31 December, 2006

The Theology of Global Warming, Part II

On the heels of this post, I figured it was time to dust the mothballs off this one that I'd started working on several months ago but never quite finished. Here goes. I've left the rough edges in hopes of sparking a discussion.

A friend asked, in response to two June posts why I get so worked up about global warming (or, rather, the mania around the theory of global warming) when there's so much else going on in the world that's of vastly greater import and immediacy. Good question! Perhaps those asking would like to answer it themselves!

It's a question that partly answers itself. I.e., I get worked up about global warming's true believers because it's difficult to understand their point of view without first being converted. It's a disconnect that many of those believers may well identify with in their frustration and even disgust at organized religion in general and Christianity in particular.

Why are people so despereately concerned with a diffuse phenomenon that--even if true--will have no significant impact for generations? (No, Hurricane Katrina, bad as it's impacts were, doesn't count--for a whole host of reasons I'm not going to rehash here. Nor does a mild winter.)

Around the same time, someone else remarked that my more intimate posts and reflections on personal religious experiences were far better, or at least more captivating, even if they draw fewer comments--or at least no comment battles. (The 'silence' dilemma should be familiar to even the most casual writers and speakers: Did I wow them with such insight that no additional comment is possible? Or did I just bore them and embarass myself so badly that no comment is warranted? Traffic statistics seldom shed any light on the matter.)

Which got me thinking, during some time in intellectual 'neutral' recently as I did repetitive outdoor manual labor: how might my enthusiasm for religious-experience posts and my (darker) enthusiasm for fisking global warming nonsense be linked?

This source lists the characteristics of religion. I'm not offering this as definitive, but its at least thought-provoking. Their punch list reads as follows::

  1. Belief in Supernatural Beings (global warming acolytes seldom talk explicitly about it, but many implicitly worship a kind of mother-earth concept)
  2. Sacred vs Profane Objects, Places, Times (profanity seems to relate to the weather--if it's severe in any direction, it is often taken as evidence of our being bad; sacredness seems to be found in remote places, particularly the arctic and antarctic. like heaven, they are places most of us have not visited personally. we must rely on the testimony of others about how sacred they are)
  3. Ritual Acts Focused on Sacred Objects, Places, Times (it's not clear how this relates to global warming as a religion except to the extent that some think of the Toyota Prius as being more sacred than other cars despite its much higher price and safety issues)
  4. Moral Code With Supernatural Origins (the moral code of global warming is all about C02 emmissions; like real sin, nobody living actually meets the demand of zero infringement (in this case, carbon emmissions)... an interesting parallel)
  5. Characteristically Religious Feelings, [e.g.,] awe, a sense of mystery, a sense of guilt, and adoration are “religious feelings” which tend to be aroused in religious believers when they come in the presence of sacred objects, in sacred places, and during the practice of sacred rituals. See #3. As I noted in recent posts, negative religious feelings are easily stirred up in true global warming believers)
  6. Prayer and Other Forms of Communication (not sure how this applies to global warming)
  7. A World View & Organization of One’s Life Based on the World View (global warming religion fits this one reasonably well... people are certainly thinking about it a lot)
  8. A Social Group Bound Together by the Above (total fit; see previous posts)
Then there are plans to 'protect' the entire planet. Fausta has a great roundup on the lack of consensus on global warming, as well as the reactions of some true believers in it.

Then there are those who don't disguise their efforts to create new religions.

Threats in Perspective

The same MSM that didn't trust popular opinion when it elected George Bush now pays it homage in setting national priorities:

Six in 10 people think the U.S. will be the victim of a terrorist attack... [and/or] that a biological or nuclear weapon will be unleashed... Seventy percent... expect worsening global warming. [emphasis added]
Hmm, let's see... should we be more concerned about thousands if not millions losing their lives suddenly in a well-precedented and unprovoked act of war against us--quite likely setting off a global world war of epic if not apocalyptic proportions and precipitating economic collapse and widespread suffering?...

...or in the possibility that extremely precise instruments might, upon further analysis, detect warming of a few hundredths of a degree in aggregate across the entire planet over the course of the upcoming year possibly indicating a meaningful long-term trend (or not), which might or might not be part of a regular planetary cycle, possibly due to CO2 (or maybe the sun), possibly of human origin (though it seems unlikely since 70% of observed warming occurred before 1940), possibly beneficial--but nobody dares talk about that--and possibly having the opposite effects to what we expect (i.e., lowered, not increased sea levels) but most certainly impossible to 'fix' without massive unintended and unanticipatable consequences (political, economic, social and environmental) within any rational cost-benefit analysis ($trillion$)?

Hmm... let me think about that one for a minute.

Further interactions over the Christmas week (when religious sensibilities are heightened, even for the non-religious) have convinced me more than ever that global warming has become the new fast-growing false religion. It is filling a vacuum in the lives of some liberal secularists who didn't know that they had one. For many of the same individuals it seems also to be filling a need for fellowship that humanity naturally pines for. The fervency with which some express their commitment to its doctrines, the earnestness with which they seek to convert others and the sheer hatred and vitriol with which they deride 'non-believers' once 'outed' is, well... scary. I'll leave it at that.

Let's stick to the evidence and we'll all be a lot better off.

UPDATE: One other thought: Has anyone noted that big, observable events that might indicate global warming but not its exact cause--like ice sheets breaking loose in the Arctic or Antarctic--are taken up in an MSM whirlwhind whereas big, observable events like unprecendented solar flare activity provoke far less notice, much less any speculation or editorializing about a possible link to global warming? Just asking.

'Untouchable' Science

Moral values should not restrict science, say liberals... except when they're ours and we say so.

30 December, 2006

U.S. Tolerated, Then Villified Saddam

The title of this post is the headline leading the AP's national news category this afternoon. The lede: "When U.S. leaders decided it was time to despise Saddam Hussein, he made the perfect villain."

As if we created him. As if any other world leader would have done just as well and, a la Orwell's '1984', what we really needed was someone to fight to keep the populace distracted and he just happened to be convenient.

Think of some other headlines the AP could have written... but didn't:

"UN, France, China Tolerated, Then Embraced Saddam"
"Russia Supported Saddam, Then Supported Him Some More"

29 December, 2006

Saddam's Big Fall

[Scroll down for updates and links]
Speaking of hell, it may be a stretch for some (no, make that most, or perhaps all--including me), but if God is as full of grace as I know Him to be, then it's worth praying for Saddam Hussein. Now.

No, that's not a misprint. In fact, we're told we must.

This is not an excuse for Saddam's reprehensible, evil actions, nor should it be interpreted as an insult to his many, many victims (living and dead) who also warrant our prayers. God doesn't want anyone to be lost. Sometimes, against all earthly wisdom, the light goes on at the very last minute. The alternative is worse than anything Saddam could ever have dreamed up. I agree that it's the exact opposite of easy, obvious and instinctive.

UPDATE I: I'm already getting e-mail flack for this post, as I knew I would. If it makes it any easier to digest, I'm not the one making this up. To clarify, the prayers were for his soul, not for his execution being stayed.

UPDATE II: Sounds like (and looks like) Saddam went down like the worst of the most self-centered megalomaniac narcissist Nazi murderers which (in addition to be a little redundant) sadly, isn't much of a surprise. I prefer man-bites-dog stories:

On the way to the gallows, according to Ali, "Saddam said, ‘Iraq without me is nothing.’" [emphasis added]
Sounds very much like the unrepentent last words of many German Nazis (the Baath Party in Iraq and Syria being a genuine historical remnant of those extremely nasty originals: something most people don't fully appreciate.) Interestingly, the last words of some of those executed after the Nuremberg trials were a bit more nuanced, repentent and even prescient. Some of them.

Imagining oneself equal to God... always a bad idea.

McKinsey in First Century Jerusalem

As a Christian management consultant, this one struck a painful/funny chord:

TO: Jesus, Son of Joseph, Woodcrafter Carpenter Shop, Nazareth
FR: Jordan Management Consultants, Jerusalem
RE: Management Team

Dear Sir:

Thank you for submitting the resumes of the 12 men you have picked for management positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.

It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education, and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale.

We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew has been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau. James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic depressive scale.

One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.

We wish you every success in your new venture.

Sincerely yours,

Jordan Management Consultants
-----------------------------
H/T: Carl's Quote of the Day, as quoted in SojoMail 10.29.03, originally from Greg Ogden's book, "Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time".

Hodgepodge of Thoughts

Facing a work deadline, this post will be short. Anyone who hasn't checked out my flurry of posts from the 27th will find a week's worth of eclectic material there. This one will be equally eclectic.
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Professional interest, plus my long-ago background in geology have led me to dig into the 7.1 magnitude earthquake off Taiwan on Tuesday that shut down Internet and telecoms access to much of China and other parts of Asia. As more information comes out, it's becoming clear that the vast majority of Communist China's Internet and telecom connectivity runs through or very near their tiny but prosperous island rival. This toss-off piece frames it nicely.

I suspect this is already causing strategists and policy-makers in China, the U.S. and Taiwan to think very hard indeed about the longer-term implications. Two that crop up immediately are the strategic importance of Taiwan and the asymmetry between Asia-U.S. connectivity and that between Asia and Europe. The latter is downright pitiful, seeing as how corrupt, Communist, Islamic governments (take your pick or take all) lie in the path of any overland routes... not to mention poverty, really really big mountains and vast deserts and swamps impossible to police against mischief or blackmail.
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I watched 'Mars Attacks' (1996) with my family the other night on DVD. Hilarious, funky (Tim Burton) flick starring a long list of big names including Jack Nicholson in two roles (one being the president of the United States). What's stunning ten years on is film's prescience with regards to Islamic terrorism. Substitute 'Islamofascists' for 'Martians' and the screenplay works out almost perfectly (at least in a Clintonian context): a triangulating president, a military that had the right world view from the very beginning, a State Department that worships at the Church of Neville Chamberlain, France the UN and Congress all bathed in the illusion that there is no such thing as an enemy bent on their destruction, a media enabling the whole mess... Go see it if you haven't already. I'd welcome further thoughts on the parallels and lessons.
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Last night we watched 'Short Cuts' (1993, directed by the late Robert Altman). Thankfully the kids were not in the room. A true vision of hell.

When characters weren't drinking heavily, doing drugs, running around half naked, lying to one another (about anything and everything), yelling at one another over the slightest of sleights, expressing extreme jealousy, rage, anger and vengeance at the drop of a hat, glossing over incest and rape, attempting and then succeeding at suicide (two methods), killing one another (over a spilled beer; over a verbal 'dis'), bragging about those acts casually, treating children as objects, gossiping incessantly, committing adultery repeatedly and with no shame whatsoever, indulging in over-the-top narcissism, leaving naked dead bodies to rot, pondering necrophiliac pornography, enticing one another to do all of the above and making flimsy excuses for it... plus a bunch of things I've probably forgotten... they were failing completely at forgiveness or any shred of emotional connection.

I'm not sure what Altman's point was in making the film, but if it was "this is what being human is all about; it doesn't get any better, so let's celebrate and make the best of it", then what a sad, dark, desperate place he must have inhabited in life and what a warm and desperate place he must be in now. If his point was that humanity is utterly depraved and in need of a savior, then he didn't bother making that last bit explicit. With such a coda, the movie would have been a powerful testament to why we surely do (need a savior, that is).

27 December, 2006

Why September 11th?

In a post titled "9/11/3BC" Jim Gilbert references something more than a little bit freaky:

Chilton, back in 1987, pinpointed Jesus' birth to a [day and] time coinciding within two hours of the Al Qaeda attacks on the USA that took place fourteen years later.

So what conclusions do I draw from such a coincidence? Well, first Al Qaeda has made it very clear that they are at war with Cristendom, because that is how they view the West. Second, that group is infamous for its love of symbolism and irony, not only in picking targets, but also in their methods of attack. Third, since they are Middle Eastern culturally, I believe it would appear obvious to them that St. John was using Zodiacal signs...

...it is entirely possible that they calculated Jesus' birth in the same way that Chilton did, and timed their attack to reflect a strike at the very heart (or root) of Cristendom.

Of course it's also possible that they were making purely pragmatic decisions about flights, fuel loads, et cetera. But if that's the case, then they appear to have stumbled upon a symbolic time far more meaningful than any they've ever cooked up purposely.

...September 11, 3 B.C. was also the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Trumpets, which celebrates the enthronement of Messiah as King of Kings.

Clash of civilizations? Of faiths? Of good vs. evil? Of something much much bigger? Whether we choose to believe a lot or a little of that (or none at all), it seems more than plausible that the Islamofascists may see it that way--and to a degree of specificity most in the West would not know, much less think to acknowledge.

As a commenter remarked this morning on another post here on Kmaru: are we really listening to what the Islamofascists are trying to tell us?

Poor John...

...Kerry, that is.

The Value of Life; The Value of Death

I spent some time in conversation with one of my kids about the war and with it, the pros and cons respectively of a volunteer versus a draft-based military. That elicited a story about a story her middle school teacher told their class recently about narrowly avoiding the draft in the early 1970s--a story which of course, in this hyper-liberal zip code, lacked any context or respect for the system that replaced it. In a town where John Kerry bumper stickers are as common as dirt, avoiding the military is simply assumed to be a good thing at all times.

All of which put me in a frame of mind for noticing this post by James Taranto earlier today over at Best of the Web Today (OpinionJournal):

The Associated Press's Christopher Torchia reports on an Iraq war "milestone" [link added]:

The deaths of six more American soldiers pushed the U.S. military death toll since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003 to at least 2,977--four more than the number killed in the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

...So there is a connection with 9/11 after all! Only what it is, we're not exactly sure. "There has been no direct evidence of links between Saddam Hussein's regime and the Sept. 11 attacks," Torchia dutifully notes, and he doesn't say there's been any indirect evidence either.

...isn't there a qualitative difference between someone who goes to work in the morning and is murdered by terrorists, and someone who makes the ultimate sacrifice for his country after volunteering to take that risk? Or between a little girl murdered on a hijacked airplane and an adult man who dies in combat? In what sense are the body counts comparable? [emphasis added]

By drawing an equivalence between soldiers and victims, Torchia is insulting the heroism of those who fight, and in some cases die, for America. By engaging in such mindless and meaningless score-keeping, he is insulting the intelligence of every one of his readers.

Whatever We Can Get Away With

One more Christmas cocktail party anecdote worth relating...

I found myself, along with several others, listening to a guy from LA (we were in Boston) going on and on about his wonderful job in animation at a major studio. Names were dropped, anecdotes related. Other onlookers gazed in adulation--exactly what he was seeking.

What he described was a process I'd never really known much about before: getting content approved for kids' programming.

What he took pleasure in outlining were all of the ways he and his team work to sneak grimy, adult-level material into on-air shows, DVDs and video games--and past the bosses who should be filtering such stuff, but seldom do. Ribald jokes, ditties rhyming with profanity, cross-dressing characters, strongly suggestive situations. He gave examples I would have thought inappropriate for mid/late teens. I asked about his target audience: eight to thirteen year-olds. He saw absolutely nothing wrong with what he was doing.

What was more revealing than the application of my own standards to his material however, was what he said about the studio's standards: they don't exist. Is anything written down? I asked. No. Nothing.

I asked him again: are you sure? Nothing at all? No standards of what a particular character can and cannot do or what is appropriate for a particular show or a particular demographic? Nothing. No reference to a survey of kids and their parents, much less anything fixed. Just whatever they can sell.

So how does the vetting process work? I asked him.

What he described was essentially a game of cat-and-mouse with studio bosses. Do two or three shows that pass the softly subjective, undocumented, personal standards of studio bosses (drawn, apparently, from thin air, liberal cultural biases and animal spirits) and in so doing, lull them into complacency and (ill-placed) trust. Then sneak in the really hard stuff in episode four.

But why? I asked. Why do it?

He seemed genuinely confused by the question.

What larger purpose are you serving in working so hard to come up with such material and get it into the hands of eight-year-olds?

The thought seemed not to have not occurred to him (he and his global-warming-terrified wife--both around forty--don't have kids). Why not? he replied. And to the extent that the question had occurred to him, he answered it in a self-referential, narcissistic manner.

Why? His attitude and his stories told me enough: Because I like it that way, that's why.

So what do the studio bosses object to? I asked.

Characters with guns, he replied. They don't like that.

Even hunting wascally wabbits? I probed. Nope. No guns. Guns bad. Cross-dressing, profanity-spewing characters in lewdly suggestive situations? No problemo. Guns--even in context--never ever appropriate. Because guns kill people.

I left that conversation convinced: it's even worse than I thought.

Truly Terrifying: A Mild Winter

The last week of Christmas parties and gatherings have provided enough blogging material to keep me busy through January. Here's just one:

Chatting with a friend of a friend involved in both the film and academic communities in Los Angeles, I broke my self-imposed vow and foolishly remarked on the weather (a delightful, almost spring-like winter here in the Boston area). Her wide-eyed reaction: "this whole global warming thing is getting really terrifying!" Interesting choice of words. Terrifying. Not Iranian nukes. Not a repeat of 9-11. Not North Korea. Not Darfur.

The lack of snow.

Never mind that in 1984, temperatures in Boston crested into the high 70's for several days around Christmas (far higher than they've gotten this year). Back in the mid '80s--when I was studying this stuff full time--the deadly serious issue on which environmentalist profs could get published was global cooling. That weather didn't fit the public story and thus it wasn't remarkable. Now it is. Never mind that in the fly-over states (a term I hate but which many liberals know and love) they're still digging out from a monster blizzard.

Never mind that 70% of observed planetary warming since reliable records started being kept (shortly after the Civil War) happened before 1940--before the largest 'bump' in human-caused CO2 emissions. Never mind that cow farts account for over half of greenhouse gasses.

Never mind that Al Gore's chart showing trends for global temperature and Antarctic ice melting lacks a normed date scale. (If it had one, devotees might note that--contrary to what facile conventional wisdom might suggest--warming lags ice melt, not the other way around. Nobody's exactly sure why, but one theory being that during warmer periods, the desert-like poles receive more not less snow, lowering sea levels.)

Never mind that the sun's energy has been observed to fluctuate every 1500 years... and that the last time it was this high was... around 500 AD.

Never mind all that. In fact, never mind. Just turn off your mind and embrace this at a purely emotional level. It's what liberal politicians are counting on. Close your eyes and envision yourself inside a giant pressure cooker from which there is no escape--a handful of greedy, evil industrialists clamping down the lid and boiling us all to death.

That non-rational nightmare is the only way I can account for the way that otherwise sane, balanced individuals react to what should be an obscure scientific theory called global warming. It's a theory that--if true--is certainly far more complex and may be more beneficial (yes, I really said that) than most imagine. Just turn off your brain and watch the Al Gore movie.

If it's like the movie I watched last night ("Night at the Museum" - OK but not great), you'd be forgiven for not noticing that in the animated Coke commercial beforehand there is land at the North Pole and both penguins and polar bears live side by side there. (If the scene is meant to be Antarctica, it makes even less sense: it's set at Christmas time and yet it's dark out.) It is in that kind of passively ignorant context that prognostications about climate change are rendered in the public mind. Frightening indeed.

It's the Mullahs, Stupid

In a $ub$scriber$ only WSJ op-ed I noted earlier this month, Eliot Cohen writes of the Iraq Study Group's recommendation that Iran and Syria be pleaded with to help 'stabilize' Iraq:

...as though Syria and Iran were being downright rude, rather than providing indispensable assistance to those who have filled the burn wards of Walter Reed, the morgue in Baghdad, and the cemetery at Arlington.
Anyone not asleep for the last twenty-seven years (since the embassy takeover--an invasion of U.S. territory) knows that Iran is not a neutral party in this conflict. Anyone not asleep for the last five knows that we are in a war--with Iran.

And yet, the initial, instinctive reaction of the NYT (on Monday) to the breaking news that high-level Iranian military officials had been captured in Iraq was to 1) take at face value the pious-sounding excuses offered by the enemy 2) cast extreme skepticism on the claims of the U.S. military and 3) interpret the entire scene in a Clinton-era, crime-fighting context:
It was unclear what kind of evidence American officials possessed that the Iranians were planning attacks, and the officials would not identify those being held.
True enough, but why state it that way? One only needs to transpose this into a WWII context to see its silliness: just days after the capturing POWs in a war zone, the administration isn't falling all over itself to justify its actions in detail in public, to and via the media. How rude of them! Only well down in the article do we get to the gist of the problem: a lack of trust that those on the ground may just may be acting in good faith (now there's an idea):
A senior Western official in Baghdad said the raids were conducted after American officials received information that the people detained had been involved in attacks on official security forces in Iraq. “We conduct operations against those who threaten Iraqi and coalition forces,” the official said... Meanwhile, the Bush administration has rejected pressure to open talks with Iran about its actions in Iraq.
Again, how rude of them to not talk to those nice Iranian boys!
American and Iraqi officials have long accused Iran of interfering in this country’s internal affairs, but have rarely produced evidence. The administration presented last week’s arrests as a potential confirmation of the link. Mr. Johndroe said, “We suspect this event validates our claims about Iranian meddling, but we want to finish our investigation of the detained Iranians before characterizing their activities.”
The MSM, of course, wants it both ways. The thoroughness of the investigation and the administration's prudence in not releasing every last detail to the media at the outset are as much cause for scorn as would be the case if they did release such information prematurely (e.g., in order to push their agenda). Their cynicism knows no bounds:
...the development was being viewed skeptically on Sunday by some Iraqis, who said that they suspected that the timing was intended to reinforce arguments by some in the administration that direct talks with Iran would be futile.
Only in the last quarter of the article do we get to the nub of the issue:
The United States is now holding, apparently for the first time, Iranians who it suspects of planning attacks. One senior administration official said, “This is going to be a tense but clarifying moment. It’s our position that the Iraqis have to seize this opportunity to sort out with the Iranians just what kind of behavior they are going to tolerate,” the official said... “They are going to have to confront the evidence that the Iranians are deeply involved in some of the acts of violence.”
None of which deters the NYT from taking at face value the enemy's media-savvy cover story:
In one raid, which took place around 7 p.m. that day, American forces stopped an official Iranian Embassy car carrying the two Iranian diplomats, one or two Iranian guards and an Iraqi driver. Iraqi officials said that the diplomats had been praying at the Buratha mosque... The mosque’s imam, Sheik Jalal al-deen al-Sageir, a member of Parliament from Mr. Hakim’s party, said the Iranians had come to pray during the last day of mourning for his mother, who recently died... Since the borders opened after the invasion, it has not been uncommon for Iranian pilgrims to visit Iraq. Many come to worship in religious places holy to Shiites.
The believability of the imam is not called into question. The parting shot by the NYT, in other words, is to convey the impression that the administration's motives are suspect and that it's all just a matter of poor, pious Iranians trying to practice their religion and the intolerant U.S. military getting in their way. Today's NYT piece is little better, even in the face of mounting evidence:
The American military said Tuesday that it had credible evidence linking Iranians and their Iraqi associates, detained here in raids last week, to criminal activities, including attacks against American forces. Evidence also emerged that some detainees had been involved in shipments of weapons to illegal armed groups in Iraq.

In its first official confirmation of last week’s raids, the military said it had confiscated maps, videos, photographs and documents in one of the raids on a site in Baghdad. The military confirmed the arrests of five Iranians, and said three of them had been released.

The Bush administration has described the two Iranians still being held Tuesday night as senior military officials. Maj. Gen. William Caldwell IV, the chief spokesman for the American command, said the military, in the raid, had “gathered specific intelligence from highly credible sources that linked individuals and locations with criminal activities against Iraqi civilians, security forces and coalition force personnel.”
None of what they say is untrue, but in the way it is presented, the bias is clear, beginning with the headline: "U.S. Says Captured Iranians Can Be Linked to Attacks".

Not "Senior Iranian Military Personnel Planned Terror Campaign". Not "Iran Enters the Fray". Just a claim by the U.S. military (subtext: untrustable), that 'Iranians' (as if they were elderly pilgrims) "can be" (not 'are'--the NYT, like the former president, in of their unaccountable authority will decide when its time to use a definitive verb like 'is' or 'are') linked to 'attacks' (not 'terror', 'murder', 'chaos', or 'war'). And the editors make sure to get in this gibe once again:
The Bush administration has rejected pressure to open talks with Iran on Iraq.
Those rejectionists! Those unilateralists! The arrogance! The implication in context is not that the administration's ongoing refusal could be justified by this new evidence, but that the refusal caused the action by Iran (or at least irritated it). Those clumsy, stupid Americans--angering people we shouldn't. If only we'd sit down and talk with them, everything would be fine.

Note to self: do not read the NYT before annual check-up and blood pressure measurement.

Religious 'Tolerance', Hamas Style

Not a pretty picture:

This Christmas was the first under a Palestinian Authority controlled by the militant Islamic group Hamas. To alleviate Christian fears, Hamas promised to provide $50,000 for decorating Manger Square in the town's center for the holiday, but it wasn't clear if the money arrived. There were fewer Christmas decorations than in the past, and for the first time no Christmas carols were piped over the loudspeaker system.

...most of those in Manger Square on Sunday were locals. The sprinkling of foreign tourists included a Polish choir and a handful of South Korean pilgrims who gathered to sing carols in a corner of the square, interrupted briefly by the call to prayer from a nearby mosque... In the Gaza Strip, where 3,000 Palestinian Christians live among around 1.4 million Muslims, the head of the tiny Roman Catholic community canceled midnight Mass, citing recent gunbattles between the Fatah and Hamas movements. [emphasis added]
All part of a larger, longer-term exodus... as the Houston Chronicle notes ("Is Christianity dying in the birthplace of Jesus?")
Generations of Salman’s [Christian] ancestors were born and raised in Bethlehem, but her father broke free five years ago for a job as a carpenter in Corpus Christi. Now his daughter will follow and try to smooth the way for her brothers and sisters, who don’t have green cards yet.
As was the case with Jews fleeing Europe in the early decades of the 20th century, the so-called "wisdom of the crowd" (i.e., about difficult but as yet non-catastrophic persecution) may be a forerunner to broader acts of state-sponsored genocide. Lebanon (formerly a thriving Christian country) provides just one sad example.

26 December, 2006

Hubris in Taiwan?

The NYTimes this morning:

A strong earthquake and three powerful aftershocks shook Taiwan today, causing damage and at least one death, but a feared tsunami did not happen. [link added]
Caused by man? Probably not (this one, at magnitude 7.1, was 235 miles from Taipei). But the possibility can't be completely ruled out. The largest building in the world--the "Taipei 101"--has been implicated before:
Before the construction of Taipei 101, the Taipei basin was a very stable area with no active earthquake faults... "Since the construction finished there have been two larger earthquakes (magnitude 3.8 and 3.2) directly beneath Taipei 101, which were big enough to feel," says Dr Lin.
A different kind of fireworks? Or a curse?...

24 December, 2006

The Gift of Christmas; The Gift of the Word

I received a note from a friend the other day and thought it worth passing along (below). It may be cryptic to some, too 'strong' or didactic to others. But let it sink in (ponder it over the next 48 hours or so) and you may find yourself looking at Christmas in an entirely new (or more accurately, a truly eternal) way--a familiar object seen through a different set of lenses. At least that's how it seems to be working for me.

The front lawn blow-up snowmen (several in my neighborhood), the waving Santa Claus gift-train light displays complete with nodding reindeer, the hemorrhaging Visa bill, the mall traffic, the bustle of preparing food for guests, the anxiety of distant (and sometimes not-so-distant) relatives thrust into too close proximity, trying to be cordial and happy...

All of it may start to fade into the background as you contemplate (as the saying goes) "the reason for the season": a unique gift of infinite value (eternal life), offered freely by a Father, motivated by a love we do not merit--a love so vast we cannot comprehend it.

Or as I put it once: "...like a child on Christmas morning, it is not ours to say which gifts God must bestow and which we will accept. We can only be grateful, recognizing those we have... the love that changes another can take just an instant to express and often costs absolutely nothing: a thoughtful gesture, a kind word or simply a negative thought kept silent to oneself."

---------------------------------------
For it is written,

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... [and] the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth... He sent forth His word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave."
And He said of His word,
"So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it."
For as we know,
"The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever... For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."
And it is said ,
"...for You have magnified Your word above all Your name."
So now,
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life…"
So this Christmas, let us make sure to hold the Word close, to find it on our minds and in our hearts; that the Word may live in us and through us; in order that it may be written in the book of life about us; so that when the time comes, we will have the Word to find us unblemished and blameless before the throne of God.

23 December, 2006

More on Korean 'Negotiations'

Those who missed my piece yesterday on North Korea should go check it out here. With North Korea on the brain, I did a double-take this morning attempting to reconcile this highly sanitized piece from the AP wire by a gentleman with a Korean name (unknown background, location and qualifications) with this remarkably clear-headed AP wire piece by Bert Herman (AP Bureau Chief in Korea) from 12 hours earlier.

Both deal with the same material. The bureau chief's piece seems unusually frank for the MSM. The first four paragraphs read as follows (emphasis added):

When North Korea doesn't get what it wants, it prods the world into paying attention the only way it knows how: raising the stakes, doing everything from launching missiles to its recent nuclear test.

The failure this week of the latest arms talks with the communist nation opens the door for the North to increase tensions once again, possibly by setting off another atomic explosion deep beneath the mountains that dominate its rugged landscape.

The main U.S. envoy on Friday warned the North against such a move, as he criticized the country for failing to send negotiators into the nuclear talks with the authority to seek any compromise.

"To explode a nuclear weapon is obviously going to do rather severe damage to the diplomatic process, and I would argue it would bring severe damage to (North Korea) as well," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said.
Remarkable for the AP--as truthful and balanced as reporting used to be. It's also an unusually overt threat by a U.S. diplomat: "severe damage" to North Korea? Deliberately ambiguous. It could be said to refer to sanctions, but there's not a lot more to be done on that front. But it could also refer to military strikes. Leaving the NoKo's guessing isn't a bad ploy. By contrast, here's how this morning's AP piece by one Kwang-Tae Kim begins (emphasis added):
The North Korean army's chief of staff vowed Saturday to take strong countermeasures against U.S. sanctions, official media said a day after international disarmament talks on the North's nuclear arms program ended without any breakthrough.

Kim Yong Chun accused the United States of demanding that North Korea unilaterally end its nuclear program while refusing to lift financial restrictions that the U.S. imposed on the communist government for its alleged money laundering and counterfeiting of $100 bills.

The six-nation nuclear talks - held in Beijing after a 13-month North Korean boycott over the U.S. sanctions - ended Friday without an agreement to move ahead on the North's nuclear disarmament. Last year, it pledged to disarm in exchange for security guarantees and aid.

Negotiators said the North Koreans refused during five days of meetings to talk about their nuclear weapons program until the U.S. lifted its financial restrictions.
There's nothing actually wrong in the second piece. And the word "communist" is used, as it is in the first. Yet the impression one is left with--to my mind anyway--is far more what one might expect from neutral commentary about a sporting event: just two teams of equal moral stature playing the games that nations do. As William F. Buckeley used to remark, the struggle with totalitarianism is not, as some would have it, merely between the blue and red teams.

Some previous posts on North Korea here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

22 December, 2006

NoKo is to SoKo as Iran is to Turkey

It's too bad that an op-ed this insightful on an issue of critical importance to world security (North Korea) is run the day before Christmas weekend, available to subscribers only. The piece is by one B.R. Myers "a North Korea researcher at Dongseo University in Busan, South Korea." The key bits:

No country today is as misunderstood as North Korea. Journalists still refer to it as a Stalinist or communist state, when in fact it espouses a race-based nationalism such as the West last confronted during the Pacific War... The six-party talks are therefore less likely to replicate the successes of Cold War d├ętente than the negotiating failures of the 1930s. [emphasis added]
Was there a Neville Chamberlain East in 1930's? My historical knowledge is not that complete. If there wasn't, it seems we're about to invent him. Perhaps we already did. The piece continues:
...the desire [by South Korea] to help North Korea [despite threats] derives in large part from ideological common ground. South Koreans may chuckle at the personality cult, but they generally agree with Pyongyang that Koreans are a pure-blooded race whose innate goodness has made them the perennial victims of rapacious foreign powers. They share the same tendency to regard Koreans as innocent children on the world stage -- and to ascribe evil to foreigners alone.

The relationship between the Koreas can therefore be likened to the relationship between a moderate Muslim state such as Turkey and a fundamentalist one like Iran. The South Koreans have compromised their nationalist principles in a quest for wealth and modernity, and while they're glad they did, they feel a nagging sense of moral inferiority to their more orthodox brethren.

They often disapprove of the North's actions, but never with indignation, and always with an effort to blame the outside world for having provoked them. (The same is true of moderate Islam's response to fundamentalist terrorism.) To be sure, there was public anger at Kim Jong Il when his nuclear test made stock prices drop in Seoul, but it dissipated the moment the U.S. began talking sanctions. Seoul has since made clear that the nuclear issue will have no significant effect on its sunshine policy. This earns it no goodwill from the North, mind; between soft-liners and hard-liners, sympathy can only go in one direction. [emphasis added]

21 December, 2006

Speaking of the Weather...

It used to be that talking about the weather was the ultimate 'safe' subject (e.g., with a new or casual acquaintance, to bridge gaps in conversation, etc.) Around here at least, it has become a veritable minefield into which I hope never to venture again.

Case in point: light chat with a fellow parent at a high-school sporting event this afternoon. Here in New England, we've had the warmest December I can remember. (I've lived here my whole life.) A few winters ago, we had one of the coldest and snowiest on record. I enjoyed that. I've been rather enjoying this winter also. Weather is like that. It varies. Sometimes by a lot.

The lack of snow this year makes everything considerably easier though, so if I had to vote on it, I'd make a case from personal interest alone (e.g., real estate prices, lifestyle) for promoting more global warming. It would make this region downright pleasant year-round. If it were true.

Based on the tiniest of openings ("I like the weather we've been having", I remarked, smiling) this fellow parent launched into a lengthy diatriabe. It went something like this:

"This weather must be part of a trend", he said. (Well, yes, I thought to myself, but what trend? Over what period of time? As caused by what? Going where? Requiring us to do what?)

"The weather has been warmer than ever on record for ten out of the last fourteen years!" (He was starting to get really worked up at this point. I hadn't said anything yet.)

"Well at least it seems to be getting warmer where we have newspaper writers", I remarked, not able to hold myself back any longer.

"Did you hear about the cow farts?" I continued. He looked puzzled. He had not. I didn't expect that he would have. The MSM didn't play it widely. Didn't fit with the larger story.

I explained: "It means that in order to be consistent and really help with global warming you shouldn't eat any meat." Totally deadpan. I was proud of myself. I should have known better.

"I don't", he said. "Eat meat, that is. I haven't for years." (Like myself, this fellow is an ultrarunner. Unlike myself, he is one of those body-obsessed fellows who--and here I am making an educated guess--weighs his portions and looks down his nose at any restaurant concept that's ever been popular enough to be franchised.)

He shifted into high gear, getting excited. He was facing me now, and gesturing. His stopwatch had fallen around his neck. He was not paying any attention to the runners anymore.

"You know", he began, "we're really just thumbing our nose at the rest of the world!" (I think he meant the U.S.--in not signing Kyoto. I didn't ask for clarification.) He was looking for agreement. He didn't get any. But neither did I want to engage. This had been a monologue from the beginning. He did not care what I thought and had never asked. He had no idea how ludicrous the starting point for his reasoning really was.

"Hey, I'm here to watch a track meet", I said. He got the hint and changed the subject. We talked for another few minutes about running injuries. Then, without any warning whatsoever or even a smile, a wave or a goodbye, he abruptly turned and walked away.

I was struck by two things:

1) How unaware most people are about the nature of time. Secularists love to claim a deep understanding of how the universe is billions of years old. For the record I'm neutral on that topic. God can compress and extend time to suit whatever purposes He has in mind.

But when your world view is entirely based on the particular precepts of geologic time and its vastnes (geology having been my major in college), it's behooves you to appreciate that weather instrumentation has only existed for an infinitessimally teensy little fraction of that time--and the glacial record for only slightly longer than that.

Tens of thousands of years is nothing. To say that because ten of the last fourteen years have been warmer than any in the last 130 or so (on the East Coast of the United States) is to say... NOTHING of any scientific significance. It is to render a statement of total blind faith based on the skimpiest of evidence. Jesus was on earth for 33 years, yet this man was more eager to believe a theory of planetary significance based on... fourteen. Which brings us to point two.

2) People who like to denigrate religious faith seldom see how deep and fervent their own is--or how clumsy and ungrounded they are in pushing their faith on others. My interaction with this man at the track meet could just as easily have been a script for a bad attempt at proselytizing... the worst kind of street-corner, in-your-face preaching from a position of cold arrogance and superiority that can give Christianity a bad name for those who've experienced such pushiness.

When one looks at global warming as a religion barely out of its teenage years (literally), it starts to seem more like what it is: a newly founded cult from which devotees are not willing to be de-programmed by evidence, discussion and reason.

Quick Muse on God's Hand and Terrorism

I can't help wondering... how many of the hundreds of holiday flights stranded in freak fog in London might have been 'scheduled' to be blown up by terrorists? And is that really an accident? How many of said terrorists will now see over-crowded airports as targets of opportunity? And how many will just slink away quietly to plan jihad for another day?

Would You Like Fries With That, Mr. Berger?

Sandy Berger is mentioned nowhere on the front page of the New York Times today.

In the WaPo, the headline runs in the 'Nation' section, far down the web page, well below a fuzzy/happy story about the photographer of the National Christmas Tree. "Berger Stashed Documents" [my emphasis].

How about this: "With the knowledge of the former President, Sandy Berger stole, lied about and destroyed unique, public documents that implicated him and his former boss (Bill Clinton) in gross negligence in protecting the country from terrorism--at least perverting the integrity of, and very possibly distorting the findings of the 9-11 Commission, thus skewing debate on U.S. foreign policy for the forseeable future during a period of critical and protracted national peril"? (We will never know for sure how much distortion occurred now that the documents are gone).

OK, that's a lede, not a headline, but you'd have to read several major national newspapers and know the background of the story already in order to piece it all together. Nobody in the MSM is going out of their way to make plain, much less feature, much less keep alive a story with Watergate-level implications. Think about it for a moment. No, really. Think.

Presidential foreknowledge of a crime? Watergate: probably. Bergergate: check, though not while he was president.

Lying by public officials to cover up said crime: Watergate: check (current officials). Bergergate: check (former officials).

Nature of crime:
Watergate: burglary to facilitate improper examination of private documents. Bergergate: theft and destruction of unique public documents. We'll call that one even, though I could argue for Bergergate being a far greater breach of the public trust.

Implications for national security? Watergate: arguably/maybe as a third-order effect. Bergergate: clear, direct and irrevocable (9-11 Commission; unique documents destroyed).

Clever reporters making national headlines for weeks on end, elevating the Fourth Estate to a new level of power in national politics, bringing down an administration, and producing countless bestselling books and documentaries for years? Watergate: check. Bergergate: don't hold your breath.

To be fair, the NYT does pick up the Berger story in its own 'Nation' section but (using the AP wire) does little better than the WaPo: "Report Says Berger Hid Archive Documents" [my emphasis]. The NYT also carries an original article in its 'Washington' section: "Report Details Archives Theft by Ex-Adviser" [my emphasis]. On the web, one has to be looking for a Berger story using a search engine in order to find it. I.e., those casual readers (the vast majority of the public) not already inclined to see the deeper problem in this story will not be informed about it.

On the AP wire, the story has dropped (as of this writing, before 7AM East Coast time on Thursday) to "Earlier News" at the very bottom of the page "Report Says Berger Hid Archive Documents". The government report was released... yesterday.

Nothing to see here! Move along! Move along!

Call me over-sensitive, but would Bush41 or Reagan have gotten this much deference a few years out of office for a similar crime? Will Bush43? (Ha!) Does the deliberate and permanent destruction of public historical records for the express purpose of personal gain (preserved reputation) on a matter of great urgency to current national security bother anyone? Apparently not enough for the MSM to expend any extra effort going after Democrats.

UPDATE I (Thurs. night): Two different callers to two different talk shows I was listening to this afternoon (one being Rush) raised three points worth mulling: 1) Sandy Berger is by all accounts a "nice guy". On the surface, he appears to have had little to gain from this personally, thus he may have been carrying water for someone else, 2) Sandy Berger had previously worked as a lobbyist for Communist China, 3) the manner in which Berger dropped off the documents under the construction trailer is consistent with how Oliver Ames and other spies made drops for foreign agents around the DC area. He claimed to have been dropping them for himself to pick up later. What if he was dropping them for someone else and for himself later? That all may or may not be significant. It could be legitimately criticized as paranoid. And if the evidence had not been destroyed and the investigation closed, that paranoia could be put to rest. At the very least it is interesting. I doubt any investigator is ever going to be asked to connect those dots. Possibly our ignorance. Definitely our loss.

UPDATE II: (Friday): The W$J notes this morning that Mr. Berger's stashing of unique (because they were hand-annoted) classified documents in a place easily accessible to anyone is...

...astonishing for a man who served in a senior White House position that made him familiar with the obligations of handling classified papers.
They go on to point out the compounding of lies in the case, the net result of which has been to let Mr. Berger off more lightly than he should have been had all facts been in the open:
At the time of the plea, federal prosecutor Noel Hillman assured this newspaper that Mr. Berger was working off of copies of the memos printed from a hard drive, so there was no danger that handwritten notes in the margins of certain copies could have been destroyed... To the extent that Mr. Berger's actions did not affect the completeness of the historical record on the Clinton Administration's approach to al Qaeda, we've argued that his plea agreement did justice to the nature of the crime. But the Inspector General's account of Mr. Berger's document-stashing serves as a useful reminder of the Clinton circle's ethos that all too many rules simply did not apply to them.

20 December, 2006

Reinventing Sin

It finally dawned on me yesterday: World cultural elites are redefining sin, and with it, evil.

From environmentalism to diet, medicine and beyond, the notion of 'sin' is becoming a secular, legalistic, commonly understood quick-reference list of things deemed 'bad' in all (liberal) contexts. They bear little resemblance to any previously established moral frameworks.

Global warming is the biggest case in point--as I've noted before. The volume of carbon emissions has become almost overnight the universal language in elite circles for assessing the 'sinfulness' of nations, households and people. The incredible (and incredibly poorly understood) complexity of global climate has been distilled down into one very simple (and overly simplistic) notion: more CO2 bad; less CO2 good.

Such ideas have force and staying power in a soundbyte society lacking the time or inclination to go any deeper. They are the kinds of ideas easily indoctrinated into children. (It is terribly ironic that those on the left routinely tar those on the right with the accusation of simplistic thinking and the improper imposition of morals not universally shared.)

Never mind that dumb animals are the ones committing majority of the 'sin' of global warming. If we were all vegans and didn't have Christmas trees it wouldn't be such a problem. This comes after species extinctions and rainforest degradation failed to take hold in quite the same way in light of inconvenient facts, backfiring on the Rousseuean illusion of a pristine and virtuous third world rather than hitting their primary target--the United States, which everyone just knows is mischievously evil by nature. Thus it was inevitable that those issues would be superseded.

Sin is being redefined as something that governments (in liberal eyes) should attempt to control. Again, terribly ironic in view of how sensitive those on the left are to any government policy grounded (as many have been since this country's founding) in a traditional religious moral framework. In most cases this process is unconscious (though in some liberal churches and political circles it is anything but).

Liberals like to view government as the solution to problems. And so, as the problems on which their constituent movements were founded are gradually solved (e.g., women in college, blacks in positions of prominence--often despite, not because of the liberal policies purported to have addressed them) the left searches for new definitions of 'sinfulness' requiring even more grandiose and hubristic government intervention.

The number of areas of life to which liberal virtue points and vice demerits have come to apply in our society (with little or no public debate on them) is so vast as to have become one of the only common reference points for discussing 'morality'. Grab someone at random off the street in Manhattan or Boston or San Fran and they probably know the CO2=bad equation. It is far less likely (I would assert) that the same person would be capable of naming more than three of the Ten Commandments or providing an accurate high-level summary of the First Amendment.

Combined with our over-deference to discussing religious issues in the public square in the name of 'tolerance' (of anything and everything), the language of liberal virtue and vice has become the only shared one available for public discourse. And in being the only language for such conversations, it smuggles in an entirely new framework for 'sin'--a framework that can't help but supplant the one that's existed for millennia.

The last time any prominent liberal official talked with a straight face about biblical sin in its original meaning in public square was thirty years ago (Jimmy Carter in Playboy). And re-reading that interview makes it clear that his comments were more in conformance with the "do a little dance... get down tonight" culture than in opposition to it.

And so through the lens of liberal 'sin' redefined, we can add another one to the list this week. Massachusetts state representative Peter Koutoujian (far from alone in this state in thinking that Fidel Castro is a swell guy whom we ought to reward) is following Michael Napoleon Bloomberg's lead, introducing a bill in the Massachusetts State Legislature which would make junk food into dangerous contraband for those arriving at Logan airport or dining at Boston area restaurants. Never mind that the bill will enrich pastry shop owners and fast-food franchises just over the border in New Hampshire (as is already true with liquor and cigarettes--taxed more heavily here.) Trans fats = 'sin'. Solution for 'sinful' things: make them illegal.

All of this goes a long way towards explaining why, when confronted with true (call it 'classical') evil and sin, many on the left like to change the subject. When evil and sin have been redefined as eating fast food and driving an SUV, it's hard to tack all the way over from that position to one from which megalomaniac dictators with nukes are also evil. Holding the two ideas in mind at once cannot help but make one or the other look silly. Ahmadinejad? Can't make him illegal... let's focus on global warming instead. Hamas? Not related to my health. Ignore them.

For my part, I'm sticking with the classical definitions. Despite some ups and downs, they've served humanity rather well since Moses.

19 December, 2006

Zucker on James Chamberlain (aka, Neville Baker)

Ouch. Short video that would be even funnier if the fate of Western Civilization didn't hang in the balance.

Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda: Hillary Clinton & the Architecture of Belief

It is almost axiomatic of presidential politics that legislators (i.e., Senators and Congressmen) have a tougher time getting elected than do executives (e.g., Governors and CEOs like Mr. Bush). It's not all that difficult therefore, to put party affiliation aside and nonetheless arrive at the dispassionate conclusion that Senator Kerry's candidacy was doomed not just because he said he "voted for the Iraq war before [he] voted against it", but because by the very nature of his job he was conditioned to seeing such statements as meaningful.

And so it is with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and her most recent have-it-both-ways statement on hypothetical history:

"If we knew then what we know now there certainly wouldn't have been a vote and I wouldn't have voted that way."
Which is to say, among other things, that HRC would have voted for the Hussein boys to continue raping young girls and terrorizing their families. That's a rather remarkable admission for an ardent feminist... though hardly a surprise.

Many on the left would agree that actions have consequences. (I said "many", not "most".) And so it shouldn't be too much of a stretch to demand that the hypothetical consequences of such hypothetical actions be fleshed out--preferably by the person proposing a personal virtue for which we cannot by definition hold her accountable in the real world. HRC says she would not have voted for the war? OK then, it is fair to ask: what might have been the consequences of her hypothetical vote?

It's a question that is both easy and difficult to answer and the ever-calculating HRC is counting on that asymmetry. Easy: U.S. troops would not be bound up in a messy situation. Difficult: what could have happened that never did? We can't say for sure... because it never happened and never will. We cannot go back "knowing what we know now". Life doesn't work that way. If it did, Adam, stricken and banished just east of Eden, might have said something like this:
Eve, you were duped. You were foolish to believe the snake and I was stupid to listen to you. We now know the snake was Satan. The apple was a ruse. Let's go back in there, knowing what we know now, unbite the apple and unpick it from the tree. Maybe God won't notice and everything will be just ducky and we can go on roaming around naked and innocent and happy.
It has been my experience as a professional scenario planner that people--including extremely smart, responsible people--find it difficult to develop credible, logically consistent hypothetical futures. It is even more difficult to get them to agree on one. Senator Clinton knows this and is counting on it. She can therefore make a claim about something she coulda, shoulda, woulda done--just like other non-executive aspirants have done before her--and reap any rewards (ooh!, she's thoughtful, not stubborn, nuanced not one-dimensional, flexible, not obsessed) without having to answer for anything concrete. Academics have similar latitude--one reason why the overwhelming majority hold left-wing views.

Ten thousand bloggers may write about what would, or could, or should have happened if we had not gone to war, painting both rosy and dire pictures. Yet in every case, the answer is something we will never know for sure.

Having proposed a past alternative that by definition we cannot check, it is up to Senator Clinton to flesh out an answer. (I'm hardly holding my breath.) But we do know one thing: a return to the blissful 1990's illusion that we are at the end of history--on the verge of the effortless transformation of human nature and the eradication of evil through the inexorable spread of free market capitalism alone is not one of the more plausible outcomes of such a vote.

Actions have consequences, including actions that signal to our enemies what they are already predisposed to believe: namely, that we have become weak, vacillating and self-indulgent. (Not at all unlike the final days of the Roman Empire as some astute KMaru readers have noted in comments.) As a presumed front-runner for the Democratic nomination in 2008, Senator Clinton's statement, while cleverly couched in the hypothetical past, is no less a signal of weakness than if she had declared it by executive fiat.

Two other quick thoughts on a tangent:

1) If affirmative action is such a good idea, why don't we apply it to elected offices? Why don't we give Hillary an extra five points for being female and Barack Obama an extra seven for being black? (Better yet, let's appoint a committee to argue over the numbers.)

2) Not that it really matters, but "Hillary Rodham Clinton" anagrams out to: HILL LIAR NO CANDOR MYTH

18 December, 2006

Tim Johnson, Illness, Humanity and Humility

I can't recall my first reaction on hearing the news of South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson's apparent stroke last week. What I felt quite vividly however, was a sense of revulsion at the speed with which a variety of pundits--on both the left and the right--began doing the political calculus. It began within minutes.

Most readers will have heard it multiple times by now: Johnson is a Democrat. South Dakota's Governor Mike Rounds is a Republican. Should anything happen to Johnson, Rounds would appoint his replacement. The balance of power in the U.S. Senate hangs in the balance. Dick Cheney would provide the tie-breaking vote should Johnson be unable to return to work.

Over and over and over...

Both sides wasted no time in spinning scenarios. Most genuflected briefly toward Johnson the man--a human being sick in bed, under a surgeon's knife. Far too briefly, in my view. None of them dwelt for more than a microsecond on the anguish that his family must be going through. Most of those that did say more than the minimum in that vein reeked of insincerity. As if Harry Reid would really care this much if Johnson were the guy who does his dry cleaning or waters the plants in his office. As if Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity really want Johnson back at work. Having sat at the bedside of a desperately ill loved one, it all frankly sickened me.

Doctors and nurses and priests and social workers (the overwhelming majority of them anyway) don't ask which party someone belongs to before they offer their healing services. Why? Because even one step in that direction puts us all on a dark and slippery slope leading to the false idea that we are not a) mortal and b) equal before God. It's the same thinking that has caused me to steer clear of the immigration debate. Illegal? Yes. Subhuman? No. The two are too often conflated.

It is only one small step beyond that idea (eartly pecking order has meaning in eternity) that brings us to something even worse: mere variations on a creed of expediency. That's a twisted world in which it is claimed that ends sometimes justify means, even if the former are selfish and the latter come at the expense of the defenseless--as they seem to have done in Ukraine. Once on that slope, 'sometimes' can come to mean 'often' and soon enough may mean 'always'.

Before one is even aware of it, the morality of the means and the virtue of the ends reach out to find no eternal standard. Humility and humanity are crushed under the wheels of ugly motives.

It's worth noting that we all continue to draw our next breath only due to the grace of God who can give or take away any majority (or any life, or any nation for that matter) any time He wants. It is His will that must be done, not that of Republicans, Democrats or even Americans. Is He acting in this drama? Of course. He acts in everything. Is His will as simple as smoting Democrats and handing a majority to Godly Republicans? Gimme a break. Regular readers know that I am not without my strong preferences in that regard (America, Republicans), but I am acutely aware that those are only my own tiny, human preferences.

Would I have more trouble being above the fray upon learning of the illness or death of someone like Teddy Kennedy? Would I feel more schadenfraude? Yes. But that is my own failing. It's not something worthy of emulation.

For goodness sakes, Tim Johnson (and yes, even Teddy K) are children of God--just like the rest of us. All this piling on of political speculation is understandable in one respect. That does not make it any less ugly. Vultures have an important job to do in the ecosystem. It doesn't mean I'd like one as a pet or think of them as a source of morality.

15 December, 2006

We Will Fight Them on the Beaches...

Dean Barnett (aka, Soxblog) has penned a magnificent high-perspective piece over on Hewitt's blog calling for an American Churchill to lead us in facing the dark forces gathering against us:

Americans aspire to greatness. This country is full of people and the descendants of people who came to America seeking better lives. They didn’t get on the boat so they might pursue mediocrity; they wanted more, a lot more. An ambitious and striving nature is an integral part of our national DNA... The American people have never shrunk from a challenge when they’ve understood the necessity of taking it on...

President Bush flinched and lost faith in the American people. I think he thought if he explained the scope of the struggle ahead and the sacrifices that are going to be necessary to prevail, the American people would have blanched and turned to a different leader...

Today and for the foreseeable future, America will face great challenges. The forces of darkness are gathering, this week literally as they’ve convened a Holocaust denial conference. They can only be defeated by force. Prevailing will require willpower. And it will have to be a communal effort; the upcoming struggle will be of such a scale that it’s likely that every American household will feel its impact.

So let the small-minded James Baker-types offer their 79 point plans for national mediocrity... The great majority of the American people pine for a path back to greatness. The first politician who honestly confronts our problems and illuminates that path will be the American Churchill. Hopefully it will be President Bush since time’s a-wastin’, but the title is currently up for grabs.
Barnett's criticism of the president is unfair in one sense: President Bush did warn us--and in the clearest possible terms right after 9-11--that the fight would be long, difficult and costly. I lay equal blame on the public for not internalizing what that really meant, on the media for not helping the public to understand it, and on the president for allowing his opponents to gain a foothold in watering it down. I hope I'm not the only one who took him (in Sept., '01) to mean:
  • duration--decades if not generations of collective determination
  • setbacks--many pits of Dunkirkian despair out of which victory seems all but impossible
  • cost--many tens of thousands of lives and an economy that at some point may need to go on a true war footing (e.g., $6 gasoline, cuts in social programs to fund defense, etc.)
Unlike our grandparents in the 1930's, we do not have a model in personal experience for what those things are like--other than Vietnam. We are at risk of repeating that model in retreat, self-centeredness and denial. I wonder: If the new Churchill emerges in 2008, will anyone listen and follow? Or have we grown so accustomed to the challenges of making comfortable lives for ourselves that we've forgotten the true price of what we enjoy?

14 December, 2006

Kofi's Legacy

If the MSM were fair and balanced in criticizing corruption, malign motives and ineffectiveness, it would be giving the same kind of "get 'im!" saturation coverage to Kofi Annan as it has to George Bush. Instead, this OpinionJournal piece is a lonely voice indeed in its clear-eyed assessment of the Annan legacy of moral vacuousness:

When Mr. Annan was named Secretary General 10 years ago, he did so as the U.S.-backed candidate of reform. Jesse Helms, then-chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Mr. Annan that "if you choose to be an agent of real and deep-seated change, you will find many supporters -- and even allies -- here in the U.S. Congress."

Senator Helms's expectations were not met. Seven years later -- thanks to U.S. military action that Mr. Annan did everything in his power to prevent -- we learned that he had presided over the greatest bribery scheme in history...

...by insisting that only through the U.N. could the world act to protect vulnerable populations, [Kofi Annan] has made vulnerable people hostage to predatory regimes with seats at the U.N. and made it all the more difficult for the world to act... [emphasis added]

Mr. Annan came to power at a moment when it was at least plausible to believe that a properly reformed U.N. could serve the purposes it was originally meant to serve: to be a guarantor of collective security and a moral compass in global affairs. Mr. Annan's legacy is that nobody can entertain those hopes today.
High-profile conservatives whom the MSM likes to lambaste because of superficial things (e.g., Mr. Bush's less-than-compelling talent for extemporaneous speaking) seem to come under less scrutiny than high-profile left-wing darlings (e.g., Mr. Annan) who ought to be easy targets because of fundamental things (e.g., utter failure--in fact, backwards--moral leadership). Could Mr. Annan's status as a "person of color" render him less of a target for legitimate criticism?

Beyond Mr. Annan (perhaps too easy a target), the evolved structure and entrenched culture, precedent and inertia of the UN makes it beyond salvage--a view I've held for years. It took World War II to bring a more intellectually honest and morally grounded world to conclude that, despite being founded with virtuous motives in mind and having done some good, the League of Nations had become demonstrably obsolete if not dangerous and thus in need of reinvention. Will it take another conflict of that magnitude (or greater) to bring the world to that realization again? Sadly, it probably will.

I find it hard to understand how the UN is treated with such reverence by those on the left when its record is at least as 'mixed' as the League of Nations. (I will acknowledge that the UN has done some good at some points in its history, though I'm hard pressed to identify any off the top of my head). Those who love to criticize the legitimacy of institutions (e.g., the church) with far greater longevity and far more fundamental claims to coherent moral foundations are quick to place the UN on a pedestal from which it is immune to such existential critique. As human-run institutions, both fail in the full realization of their ideals. In the case of the UN and its ideal of global consensus uber alles, I say thank goodness it is so constrained. In the case of the church, by contrast, it is to our collective detriment that we fail to recognize and adequately defend the flowering of ideals grounded in eternal truth.