reality TV show that guides people on career makeovers. Spike TV, the Viacom cable channel that targets a young male audience, said Sharpton will host "I Hate My Job," premiering in the fall.

"I like the concept of trying to have people discover their purpose in life, and not have the world define them or settle for less than who they want to be just to pay their bills," Sharpton said Tuesday.

The eight male contestants in the show will quit their jobs and work with two "life counselors," Sharpton and California psychologist Stephanie Raye, who will give them advice and weekly assignments. A panel will decide which contestants will continue each week.

Yes, I know, Al Sharpton is the enemy and nothing he has ever said or done up to this point has been worthy of the notice it has received. But I come from a tradition that commands love of enemies and turning the other cheek, and if we can get past our immediate distaste for the man there are several points here that should be encouraging to conservatives.

Look, first of all, the man is talking about getting jobs and, more importantly, about people taking initiative in changing their life. This is almost a complete reversal of his usual schtick of victimhood and resentment. That alone should merit notice. Even if this were not Al Sharpton we were talking about, having a black leader advocate and model a proactive approach to self-improvement could do wonders for the black community.

And the venue itself is intriguing. I am no fan of television and reality shows are the scum on that particular fetid pond as far as my (intentionally limited) experience goes. But there is no denying that they are popular with exactly the sort of people who could possibly benefit from a show about getting a better job. Also, a show where a black guy and a woman are handing out advice to young males (some of whom are likely going to be white) is apt to appeal to the diversity crowd. In other words, some liberals might actually learn something. True, people usually don't learn much from passive entertainment, but at least the psychological association between competition and the job market might seep into a few public-schooled, nanny-stated skulls full of mush. You never know.

It's probably too much to hope for, but I also find the fact that a minister is being slated for a role of counselor encouraging as well. No, Sharpton wouldn't be my choice for a public representative of Christianity, and the show is not likely to emphasize any of his religious insights (if any). But, again, you never know. Christ has a way of working miracles in rather unlikely subjects. St. Paul, for instance.

And, speaking of St. Paul, what if Mr. Sharpton found that he actually liked making a positive contribution to society, rather than constantly tearing apart the work of others for his own personal agrandizement. Is it possible that he might actually start seeing things from a more conservative perspective? If he did, the response from the Right, after they got over their shock, would probably be much more welcoming than he has probably considered. That has been the experience of such former leftists as David Horowitz and Tammy Bruce.

OK, this is a big leap, and there is no indication that Sharpton is even contemplating it. But, call me a crazy optimist, in the back of my mind I keep hearing Mouse from the Matrix asking, "What if he makes it?"

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Side Benefits of Early Hand-Over

Zeyad posts his impressions of the sovereignty hand-over in Iraq. On of the interesting points he mentions in passing:

I thought it was a wise decision to announce the event two days before it was planned so I wasn't much surprised, though some people argue that it spoiled the whole thing. Actually, it took the unguarded Arab media by complete surprise, and I swear I could notice their confusion since it was very obvious that they hadn't yet prepared anything to downplay the significance of the event. [emphasis mine]

Heh. The original intent in making the hand-over early was to short circuit potential terrorists. I guess it short-circuited their apologists as well.

Rabmlings Journal

Michael King of Ramblings Journal has evidently added me to his blogroll. My guess is that it was automatically done when I linked to his picture montage of President Bush and PM Tony Blair shaking hands over the transfer of Iraqi sovereignty here.

Whatever, I'll take it. Thanks Michael! You have been added to my blogroll as well.