Day By Day

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Utah Anti-Darwin Bill Fails

NYT reports:

In a defeat for critics of Darwin, the Utah House of Representatives on Monday voted down a bill intended to challenge the theory of evolution in high school science classes.

The bill had been viewed nationally, by people on each side of the science education debate, as an important proposal because Utah is such a conservative state, with a Legislature dominated by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But the bill died on a 46-to-28 vote in the Republican-controlled House after being amended by the majority whip, Stephen H. Urquhart, a Mormon who said he thought God did not have an argument with science. The amendment stripped out most of the bill's language, leaving only that the state board of education "shall establish curriculum requirements relating to scientific instruction."

Read it here.

This is precisely how these things should be handled -- through the political process, NOT through the courts. If these decisions are to be respected and accepted, they cannot simply be handed down by judicial authorities. The Pennsylvania case had a satisfactory solution not because a federal judge ruled against the school board, but because the voters of the school district overwhelmingly voted to remove the anti-evolution activists. The Utah case, decided in open debate by the elected representatives of the citizenry, similarly has authority that no pronouncement from on high could ever have.

Light Blogging

Very light blogging today. "She" has the house in turmoil, rearranging everything. I'm preparing a lecture for tomorrow. We're both tired from travel. Maybe I'll be able to put something together tomorrow.

Iraq Update -- The Shortest Civil War on Record

Forget that gleeful cackling from the left..., Iraq apparently has not, repeat not, descended into "civil war."

Omar at Iraq the Model reports:

Life is coming back to normal in Baghdad and marketplaces and offices are open again after being shut for 4 days. Although there were a few security incidents today people are mostly looking at these as part of the usual daily situation and not related to the latest shrine crisis.

Read the whole thing here.

Note also that the Sunni withdrawal from the government lasted all of two days.


More killing today, but the political leadership on all sides is holding firm, and that's what's important.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Riots in Dublin

Bloomburg has an overview here.
Feb. 27 (Bloomberg) -- The worst violence in Dublin for a quarter century has left stores counting the cost of lost trade and politicians and police calling on the government to look into how hundreds of rioters were able to paralyze the city center. Retailers in the Irish capital lost about 10 million euros ($11.9 million) from the Feb. 25 violence, according to trade association Retail Ireland. Some store owners are concerned that figure may rise should the country's reputation be damaged after Irish republicans blocked a march by the pro-British loyalists.... Republicans set vehicles alight, looted stores and hurled missiles at police starting on O'Connell Street, the capital's main thoroughfare. The violence was a response to loyalists from Northern Ireland, who had planned to march through the city for the first time in 70 years before abandoning the event.
Back Seat Drivers has lots of photos here, here, and here.

And also check out the Dossing Times coverage here.

And Richard Delevan here.

And here's the Indymedia coverage.

The above image of the woman pushing a babe in a stroller past a burned out car says it all.

Faction fighting may be disturbing but it's a hell of an improvement on the mad bombers of yore. Twelve million dollars damage is chicken feed [except of course to the merchants involved]. But this sound and fury was relatively innocuous.

Will Willie Frazier try to stage another march? What will be the Republican response? Will there be a political fallout? Who can tell?

Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Maryland Politics -- Retrenchments

Gov. Ehrlich has begun to moderate his stand on the Dubai port deal. WaPo reports that he is now "inclined" to allow the deal to proceed. Obviously someone from the White House has been calling. Baltimore's Macho Mayor Martin O'Malley, however, is still defiant. Read about it here.

Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, down in the polls and suffering staff shakeups, admits that his campaign has suffered some "hickups". What is happening is a profound disagreement over strategy between State and National republican advisors. The national Republicans want to put Steele out in prominent positions to advertise the Party's commitment to Black Americans. Steele's State advisors, though, want to limit his appearances until the campaign begins in earnest. The State advisors seem to have won the contest. Steele has fired two prominent staffers placed there by the National Committee.

Read it here.

Tonight I was contacted by some Cardin people and asked to attend one of their functions. I explained that I vote in Pennsylvania and didn't have a dog in the local fight, and that I liked Kweisi Mfume. Didn't dissuade them, though. When it happens I'll report on it.

Cavemen Prefer Blondes

The Sunday Times reports:
[N]ew research has found that it was cavemen who were the first to be lured by flaxen locks.

According to the study, north European women evolved blonde hair and blue eyes at the end of the Ice Age to make them stand out from their rivals at a time of fierce competition for scarce males.

The study argues that blond hair originated in the region because of food shortages 10,000-11,000 years ago. Until then, humans had the dark brown hair and dark eyes that still dominate in the rest of the world. Almost the only sustenance in northern Europe came from roaming herds of mammoths, reindeer, bison and horses. Finding them required long, arduous hunting trips in which numerous males died, leading to a high ratio of surviving women to men.

Lighter hair colours, which started as rare mutations, became popular for breeding and numbers increased dramatically, according to the research, published under the aegis of the University of St Andrews....

The increase in competition for males led to rapid change as women struggled to evolve the most alluring qualities. Frost believes his theory is supported by studies which show blonde hair is an indicator for high oestrogen levels in women.

Read it here:

OK, it's easy to make fun of this stuff -- in the end it is little more than a "just so" story -- but there is a serious principle involved here. Northern Europeans, unlike populations in other parts of the world, have remarkably diverse hair and eye color. What is more, this diversity seems to have emerged rather quickly. What evolutionary mechanisms could account for this rapid diversification? Random variation cannot explain it. Some powerful selective factor must have been operating. Sexual selection seems to be the most plausible explanation.

But here's the interesting part. Usually, when evolutionists invoke sexual selection it involves females selecting males, and that is why such theories have been so popular with feminists. Here, apparently, it is the males who are doing the selecting on the basis of presumed surface attractiveness. This carries the implication that there are universal standards of female beauty, and that blue-eyed blondes are inherently more attractive than non-blondes. Somehow I don't think that theory's going to fly once the feminists get their hands on it. And consider the implication of a theory that suggests that Northern Europeans evolved differently from other humans..., hmmmm, not gonna touch that one.

And, there is another implication. Once technology makes it possible to fake blondness, and the presumed original scarcity of males associated with large-animal predation no longer tilts selection in their favor, the features selected for would gradually disappear from the population. In fact, that is exactly what other "scientists" have predicted. According to the World Health Organization blondes will become extinct within approximately 200 years. The WHO predicts that the last blond will be born in Finland in 2202.

Really, that's what they say! I'm not making this up.


In a possibly related development, Reuters reports:
TOKYO (Reuters) - It's a case of the vanishing blondes.

Ten years ago, a stroll through central Tokyo could leave travelers wondering what country they were in as they watched a parade of tanned, fair-haired women walking tall in precarious platform shoes.

Now fashion has moved on and hairdressers say bleached blonde tresses are going the way of fake tans, although a dark brown tint still seems more popular than natural black.

The only fair-haired women to be seen on the covers of Japanese fashion magazines nowadays are foreign models.

Read it here.


The WHO has issued a denial of the report that they have predicted the extinction of blondes. I didn't make the story up, but apparently the MSM did. Just goes to show that you can't believe what you read in the paper. The WHO denial is here.

This Day in History -- The World Trade Center Bombing

On this day in 1993 a bomb built by Islamic extremists exploded in the parking garage of New York's World Trade Center, killing six people and injuring more than 1,000 others.

Here are the victims of that first attack:
  • John DiGiovanni, Valley stream, New York
  • Robert Kirkpatrick, Suffern, New York
  • Steve Knapp, Manhattan
  • Monica Smith, Seaford, New York
  • William Macko, Bayonne, New Jersey
  • Wilfredo Mercado, Brooklyn
Let's not forget them, or the fact that radical Islamists were at war with us long before 9/11.

At The Craft Show

"She" and I and some friends spent lots of hours this weekend at the Baltimore Fine Craft Show. It's addictive. It attracts exhibitors from all over the country and there is always a lot of really neat stuff on display. It's interesting to follow exhibiters from year to year and see how their craft develops. We abstained from purchasing anything this year [thank God]. We've pretty much reached a point of saturation where we can't buy anything new without getting rid of something to make space for it, and that we are loath to do.

Clinton Seeks Interns

As Dave Barry would say, "I'm not making this up." The William J. Clinton Foundation is advertising for interns on their website [here].
If you are an undergraduate, graduate or professional student or a recent graduate with your own strong interest in crucial issues of our day, the Clinton Foundation Intern Program offers a unique opportunity for growth, learning and meaningful service....
The job description offers plenty of "hands-on experience".

Yeah, I'll bet.

Hat tip, Jim Roberts at the National Ledger [here].

Saturday, February 25, 2006

This Day in History -- Lies of the Left Exposed

Oh my, it almost passed without comment, at least in the U.S. Europe remembered though.

On Feb 25, 1956 Soviet dictator Nikita Khrushchev delivered one of the most important speeches in the history of the Twentieth Century. Speaking to the 20th Communist Party Congress he..., well here's the BBC report:
The Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, has denounced Joseph Stalin as a brutal despot.
In a sensational speech to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party Mr Khrushchev painted a graphic picture of a regime of "suspicion, fear, and terror" built up under the former dictator who died three years ago.
He said he wanted to break the "Stalin cult" that has held Soviet citizens in its thrall for 30 years.
The prime minister described the purges during the period of 1936-38.
He implied that one of Stalin's most trusted aides Kirov had been assassinated in 1934 at the leader's behest.
Stalin then initiated a series of trials of members of the politburo and had some executed for Kirov's murder, including Zinoviev, Kamenev and Rykov.
Stalin meted out humiliation and persecution to those officers and members of the Politburo who fell from favour, said Mr Khrushchev.
He revealed that in 1937 and 1938, 98 out of the 139 members of the Central Committee were shot on Stalin's orders.
The leader also criticised Stalin's foreign policy during World War II. As an ally of Adolf Hitler, Stalin refused to believe Germany would invade Russia - despite warnings from Winston Churchill and Sir Stafford Cripps, the British Ambassador in Moscow, amongst others.
When the attack was launched, Stalin ordered the Red Army not to retaliate saying the raid was merely "indiscipline" on the part of some of Hitler's units.
'Odious book'
Mr Khrushchev also condemned Stalin's autobiography as an "odious book" in which Stalin refers to himself as "the workers' genius-leader" and a "shy and modest person".
He also accused Stalin of violent nationalism and anti-Semitism.
He revealed that in his last will and testament Lenin advised against the retention of Stalin as general secretary of the Communist Party.
"You understand, comrades, that we could not spread this information to the people at once," he said. "It could be done either suddenly or gradually, and I think it would be more correct to do it gradually."
Read it here.

Khrushchev's speech was an immense shock to lefties around the world. For decades they had swallowed and propagated the belief that Stalin was a wise, benevolent and forward looking ruler. Now Stalin's successor, the leader of the Soviet Union himself, was revealing at least part of the big lie. This was the first major crack in that insidious facade and the first step in the dismantling of what Ronald Reagan correctly called, the "evil empire." Unfortunately many "intellectuals" continued to cling with ever increasing desperation to that myth until the 1990's and even tried to apologize for it down to the present times.

Here's Anne Applebaum's take on it. And, more pertinently, Roy Medvedev:

The Twentieth Congress shattered the world communist movement, and it turned out to be impossible to cement the cracks. The Soviet Union and other socialist countries faced a crisis of faith, as the main threat to communism was not imperialism, or ideological dissidents, but the movement’s own intellectual poverty and disillusion.

So, although it is common today in Russia to blame Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin for the collapse of the USSR, it is both useless and unfair to do so. The system was dead already, and it is to Yeltsin’s great credit that he was able to bring Russia out of the ruins in one piece. Although Russia’s future is uncertain, its history is becoming clearer, in part because we now know that the Twentieth Party Congress started the process that brought about the end of Soviet despotism.

Read it here.

Hunters' Heaven

On our way back from the mountains we stopped by Cabella's, the largest oudoor oufitters in the country, or so they claim. I kept thinking that my grandfather, a dedicated hunter, would have loved the place.

"She" Has the Concert Bug

This is mostly for my sister who was a music major and will understand....

Some of the stuff "She Who Must Not Be Named" and I have been doing this past month. "She" has gotten the concert bug and to satisfy her sudden craving for classical music we trekked up to Schriver Hall on the Hopkins campus to hear a violin and cello program performed by the Capucon brothers, Renaud and Gautier [pictured above]. They did numbers by Shulhoff and Ravel, ho hum, but then came back with a terrific piece by Bohuslav Martinu [whose work I had not heard before] and finished strong with a duo by Zoltan Kodaly to which I could only say, "Wow!" The only disappointment was that Renaud did not bring his "Strad" and instead used Isaac Stern's "Panette," a Guarneri del Gesu (and come to think of it, that's not a bad tradeoff at all, in fact it's damn good). And of course the performances were impeccable. These guys are terrific. If they're performing in your area be sure to catch them.

Then, about a week later it was off to the Meyerhoff [one of this country's great venues] to hear the BSO. They did an interesting little "Anniversary Greeting" by Steven Stucky that I liked a lot, and some middling Mozart [the "Horn Concerto #3, that showcased Philip Munds, a local talent -- not bad] then finished up with Bruckner's "Ninth Symphony" [not my favorite by a long shot]. I could have left at intermission, but "She" likes Bruckner's bombast, so I stayed, and actually enjoyed it, especially the Wagner tuben [I like brass].

Tomorrow "She" and her girlfriends are going back to the Shriver. That will make three concerts in a month. That's the great advantage of urban living. But I still prefer the mountains.

Giles Goat Boy Goes to Sudan

BBC reports:
A Sudanese man has been forced to take a goat as his "wife", after he was caught having sex with the animal.

The goat's owner, Mr Alifi, said he surprised the man with his goat and took him to a council of elders.

They ordered the man, Mr Tombe, to pay a dowry of 15,000 Sudanese dinars ($50) to Mr Alifi.

"We have given him the goat, and as far as we know they are still together," Mr Alifi said.

Read it here.

Call me a bigot but I don't care if they are married, sex between species is just plain wrong!

There, I said it!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Larry Summers and the Students

The LA Times reports:
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — If Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers was worried about how the undergraduates would greet him Wednesday night at his first scheduled event since announcing his resignation, those fears quickly were put to rest.

He got a standing ovation after he walked in. He got a standing ovation before he left. A row of students with red letters painted on their chests spelled out "Larry."
The show of student loyalty has come as a surprise to many faculty members and administrators at Harvard....
I'll bet it did. Part of the problem with the Liberal Arts faculty at Harvard and elsewhere is that a lot of these people think it is still 1968 and they are still eighteen and speaking for the youth of America. They don't realize that over time they have morphed into what they once hated.

Read the whole thing here.

More Lies of the Left -- Upton Sinclair Revisited

The well-deserved bashing of Upton Sinclair continues. Recent revelations have raised questions regarding the ethics of his behavior chronicling the Sacco-Vanzetti case [here]. Now comes an indictment of the way in which left-leaning scholars have presented Sinlair's much more famous treatment of the meat packing industry in "The Jungle."

Lawrence Reed systematically dismantles both Sinclair's work and the indictment of capitalism that has been erected on its allegations. A few quotes:
In 1906, in large part because of the firestorm Sinclair generated, Congress passed the famous Meat Inspection Act. A century later, American schoolchildren are still taught a simplistic and romanticized version of this history. They think that unscrupulous capitalists were routinely tainting our meat, and that the moral crusader Sinclair rallied the public and Congress to act. Government then shifted from bystander to do-gooder and disciplined the marketplace to protect its millions of victims.

But this is a triumph of myth over reality, of ulterior motives over good intentions. Reading "The Jungle" and assuming it’s a credible news source is like watching "The Blair Witch Project" because you think it’s a documentary. [from the "introduction"]
President Theodore Roosevelt wrote of Sinclair in a letter to William Allen White in July 1906, "I have an utter contempt for him. He is hysterical, unbalanced, and untruthful. Three-fourths of the things he said were absolute falsehoods. For some of the remainder there was only a basis of truth."
Historians with an ideological axe to grind against the market usually ignore an authoritative 1906 report of the Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Animal Husbandry. Its investigators provided a point-by-point refutation of the worst of Sinclair's allegations, some of which they labeled as "willful and deliberate misrepresentations of fact," "atrocious exaggeration," and "not at all characteristic."
As popular myth would have it, there were no government inspectors before Congress acted in response to "The Jungle" and the greedy meat packers fought federal inspection all the way. The truth is that not only did government inspection exist, but meat packers themselves supported it and were in the forefront of the effort to extend it!
But of course that's not what students are taught in university history classes, where anti-capitalist screeds are the norm.

Read the whole thing here. [hat tip John J. Miller]

Maryland Politics -- Cardin Surges

The latest Rasmussen poll shows Rep. Ben Cardin [D] with a solid lead over Republican candidate Michael Steele. The margin is fourteen points -- 49 to 35% -- and is much larger than past surveys. Read it here.

Something's Rotten in the Philippines

Philippine Commentary is blogging the building crisis. [here] It's starting to look like a coup. Also here. Here's the AP story.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Nigerian Massacres -- These Christians Don't Turn the Other Cheek

While the MSM's attention has been focused on Dubai and Iraq this has been going on in Nigeria.

The Taipei Times reports:
At least 19 Nigerian Muslims were killed by a Christian mob at the entrance to the southeastern city of Onitsha yesterday, according to an AFP correspondent who saw the bodies.

The corpses were scattered by the side of the main road into Onitsha across the Niger river bridge, where a contingent of soldiers had set up a roadblock to hold back a gang of hundreds of Christian youths wielding clubs and machetes.

The bodies, apparently all ethnic Hausa, had been beaten, slashed and in some cases burnt.

"There are thousands of boys with cutlasses and sticks on the rampage. I've counted at least 20 bodies here by the Onitsha bridge. They are Hausas. Some of them are burnt and some have their stomachs cut open," a Reuters photographer said....

Frank Nweke, a magazine editor, who ran the gauntlet of the mob to escape Onitsha and made it to the bridge, told reporters that he had seen 15 more corpses lying in the streets of the city.

Some had been beheaded, others had had their genitals removed.

"I saw one boy holding a severed head with blood dripping from it," he said.

These troubles started when Muslim mobs burned thirty Christian churches and killed 18 Christians to protest the publication of cartoons in Denmark. This time the Christians fought back.

Read it all here.

The results:

ONITSHA, Nigeria (Reuters) -- Christian youths burned the corpses of Muslims on Thursday on the streets of Onitsha in southeastern Nigeria, the city worst hit by religious riots that have killed at least 146 people across the country in five days.

Christian mobs, seeking revenge for the killings of Christians in the north, attacked Muslims with cutlasses, destroyed their houses and torched mosques in two days of violence in Onitsha, where at least 93 people have died.

"We are very happy that this thing is happening so that the north will learn their lesson," said Anthony Umai, a motorcycle taxi rider, standing close to where Christian youths had piled up the corpses of 10 Muslims and were burning them.

Read it here.

Hmmm..., practitioners of the "religion of peace" meet practitioners of the "golden rule" and the result is carnage. Something doesn't compute here.

[Almost] All Fall Down

These pictures tell you all you need to know about the Winter Olympics. Sasha and Irena did not do as well as expected. Congratulations to Shizuka Arakawa.
Jonah Goldberg comments on the political reaction to the Port deal:
For five years, Republicans have chanted "trust the president" on national security. They even won elections on the issue. For nearly five years, Democrats have said President Bush should use more carrots and fewer sticks in his diplomacy in the Muslim world. They argued that we need to reward our allies with trade and trust (except when we actually did it in places such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia). Liberals lectured that equating "Muslim" or "Arab" and "terrorist" is not only bigoted but counterproductive, in that it will feed the "root causes" of terrorism.

But suddenly, virtually all leading Republicans and Democrats — with the laudable exception of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — now argue that Bush can't be trusted on national security, that our Arab ally the UAE should go suck eggs and that racial profiling of foreign firms is just fine. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) now even thinks Halliburton should run the ports. And Jimmy Carter is backing the White House.

At this rate, Barbra Streisand will soon be holding benefit concerts for Pennsylvania's conservative Sen. Rick Santorum.
Read it here.

He's right! The only one coming out of this looking good is McCain, and of course Bush, who has kept his head and good humor amidst the baying of the know-nothing hounds on all sides.

Crunch Time in Iraq Again

The new Iraqi nation is now facing its fourth great test on the road to a prosperous, functioning democracy. The first was the elections to choose an interim government. The people of Iraq turned out by the millions and in doing so validated the principle of democracy. Then came the second test, this time of the American people. Would they stay the course? They passed with flying colors, re-electing President Bush. The third test was the constitutional process which was designed to reintegrate the disaffected Sunni minority back into the emerging nation. The elections accepting the constitution were a success, with major Sunni participation, and the ongoing talks to form a government under that constitution are a welcome relief from the open insurgency that they replaced. Now the problem is that of Islamist radicals who, in conjunction with Iranian provocateurs, are determined to disrupt the nation-building process by precipitating civil war among Iraq's varied clans and nationalities.

This came to a head with the bombing Wednesday of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, a holy shrine to Shiites. This has set off a series of reprisals that threatens to blossom into the civil war the radicals have been hoping for. Der Spiegel has a useful roundup here. Here's the hey graf:
On Wednesday evening, 20 armed men wearing police uniforms stormed a jail in the southern city of Basra, stripped the guards of their weapons and took a number of Sunni prisoners hostage. Authorities later found the bodies of 10 men in different parts of the city, along with an 11th seriously injured prisoner who survived the ordeal. Most of the dead were identified as Iraqi, but two were Egyptian, police said.

Mosques were likewise targeted across Iraq on Wednesday with dozens of Sunni sites attacked and set on fire. In the attacks, at least eight Sunnis were killed, including three clerics.
Iraqi Sunnis say they will boycott a crisis meeting called by President Talabani following the escalation of retaliatory violence....

Ayatollah Sistani, the leader of Iraq's Shiites, has endorsed public protests, but has condemned retaliatory violence.

Omar at Iraq the Model summed up the mood like this:
Things look scary here in Baghdad and I hope there won't be more updates to report as I can't see a positive thing coming out of this.
Zeyad at Healing Iraq agreed:
The situation in Baghdad is bad, bad, bad. I had to flee work early and return home after news of large protests in Shi'ite districts, and several attacks against Sunni mosques in the Baladiyat, Sha'ab and Dora districts by angry rioters. Sunnis are being blamed for the attack against a Shia holy shrine in Samarra, a largely Sunni town. The streets look empty now, and all stores seem to be closed. I can hear gunfire and American helicopters and jets circling the skies.

There were updates through the night from the Iraqi local media. Omar reports:
-President Talabani promises to make rebuilding the shrine his personal responsibility and to donate the required money from his own.

-Head of the Sunni endowment sheikh Ahmed al-Samarra'I announces that he will allocate 2 billion dinars (~1.4 million $) for the rebuilding of the shrine from the treasury of the Sunni endowment.

-Huge demonstrations in many of Iraq's provinces including Samarra and Mosul where thousands of people condemned the attack.

-The top 4 Shia Ayatollahs hold a meeting at Sistani's home to discuss the situation.

-The Association of Muslim scholars and the Islamic Party condemn the "criminal act".

-Retaliatory attacks on reportedly 29 Sunni mosques and the Accord Front warns from the consequences of such violent reactions.

-Jafari in a press conference calls for national unity and the leaders of the UIA hold a meeting. A press release is expected to come soon.

-The Iraqi TV opened the phone lines to receive the reactions of the audience to the attack and hosts Sunni clerics and politicians in an attempt to relieve the tension.

-Baghdad is in undeclared emergency situation, shops closed and streets nearly empty.

-Tight security around the shrine of Abu Haneefa in Aazamiya district of Baghdad, this is considered the top shrine/mosque for Sunni Muslims in Iraq.

-Masked gunmen attack Shia protestors in at least one neighborhood in western Baghdad and armed clashes in Ghazaliya and Hay al-A'amil.

-People exchange phones calls with their relatives and friends to check on them and discourage them from leaving their homes.
Zeyad reported for some time as news of mosque after mosque being attacked came in. Then this:
And right now, they sound like they are near my doorstep. The Interior ministry forces and Mahdi militiamen are having a field day. Relatives from Palestine street and Baghdad Al-Jedida have called to report raid campaigns against Sunni neighbourhoods. Is this the final straw? Or will it pass after a random spree of violence? No one can really tell at the moment.
That, of course, is the question that everyone is asking.

Here's the BBC overview:
More than 100 people have been killed in Iraq in apparent revenge attacks after the bombing of a key Shia shrine.

Scores of bullet-riddled bodies have been found in Baghdad, while in the bloodiest attack 47 factory workers were killed near the capital.

President Jalal Talabani called an emergency summit of Iraq's political leaders to discuss the violence.

Sunni Arab politicians boycotted the meeting and pulled out of coalition talks in protest at reprisal attacks.

The situation is beginning to clear. According to Omar, who is monitoring local media in Baghdad the key to the violence is the Iran-backed Sadrist Mehdi militia, led by Moqtada al Sadr who has pledged to protect all Shiite sites. [see the report in the Kaleej Times, here].

Omar reports:
Looking at the geographic distribution of the attacked mosques, I found they were mostly in areas adjacent to Sadr city forming a line that extends from the New Baghdad district in the southeast to al-Hussayniya in the northeast.

The Association of Muslim Scholars is accusing the Sadrists in particular, actually it's not only the Association that accuses the Sadrists, most people here in Baghdad point out the role of Mehdi army of Sadr in carrying out most of the attacks.
The Association is trying to remind Sadr of the their times of solidarity during the battles in Najaf and Fallujah yet they are condemning his message to his followers in which he called for keeping up and escalating the "protests".
Read it here.

The above map, excerpted from Zeyad's blog, confirms Omar's observation that nearly all the attacks on Sunni mosques are taking place in the areas immediately adjacent to Sadr City.

Interesting, none of the Western MSM is commenting on Sadr's role, but it is important. He's all over the Islamic media sources. Sadr is openly defying Sistani and challenging him for leadership of Iraq's Shiite faction. He used to be allied with the Sunni insurgents, but now he's taking his orders from Iran. He's the bad guy to watch.

More Cool Stuff

The latest in touch-screen technology. Check it out here.

Amazing Action! Check it Out!

Hat tip to Lileks who offers it as an example of terrific editing. He's absolutely right. Check out the "amazing action" here.

From a Burkah to a Bikini -- Deeya, The Muslim Madonna

She's beautiful, she's talented, she's sexy, and she's Muslim. Check out Gateway Pundit's posts on Deeya [here], the Muslim Madonna. The Mullahs are not happy with her, but I am.

The 10 Worst Album Covers of All Time!

All I can say is..., the horror..., the horror!

Check them out here.

Upon reflection I think my sister had a couple of these albums..., or maybe not.

Hat tip, der Spiegel

Pennsylvania Politics -- Santorum Joins the Herd

Sen. Rick Santorum has come out against the Dubai ports deal, not that it's going to make much difference. Read about it here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Ports Issue

I have not posted yet regarding the current rhubarb over giving the UAE operational control over US ports because it is a subject about which I know little, and one where the available information is changing almost hourly. All I know is that this is important. Lileks captures the moment perfectly. He writes:
[T]he specifics don’t matter; arguments about the specific nature of the Dubai Ports World organization’s global reach and responsible track records don’t matter. Because it feels immediately, instinctively wrong to nearly every American, and that isn’t something that can be argued away with charts or glossy brochures. It just doesn’t sit well. Period. It’s one thing for an Administration to misjudge how a particular decision will be received; it’s another entirely to misjudge an issue that cuts to the core of the Administration’s core strength. That’s where you slap yourself on the forehead in the style of those lamenting the failure to request a V-8 in a timely fashion. Doesn’t matter whether it was a deal struck between the previous administrators and the UAE; that’s not how the issue will be seen. And it certainly doesn’t matter once the President gets all stern on the topic and insists he’ll veto any attempt to keep the deal from going through. At that point, millions of previously resolute supporters stand there with their mouths open, uttering a soft confused moan of disbelief.
Read him here.

This is an important issue on so many levels.

1) Political: this provides Democrats with an opportunity to take a position to the right of the administration in the war on terror and they are making the most of it. It also hurts Bush with his base which is, as Lileks notes, simply stunned by the decision and the President's strong support for it. Finally, it forces Republicans to run for cover by distancing themselves from the President.

This is not how you build a permanant political majority, but then that's not what this presidency is all about. Bush has never seemed to care that the Democrats might regain control of one or more of the branches of government. Instead he has sought to build ties to the moderate wing of the Democratic Party, to set in place long term policies and projects that will eventually transform the political culture, and to reform the instruments of government hoping that in the long run governance, rather than partisan squabbling, will be what matters most.

2) Institutional: Under our constitutional system the relationship between Congress and the Executive is always in a state of flux. Congress is constantly attempting to intrude into areas of executive responsibility and Presidents are always attempting to extend the areas of executive prerogative. Under strong presidents that zone of prerogative expands, under weak ones it contracts.

During WWII and through the early stages of the Cold War, presidential power grew until by the time of Lyndon Johnson critics in both major parties were complaining of an "imperial presidency." Then, after Watergate, Vietnam, and the collapse of the Great Society, and during the diminished presidencies of Ford and Carter, power shifted back toward Congress which began to claim the right to exercise oversight on a wide range of diplomatic, intelligence and military issues. Presidents never acknowledged any such right, but it stood as a fait accompli until recently. Now Bush has begun to push back and congresscritters are squawking again about an imperial presidency. The port debate is just a skirmish in that interminable conflict, one in which congressional spokesmen are asserting the right to investigate and to approve or disapprove foreign access to American businesses. Micromanagement anyone?

3) Federal: Under our federal system conduct of foreign affairs is the responsibility of the central government. States and local governments are prohibited from interfering in such matters. But the ports controversy has raised a row in several states with affected ports.

Here in Maryland Gov. Ehrlich and Baltimore's Mayor Martin O'Malley have both promised to use every power available to them to block any UAE takeover of port facilities. [here] Lt. Gov. Steele has been all over the media denouncing the deal and calling for a Congressional investigation. No word yet from Ben Cardin or Kweisi Mifume, but you can bet the will also denounce it. In other words local and State authorities are demanding some say in the formulation of policies that will directly affect their constituents. O'Malley's obstructionist rhetoric, which has been quite over the top, resonates to some extent with the old arguments advanced by "nullification" theorists before the Civil War.

4) Diplomatic: In terms of foreign policy the deal makes a lot of sense.

Bush's strategy has always been to isolate radical Islamists and regimes that support them while building political, economic, and ideological ties to cooperative Islamic regimes. In this context rewarding a staunch ally in the war on terror makes perfect sense as a demonstration of our good will and an encouragement to other governments in the region to cooperate with us in the greater war on terror.

Conversely if the deal had been denied it would have been confirmation of the charge made throughout the Islamic world that the US is a racist, anti-Arab, anti-Muslim culture. To foreign policy elites the deal is a no-brainer.

I might also point out that if the confrontation with Iran erupts into a shooting war, Dubai will be an invaluable ally.

5) Political culture: The controversy has exposed the underside of American political culture.

It is fascinating to note how easily Democrat demagogues slip into essentialist arguments that carry serious racist overtones. One of the dirty little secrets of contemporary American liberalism is that it embraces protectionist, even isolationist and racist, positions but masks that fact by invoking unworkable ideals of "collective security" and a non-existent "community of nations" and deferring to international organizations that can be counted on not to act. Democrats are eternally waiting for the "international community" to act, but it never does, and that suits them just fine.

The controversy has also exposed a deep sense of distrust among conservatives of the Bush presidency. The Republicans' dirty little secret is that the Bush administration, and the policy elites in general, are not really conservative in any meaningful sense of the term. As the attached cartoon illustrates conservatives no longer have faith in George Bush on much of anything, including national security issues. That ideological fissure within Republican ranks could prove fatal to the party's majority in the future.

Two things stand out in the welter of controversy surrounding the ports policy.

First, all sides complain about a failure to communicate. The administration did not consult extensively with Congress or with the affected State and city governments, nor with labor or business interests that would be affected. Most importantly there was no coordinated effort to "sell" the policy to the American public. That has become something of a pattern in the second term and lies at the heart of much of Bush's current political trouble.

Second, Beltway policy elites in are manifestly out of touch with the real concerns of the American people. This is true not just of the Bush team, but also the left-wing activists in the Democrat Party. National policy debates take place on terms that look good in the little political magazines or on the blogosphere, but have little relevance to real people's lives. It would be a tremendous boon to the entire system if people near the top of the political establishment would stop talking to each other, to journalists or to activists and instead just drop in for a chat with some county commissioners for a change. They would get a rude and necessary awakening.

The Port deal is probably not that important in and of itself, but the reaction to it is terribly important as an indicator. There's something big brewing just under the surface and it will probably erupt in the coming election season. George Bush came to office with a stated determination to shake things up, to do away with business as usual. He has done that, to be sure. But in doing so he has unleashed forces that neither he nor anyone else can fathom much less control. We are living in "interesting times" and we are embarking on a wild ride into the unknown for which the past is no sure guide. All I can say is, keep your seatbelts fastened and..., stay tuned.


One good thing coming out of this debate. The Wall Street Journal takes a look at the inadequacy of current security at our ports, especially the one in "gulp" Baltimore. Check it out here. Since both the Mayor of Baltimore and the Governor of Maryland have some responsibility in the matter, and they are running against each other in the fall this could become a huge political issue here in Charm City.

Jim Glassman defends the deal and makes some good points here.

Maryland Politics -- Steele Stumbles

There are disturbing signs coming out of the Steele campaign. First his campaign manager, Graham Shafer resigned, Then Steele was forced to apologize for remarks comparing embryonic stem cell research to Nazi medical experiments. Now, his communications director, Leonardo Alcivar, has resigned. Through this all Steele has kept a fairly low profile, refusing to issue major position statements.

Normally I would say this looks like a campaign in real trouble, but that might not be the case here. The officials who have been forced out were picked by the national Republican Party leaders and have reportedly been fighting with Steele's Maryland staff. Steele might simply be clearing the decks and getting rid of potential sources of conflict before opening his campaign. And there is a potential upside to this. Running as a conventional mainstream Republican is not going to gain Steele the black votes he needs to win. Declaring his independence from Ken Mehlman might be a smart move. And, for black voters, having a run-in with rich Jewish power brokers is not a bad thing either. This could turn into a very interesting campaign.

Read about it here.

Pennsylvania Politics -- Swanny Rises Again

Rasmussen reports that Swann and Rendell are basically tied in their contest for the governorship. Swann is currently running three points behind Rendell, which confirms last month's poll that showed Swann two points ahead. Both results are within the poll's margin of error. The Rasmussen results disconfirm those of the the Quinnipiac organization which just last week showed Rendell with a huge lead. Neither Swann nor Rendell has strong party support. Both men receive about two-thirds of their party's votes. This is good news for Swann. He is still establishing himself. Rendell is a known factor. One third of Democrats are so disgusted with Rendell that they won't vote for him. They are unlikely to change their minds. Swann, however, is in a position to convince Republicans who think he is unqualified that he really does have the chops. On the other hand, Rendell is polling better among independents. That might not matter much. This is an off-year election and both parties are working hard to suppress the independent vote. The key to this year's vote will be turning out your base, and Rendell doesn't inspire much fervor among Democrat partisans.

The same report also shows that Santorum is not closing the gap on Casey [here]. He's sixteen points down, as opposed to twenty points in November, but that's not much of a recovery. What is more Santorum runs well behind President Bush and Republicans in general in the polls, so the whole thing is personal. Santorum right now is political poison. His biggest problem is that lots of Republicans are defecting to Casey. The biggest reason for this is that Santorum is widely seen as having betrayed his conservative base by supporting Specter's re-election campaign two years ago.

There is a real problem here for the Republicans in general. Bush and the moderate leadership has time and again alienated the conservative wing of the party. The only thing that has kept conservatives in the fold is their absolute detestation of the liberal wing of the Democrat Party. Casey's campaign is showing that a moderate to conservative Democrat can draw Republican votes. If the Democrats are smart enough to run a conservative in 2008 they have a chance to sweep the field. But that, of course, would mean repudiating the looney left and their millions and I doubt that any major Democrat candidate has the courage to do that.

The Irving Affair and the AHA -- Should Historiography be Criminalized?

Jesse Lemisch over at the History News Network notes that the American Historical Association has been more than a bit hypocritical in the past in discussing the Holocaust. The organization has issued strong denunciations of revisionist views on the Holocaust while refusing to take a position on other instances of genocide like Turkey's Armenian extermination program. This "privileging" of the Holocaust makes it difficult for the profession to respond effectively to Austria's horrific action in sentencing historian David Irving to prison as a "Holocaust denier." He writes:

Of course the AHA is in no direct sense responsible for an Austrian court's jailing of Irving. But by privileging the Holocaust, the AHA has contributed to an atmosphere in which the "wrong" view of the Holocaust has been criminalized, which of course brings us pretty close to the jailhouse door. Historians have a special responsibility in this situation. We, and our organizations, will be complicit in a bad episode if we can't bring ourselves to speak up.

He calls upon the association to issue the strongest possible denunciation of the Austrian court's actions.

He then makes an interesting admission.
I have long been puzzled as to where I stand on restrictions on expression in Europe after the Holocaust, but I have thought, well, they have a special history, it's understandable. But now, seeing such restrictions take concrete form in imprisonment of a (bad) historian, I feel professionally obliged to oppose this....
Read the whole thing here.

I give professor Lemisch credit for finally articulating what all of us have known for some time, that the AHA has long been hypocritical and highly selective in its expressions of outrage. The Holocaust is by no means the only "privileged" subject. Many groups have advanced, and had accepted, claims to a "special history." And with privilege came constraints on freedom of expression.

The resulting constrained arena for discourse is one of the reasons for the AHA's accelerating irrelevance [does anyone, even in the profession, care what the AHA's official position is on much of anything?] and why I dropped my membership and ceased attending its meetings decades ago.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Larry Summers Resigns as President of Harvard

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Larry Summers has resigned [here]. He had been treated by most bloggers as something of a hero for standing up to radical feminists and race hustlers, and his stances on those kinds of issues certainly made him controversial. But that's not what brought him down. It seems that Summers brought Clintonian ethics with him when he moved from Washington to Cambridge. Summers' support for a senior economics professor (Andrei Schleifer), who was a close personal friend, against charges that Schleifer had defrauded the government ultimately cost Harvard 44 million dollars in legal fees and penalties. Not only did Schliefer enjoy legal support from Harvard, he was also promoted during the controversy. The whole situation gave Summers' opponents in the Arts and Sciences faculty the ammunition needed to force him to resign.

The New York Times makes no mention of his conflicts with radical ideologues or possibly fraudulent dealings, and reports that the reason for his resignation was faculty anger over the resignation of the Dean of Arts and Sciences, who Summers was reputed to have forced out. [here]

The WaPo, in a spectacularly uninformative article, reports that the problem was that Summers couldn't get along with faculty and wouldn't accept the fact that they were smarter than him. They do, however, note that the student body overwhelmingly supported him.

Robert Johnson, over at HNN, provides an interesting nugget of information [here]:
The original draft of the 2005 faculty resolution [to issue a vote of "no confidence"] listed three specific events justifying a motion of no confidence: the president’s remarks about women in science; his handling of the Cornel West matter; and his denunciation of a proposed faculty resolution urging Harvard to divest from firms doing business in Israel.
Johnson goes on to assert that had he taken opposite positions on these three issues Summers would not have been forced out. The suggestion is that ideological conformity, rather than shady dealings lay at the heart of the Summers affair. In this regard I find it interesting that the student body sided with Summers against the faculty. I find this encouraging because it suggests that the blatant attempts at ideological indoctrination that characterize much of academia are not working.

In a way I'm sad to see Summers go. The Harvard faculty, and especially the College of Arts and Sciences has been badly in need of reform for a long time. Summers was starting to clean house, and his downfall will allow things to return to their corrupt and comfortably conformist groove.


See also the comments over at Tim Burke's blog, "Easily Distracted" [here]. The question being debated is whether Summers was brought down by ideological pressures, or by personal incompetence.


Stanley Kurtz down on the Corner suggests that Summers' problem was that he was "sane".

The New York Times notes that Summers knew he had to go when colleagues from the Clinton administration told him so.

The Times adds that Summers is thinking of advising a Democratic presidential campaign. There you have the explanation for Summers' appeasement. Summers is from the sane side of the Democratic Party (yes, there is one). These moderate Democrats want to bring the academy closer to the center of the country. But when push came to shove, the leftist faculty wouldn't play along.

That left Summers and his moderate Democrat backers on the board to choose between appeasement and a serious public battle. Ultimately, Summers and his allies backed down because they are part of the same national political coalition as the leftist faculty (which contributes heavily to the Democratic Party). Moderate Dems would be happy to reform the academy, but they don't have the stomach to treat leftist professors as open opponents. Only Republicans can do that. So in a way, we are seeing another iteration of the paralyzing split between DLC types and the fire-breathing base. The Democratic left is just too big, too powerful, and too essential to victory to be purged, as Peter Beinart wanted to do.

Read it here. Kurtz provides links to other commentary along this line.

And, Dershowitz chimes in that Summers was the victim of a radical coup. [here]


Marty Peretz says that Summers' problem was that he didn't join the "herd of independent thinkers." He writes:
Summers's arrival at Harvard was bracing. The Harvard Corporation had finally decided to bring the university into modern times, and it had chosen an at once dazzling and sober intellectual to do it. You could feel the walls of the faculty club tremble.
Read it here. (subscription required)

And Peter Beinart has a similar take here. Not surprising since Marty signs his paychecks. I particularly like this part:
Perhaps none of this really matters. In this era of conservative power, in which politicians are more likely to run against America's top universities than to learn from them, Harvard is largely irrelevant. But that was part of Summers's project: to challenge the narcissism that makes Harvard easy to ignore. It's why he has made it easier for students to participate in rotc. It's why he waived tuition for families making less than $40,000 a year. It's why he wanted professors to do useful research and students to learn basic knowledge. As one of the few contemporary college presidents who tried to turn liberal ideals into government policy, rather than just opining about them from the ivory tower, he wanted Harvard to serve the nation, not merely itself. And, when Harvard hired him five years ago, that's what it said it wanted, too. Now we know the truth.

Pennsylvania Politics -- It Doesn't Get Any More Cynical Than This

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell celebrated Presidents Day at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia by announcing his veto of a bill that would have required voters to present valid identification at the polls. He said it was because such a process would disenfranchise very poor voters and would slow the voting process down. What he didn't mention was the fact that it would also disenfranchise fraudulent voters of whom there are many in Philly and he's gonna need every fraudulent vote he can get.

Read about it here.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Paul R. Pillar has a sensationalistic and controversial article in Foreign Affairs, alleging that the Bush administration cherry picked intelligence information to support going to war in Iraq [here]. Of course Pillar has been all over the tube repeating his allegations to anyone with a microphone.

Patrick Chisholm, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, however, uses Pillar's own evidence to show that whatever cherry picking took place, it was done within the intelligence community and not at the direction of the White House, and that his other allegations -- that the administration ignored predictions of turmoil in post-invasion Iraq, and that they over-estimated evidence tying Iraq to al Qaeda, are simply asserted without any supporting evidence.

Read it here.

The CIA's attempt to cover its own butt and to shift blame onto the White House continues, but with decreasing effect. These guys are becoming a laughing stock.

Even the LA Times realizes what a fraud this whole thing is. Danielle Pletka writes:
GALLONS OF ink have been spilled since 2003 about how the Bush administration ignored internal predictions of post-war instability, terrorism and rising Islamism in Iraq. Intelligence, critics argue, was "cherry-picked" to bolster the argument for war. What much of the public doesn't realize is that the CIA's Monday-morning quarterbacks, who originated many of the complaints, are themselves handpicking intelligence to boost their antiwar cause.

This is a well-trodden road, littered with bitter treatises and interviews from ex-spooks and hangers-on such as Michael Scheuer, the "anonymous" author of "Imperial Hubris," and former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV and his ex-CIA wife, Valerie Plame. The latest offering comes from Paul Pillar, a former CIA deputy counterterrorism chief, in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs.

But Pillar, while rehashing every myth about the run-up to the Iraq war (and adding a few new ones), inadvertently lays bare a rarely discussed Washington truth: that the CIA itself is a political organization. Far from being manipulated by policymakers within the Bush administration (as Pillar alleges), it is the agency that has regularly and aggressively used its intelligence gathering and analysis to bolster preformed political opinions about hot-button issues from the Cold War to Iran's nuclear weapons program.

Prevailing CIA views shine through in briefings to the U.S. government, in backgrounders to reporters and in the selective leaking of classified information. The agency recruits (and rejects) outside assets based on its own political priorities. And why not? In a town where even first-graders hold passionate political views, it seems hardly surprising that a player so integral to sensitive policymaking would too. The only shock about the politicization of the agency is that officials bother to deny it.
This is self-evident to anyone having even a passing acquaintance with the bureaucratic wars that rage incessantly inside the beltway. The CIA is notorious for this sort of thing and, facing major shakeups from the Bush administration, are striking at the President with everything they've got. It's not going to be enough.

This Day in History -- A Monster is Born

On this day, 82 years ago, Mad Bobby Mugabe, the monster who has afflicted Zimbabwe for decades, was born. The Times reports the latest on the situation there...,

Last week Kembo Mohadi, the Home Affairs Minister, made the first official admission that the country was seriously short of food. “There is no grain whatsoever. Our people are actually starving,” he said on state radio.

Inflation of 613 per cent gives Zimbabwe the highest rate in the world. Nearly 30 people have died of cholera in the past two months. In the past week, state radio has broadcast an anthem that implores God to “bless President Mugabe, our support and light”.

Read it here.

"support and light"..., right!

Wolfowitz and the World Bank

Sebastian Mallaby reports on Paul Wolfowitz' tenure at the World Bank:

Nine months into his tenure as president of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz has made headlines mainly by provoking a staff backlash. Neoconservative commissars are seizing control! (Actually, Wolfowitz has a grand total of four Republicans in his entourage.) The World Bank's agenda is being hijacked by a Bush man! (Actually, Wolfowitz has resisted the Bush administration's bad policies on debt relief and climate change.) The previous World Bank president, James Wolfensohn, made no secret of his intention to blow up the institution when he arrived in 1995. Wolfowitz's accession has been comparatively mild, but his reputation as the architect of the Iraq war colors the response to him.

Meanwhile, the staff backlash is obscuring something interesting. In the past few months, there have been hints of fresh thinking on corruption. Now the evidence has reached critical mass: The change appears to be genuine.


In sum, Wolfowitz's World Bank presidency, which had seemed to lack an organizing theme, has acquired one. The new boss is going to be tough on corruption, and he's going to push this campaign beyond the confines of the World Bank; on Saturday he persuaded the heads of several regional development banks to join his anti-corruption effort. It's amusing to see the Wolfensohn-Stiglitz left-liberal critique of narrowly economic development policy being championed by this neoconservative icon; and it's encouraging as well. After a decade of stagnant aid budgets in the 1990s, the rich world's development spending is finally expanding. Using the money effectively has become doubly important.

Read it here.

Mallaby, probably for dramatic effect, is being more than a bit disingenuous here.

He expresses surprise that Wolfowitz should be emphasizing corruption, but that theme was part of Wolfowitz' agenda even before he assumed the position at the head of the World Bank, and it was also emphasized by the man who put him there, George Bush. [see my post here]. He makes it seem as though Wolfowitz is betraying conservative principles here, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Neocons have never bought into the old "realist" idea that corruption wasn't important.

And, he also makes it seem that Wolfowitz is finally adopting the benign principles that guided his liberal internationalist predecessor, John Wolfensohn, but that also is at best a partial truth. Wolfensohn talked from time to time about accountability but did little to enforce it. Wolfowitz actually is taking action to diminish corruption, something that his predecessors chose to ignore.

Like so much that appears on the WaPo editorial pages, this is a poorly informed and ideologically imbalanced account, soaked in liberal internationalist sillyness, but it does serve to point up an important aspect of President Bush's commitment to making the world, including the "developing world" a better place than he found it when he took office.

Liberal internationalists talk, neocons actually get something done.

Happy Presidents Day -- A Little Perspective Please

Today I was reading through Dean Acheson’s autobiography, Present at the Beginning, in which he relates his experiences in the State Department during the Second World War and its aftermath. I found this passage particularly interesting and applicable to our current situation:

The period covered by this book – 1941 through 1952 – was one of great obscurity to those who lived through it. Not only was the future clouded, a common enough situation, but the present was equally clouded. We all had far more than the familiar difficulty of determining the capabilities and intentions of those who inhabit this planet with us. The significance of events was shrouded in ambiguity. We groped after interpretations of them, sometimes reversed lines of action based on earlier views, and hesitated long before grasping what now seems obvious. [pp. 3-4]

Today, more than half a century later, the terrible ambiguities have faded in our memories. The dangers and opportunities facing the “greatest generation” seem clear-cut and the men who guided us through those perilous times seem in retrospect to have been possessed of a prodigious foresight, courage and wisdom. But that was not how it seemed at the time.

We are now faced with a situation much like that of half a century ago. A seemingly fixed world order has crumbled, new and threatening forces are emerging, and the future is obscure, filled with real and imagined perils and possibilities that terrify and excite us. It is good to remember that we have been through such times before and the towering figures who guided the nation through those distant dangers, were in their times not unlike those who lead us today. If the current leadership seems diminished in comparison with the “wise men” of old, it is simply a trick of perspective and selective memory.

It is important to understand this because it serves to inoculate us against the extremes of hope and despair fostered by our current political debates and media eccentricities. We are not living in times of unprecedented challenge, nor are we blessed or afflicted with exceptionally able or inept leadership. Our leaders today, like those of my childhood, are fine, dedicated, and competent men and women, dealing in a world of uncertainty with complex issues and situations. Much is obscure, the future is clouded, and we cannot with confidence anticipate the long-term consequences of our actions. It is always so.

Uncertainty in the face of enormous threats, though, is not an adequate argument against taking strong and decisive action. A failure to act, a retreat from responsibility, history shows us, can also have disastrous consequences. No less than the “wise men” who faced the challenges of expansionist fascism and international communism, we are called upon today to take strong action in the face of an aggressive international threat. We must hope, and there is no compelling reason to believe otherwise, that our current leadership will perform with as much integrity, wisdom, and effectiveness as did those whose memory we today celebrate.

In this regard I find two recent trends disturbing -- our tendency to exalt or alternatively to demean the past. When I was young it was all the fashion to trash the past. Reacting against an earlier tendency to apotheosize great historical figures, we gleefully set about the task of cutting them down to size. We were right to do so, much valuable work was done, but the tendency was carried too far. Eventually we made it seem that the past was little more than an unrelieved tapestry of sin and suffering. And, the diminishment of the past was accompanied by an unfortunate tendency to exaggerate the virtues of the present. This was the work of a generation confident, in their ignorance, of their own moral superiority to those who had gone before.

Of course that was nonsense – a pretension that could not indefinitely be sustained. Today the trend is running strongly in the opposite direction. Popular history is awash in hagiographic accounts of past greats, especially the “founders,” and the implication to be drawn is that the country’s current leadership is somehow lacking in comparison. That, too, is arrant nonsense. We look at Iraq and proclaim it “a mess,” but much the same judgment or worse could be laid against Washington during the Revolution, Madison’s efforts in the War of 1812, Lincoln's forces for much of the Civil War, Pershing’s expeditionary force in France, or the performance of the western Allies in WWII prior to D-Day. Wars are always a “mess.” Much the same judgment could be made regarding the domestic and economic policies of past administrations.

Whichever end of the telescope we choose to look through, whether we exalt or demean the past, our stubborn refusal to view what has gone before on its own terms and in the context of its times does great disservice to the present. If we are to understand the world in which we live and to confront the challenges of our times with any degree of wisdom, we must reject these distorting historical fantasies and come to terms with the past that was, not the past of which we dream.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Scientistic Illusion

In recent months scientistic determinists have been singing the praises of Daniel Dennett's "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon". It once and for all, they claim, dispels the illusion of religion and reveals it to be a simple product of evolutionary forces. Despite repeated urgings from some of my friends and correspondents I have not read it. Life is too short to waste on such nonsense. But Leon Wieseltier has read it, and today he publishes a devastating response in the New York Times. His argument makes three key points. First, Dennett's book is a reductionist polemic that ignores all but the most extreme positions possible:
Scientism, the view that science can explain all human conditions and expressions, mental as well as physical, is a superstition, one of the dominant superstitions of our day; and it is not an insult to science to say so. For a sorry instance of present-day scientism, it would be hard to improve on Daniel C. Dennett's book. "Breaking the Spell" is a work of considerable historical interest, because it is a merry anthology of contemporary superstitions.

The orthodoxies of evolutionary psychology are all here, its tiresome way of roaming widely but never leaving its house, its legendary curiosity that somehow always discovers the same thing.... And Dennett's book is also a document of the intellectual havoc of our infamous polarization, with its widespread and deeply damaging assumption that the most extreme statement of an idea is its most genuine statement. Dennett lives in a world in which you must believe in the grossest biologism or in the grossest theism, in a purely naturalistic understanding of religion or in intelligent design, in the omniscience of a white man with a long beard in 19th-century England or in the omniscience of a white man with a long beard in the sky.
Secondly, it is dishonest. After noting the Dennett seriously misrepresents the thinking of philosophers such as Hume, James, and Nagel, Wieseltier gets to the core of Dennett's error.
For Dennett, thinking historically absolves one of thinking philosophically. Is the theistic account of the cosmos true or false? Dennett, amazingly, does not care. "The goal of either proving or disproving God's existence," he concludes, is "not very important." It is history, not philosophy, that will break religion's spell.
One wonders why he bothered to include the philosophers he misrepresents. Then follows an evolutionary fable in which apprehension of a higher being is rooted in adaptations to changing environments. But, as Wieseltier notes,
it is only a story. It is not based, in any strict sense, on empirical research. Dennett is "extrapolating back to human prehistory with the aid of biological thinking," nothing more. "Breaking the Spell" is a fairy tale told by evolutionary biology. There is no scientific foundation for its scientistic narrative. Even Dennett admits as much: "I am not at all claiming that this is what science has established about religion. . . . We don't yet know." So all of Dennett's splashy allegiance to evidence and experiment and "generating further testable hypotheses" notwithstanding, what he has written is just an extravagant speculation based upon his hope for what is the case, a pious account of his own atheistic longing.
Thirdly, Dennett's account denies the very reason he claims to champion.
And why is Dennett so certain that the origins of a thing are the most illuminating features of a thing, or that a thing is forever as primitive as its origins?

It will be plain that Dennett's approach to religion is contrived to evade religion's substance. He thinks that an inquiry into belief is made superfluous by an inquiry into the belief in belief. This is a very revealing mistake. You cannot disprove a belief unless you disprove its content. If you believe that you can disprove it any other way, by describing its origins or by describing its consequences, then you do not believe in reason. In this profound sense, Dennett does not believe in reason. He will be outraged to hear this, since he regards himself as a giant of rationalism. But the reason he imputes to the human creatures depicted in his book is merely a creaturely reason. Dennett's natural history does not deny reason, it animalizes reason.
Dennett is unable to imagine a fact about us that is not a biological fact. His book is riddled with translations of emotions and ideas into evo-psychobabble.
Finally, Wieseltier notes the foolishness of Dennett's quest:
Never mind the merits of materialism as an analysis of the world. As an attitude to life, it represents a collapse of wisdom. So steer clear of "we materialists" in your dark hours. They cannot fortify you...
And as for the materialist litany of the sins of religious believers that I seem to hear at least once a month:
The crudities of religious myth are plentiful, and a sickening amount of savagery has been perpetrated in their name. Yet the excesses of naturalism cannot hide behind the excesses of supernaturalism. Or more to the point, the excesses of naturalism cannot live without the excesses of supernaturalism.
And in conclusion:
[Dennett] cannot conceive of a thoughtful believer. He writes often, and with great indignation, of religion's strictures against doubts and criticisms, when in fact the religious traditions are replete with doubts and criticisms. Dennett is unacquainted with the distinction between fideism and faith. Like many of the fundamentalists whom he despises, he is a literalist in matters of religion....
Well said! Read the whole thing here. It's well worth your time.

[I quoted extensively because it will only be available on the web for a few days.]

Dead Sea Scrolls Online

Here's a fascinating site for anyone interested in the subject of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Library of Congress reproduces many of the scrolls, along with translations and scholarly commentary [here].

We're All Victims, And Always Have Been

The old "Killer Ape" hypothesis of human origins, so popular during the Cold War, has been under assault for a long time now. With the rise of feminism a competing image was offered -- "woman the gatherer" replaced "man the hunter." More recently as blatant sexual imagery has come to pervade our popular culture various primatologists have advanced theories based on the primacy of sexual bonding and cooperation -- sort of a "make love, not war" hypothesis. Now the theraputic society has its day.

BBC reports:

The popular view of our ancient ancestors as hunters who conquered all in their way is wrong, researchers have told a major US science conference.

Instead, they say, early humans were on the menu for predatory beasts.

This may have driven humans to evolve increased levels of co-operation, according to their theory.


"Our intelligence, co-operation and many other features we have as modern humans developed from our attempts to out-smart the predator," said Robert Sussman of Washington University in St Louis.

According to the theory espoused by Professor Sussman, early humans evolved not as hunters but as prey for animals such as wild dogs, cats, hyenas, eagles and crocodiles.

Read it here.

So "man the hunter" has been Oprahfied into "man the hunted" and it was our common victimhood that shaped our evolution. Cooperation, not Darwinian competitiveness [a theory advanced in the age of bare-knuckle capitalist striving], has become the mechanism through which we survived and flourished.

Note how closely "scientific" hypotheses track with dominant themes in our popular culture.

And "scientists" still claim to be the bearers of objective truth and the purveyors of impartial judgment.