Friday, October 29, 2004

Wake Me When the Worms Start Doing the Research

My friend Pastorius sends this link and asks for my comments:

Estimate for Number of Human Genes Slashed

In a blow to human vanity, researchers now say that people have about the same number of genes as a small flowering plant or a tiny worm. The new estimate is down sharply from just three years ago.

"We (humans) don't look very impressive in the competition," said Dr. Francis Collins, co-author of the new analysis by the international group that decoded the human genome.
I don't think I have much to add to what Pastorius has already said, but here are some of my thoughts.

First, the notion that human vanity is tied up in our gene count is rather absurd. When was the last time you walked into a bar and said "Hey, baby! Want to see my genetic profile?" Unless she is a Nazi lover, I doubt she will be very "impressed". As in most things, it isn't the size that matters so much as how you use it.

Curiously, this very point is made by the article in question. Below the fold, of course, but there none the less:
So how can humans be so complex with relatively few genes?

In comparison to simpler organisms, Collins said, humans benefit more from genes that turn out multiple proteins rather than one, and from complex proteins that do more than one job. And anyway, lots of biological complexity is based not on individual proteins but on combinations, which can create lots of variety from the proteins found in people, he said.

Lander said he's not concerned that the number of human genes has turned out to be so limited.

"To the contrary, I think it's great news," he said, "because what it means is we already know a lot about most human genes."
This is an all-too-common tactic in rhetorical journalism: set the emotional tone you want to create in the first few paragraphs then add any contrary evidence at the end, where most people will not read it or, if they do, will read it in the context of the lead. This gives the illusion of balanced reporting without actually providing its substance.

There would be nothing wrong with this if the absolutist statements at the begining had been flagged as open to dispute. Clearly Collins' statement that "we don't look very impressive" is thoroughly contradicted by the fact that we use the limited genetic material much more efficiently. I guess it goes back to what you are impressed by, but the complexity of the genetic code is a major point in the argument for Intelligent Design. Without going too far off the topic, here is a brief description of how this mechanism works.

DNA uses sequences of four basic amino acids (Adenine, Cytosine, Guanine and Taurine) to form its instruction set. These four (usually represented as A, G, C and T) make up the "alphabet" of the DNA code. A sequence of DNA might look like this:


This sequence has 10 characters which would be "read" by messenger RNA three characters at a time to form "words". So the above sequence would be read as


Three words with the final incomplete word being ignored. However, if you start reading at a poiint shifted by one character, it is also possible to read this sequence as


Similarly we could shift two characters and read


This would give us only two complete words and two incomplete ones. Now for some sequences, those alternate readings would be meaningful and for others it would not. But the point is that information can be stored in a very compact way as long as the mRNA "knows" how to get it back out again. Pretty impressive for my money.

But returning to the article, I think the impression they are trying to give is that humans are really nothing special. But, as Pastorius point out, this is certainly not proven by their materialistic analysis. A more instructive comparison of worms and men may be found in Psalm 22:
1 My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?
2 O my God, I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.
3 But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.
4 Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.
5 They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.
6 But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.
7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,
8 He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.
9 But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother's breasts.
10 I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother's belly.
11 Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.
12 Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.
13 They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.
18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.
19 But be not thou far from me, O LORD: O my strength, haste thee to help me.
20 Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.
21 Save me from the lion's mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.
22 I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.
23 Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel.
24 For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.
25 My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him.
26 The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek him: your heart shall live for ever.
27 All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.
28 For the kingdom is the LORD's: and he is the governor among the nations.
29 All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul.
30 A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.
31 They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.
It is worth noting that Jesus quoted this psalm from the cross, when he had taken the worm-like sins of men upon himself in order to defeat them. As I said, it depends on what impresses you.

Logic Monkey

I've been linked (and blogrolled!) by fellow culture warrior Logic Monkey as an additional anti-Chomsky resource. Ironically, he cites my post defending my lack of interest in rebutting Chomsky. Well, I did think that was one of my better written posts, but it is funny that it has generated the majority of my popularity (such as it is) either directly or indirectly. (It was that post which made me aware of JollyBlogger, which eventually led to my joining the League of Reformed Bloggers.)

Logic Monkey is a bit more of a firebrand than I, but, judging by his blogroll, he has very sensible reading tastes including: G.K. Chesterton, Charles Williams and Tammy Bruce. (That last link I didn't know existed!) I don't pretend to be worthy of inclusion in that list, but am glad to be included all the same.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Sola Scriptura and Theonomy

Since I am generally more concerned with political rather than theological issues (with praxis rather than poesis for you Greek buffs) I have decided to focus my Sola Scriptura submission for the Carnival of the Reformation on the application of that principle to political theory and jurisprudence. Obviously such a topic is far too vast for a blog entry, but I will limit myself to discussing the parallels between the doctrine of the sufficiency of scripture and the principles of theonomy.

First some definitions. As an Anglican, I hold to the formulation of Sola Scriptura as described in Article VI of the 39 Articles: "Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation".

Holy Scriptures containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.
By saying that I hold to this statement, I am not, of course, denying the validity of the other reformed statements on the subject. The Westminster confession is much more detailed for those that like things nailed down rigorously and I think the Belgic Confession's formulation is the cat's pajamas. But for my money, the succinctness and humility of the English reformers is a major selling point because they say exactly what needs to be said and then stop.

But, speaking of humility, the observant reader will note that the very next article "Of the Old Testatment" states:
The Old Testament is not contrary to the New; for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and man, being both God and man. Wherefore they are not to be heard which feign that the old fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the law given from God by Moses, as touching ceremonies and rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet, notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the commandments which are called moral.
There is a similar discussion in Westminster (Article XIX). So any Reformational understanding of the civil state must take into account this provision that the Law of God cannot be incorporated directly. I believe, however, that a proper understanding of the principle of Sola Scriptura is the key to navigating this strait between Biblical Formalism and Enlightenment Liberalism.

Limited Scope

Note, first of all, what is not said. The most common misunderstanding of Sola Scriptura is that it asserts that the Bible is the only source of knowledge of God or, more radically still, that the Bible is the only truth. But this is clearly not what is intended. The "sola" means simply that scripture is the only necessary authority for learning what we need to be saved.

Similarly, theonomy should never assert that the Bible is the only valid source of civil law or that governments that have non-biblical laws are illegitimate. This is the surest sign of a Kool-aid drinker and has caused untold strife among the Reformed community -- and, incidentally, has given theonomy a bad name. Rather, the assertion should be that the Law of God is the best, and ultimately the only, reliable standard of justice and all human laws should be evaluated in its light.

Reason and Wisdom

Another point worth noting is the phrase "proved thereby". This is an acknowledgement that scripture must be read with wisdom and discernment in order to understand the message. There is a common expression in the evangelical community that we have "no creed but the Bible". This sounds clever, but it is actually a recipe for disaster. If we are not allowed to draw conclusions and general principles from scripture -- that is to apply our faculty of reason to it -- we will be condemned to repeat the theological errors of past generations or, at best, be forced to re-invent orthodoxy in every age. (I think this attitude among Christians is a major reason for the current distress of our culture, but a full discussion of that will take us too far off topic.)

Again there is a parallel here with theonomy. A common charge against theonomists is that we are attempting to create heaven on earth or, more sinisterly, to re-institute the Old Testament theocracy (a thing which never existed, but that is a topic for another day). I admit that there are some theonomists who talk this way, but the fact is they are as full of crap as their critics. The real goal should be to establish as just and peaceful a society as humanly possible. In the words of the Book of Common Prayer "that we may pass our time in rest and quietness" (from the Collect for Peace in Evening Prayer). To achieve such a society, of course, requires a virtuous people and wise and prudent governors in addition to Biblical principles. The clearest example of this principle is found in the reign of Solomon (*ahem* before 1 Kings 11). He had the Law, of course, but his reign was the golden age of Israel because of his further gift of wisdom.


The most important thing to remember about Sola Scriptura is that its purpose is the liberty of the Christian. We see this in Aritcle VI in the provision that whatever is not found in scripture "is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith". The concern of the reformers was not to state an abstract epistemological principle, but to correct a specific abuse that had crept up in the church: the multiplying of religiuos obligations and observances that were never required by God. Too often in evangelical and reformed churches this principle is seen as an end in itself; as if the purpose of worshipping God were to avoid any unbiblical practices, rather than the other way around. This back-door pharisaism is particularly ironic because it uses the very principle that ought to free us from fear as a source of anxiety -- the haunting fear that we might do something that isn't found in the Bible.

In the same way, the purpose of establishing God's law in the civil state should not be looked at as a sign of victory for our side or a glorying in the foreskins of the heathen. Rather it should be because the only true liberty comes from obedience to God and trust and respect for one's neighbor. In a just and well-ordered society, the citizen knows what to expect and what is expected of him. I personally believe that the true biblical model is democratic (on the strength of 1 Samuel 8 and the beautiful parable of Jathom in Judges 9:7-15) but, again, that is another discussion. The real crux of the issue, with which I will close, is found in Deuteronomy 4: 5-8:
See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people." What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?
I can't think of a better aspiration for civil government.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Two Posts About Abortion

FIRST: note this page of survivors of abortion attempts:

It's something that is rarely discussed, but sometimes children do survive abortion attempts. It's impossible to know exactly how many survive. However, here are a few stories of individuals we know have survived abortion attmepts. Some of them escaped relatively unharmed. Others were profoundly injured by their abortions. Their stories deserved to be told, regardless. Where possible, a photo of the abortion survivor has been provided so that you can attach a real, human face to the victims of abortions, who are so often dehumanized by efforts to defend abortion.

Is it significant that all of these survivors happen to be women? Probably not, but it's worth noting that when people talk about a woman's right to choose, she may be preventing another woman from ever realizing that very right.
(Food Chain: A Physicist's Perspective -> Blogicus)

SECOND: Is it possible that abortions are actually on the rise under the Bush administration?
I look at the fruits of political policies more than words. I analyzed the data on abortion during the George W. Bush presidency. There is no single source for this information - federal reports go only to 2000, and many states do not report - but I found enough data to identify trends. My findings are counterintuitive and disturbing.

Abortion was decreasing. When President Bush took office, the nation's abortion rates were at a 24-year low, after a 17.4% decline during the 1990s. This was an average decrease of 1.7% per year, mostly during the latter part of the decade. (This data comes from Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life using the Guttmacher Institute's studies).

Enter George W. Bush in 2001. One would expect the abortion rate to continue its consistent course downward, if not plunge. Instead, the opposite happened.

I found three states that have posted multi-year statistics through 2003, and abortion rates have risen in all three: Kentucky's increased by 3.2% from 2000 to 2003. Michigan's increased by 11.3% from 2000 to 2003. Pennsylvania's increased by 1.9% from 1999 to 2002. I found 13 additional states that reported statistics for 2001 and 2002. Eight states saw an increase in abortion rates (14.6% average increase), and five saw a decrease (4.3% average decrease).

(Via Andrew Sullivan)

I don't buy the argument (not included in the above quote) that the rise in abortions is due to the faltering economy. This comes more from leftist speculation than actual data. And the author notes that the data are incomplete, which seems like a pretty serious caveat.

I have often pointed out that people should not be single issue voters on the abortion question, especially at the presidential level where the impact is indirect at best. Ultimately this battle will be won by changing the culture, not changing the laws.

But if this report turns out to be accurate, it is still rather depressing.

UPDATE: Hmm. Looks like the study may not be that accurate after all. This from the National Right to Life:
A piece by a California seminary professor is appearing on the internet and an in several newspapers claiming that abortions have increased under the Bush administration. While trotting out what appear to be detailed statistics from several states, the professor has one basic problem: his numbers don’t hold up.


There have been no national figures published beyond 2000. Setting aside for the moment the question of whether the sixteen states Stassen uses to support his claim of a reversed national trend are representative of the country as a whole, Stassen’s case falls apart when one attempts to confirm the data he has reported.


That would leave just 6 increasing versus 8 decreasing states, the opposite of what Stassen claims. Stassen’s case falls apart.
Stassen’s thesis that abortion increases can be linked to job losses and other economic factors doesn’t even hold up to his own data.

While some states where Stassen said abortions increased also saw increases in their unemployment rates over those same years, there are also plenty of counter-examples. Illinois’s abortions dropped substantially between 2002 and 2003, in spite of its unemployment rate being stuck at 6.7%, among the worst in the nation. Ohio’s unemployment rate rose considerably relative to most other states, but abortions there declined. If the economic determinism Stassen assumes was valid, those state results would be reversed.

This is quite a relief. And note that they confirmed my earlier caveats about the incompleteness of the data and the bad-economy explanation. Of course, National Right to Life is not going to be perceived as an unbiased source by the general public, but I am less concerned about how this affects the election than about the overall effectiveness of the pro-life movement. I have been arguing lately that we are winning the abortion debate and I would hate to see that proved false.
(Via The Corner)

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Boldness and Blunders

A US Marine emails Andrew Sullivan the best defense of Bush's record in post-war Iraq that I have seen. I quote the message in its entirety:

"I was stationed at a base (Al Taqqadum) South-West of Fallujah that we took over from the 82nd Airborne. Your writing about the Abu Graib prompted me write this. It is an explanation of why so many in the military favor Bush, even though we are the ones suffering the most because of his mistakes:

It is an old military maxim that blunders can be forgiven, but a lack of boldness cannot. There will always be blunders. The simple becomes difficult in war. Take for example the following question: what is 2+2 equal too? An easy question right? Now imagine I gave you 15 such questions and you had 2 seconds to answer them. Most likely you would answer some and leave the rest. Looking at those questions you missed in isolation I might say, "What kind of blathering idiot are you? You can't even answer simple questions like 2+2=4". That is why Armchair Generals are so annoying. They look at one thing in isolation with all the time in the world to think about it and say confidently "the answers obvious". But when you are out in the fight everything looks different. Nothing is ever seen in isolation. You never have enough time. You never know more than 1/10 what you need to know. There will always be blunders.

But the job has to get done anyway. And to get this kind of job done boldness is essential. A leader who never blunders, but who doesn't take the fight to the enemy is worthless. A leader who sets about to win - win ugly if needs be - is priceless.

One thing the Marine Corps taught me is that a 70% solution acted on immediately and violently is better than a perfect solution acted on later. My experience has proven this true time and again. The sad fact is however, that a 70% solution is a 30% mistake. And those mistakes can be hard to take. In WWII for example, 700 soldiers drowned in a training accident in preparation for D-Day (that is about how many combat deaths we've experienced so far in Iraq).

There is a scene in the movie "We were Soldiers" that says it better than I can. In the scene a young soldier on the ground is giving directions on enemy positions to aircraft flying overhead. The aircraft then dropped Napalm on the enemy. At one point the soldier gets the directions wrong and stares horrified as the Napalm is dropped on his own unit. The soldier is shaken beyond belief. He sat there doing nothing - paralyzed by his mistake. Then his Commanding Officer gave him the confidence to carry on. The CO told him to "forget about that last one" and "you're keeping us alive here". And so the soldier swallowed his guilt and kept doing his job and thereby saved the unit. That is what a 70% solution looks like in real life. And those are the 70% solutions that win wars.

Most people and events are beyond your control. Most questions you don't have time to answer. Most facts you will never know. But you have to press the attack anyway. No matter how ugly it gets, you keep going until you win.

Kerry doesn't understand that. Everything he did during the Cold War and everything he says about this one states as much. He represents those who would never blunder, but who would not take the fight to the enemy. He would just sit there - like the soldier in the movie - paralyzed by America's mistakes."

Lets Not Make This About Hair, People

Michelle Malkin is spot on about John Edwards' hair video:

It's all icky creepy. But that's TV for ya. I don't hold it against John Edwards that he cares about how he looks when appearing in a visual medium. Every one of the politicians running for high office (with the possible exception of Ralph Nader) does. Big deal.

And before Bush supporters get carried away with the Edwards video, remember that this is a cheap Michael Moore-ish tactic. He used the same kind of clandestine footage of President Bush preparing for a televised speech--as well as similar outtakes of Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz getting ready for TV interviews --to mock the Administration in his crockumentary, Fahrenheit 9/11.

If you want to have a fair laugh at Edwards' expense, forget the hair video and just watch his debate performance again.
I'm no fan of TV and I have the kind of hair that could get me kicked out of your better homeless shelters. But even I know that this sort of preparation is necessary for a visual medium.

I really wish we could have had a better Democratic ticket so that this election would be decided on principle rather than image. And I wish we were the kind of country that decided things based on principle rather than image. But the lack of such an ideal world is no excuse for rushing to the lowest level. Leave that sort of tactic to the Democrats and lets focus on the weaknesses of the Kerry/Edwards platform.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Wikipedia as a Proxy for Left/Right Integrity

The Proprietor at NDegrees makes an interesting observation:

I'm a fan of Wikis and the Wikipedia in particular, but as Orin Kerr points out on Volokh, it's important to know the limitations of the genre. In general, the reliability of the Wikipedia information on a particular topic is inversely proportional to the level of controversy and passion elicited by that topic. Kerr uses the Patriot Act entry as an example and points to major factual errors in the current entry. And if he corrects the problems, Kerr asserts, "someone else will come along and 'correct it back.'" No doubt this is true.

Perhaps the most egregious example of this is the Wikipedia page on George W Bush. When I went to visit this entry a few minutes ago, the primary picture of Bush had been replaced with a subtle, yet vile, photoshopped version. Being the upstanding citizen that I am, I went in and edited the page and removed the picture (I would have done the same if it were the Kerry page). Within 5 minutes, the photoshopped version was back. I checked the history page and there have been 59 modifications of the page so far today. Of these modifications, the comments on about a third of them read something like "removed vandalism"; another third appear to be substantive changes to the page; the remaining third, one can assume, are responsible for inserting the vandalism.


For comparison, I checked the John Kerry page as well. As you would expect, it has also seen a lot of activity (18 changes today) and some vandalism but not as much as the Bush page.

Now the point is obviously that unregulated populism is unreliable on controversial topics. That is pretty much what "controversial" means -- lack of popular consensus.

But I find it interesting that the Kerry page got fewer modifications, therefore, presumably less vandalism. Could that be taken as a rough indication of the greater self-control and respect for opposing views? Especially since the conventional wisdom is that the demographics of internet users skew to the right?

Well, the first objection would be that this is simply anecdotal information, which doesn't generally prove much. Granted.

A more subtle objection would be that, even if it is significant, the event in question may just indicate that Kerry supporters are less likely to correct the vandalism against their guy, thus requiring fewer actual vandalism attempts from the right. I don't in the least buy this, but without further data it can't be dismissed a priori. But still, this seems to comport with lots of other anecdotal, unscientific impressions I have gained over the years. And quite a lot of my fellow converts from the left seem to have similar impressions.

Anyway, food for thought.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Leftist Uprising?

Pastorius at Christians United Against the New Anti-Semitism (CUANAS) notes the following disturbing post at Winds of Change:

Talk of violent "resistance" is common on campus when the possibility of a Republican victory is raised. I know for a fact that after 2000 they will never simply accept the democratic process in this country and wait 4 years for another chance; rather, they will do all they can to de-legitimize the entire American process itself. And as philosophers have understood for a long time, the power of any institution can only remain in power as long as it remains quasi-mystical in the minds of its subjects. That is, as soon as the democratic process is questioned, it no longer works. We used to tolerate being governed by those we don't agree with because of the legitimacy conferred upon them by democratic elections. The fact that we are appealing to the UN, the organization with Libya and the Sudan on its human rights committee and Syria on its security council, to monitor OUR elections, in the country where modern democracy was born, terrifies me. Once our process has been besmirched, why should we be content to remain within the system? The hate-filled ideologues at my university gain self-satisfaction by thinking of themselves as "dissidents," and I know several who intend to bring anarchy if the election doesn't go the way they want.

Pastorius comments:
I think it is worth taking Gonzalo's warning under advisement.

While I do to some extent believe Gonzalo's warning to [be] legitimate, I don't believe there is much of a threat of mass physical violence emanating from the halls of academia. Call me naive, but

1) I don't believe the competing ideologies of the left can create, organize, or sustain violence on a mass scale.

2) I don't believe that academia possesses the actual surge of masculine energy required to carry out an organized war.

And, finally,

3) I don't believe they have a large plurality with the strength of conviction required to get anything done. (Of course, the academic left has been a seminal influence in the creation, organization and sustaining of violence in countries where they did have a base with strength of conviction.)

I would add:

4) They aren't armed. We are (for the time being).

But I digress. Pastorius continues:
To put it bluntly, I think the academic left is a whole population of children at play. They are not real people participating in a real world. Their ideas boil down to "how can we mug the power structure so we can get something for nothing" and thus do not contain any real weight. There is no there there. They are purely anti-structural. All they can really do is say "no," in the manner of children playing in a room who are suddenly interrupted by a parent telling them it is time to do their homework.

What the academic left does best is create chaos. They do this very well. They have now educated several generations of people, who have moved into positions of power in business, media and law who's agenda is generally how to verbally riot and collect booty. Their angry words and pretty "let's share everything - we're entitled" values continue to appeal to new generations of young people who feel hopeless and afraid of the prospect of having to become responsible.

The academic left is winning the slow war against responsibility and accountability by introducing ever-increasing chaos into the systems of the West. They will continue to file motions and write articles and stage P.R. events. They will continue to use clueless Hollywood stars to give themselves an aura of hipness. They will continue to, like Moloch, feed on the children whose lives they destroy by starving them of reality. That's what they can do. That's what the left is good at.

But, actually organizing a real resistance? Hah.

But, of course, in the final analysis an organized resistance isn't really necessary. The Rodney King riots in L.A. and the WTO riots in Seattle show how much damage the left is still capable of inflicting, even if they aren't organized. And the signs do indicate a serious level of rage among leftists, even those not on the fringe. So this is certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Sexiest Woman Promotes Family Values

Sort of:

Angelina Jolie, who manages to mesmerize men -- and fight off robot invaders -- with just one eye in her latest movie, has been named the "sexiest woman alive" in the latest edition of Esquire magazine.


She also reveals that she recently bought an airplane and is taking flying lessons, a hobby she embraced because she and her 3-year-old adopted son share a fascination with planes.

"I have to concentrate on my son," she said. "That's why I have lovers right now and not a boyfriend. I don't want my son to start calling somebody Daddy unless that person's gonna stay."

How heart-warming. No really, I'm touched. Where do you even start with the Consitutional ammendment for this one?

Saturday, October 16, 2004

More on Bush the Liberal

Paul Mulshine of the New Jersey Star Ledger explains why he is voting for this clown:

Recently, I spoke to an audience of college kids. The subject was our president. For 20 minutes or so, I gave them my assessment of George W. Bush, that he is a spoiled rich kid who wasted his youth partying with his frat-boy buddies and then woke up one morning and decided to become president. I pointed out that his domestic policy has been disastrous and his foreign policy idiotic.

We came to the question-and- answer session. "So who are you voting for?" one of the students asked.

"Why, George Bush, of course."

The kids were amazed. I was amazed they were amazed. All of my criticisms of Bush were from the right. I believe in small government; Bush believes in big government. John Kerry believes in even bigger government. Ergo, I will vote for Bush.

He goes a bit farther than I would in his criticism (I don't think Bush is either a hayseed or a religious bigot) but the general point that he is at best a moderate is quite accurate. And has been since at least the 2000 primary, as I've already noted.

(Via: The Corner)


I suspect that this will be used by the left to discredit Bush's policies in Iraq:

The Army is investigating up to 19 members of a supply platoon in Iraq who refused to go on a convoy mission, the military said Friday. Relatives of the soldiers said the troops considered the mission too dangerous, in part because their vehicles were in such poor shape.


The reservists are from a fuel platoon that is part of the 343rd Quartermaster Company, based in Rock Hill, S.C. The unit delivers food, water and fuel on trucks in combat zones.


A commanding general has ordered the unit to undergo a "safety-maintenance stand down," during which it will conduct no further missions as the unit's vehicles undergo safety inspections, the military said.

On Wednesday, 19 members of the platoon did not show up for a scheduled 7 a.m. meeting in Tallil, in southeastern Iraq, to prepare for the fuel convoy's departure a few hours later, the military statement said.

Sounds like pretty poor support for our troops. But the fact is, in a time of war, soldiers do not have the authority to decide which orders they will obey. Here's the bottom line:
"An initial report indicated that some of the 19 soldiers (not all) refused to participate in the convoy as directed," the military statement says.

The mission was ultimately carried out by other soldiers from the 343rd, which has at least 120 soldiers, the military said.

I am reserving judgment until the promised investigationis made. But my initial impression is that this is a serious breach of discipline in a war zone. It doesn't look good for these 19 soldiers.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Lochner Conference in Boston

Randy Barnett of the Volokh Conspiracy notes that he will be moderating a conference at Boston Universit School of Law on the centenary of Lochner v New York.

In Lochner, the Supreme Court held that a state maximum hours laws for bakery workers violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it interfered with the liberty of contract. (The case was decided in 1905, and the law review issue in which the paper are to be published will appear in 2005.) The case later came to be reviled by the Supreme Court and constitutional law professors, though in recent years it has received somewhat more sympathetic treatment by some legal academics.

For those of you keeping track at home, Lochner is a textbook case of judicial activism and has become almost synonymous with the concept. Judges who legislate from the bench are often said to "lochnerize" the issue. Why this is the case is something of a mystery to me, since it was not the first example of such behavior and not a particularly egregious one at that. I suspect it may have gotten its evil reputation because it was one of the last such decisions to lean in a conservative direction. ("Conservative" in this case meaning "in the interest of commerce and free-markets", not judicially conservative.) Shortly after this time social theory in the US began to drift toward the left, culminating in the quasi-socialism of the New Deal era.

I find it somewhat troubling that this case is now gaining sympathy, and seems to have been since the 1980s. While I agree with the political theory in Lochner, its constitutional theory is just as deplorable as any other instance of judicial activism. I would rather see conservatives win this argument on principle -- by virtue of persuasion and education of the voting public -- rather than turn to the use of judicial dictatorship, however benevolent.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Cryptanalyze This

The Sullivan quote I linked to previously about Bush's reference to Dred Scott being a coded reference to Roe v Wade got me thinking about another abortion-related comment that could similarly be encoded. This was from an in-law (a liberal Catholic) who was explaining to my wife why she didn't agree with barring Catholic pro-abortion politicians from communion. Here is her comment:

I don't agree with abortion and would never have an abortion myself. But I don't think it's right to tell a pregnant girl to carry her baby to term unless I am willing to adopt it. And I'm not in a position to do that.

Pretty standard liberal fare and actually rather unimaginative. But when properly encoded using the Dred Scott = Roe code it becomes kind of interesting:
I don't agree with slavery and would never own a slave myself. But I don't think it's right to tell a slave owner to set his slaves free unless I am willing to give them jobs. And I'm not in a position to do that.

Maybe Sullivan was on to something. Works for me.

Ed Koch: Democrat Turncoat

From his article in Jewish World Review:

My decision to vote for the reelection of President George W. Bush, despite the fact that I am a life-long Democrat, has caused some to call me a turncoat. But am I really? Or am I moving in a direction the Democratic Party itself should be going?

As mayor of New York City, I described myself as "a liberal with sanity." It troubled me that over the years, the Democratic Party had drifted toward the radical left. The vast majority of registered Democrats, and those who identify with that party, were and are moderates. As mayor and in the years since I left public office, I made it my mission to strengthen the Democratic Party by moving it closer to the center.

I supported and admired President Bill Clinton, who followed the same course on the national level. For the same reasons, I applauded the success of Prime Minister Tony Blair, who recreated the Labor Party in Great Britain, calling it the "New" Labor Party and getting rid of some of its obsolete socialist programs so that it now appealed to moderates. As a result, its majorities became enormous.

As a former Democrat, myself, and someone who still has strong populist inclinations, I sympathize with Mayor Koch. However, as a convinced capitalist and zealot of the Religious Right, I am perversely glad to see the leftist meltdown in the Democratic party. I have told several friends that the Republicans are the new Liberal party and George Bush is essentially a Kennedy Democrat: strong on the military and tax cuts, but weak on fiscal restraint. The problem, of course, is that leaves real conservatives with nowhere to go.

Sex Ed in Texas

Via Melissa Pardue of the Heritage Foundation:

The Texas board of education has held two hearings to help it decide how to vote on Nov. 5, when board members will rule on whether to replace health textbooks now in circulation with updated texts, beginning in the 2005 school year.

The stakes are high. Texas is the country’s second-largest buyer of textbooks (after California), and publishing companies often market the books that Texas adopts to the other 49 states.

The updated texts could be required to include information on abstinence as well as medically accurate information on sex education. That means facts on the ineffectiveness of condoms and other forms of contraception in preventing sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and pregnancy. The current textbooks fail to explain that abstinence is the only 100-percent effective method to prevent STDs and pregnancy.

Nationwide, 10 scientific studies prove that abstinence education reduces teen sexual activity and dramatically decreases out-of-wedlock childbearing.

Of course, my default position is that school choice would make all of this irrelevant (or at least would localize and privatize the controversy) but in absence of that, this is refreshing news. Common sense may yet prevail.

Melissa goes on to make two interesting points:
Of course, certain contraception-promotion advocates (such as Planned Parenthood) claim the texts don’t have enough information about condoms. They say abstinence education is dangerous and could lead to more pregnancies and STDs.


Most sexually active teens say they wish they had waited until they were older before engaging in sexual activity. Nearly two-thirds of sexually active teens express regret about their initial sexual activity.

Unfortunately, nearly all government-funded comprehensive sex-ed courses -- many of which are misleadingly called “abstinence-plus” programs -- contain little, if any, reference to abstinence. They may mention it briefly, but it’s often presented as something that (wink, wink) kids in the “real world” will ignore.

OK, maybe that's more than two points, but I couldn't resist throwing that last paragraph in. It is always gratifying to be winked at by a pretty girl, however indirectly.

More Trouble in Darfur

Passion of the Present notes that the diplomatic progress reported recently is pretty much an illusion. The permalink is apparently not working, so here is the post in full:

Activists needed--only false progress diplomatically, more trouble on the ground in Darfur, Sudan, Africa..

We must become more active, make more noise! We must rally around each other and reach out for new help!

On the ground, conditions are worsening.

The World Food Program has cut back operations in light of recent shootings of drivers bringing aid cargo, as well as the landmine killing of two Save the Children staffers this week.

The United Nations is being forced to scale back food aid in Sudan's war-ravaged Darfur region due to growing violence after 20 months of rebellion, the U.N. World Food Programme said on Wednesday.

The WFP said about 50,000 people would be affected by its decision to call off operations near Ummbaru, in northern Darfur. Two aid workers from Save the Children were killed nearby on Sunday when their vehicle hit an anti-tank landmine.

Humanitarian operations in other areas have been temporarily suspended, the Rome-based organisation said.

Diplomacy is a sham.

The latest Eric Reeves summary is available, dated October 12 (yesterday).

Meanwhile, the EU has given the government two months to "improve the security situation" or face sanctions. Get real--two months? At a calculated loss of life of 10,000 persons per month, this is another twenty thousand people dead.

In any case the Sudanese FM Ismail rejected the threat. Ismail also bragged that the US effort against Sudan is "paralyzed"--which is of course true. As reported by the Chinese online news service, Sudan's ally.

Write a note to Colin Powell and tell him you want strong action--perhaps starting the day after the US presidential election, in three weeks.

Reviving the Dred Scott Debate

You thought talking about Kerry's Vietnam record and Bush's National Guard service in the '60s was dwelling on the past? How about going back to the '50s? The 1850s that is.

In response to a question about Supreme Court appointments in the second (10/8) debate, President Bush said that he would appoint strict constructionists who would not write decisions like Dred Scott. This apparently confused people who haven't followed the debate on judicial activism, including Andrew Sullivan (who consistently misses the point on this subject). But just as Brown v Board of Education is an example of judicial activism that is immensely popular (though it wasn't at the time), so Dred Scott v Sanford is one that is rightly held in disgust. And of course Roe v Wade is one that deeply divides the country. Bush's point, though obscure, is that what SCOTUS gives, SCOTUS can take away.

Black leftists have overwhelmingly been opposed to the idea of strict constructionism (most vocally and demagogically during the Bork confirmation hearings) but the rest of us need to keep in mind that activist decisions like Dred Scott and the later Plessy v Ferguson did immeasurable harm to our country by perpetuating discrimination. Both decisions could have been prevented by a strict constructionist interpretation of the Constitution.

La Shawn wants to keep this on the radar and I couldn't agree more. (Check out her comments for more insights from her highly intelligent readership.) Adjoran has more comments.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Gay Marriage and Hetero Divorce

I have made this link in verbal arguments with my fellow conservatives but haven't actually written anything about it. Don't have time to analyze, but this article makes most of the points I would have. And since it is published by a subsidiary of Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship Ministry, it has more credibility than I do for people that think in such terms:

Divorce is in the background of the gay marriage debate in at least three ways. First, gay marriage is the end of the trend that no-fault divorce began. The legal innovation of unilateral divorce began to reduce marriage to nothing but a temporary association of individuals. If marriage is merely a free association of individuals, there is no principled reason to exclude gay couples, or even larger groupings of sexual partners. The permanence of marriage was one of the key features that distinguished it from an ordinary contract.

Second, the high divorce rate and the resulting non-permanence of marriage made the institution of marriage more attractive to same-sex couples than it otherwise would be. If marriage still meant one to a customer for life, I seriously doubt that we’d be hearing about same-sex marriage today. Gay couples evidently have a more relaxed concept of both permanence and fidelity than do heterosexual couples. Gay activists would be much less likely to invest time and energy working for the right to marry, if divorce were available only for adultery or cruelty.

Most importantly, the high divorce rate has made it difficult to articulate opposition to gay marriage. People who have been divorced may feel hypocritical if they voice opposition to a system they felt they had to use. People who secretly fear they may need a divorce someday are reluctant to bad-mouth the easy availability of divorce. People who are not confident in their own ability to keep their marriage together for a lifetime, won’t speak out against the culture of divorce. A significant subset of such people will be reluctant to voice their opposition to gay marriage. People who have lost confidence in marriage as an institution of exclusivity and permanence are simply not going to have the heart for a fight over gay marriage.

Just to emphasize my point: note that in the rest of the article Ms. Morse does not advocate a Constitutional ammendment forbidding unilateral divorce, but has some helpful cultural suggestions on how to confront it. Legal issues, of course, are important in this as in the gay marriage debate, but a mature and effective Christian response need not resort to demagoguery or panicked extremism.

More WMD Confusion

David Mobley at A Physicist's Perspective is trying to make sense of conflicting stories on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction:

I saw an interesting combination of news stories just now. The AP is reporting "Bush, Cheney concede Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction," while at the same time, USA Today is reporting that equipment which could be used to make components of nuclear weapons may have been looted from Iraq. The AP story says this:

Vice President Dick Cheney brushed aside the central findings of chief U.S. weapons hunter Charles Duelfer – that Saddam not only had no weapons of mass destruction and had not made any since 1991, but he had no means of making any either – while Bush unapologetically defended his decision to invade Iraq.
The USA Today story says:
Among the missing equipment: "flow forming" machines for shaping metal tubes such as missile bodies or uranium centrifuge drums; milling and metal-turning machines; electron-beam welders useful for making centrifuges; and precision measuring devices.

Though no evidence has emerged that looted nuclear manufacturing equipment has been sold on the black market, the Bush administration said Tuesday that it is concerned about the possibility.
I wonder -- if it's really as clear cut as the AP story says (Saddam had no means of making nuclear weapons since 1991), why should we be concerned that the Bush administration may have let this equipment be stolen? Or maybe the Bush administration is at fault for letting people loot equipment that Saddam couldn't have used for nuclear weapons, but they could. How's that again?

The AP story does include this Cheney quote, somewhat buried:
"As soon as the sanctions were lifted, he had every intention of going back" to his weapons program, Cheney said.
I think it is going to be a long time before we get all of this sorted out.

David, of course, is on the League of Reformed Bloggers list, but I have been reading his posts on and off for a couple of weeks and I have decided to add him to the regular blogroll of sites I read daily. His perspective seems similar to my own: a Christian looking out at the world and trying to shed light on it, rather than looking merely talking amongst ourselves until the "Rapture" comes. A nice mixture of science, theology, politics and other interesting stuff.

UPDATE: Pastorius comments:
It would seem that Saddam Hussein was half-pregnant. It also appears that the main-stream media has, like an oh-so-chivalrous boyfriend, arranged for a quickie abortion for the saddled Saddam.

At the same time, the main-stream media seems to be trying to arrange an out-patient castration procedure for the Bush Administration.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

John Kerry: Stem-Cell Messiah!

The Kerry campaign just can't seem to stop making goofy statements. This one is from running mate John Edwards:

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist attacked Sen. John Edwards on Tuesday over a comment the Democratic vice presidential candidate made regarding actor Christopher Reeve.

Edwards said Reeve, who died Sunday, "was a powerful voice for the need to do stem cell research and change the lives of people like him.

"If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve will get up out of that wheelchair and walk again," Edwards said.

Kerry is reported to have replied: "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor."

Oh, wait. That was a different John.

And a different Messiah.

UPDATE: Cranky Neocon fights sacrilege with sacrilege. With apologies to the real Messiah, of course. (Via Jane)

Meanwhile, Back in Taiwan

Tensions are continuing to mount as the legitimate Chinese government in Taiwan criticizes the military buildup of the rebels on the mainland:

The Chinese government has rejected a call by Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian for peace talks and warned against moves towards formal independence.
Mr Chen used a speech on Sunday to urge Beijing to agree to talks to resolve tensions over the build-up of weapons between the two rivals.


In his speech, President Chen asserted the island of Taiwan was a sovereign nation.

Tensions have been high since Mr Chen was re-elected to a second term in March.

The US state department welcomed Mr Chen's speech as constructive, prompting Beijing to ask America to stop sending the island the wrong message.

China has more than 600 ballistic missiles pointed at the island and is adding 60 to 70 new missiles each year.

Taiwan, which broke with the new Communist state in 1949, is locked in a debate over whether to strengthen its defences even further with US military aid.

Another good reason the insurgency in Iraq shouldbe quelled as quickly as possible.

UPDATE: And speaking of connections between Iraq and mainland China, the Washington Times reports:
China illegally supplied Saddam Hussein's regime with missile technology and other weaponry and was a major beneficiary of the U.N. oil-for-food program, according to a CIA report.

The report by the Iraq Survey Group also stated that China, along with France and Russia, was bribed by Saddam with oil sales and weapons deals into working to end U.N. sanctions.

Supremes to Pass Judgement on 10 Commandments

Most people probably saw this coming:

The Supreme Court said Tuesday it will consider whether the Ten Commandments may be displayed on government property, ending a 25-year silence on a church-state issue that has prompted bitter legal fights around the country.

Ten Commandments displays are common in town squares and courthouses and on other government-owned land, including the Supreme Court. A wall carving of Moses holding the tablets is in the courtroom where justices will hear arguments in the case.

Many people have remarked on the irony of that last point. But what bothers me about this whole campaign is, what happens if we win?
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas complained in 2001 when the court refused to rule on the constitutionality of a display in front of the Elkhart, Ind., Municipal Building. They said the city sought to reflect the cultural, historical and legal significance of the commandments.
If we are allowed to display the Ten Commandments, but only on the understanding that it represents a cultural and historical legacy and not a morally binding acknowledgment of God's sovereignty, what kind of message are we sending? Isn't that just further establishing the strangle-hold that secularism has over the American consciousness?

It is worth remembering that the Commandments were originally given as a seal of the covenant that had already been established with Israel after Moses led them out of Egypt. Their public display is a battle we really can't afford to lose, of course, but we will not win the war in the courts.

Four More Striking Days Till Ramadan

US Troops in Iraq are stepping up raids and air strikes in Sunni hot spots, including removing insurgents from mosques, in preparation for Ramadan which begins Friday or Saturday:

U.S. troops went on the offensive from the gates of Baghdad to the Syrian border Tuesday, pounding Sunni insurgent positions from the air and supporting Iraqi soldiers in raids on mosques suspected of harboring extremists.

American and Iraqi forces launched the operations ahead of Ramadan, expected to start at week's end, in an apparent attempt at preventing a repeat of the insurgent violence that took place at the start of last year's Muslim holy month.


Seventy miles west of Baghdad, Iraqi troops backed by U.S. soldiers and Marines raided seven mosques in the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, arresting a locally prominent member of a clerical association and three other people. They also seized bomb-making materials and "insurgent propaganda" in the mosques, U.S. officials said.


"This cowboy behavior cannot be accepted," said cleric Abdullah Abu Omar. "The Americans seem to have lost their senses and have gone out of control."

However, the raids followed a surge in insurgent attacks in Ramadi, and the U.S. command accused the militants of violating the sanctity of the mosques by using them for military purposes. Marine spokesman Maj. Francis Piccoli said U.S. troops provided backup for the Iraqi soldiers but did not enter the mosques.
If we don't back off this time, there might be a chance that the insurgency will fall apart before the end of the year. Belmont Club's analysis of why we delayed attacking Fallujah in April is starting to look pretty plausible.

UPDATE: Wizbang has more comments:
Monday's widely read and quoted L.A. Times piece Major Assaults on Hold Until After U.S. Vote, is now part of the Kerry campaign Kerry team accuses Bush officials of holding off Iraq action until election.

The problem? Not quite accurate.

U.S. Steps Up Attacks on Iraq Insurgents

From the nature of the joint operations, it's highly likely that the raids and attacks on militant positions had been in the works for several weeks.
Beating the insurgents and confusing the Kerry campaign. Gotta love that multitasking!

Wizbang also notes that the loose alliance between Baathist insurgents and foreign terrorists is coming apart. Maybe we are a bunch of out of control cowboys, but it seems to be working.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Pretty Lady, Ugly Comment

Michelle Malkin exults over the death of Jacques Derrida. I am no fan of Derrida. He has directly or indirectly done a great deal of damage to Western culture and the ideals of Truth, Beauty and Goodness. But this is not classy. I expect better from our side.

(Wizbang is on the same band-wagon.)

Taxing Masculinity

Another brilliant idea from the land of cradle to grave socialism:

A group of Swedish parliamentarians proposed levying a "man tax" to cover the social cost of violence against women.

"It must be obvious to all of us that society has a huge problem with male violence against women and that has a cost," Left Party deputy Gudrun Schyman told Swedish radio on Monday.

"We must have a discussion where men understand they as a group have a responsibility," said Schyman, one of the party members to sign the motion for debate on the new tax.

Someone asked me last night (in a completely unrelated discussion) what I meant when I said that the left is in a war against reality. This would have been a great example, had I known it at the time.

TANGENT ALERT: Here is another example of the war against reality principle:
Leftists, eh? You get the feeling that if this guy got hit by a bus, he'd spend his dying breath railing against the preposterous temerity of the laws of physics...

The Right Road, Not the Easy Road

The first free, democratic election in Afghanistan is not quite finished (it will evidently be several days before all of the votes are delivered, much less counted) but already there are charges of fraud and threats of a boycott:

Opposition candidates in Afghanistan have appeared to back away from demanding a new presidential election following a controversy over voting irregularities.

On Saturday most candidates running against U.S.-backed interim president Hamid Karzai threw the election into turmoil when they banded together to charge voter fraud.

They said they would boycott the results and demanded a new election, saying ink used on voters hands to prevent repeat voting could be washed off.

But observers monitoring the first election since a U.S.-backed coalition ousted the hardline Taliban regime in 2002, rejected calls for a new poll on Sunday.

They said there was no reason to nullify the results in the nation's first vote to directly elect their president.

At least two of the candidates had backed away from the boycott by Monday, the Associated Press reported.

The early spin on this was that it was a blemish on Bush's credibility, but the fact that the opposition candidates are backing off and that an independent commission is being formed to investigate seem to have diffused those charges:
Afghan law allows candidates to present any evidence of fraud.

Poll organizers said Sunday they would form an independent commission of about three foreign election experts to investigate the weekend balloting.

"There is going to be an independent commission made to investigate it," AP quoted electoral director Farooq Wardak as saying.

The expected violence by the Taliban hasn't materialized to any serious degree:
Millions of Afghan voters -- including veiled women -- braved threats of Taliban violence to cram polling stations throughout the ethnically diverse nation and observers talked of excitement in the air.

Proud to cast their first vote, men and women waited patiently in line for hours.

Officials said turnout looked extremely high. Around 10.5 million Afghans had registered to vote, around 41 percent of them women.

The voting went off without major bloodshed threatened by Taliban militants, a move welcomed by international and national authorities.

"We feared lots of attacks, lots of sabotage, lots of terrorist activities," Karzai said.

"We are very happy that this went on peacefully, we are very happy that the Afghan people came to participate so massively."

While the rebels carried out a smattering of deadly assaults, they took the biggest hit, losing 25 men in a clash with U.S. and Afghan forces in the south of the country, AP reported.

You know things are going well if even the Germans are optimistic:
Meanwhile German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder expressed optimism about the vote during a visit to Kabul.

The international community is keen the election be widely accepted as legitimate.

So it looks like, for the present at least, the Afghanistan phase in the War on Terror passes the Global Test.

NOTE: Evidently Australia's John Howard (who just won his own election quite handily) agrees:
Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who re-elected on Saturday, said that the war on terrorism had made the election in Afghanistan possible.

"That election has been made possible by reason of the fact that a number of countries, including Australia, were prepared to take a stand for democracy and to take a stand against terrorism," Howard said.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Democrats Taint Live Polls on Debate

Acording to Glenn Reynolds at InstaPundit Democrats are sending out the following email:

So, help spin for John Kerry . . . Vote in Online Polls!
National and local news organizations will be conducting online polls during
and after the debate asking for readers' opinions. Look for online polls at
these news websites, and make sure to vote in every one of them:
* CBS:
* CNN:
* Fox News:
* Wall Street Journal:
* Akron Beacon-Journal:
* Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
* Detroit News:
* Los Angeles Times:
* Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune:
* Orlando Sentinel:
* Philadelphia Inquirer:
* South Florida Sun-Sentinel:
* Tennessean:
* Knoxville News-Sentinel:
* Commercial Appeal:

Evidently it is working. As of 10:00 PM PST all of the polls show Kerry overwhelmingly in the lead. The LA Times is particularly interesting. Fully 64.3% of respondents said they were Bush supporters who are now leaning toward Kerry.


Syria Retreats

Probably good news from the Syrian Front in the War on Terror:

Syrian President Bashar Assad is offering to make peace with Israel and says he is ready to cooperate with the United States in stabilizing Iraq, a former senior State Department official said Wednesday.


On peacemaking, Assad offered to hold talks with Israel without preconditions, Indyk said, and had made several overtures to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that the latter rebuffed.


On the domestic side, Indyk said, Assad spoke "about the need to reform the government."


On Iraq, Assad "figured out he was on the wrong side" and has switched to cooperation with the U.S. occupation forces in the country, Indyk said.

On support for terrorism, Assad was responding to U.S. demands by moving some leaders of militant Palestinian groups out of Damascus, Indyk said.

I say probably because Syria is not the first Islamic, terror-sponsoring country to make "peace" with Israel then revert to type when they were ready for the next advance. Egypt made peace with Israel in the late 70s but has been making some disturbing noises more recently.

I am also a bit concerned that Sharon has rebuffed Syria's diplomacy. I am more inclined to trust his instincts that Colin Powell's. And what exactly does it mean to "move" Palestinian groups out of Damascus? Is that anything like "moving" Arafat out of Beirut?

Still, if Syria follows through this will be a definite victory for the Bush Doctrine. And if we don't have to invade Syria, that will leave us that much freer to focus on Iran.

(Via Winds of Change)

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

New Thomas Covenant Book?

Evidently Stephen R. Donaldson has a new book in the Thomas Covenant tradition: The Runes of the Earth. I have to confess that I didn't think the second trilogy lived up to the first three books, although I enjoyed all of them. I am a little ambivalent about continuing a series after the main character has died as well. (I still haven't seen the 4th movie in the Alien trilogy for this very reason.) But this quote sounds rather intriguing:

"I probably shouldn't say so in public (as it were), but that experience [writing the Second Chronicles] taught me humility on a whole new order of magnitude." He had surpassed himself in the second series and doubted he could surpass himself again without some development. "So that's what I've been doing for the past 20 years: Trying to become a better writer," he says.
The first trilogy of Covenant books are one of the few fantasy series that can survive the inevitable comparison with Tolkien. Looks like I'll have to check this new series out.

Thanks to Brandywine Books for the tip.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

October Offensive

And so it begins. The withdrawal of US forces from Fallujah has disappointed many who hoped for a decisive victory over the Baathist insurgents. But today's attack on Samarra seems to signal a renewal of effort to pacify the region:

U.S. and Iraqi forces battled their way into the heart of this Sunni stronghold Friday and moved house to house in search of militants in what appeared to be the first major offensive to regain control of areas lost to insurgents before the January elections.

More than 100 guerrillas were killed and 37 captured, according to an Iraqi official. The military said one American soldier was killed and four were wounded.

Backed by warplanes and tanks, some 5,000 troops swept in to seize the city hall, the main mosque and other important sites in Samarra, leaving only pockets of resistance after more than 12 hours of combat, according to the U.S. military and Iraqi authorities.


U.S. forces also clashed with insurgents in Baghdad, where warplanes and tanks attacked militants in the vast slum of Sadr City. A hospital director said 12 Iraqis were killed and 11 were wounded. The U.S. military, which maintains casualties are often exaggerated by Iraqi hospital sources, said only one armed insurgent was killed.

Late Friday, a U.S. airstrike flattened two houses in the insurgent-held city of Fallujah, according to Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, who said he saw a number of bodies, including those of women and children. A hospital doctor said the strike killed five Iraqi civilians and wounded 11 others. American military spokesmen in Baghdad said they had no information on the attack, but the U.S. command says it has been launching "precision strikes" against suspected terrorist hideouts in Fallujah.


The Americans said they conducted the operation in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, at the request of the Iraqi government. The attack appeared to trumpet the launch of major military operations to wrest other areas of the country from insurgents ahead of general elections.

U.S. military officials have signaled they plan to increase incursions into key Iraqi cities this fall - partly as a way for the United States to try to pressure insurgents into negotiations with Iraqi officials. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld alluded to this last week when he said insurgencies in Fallujah and the city of Ramadi can be solved either diplomatically through negotiations, or through force.

Cynics will claim this is just a ploy by Bush to secure his re-election. As long as he keeps it up until the insurgents are all gone, I really don't care why he is doing it. But it strikes me that this may prove to be a vindication for Wretchard at Belmont Club, who on Sept 30 all but predicted such a comeuppance for the Sunni insurgents:
During the April, 2004 fighting three things were critically different from today. There was the threat in April of a combined Sunni-Shi'ite uprising. The fear was that hitting Fallujah would stoke a Shi'ite insurgency. Since the Sunnis were considered secondary Fallujah was spared. This is not to justify the decision, but simply to point out the considerations at the time. Today, data provided the Special Operations Consulting-Security Management Group Inc (used by the New York Times to argue that fighting is spreading in Iraq) seems to show that the Shi'ite insurgency is a spent force, the result of a military campaign against Sadr which culminated in August, 2004 combined with efforts to isolate Sadr politically. There were seven attacks in an Najaf province out of a total of 2,429 in the month studied.

Second, there were only 5,000 "trained" men in the Iraqi Army in April 2004. Today the numbers are moving towards and past 70,000. A link to General Sharp's briefing on September 20 has many of the details of the state of training and increased numbers. What is strategically different about the Sunni strongholds today is not only the loss of allied Shi'ite insurgent support but the growing availability of Iraqi troops to crush them. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers said in an interview today that Coalition forces are planning a 'solution' to the Sunni lawlessness in conjunction with the Iraqi government. To the legitimate question of 'why only now?' one can reply 'because there were no Iraqi forces then' -- barely a year after the fighting and on the heels of the capture of the principal Ba'athists. Fallujah could have been taken in an all-American assault and be occupied to this day by an all-American force; but rightly or wrongly, the President chose not to.

Update: Jeez that guy never sleeps! He has already posted commentary on the Samarra offensive here.

Friday, October 01, 2004


Today marks the 6-month point in my blogging career. In my first post, I promised to upload my review of Gibson's Passion of the Christ if Touchstone did not publish it first. Since I haven't heard back from them, this seems an appropriate time to make good on that promise, especially with the recent DVD release.

The Victory of the Christ
R. C. Smith

I theoretically have a policy with regard to reading reviews of movies I have already decided to see: I don’t read them until after I have seen the film and had time to decide what I think about it. I find that commentators on the left do not share enough of my values to be a reliable guide and those on the right are generally too artistically clueless to be particularly helpful. And, of course, one does value the feeling of making up one’s own mind, however ephemeral that feeling may be in a culture of spin and propaganda.

It is a helpful policy and I generally keep it as well as I do my Lenten fasts, which is to say, conscientiously but not perfectly. It is hardly surprising, then – though, in view of the Lenten character of the film, it may be just a touch ironic – that I was unable wholly to avoid the flurry of comment occasioned by Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. But, really, how could anyone who is intellectually engaged with our culture have avoided hearing at least something about it? Long before it was actually released, the entire chattering class had become a clamoring cohort, desperate to impart or impose their twist on the remaining few who had not formed an opinion.

And yet, despite all the bellowing, or perhaps because of it, I entered the theater remarkably unprepared for the actual tone and texture of Mr. Gibson’s magnum opus. I was prepared for violence, and it was indeed violent. I was prepared for blood, and it was indeed bloody. I was prepared for sorrow, and it was sorrowful as only Roman Catholic piety can be. But it was also gentle and haunting and thrilling and subtle and I was prepared for none of these.

One of the things it decidedly was not, was pessimistic. This is an important point, but I think it has been largely missed. From the very beginning we are given clear though subtle clues that Jesus is not passive in his suffering, however paradoxical that may sound to those with an ear for etymology. I have identified four important such clues distributed at key points throughout the narrative. Understanding how this theme works in Gibson’s film is an important step toward understanding the work as a whole.

The first such clue occurs in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus is exhausted from weeping and praying and the disciples have long since fallen back asleep, after having been awakened by him with the well-known reproach, “Could you not watch one hour with me?” Satan appears in the moonlight, cold and darkly beautiful with very strong echoes of the character, Death, in Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. A serpent, suggesting both menace and temptation, slithers from under the enemy’s robe. Years of humanist renderings of the primal conflict have prepared us to interpret this scene. Here is confident and powerful evil confronting helpless, unrewarded virtue. There will be no victory for good without a long and painful struggle.

Then, without warning, Jesus stamps on the head of the serpent, crushing it with startling force. Clearly he could crush Satan just as easily, but instead he turns resolutely to follow his predestined path. A new element has been offered for our consideration: the Hero Born of Woman, the Christus Victor. And yet, though this moment sets the tone for the rest of the film, its very violence guarantees that it is over almost before we have noticed it.

Later, a similar decisiveness informs the unbearable and much debated scourging scene. Jesus has been beaten for the full count of thirty-nine strokes and the lictors survey their work with a grim satisfaction. The Virgin and Mary Magdalene are in the crowd, scarcely able to watch. Then Jesus catches the gaze of his mother and, slowly but purposefully, rises to his feet. Again, the message, though understated, is unmistakable. He is not defeated and his suffering is completely voluntary. Indeed, in a certain sense, he provokes the very extremity of violence into which his tormentors descend.

There is a long tradition in Roman Catholic mysticism of focus on the wounds of Jesus and on his suffering. As a protestant, I recognize that there are definite theological dangers to this approach. But what approach is without danger? It is certainly unfair to criticize a work of art for not being some other work. The criticism that the violence in this film is inappropriate because it is not emphasized in the Gospel narratives misses the very fabric of Roman Catholic piety that clearly informs this work.

That being said, I do feel that the violence was in many places excessive. At one point in the film I found myself thinking, “Five minutes ago they were thrashing Jesus and now – guess what? – they, are still thrashing him.” This is not good from an artistic point of view. A story, any story, succeeds only so far as it carries the viewer along as a participant within the action. If that momentum is lost, the work ceases, for however brief a period, to be art. This, combined with the often cited desensitizing effect of violence, causes the film to falter when it cannot really afford to. I am sympathetic with Mr. Gibson’s objective, but I must also admit that, in this one respect, he did not completely achieve it. Nevertheless, though it is a flaw, it is not a fatal flaw. But I will leave a full analysis of this issue to others who have more patience for the discussion, and return to the Christus Victor theme, which I feel is the neglected heart of the film.

We find a subtle change in our next instance of this theme. It occurs when Jesus has stumbled for the second time on the Via Dolorosa and his mother, reacting under the compulsion of a vision of Jesus falling as a child, rushes to his side to render maternal comfort. “I am here,” she says in both the contemporary scene and the flashback. This is precisely the sort of sentimental portrayal that we have all come to expect. But the next moment is anything but expected. Jesus raises his head and says, “Behold, I make all things new.” This is a reference to Revelation 21:5, the verse previous to which says “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

So here we have a whole complex of themes merged into one evocative scene: the gentle, maternal and filial love between Mary and Jesus, the Gospel displayed both visually and verbally, and the purely human desire we all feel at this point to relieve the Savior’s suffering. But over all rises the assurance that Jesus is the lord of his own suffering. It is he that comforts us, as he offers comfort to his mother.

Incidentally, although this scene, like most of the extra-biblical material, is borrowed from the vision of Anne Catherine Emmerich, The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the reference to Revelation does not occur in that work. It is evidently original to this film, though whether the invention of screenwriter Benedict Fitzgerald or Mr. Gibson is unclear.

The theme of the Christus Victor persists throughout the film, culminating in the brief, but powerful, final scene. From most of the commentary on this film, one easily gathers the impression that it ends with the descent from the cross and burial. The official trailer describes the movie as a “vivid depiction of the last 12 hours of Jesus Christ's life”. Indeed, if Gibson were following the traditional Stations of the Cross, that is exactly where the story would end, with the resurrection being left to another season. But the resurrection does occur, and its handling is perhaps the most subtle element in the film. A golden light washes the ancient stone surface of the tomb as the camera slowly pans to the empty shroud. Next to it stands Jesus with an expression of quiet but firm purpose. There is serenity in his eye, but there is steel as well. The final victory of the Christ has been achieved. He takes a few steps forward in absolute silence and the credits roll.

It is difficult to describe the effect this has upon one’s perception of the entire film. As has been said so often, it must be experienced. But one important effect is to elevate our understanding from a merely sentimental to a theological plane. Through the torturous depiction of the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary, shines the first, brief hint of the Glorious Mysteries. The combined impact of all of these small directorial decisions (and there are more than I have recounted – probably more than I noticed) is to suggest the sovereignty of God in the atoning work of Jesus on the cross.

The number of ways this could have been done badly, and has been by other film-makers, is breathtaking. Somehow, Mel Gibson has managed to convey both the humanity of the suffering Christ and the power of the Son of God in imagery that would be the envy of many of Western Civilization’s great masters.

My original intent in writing this was to counteract some of the misleading commentary that surrounded the film's release. If anyone has not seen this movie because of the bad press it received, I hope this review may in some small way assist in correcting that error.

Bias in Debate Questions?

I didn't see the debate, but N. Z. Bear makes a good case that the questions were biased against Bush:

So: 17 questions in all, 1 one of which I (generously) call as biased against Kerry, 10 neutral ones, and six biased against Bush. That's not a neutral playing field, folks, that's what we call in the biz, "statistically significant."

A few suggestions on how it could have been better:

- Why were there no questions about the benefits of a free Iraq? Suggestion: "Senator Kerry, you've focused on disarming Saddam Hussein, and have argued that there were ways to do that other than war. But would simply disarming Iraq yield the same benefits as deposing Saddam entirely?"

- Why no questions on Senator Kerry's record? There is an argument that it makes sense to focus on the incumbents' record in a debate like this, but I don't buy that. This isn't a referendum on Bush. It is a choice between two men applying for the job, and the questions should have focused equally on each man's qualifications and record.

- Why no questions on any foreign policy items except Iraq and terrorism? This isn't really a bias issue, but even as a single-issue voter, I would have liked to have at least had a question or two on everything else going on in the world. (Okay, there was Darfur, but that was about it).
The entire post is worth reading for his question-by-question analysis. Knowing Jim Lehrer, I can't see how anyone would suppose that the questions wouldn't have been biased.

Too Many Jews Spoil the Soup

Or is that "Too Many Cooks Spoil the Couscous"? Whatever:

An international couscous festival billed as a bridge-building event among "cooks for peace" degenerated into recriminations when Palestinian chefs accused their Israeli counterparts of using chicanery to obtain a prestigious prize.

"The Israelis stole my land and my country, now they are even stealing our recipes," Palestinian delegate Mohammed Kebal complained to reporters. "The hand of Mossad is at work here. We will never take part in the contest again."


Mr. Najeeb, a chef at Jerusalem's famed American Colony Hotel, said it was "an insult" to the Arab origins of couscous to declare an Israeli dish the most original.

Sorry, Mohammed. He was going to make some of those special purim pastries but I guess they were just out of Arab children's blood at the grocery store. So much for "bridge-building", eh?

Sorry for the sarcasm, but a sober discussion of Anti-Semitism just doesn't seem to do justice to this sort of vileness.

(Via Damien)

Al Qaeda Getting Nervous?

Jane at Armies of Liberation remarks that Zawahri thinks Bush won the debate:

The voice sounded like past recordings of al-Zawahri, but it also made an unusual reference to the possibility al-Qaida's top leaders are not invincible. There is a $25 million U.S. bounty for information leading to his death or capture.

"You, youth of Islam, this is our message," the speaker said. "If we die or are detained, continue the path after us, and don't betray God and his prophet, and don't knowingly betray the trust."

Rashwan played down the significance of such remarks.

"According to his belief, being killed is normal and expected, especially in his case," Rashwan said. "This is not the first time he has said this. It doesn't mean they are close to being captured or killed."

House Defeats Gay Marriage Ban

I don't have time to comment, but this should come as no surprise:

The House followed the Senate in decisively rejecting a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, ending for this year debate on what has become the dominant issue for the Republican Party's conservative base.
The 227-186 vote in the House Thursday was well short of the two-thirds majority needed to advance a constitutional amendment, but fulfilled a promise by backers to get lawmakers on the record on the highly sensitive issue in the run-up to Election Day.