Around the Web on 11-30-05

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Rob returned from a recent trip to China with an interesting observation about the language.

[M]any concepts in Chinese are made up by combining antonyms. For example, the concept "business", is represented by combining the two characters for "buy" and "sell" ('How is your buy/sell going?'). The concept "whole" is represented by combining the two characters for "over" and "under" ('You don't know the over and under of the situation'). (For more, see the following website and scroll down to the section "Opposing Words in Chinese")
Zach Oakes asks whether a cheap computer and an operating system might be an incredible bargain when combined.

Today a computer packed with three 3.2Ghz processors and 512MB RAM will start selling at $300. That's not a typo. It is, for all intents and purposes, both the fastest and cheapest computer on the market.

The computer I'm talking about is the Xbox 360.


My mind is still spinning over this - until now I never gave it a single bit of thought. Now I'm mad … somebody find a way to put an OS on that damn thing!

I didn't have the answer, either, but I have a hunch that somebody out there will, and fairly soon.

The General notes that others have less-constructive "uses" for the Xbox in mind.
[T]heir glee is not a product of the physical destruction as such (which is bad enough), but instead the effect this destruction would have upon the other people in line who value the XBox 360 and are eager to get theirs. This is not harmless fun, it is pure poison. Their enjoyment comes not from the achievement of values, but from the destruction of the values of others. Their response to the phenomenon a happy man, is to take his happiness and mangle it. This is what Ayn Rand so eloquently identified as, "hatred of the good for being good"
Via Noodle Food, this entry was quoted by CNN.

Cox and Forkum have a good roundup on Iran to go with this fantastic cartoon on same.

The Resident Egoist discusses power structures in socialist, fascist, and capitalist states.
But what is the true nature of the power structure in a capitalist society? It's decentralization, or separation. Here, not only is there a separation of powers within the institution of government itself [e.g.: 3 branches of government], there is also strict separation between the state and other social institutions [e.g.: Separation of Church and State and Separation of State and Economics].
Andy Clarkson discusses the importance of reading Playboy.
Maintaining a large, whatever "large" may mean, number of troops in the Mid-East is part of the long-term plan. Is 150,000 the number? I don't know. But, I would bet it is far more than the previous level of 20,000. Closer to 150K rather than 20K is likely. Why? Iran. And that may explain the current hesitant, slow-go approach in Iraq -- keeping Iran surrounded.
The Gaijin Biker has an amusing photo of an anti-Bush protest in Japan that may have been better attended by the police than by the protestors!
Of course, that was due as much to Tokyo's dispatching a ridiculously excessive number of cops as it was to the low protester turnout, but still...
Bubblehead fisks a "Captain".
Let's look at the "fact" he presents to demonstrate the superiority of Iraqi culture over Western: "While our European ancestors were hanging from trees, these ancient people were writing algebra and solving quadratic equations." Could be a good point, except that algebra was invented in 820 A.D., several hundred years after the height of Greek and Roman culture -- a little bit past the "hanging from trees" period. Quadratic equations? Sorry, discovered by an Italian (Lodovico Ferrari) about 1545 A.D. Not too good on the research there, "Captain".
Another target sunk!

Lubber's Line ponders an interesting equipment purchase by Israel.
[According to reports, the] Germans are going ahead with plans to sell Israel two new AIP-equipped [Air Independent Propulsion --ed] Dolphin class SSK submarines. Israel already owns three Dolphin submarines acquired from Germany in a deal made after the first gulf war. These Dolphin subs replaced Israel's German built Gal Class submarines, which entered service in 1977.

The Dolphin class is designed for interdiction, surveillance and special-forces operations with torpedo and cruise missile weapons capabilities.


If the news reports are correct and Israel does have nuclear weapons, it looks as though a sea based nuclear deterrent force is in the making.

-- CAV


Corrected author and link for first entry on list. HT: The General and apologies to the guys at Thrutch.
5-8-06: Added hypertext anchors.

Sam Harris Strikes Again

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Thanks, once again, Sam Harris!

Paul Campos pens a God-awful column in today's Rocky Mountain News, in which he gets to slam secularists as sadistic pedophiles thanks to the good offices of my favorite atheist mystic, Sam Harris. I haven't the time or the inclination to rip it completely to shreds, but I'll note some of the highlights. Time for a fisking.

Campos, pretends that (1) the fact that human beings can disagree means that knowledge from evidence and logic (as opposed to blind faith) is impossible, and (2) that the mysticism of Sam Harris (which I detail more in the first link) is "the" alternative to said blind faith.

'If you talk to God," the psychiatrist Thomas Szasz observed, "that's called 'prayer.' If God talks to you, that's called 'schizophrenia.' " Szasz was making an ironic observation about how the definitions of concepts like "reason" and "madness" are controversial and politicized.

In his much-discussed book The End of Faith, Sam Harris says something that sounds similar, but lacks Szasz's ironical nuance: "Jesus Christ - who, as it turns out, was born of a virgin, cheated death and rose bodily into the heavens - can now be eaten in the form of a cracker. A few Latin words spoken over your favorite Burgundy, and you can drink his blood as well. Is there any doubt that a lone subscriber to these beliefs would be considered mad?"

What irony can be found in Harris' polemic, which is dedicated to proving that religious belief consists of irrational superstitions which are increasingly dangerous in this technologically advanced age, is almost exclusively of the unintentional kind.

Harris wants us to reject "faith" and embrace "reason," by which he pretty much means the philosophical view known as materialism, with a dab of vaguely Buddhist mysticism thrown into the metaphysical mix.
Even if Campos had discarded Harris's gratuitous Buddhism and focused his attack on "materialism", he would have had an easy go at smearing secularism. One of the most common misconceptions about a non-mystical view of the universe is, after all, that it necessarily entails the sort of deterministic, "billiard-ball" notion of causality we see in the next paragraph. This is patently absurd when one considers the idea that free will is a different type of causation. Free will manifestly exists. The fact that we cannot explain it yet does not invalidate reason as a means to knowledge, nor does it mean we can just make up whatever else we like while we're ignorant about the point.
Materialism is the view that at bottom reality consists of nothing but particles in fields of force, and that all events are caused solely by the operation of mindless physical laws. Several things should be noted about this belief. First, believing in materialism is an act of faith like any other. The ultimate nature of reality isn't a scientific question, and anyone who expects science to provide answers regarding such matters doesn't understand either science or religion.
Campos is correct when he says that "The ultimate nature of reality isn't a scientific question...." This is something I, a secularist and a scientist, have pointed out myself. But in doing so, I have pointed out that many sloppily substitute terms like "science" or "materialism" -- or both, in the case of really sloppy writers like Campos -- for "reason". Indeed, it is the faculty of reason that allows man to grasp the nature of reality through the appropriate discipline, the discipline of philosophy, of which religion is at best a primitive first stab. Later on, I will deal with Campos's assertion that rejecting faith as a means of knowledge (or, as he phrases it, "believing in materialism") is, in and of itself, an "act of faith".

Now, so far, it would seem that I am being a tad bit unfair to Campos. Certainly, if this were all he said, that would be the case, because Sam Harris, who claims to be a neuroscientist and is famous for having written The End of Faith, is certainly guilty of scientism. But as you will see, Harris's sins allow Campos, in condemning them, to pose behind the mask of piety while cashing in on Harris's crimes against intellectual honesty.

In fact, Campos begins in short order.
Second, the debate about whether the world is ultimately a meaningless flux or something more has been going on for thousands of years. The belief that materialism is a product of post-Enlightenment thought in general and modern science in particular is itself a product of historical ignorance.

Third, while Harris is quite right that many religious doctrines sound outrageous to nonbelievers (they often sound outrageous to believers as well), those who worship in the temple of materialism fail to consider how outrageous their beliefs can sound to the uninitiated.

Consider three statements: 1. Torturing a child for one's own sexual gratification is evil. 2. Shakespeare is a better writer than George Lucas. 3. Human beings have free will. An intellectually honest materialist must reject all these claims. At most, he can recharacterize them in much weaker forms. So, for example, he can observe that in our society sadistic pedophilia is considered evil, and that it's this social judgment that determines the content of morality.
Harris's comments on the strangeness of various religious doctrines are mostly on the money and come from the implicitly rational first parts of his book. In the later, new-agey sections, Harris makes all kinds of hokey statements, like when he smuggles in altruism while attempting to discuss a "rational" foundation for morality, and ends up spouting off the following nonsense:
[W]e can see that one could desire to become more loving and compassionate for purely selfish reasons. This is a paradox, of sorts, because these attitudes undermine selfishness, by definition. (!) (191-192)
Things like this makes him, as a "defender" of secularism, easy prey for someone like Campos, who wants to use problems caused by Harris's fundamental irrationality to attack his rational facade.

Campos tosses in the argument from intimidation for good measure when he says that, "An intellectually honest materialist must reject all these claims." Were Campos himself intellectually honest, he might go about proving why any one of these claims necessarily contradicts a secular outlook. Or, since he later discards proof as necessary, perhaps he could explain to us why his "belief" that these positions are incompatible with secularism should be accepted above all others. Or, at least, since he seems to think that secularism is not necessarily false, he could explain why he took the time to write this column and get it published. (The level of evasion professional writers can get away with in our current cultural climate positively flabbergasts me! Would electroshock treatments or a lobotomy perhaps further my writing career? But I digress....)

I'll take just one of the three points I supposedly can't defend as an example. Harris never defines man as "the rational animal", ties morality to man's life as a standard of value, or explains that political freedom is the foundation for a proper society because it allows man to use reason, his tool for survival, unhindered by others. This is what makes Harris and his ilk unable to explain why, exactly, torturing a child for one's sexual gratification is evil (and criminal), for example. The criminality of this act is easier to explain: It violates the child's rights. The act is immoral on several counts it would take too long to explain fully. Among them: (1) Since torture is not part of life proper to a human being, the torturer damages his own psychological welfare. (2) The torturer invites self-destruction via criminal penalties or acts of defense on behalf of the child. (3) He is injuring someone else outside the context of self-defense. Pedophilic torture isn't just "considered evil", Mr. Campos, it is evil, and I know exactly why. The question is whether Campos really does.

Contrast this with what Campos has to say.
But this recharacterization fails utterly to capture what most people mean when they say sadistic pedophilia is evil. What they mean, although they might not articulate it in these terms, is that torturing a child for sexual pleasure is an outrage to the moral order of the universe. It is not evil because a particular society considers it evil: it is simply evil.
How would Campos know this? And how does he know that everyone else (or anyone else) knows this? And, except for the deterrent of capture (which even the stupidest criminals seem to grasp), what does any such moral injunction have about it to motivate compliance? Suppose some perv finds a "consenting" child and a way not to get caught? He has no clue about what a proper life is all about and is thus less likely to consider psychotherapy or even such measures as chemical castration to prevent himself from performing this monstrous act. Why? Because he won't understand why this is a monstrous act. He'll just have a list of do's and don't's, and maybe a fairy tale about eternal hellfire he may credit.

And on a related note, consider torture in the context of adults. Is torture "just wrong" or might it be moral in some circumstances? How would we know when it is alright to torture someone? I don't "just know". Just yesterday, I noted how people who think things are "just wrong" are mucking up the ongoing national debate over whether America ought to outlaw the torture of captured terrorists.

Or consider any other moral issue. Oops! I guess that's why Campos had to choose such an easy moral question -- or at least one that most people would be afraid to open up for debate. If something is "just wrong", you really can't marshal any arguments for why it shouldn't be done. I guess that's why the likes of Campos find reason so unnerving that they have to set straw men like Sam Harris ablaze. "Gosh! If people start stringing too many syllogisms together, they'll toss out morality!" Better to abandon reason than to, say, apply it to morality, these types are basically saying.

Interestingly, Campos no only echoes Jonathan David Carson in attacking the straw man of scientism, he also starts sounding a lot like Lee Harris, who argued, based on subjectivism, that it is legitimate to hold a debate about whether Creationism or evolution accurately describes biodiversity! Note the bold.
Materialism, as a philososphical doctrine, has the great advantage that it reduces the catalog of things that actually exist to those which can be investigated by science. It has the great disadvantage that it requires treating as illusions morality, art, free will, and much else that most people call "reality." That, of course, does not make it false. It does, however, make it literally incredible to anyone who hasn't made the leap of faith materialism requires. [bold added]
Don Watkins correctly identified the essence of such arguments when he said:
On the Kantian premise, it doesn't matter why men disagree. Since truth is determined by man's consciousness, the very fact that men disagree means there is no truth. So long as some men deny the Holocaust, whether or not it happened "cannot be considered settled." So long as some men believe that cannibalism is moral, the question "cannot be considered settled." And what about the belief that nothing can be considered settled unless all men agree? Well, hell, that's just self-evident.
Actually, Campos sounds like Lee Harris, but with a twist. Whereas Lee Harris argues that there is not truth, Campos simply holds that reason cannot grasp truth. There is no need for debate, in Campos's mind, because everything is a matter of faith. While Campos pays lip service to the notion of reality, his "faith-based world" is for all practical purposes no different than Lee Harris's socially-constructed world: Either way, you just go with whatever's on your mind regardless of facts and logic. (And this shakes out in morality: "Do your own thing." vs. an arbitrary moral code whose lack of justification can't answer the obvious question, "Why not do your own thing?")

So for George Lucas -- I mean Paul Campos -- not only is disagreement among men "just self-evident" as Watkins put it, so is everything else. Pedophilic torture is "just wrong". And men "just have" free will. And Shakespeare is "just better" as a writer than George Lucas. And secularism "just treats as illusory" a whole bunch of territory that Paul Campos "just knows". The fact that he took the time to write a lengthy essay on the point indicates to me that, at least on some level (indicating measures of dishonesty, insecurity, or both), Paul Campos does not "just know" that faith is the only way to answer moral questions. Why else would he argue the point at such great length? (And if, contrary to what I think, he does respect reason, why did he argue so poorly?)

Campos then ends, not on the note of riteous indignation that pedophilia/materialism/secularism "deserve", but with the petulant disdain of an adolescent applying peer pressure.
Indeed, I consider holding beliefs such as that sadistic pedophilia is evil because it violates the basic moral order of the universe to be part of a fairly minimal definition of sanity. But then I lack the materialist's faith.
Translation: "My faith is better than your faith. Neener neener neener!" How profound. And how relevant.

Belief divorced from evidence and proof is hardly a definition -- even minimal -- of sanity. It undercuts one's mind and with it, morality and, if done consistently, it even undercuts sanity.

-- CAV

PS: This reminds me of something I said when reviewing the Sam Harris book:
[O]ne of my greatest concerns about the book is that it would "champion some new version of revealed truth as a means of knowledge. [The book] would then end up aiding religion while appearing to champion reason."
I would say that that fear has been realized in the sense that Sam Harris seems to be doing a great job of discrediting reason through the straw man of the scientism-cum-Buddhism he pretends is reason.

Will China lead by example?

Get a load of this.

A reception was held in Beijing [link removed] Monday to mark the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people [link added].

Wang Yunze, vice-president of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC), and Palestinian Ambassador to China Abdul Rahim addressed the reception, which was co-hosted by the CPAFFC and the China- Arab Friendship Association (CAFA).

Wang said the right solution to the Palestinian issue is to conduct political negotiation on the basis of relevant UN resolutions and the "land for peace" principle in a bid to build an independent state in accordance with the roadmap plan.
Land for peace? It's mighty white of Red China to want to help smooth things over in the Middle East while it arms itself to the teeth in the Far East.

Land for peace? This is coming from the same country that has pretended for six decades now that Taiwan is not independent because to admit the loss of an island would be to lose "face".... And whose leaders get their panties in a wad and bluster about Taiwan being an "internal affair" any time someone raises a peep about defending that island from the massive invasion the Red Chinese are clearly planning to launch.

Land for peace? To a "people" whose economy would be beyond destitute without Israel? To a "people" who blow themselves up in restaurants filled with Israelis? To a "people" whose leaders are dedicated to the eradication of Israel?

Meanwhile, Taiwan helps props up the Chinese economy through massive investment and trade. Its government poses no military threat to China. And call me crazy, but I have a hunch that the lack of reports on Taiwanese suicide bombings in China is probably -- for once -- not due to government censorship of the Chinese media.

Land for peace? You first, China.

-- CAV

Around the Web on 11-28-05

Monday, November 28, 2005

Ugh. Even a short blogging hiatus can throw you off your rhythm. Today, I'll spit out a quick roundup of news that caught my eye as I was doing some catching up.

Krauthammer and EU on Torture

The torture debate continues like a slow, steady succession of drops landing upon the forehead of the body politic. This Charles Krauthammer column, while offered as a rebuttal to McCain's Newsweek argument, actually shows why.

A rational moral calculus might not permit measures as extreme as the nuke-in-Manhattan scenario, but would surely permit measures beyond mere psychological pressure.

Such a determination would not be made with an untroubled conscience. It would be troubled because there is no denying the monstrous evil that is any form of torture [italics added]. And there is no denying how corrupting it can be to the individuals and society that practice it. But elected leaders, responsible above all for the protection of their citizens, have the obligation to tolerate their own sleepless nights by doing what is necessary--and only what is necessary, nothing more--to get information that could prevent mass murder.
In an otherwise fairly good article (which also errs, like one by Sowell, in failing to note that there are valid, non-intelligence applications for torture), Krauthammer is done in by the fundamental flaw in his moral premises: intrinsicism. Nothing, even including torture, is inherently evil. (And an act can be judged as good or evil only when its impact on whether one lives or dies is considered.) While I would agree that having to torture someone is likely to have negative psychological effects, I vehemently disagree that torturing someone to stop the mass murder in this example is "evil". It would be very good, but probably also very psychologically hard to do -- just like fighting in the front lines of a defensive war.

Ironically, Krauthammer started off by parroting the very words needed to resolve this dilemma: "[a] rational moral calculus". Only when a life proper to man is the standard by which one judges one's actions can a legitimate context for the performance of normally immoral acts be fully comprehended.

Intrinsicism explains why some would ban torture altogether in the name of decency (sacrificing life to morality in the process), while some would permit the "evil" of torture in the name of saving lives (sacrificing morality to life). But with the aid of a rational moral calculus, it is possible to resolve this dilemma because only such a moral code establishes the necessity of morality for life.

And speaking of sacrificing life to irational codes of morality, the European Union, already wobbly on our next enemy, Iran, is getting ready to withdraw what little help some of its member states are providing against our current foes.
EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini warned Monday any EU nation found to have operated secret CIA prisons could have their EU voting rights suspended.

"I would be obliged to propose to the Council (of EU Ministers) serious consequences, including the suspension of voting rights in the Council," Frattini said at a counter-terrorism conference.
Campaign Finance 'Reform' Continues to Metastasize

This article by George Will is a wake-up call.
The grip was recently extended to talk radio in Washington state. A judge ruled that two Seattle talk-radio hosts who advocated repeal of a gas-tax increase must compute the cash value of their speech as a "campaign contribution," subject to regulation. Fortunately for the hosts, the speech did not occur in the last three weeks of the campaign, when speech valued at more than $5,000 is a crime.

In California, "progressive" thinking has progressed to the conclusion that because money in politics is bad, political competition is, too. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger advocated, unsuccessfully, having retired judges draw legislative districts in order to reduce gerrymandering and produce more competitive races. A group opposed to that argued that if districts were more competitive, "politicians would be forced to spend more money and become more dependent on special-interest money." [bold added]

But liberals' abhorrence of political money is selective. Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, recently reported that when Democratic senators met in a Capitol room near the Senate floor to plan strategy, their leader, Harry Reid, permitted Stephen Bing to attend. In 2004, Bing, 40, gave more than $14 million of his inherited wealth to Democratic candidates and liberal groups supporting them.

Was there any appearance of impropriety--say, cash purchasing access? Gosh, no, said Democrats to Roll Call: "Reid's aides and other Senate Democrats said there is nothing wrong with such a big donor attending meetings otherwise open to only senators and a few top aides, because Bing is not a lobbyist and is not seeking any favors from Democrats." Sen. Barbara Boxer explained that Bing is "just really interested in making this country better." ...
And speaking of torture and campaign finance "reform"...

More Rumblings of McCain in 2008

This article explains why McCain might emerge as the Republican challenger to Hillary Clinton for the Presidency in 2008. Incidentally, this would be for the same reason that the Republicans will probably lose in 2008 unless things change before then.
A former aide to the senator, Marshall Wittmann, ... said he believes the stars are aligning for a McCain candidacy.


Observers inside and outside the Republican Party have said that the party has fallen into disarray in recent months after a strong showing in last year's elections. Despite comfortable majorities in both houses of Congress, party leaders have faced problems passing basic budget legislation. Even Republican stalwarts conceded that the GOP's showing in state elections this year was poor. And President Bush's approval ratings are at an all-time low, due in large part to worries about Iraq.

"The party is in a crisis at the moment," Mr. Wittmann said. "I think the party is increasingly looking for a leader who has popularity and can broaden the party."


Polls show he may be the only GOP candidate who could defeat Senator Clinton if she is the Democratic nominee in 2008.
Could defeat Clinton? Pusuant to a recent posting here, I would guess that this assessment might reflect a closeness in the polls due to the fact McCain's positions are, in many cases, indistinguishable from Clinton's. Such races are often very close.

Unless the Republicans want, at best, a President both wings of the party have problems with and, at worst, Hillary Clinton (and I'm not sure I'm using these superlatives in the correct order here), they need to do some soul-searching.

How did they defeat the Dems so soundly in the last election? Because the public saw a substantial difference between Bush and Kerry on the main issue of the election: the war. How did they begin losing this strong support? When they started squandering their "political capital" fighting to pass elements of the unpopular agenda of the religious right, most notably during the Terri Schiavo debacle, while muddling through the war rather than prosecuting it ruthlessly and unapologetically. In the meantime, Hillary Clinton manages, in this atmosphere of chaos, to look almost as good as any Republican -- and with their help besides!

Until the Republicans stop running as hawkish fiscal conservatives -- but governing like indifferent religious conservatives -- (i.e., until they exorcise the religious right) they will continue to collapse at their moment of triumph.

The Paradox of the Left

This article suggests one thing I completely agree with, taken out of its context. It suggests that analogously to the liberal tome called What's the Matter with Kansas?, "the left desperately needs ... a book ... titled What's the Matter with Manhattan?"

Unfortunately, if you hope for an article which, from the left, finally urges liberals to challenge their basic premises, you will be sadly disappointed.

But at least you won't be completely unhappy with what you will get, instead: a report on the continuing meltdown of the Democratic Party. The article discusses efforts by the mayor of Los Angeles to "reform" (rather than privatize) that city's public educational system.
[T]he decision of Villaraigosa -- a Democrat with impeccable progressive credentials -- to take on the United Teachers Los Angeles and their allies on the Los Angeles school board could finally open the eyes of liberals to the paradox of their alliance with the most reactionary force in American life: the teachers unions who desperately defend the discredited education status quo.
The potential dissolution of yet another Democratic alliance will not cause lasting reform in and of itself, but if one thinks of it as akin to the kind of destabilization our nation has caused recently in the Middle East, once sees that we have, at least, a situation more amenable to change than it was before.

Liberal "Talk Radio"

Over Thanksgiving, my wife's uncle, a liberal Northeasterner, was attempting to teach one of his sons not to talk about any one topic too much by saying, "No more talk radio!" when the son began to perseverate. He explained that in talk radio, "They just keep talking about the same thing over and over again."

One reason that might be is because the liberals keep "talking about the same thing over and over again", as one does in an article I found today that evaded every failure of socialized medicine over the past century, offered no arguments in its favor, and merely, in this vacuum, discussed the "best" way to enslave the medical profession.
The best first step would be public, universal coverage for everyone under age 25, a group relatively cheap to insure. That would be a big political step toward true national health insurance, because it would accustom working-age Americans to the value of a universal system. And if it works for our kids and our parents, why not for everyone?
Well, I've already addressed this before, so I'll merely reiterate the following.

If I sound repetitive here, it's because the socialist left keeps trying to do the same thing with a new spin every few years. So writing against such efforts ends up being fairly easy: Figure out a way to explain why the new spin makes no difference and then point out the fallacies behind the socialist position. (These do not change.)

It's a bit like counterarguing someone who pops up every few years trying to convince everyone else that the sun rises in the West. One year, he'll say that it's an illusion that it rises in the East. Another year, he'll insist that what we're calling "East" is really "West". And then he'll try to tell us that what we think of as "setting" is really "rising". Of course he's wrong every single time, and I end up repeating myself.

Whose fault is that, really?

Relativism Paves the Way for Religion, Part 536

This article is by an academic who bemoans the "academic diversity" movement because it includes such claptrap as Creationism.

As attractive as these principles seem to be -- diversity, choice, alternatives -- what do they actually mean in the classroom? Must an astronomer teach astrology? The course on early Christianity include militant atheists? A class on the Holocaust, the Holocaust deniers? A lecture on 9/11, the conspiracy theorists? These "other viewpoints" all have a bevy of experts behind them. The few qualifiers tossed into the proposed Academic Bill of Rights, which specify that diverse views be aired only "where appropriate," do not undo the damage.
Once again, the religious right adopts the abuses of the left when it suits its agenda.

"Pay no attention to the (rational) man behind the curtain!"

As with terrorism, another (grossly perceptual) means by which some Moslems pretend that their culture is superior to that of the West is revealed to depend upon the (profoundly conceptual) achievements of the West.

Muslims tend to see architecture as an expression of dominance. ... [I]t was no coincidence that the WTC Twin Towers were attacked, and when destroyed, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur became the undisputed tallest inhabitestructureses int he world. The Pertamina Towers[, also in mostly Moslem Malaysia,] incorporate Islamic design themes.
Yes. Moslems see skyscrapers -- a uniquely Western achievement -- built in Moslem lands as symbolic of the cultural dominance of Islam. I've heard of stealing credit for the accomplishments of others, but this sort of cultural grand larceny is ridiculous!

-- CAV

Was it not private property? Yes or No?

Yesterday, Matt Drudge reported the following.

A CNN switchboard operator was fired over the holiday -- after the operator claimed the 'X' placed over Vice President's Dick Cheney's face was "free speech!"

"We did it just to make a point. Tell them to stop lying, Bush and Cheney," the CNN operator said to a caller. "Bring our soldiers home."

The caller initially phoned the network to complain about the all-news channel flashing an "X' over Cheney as he gave an address live from Washington.

"Was it not freedom of speech? Yes or No?" the CNN operator explained [sic].

"If you don't like it, don't watch."

Laurie Goldberg, Senior Vice President for Public Relations with CNN, said in a release:

"A Turner switchboard operator was fired today after we were alerted to a conversation the operator had with a caller in which the operator lost his temper and expressed his personal views -- behavior that was totally inappropriate. His comments did not reflect the views of CNN. We are reaching out to the caller and expressing our deep regret to her and apologizing that she did not get the courtesy entitled to her. "

Um. Yes. I haven't been paying much attention to this story. The last I heard, the X was quite possibly a computer glitch. Whatever.

This may seem like a relatively minor incident, but this operator's actions exemplify a very common -- especially among leftists -- misconception that freedom of speech represents some kind of entitlement to say whatever one wants at the expense of whomever one pleases. So it's worth doing a quick post-mortem for that reason.

The important point, probably lost to the former boiler room employee, is that freedom of speech does not come with the freedom to commandeer the resources of others to broadcast that speech.

Let's assume for the moment that someone deliberately placed the X over Cheney in order to send some negative, subliminal message about him. (And why didn't the operator even consider the obvious: That this was some diabolical ruse cooked up by Karl Rove, puppetmaster of the airwaves, to gain more support for the Bush administration from that pivotal constituency, the Nation of Islam?) First, CNN does not owe it to anyone to cross out Cheney simply because that person can conceive of placing an X over his face during a newscast. Its air time is its property. Second, a news organization commands the respect of its audience and thus the advertising dollars of its sponsors based on its credibility, a valuable asset which would be damaged by such an outrageously partisan stunt. So our operator's hypothetical hero has the right to display such an image, but not to employ the resources of CNN to propagate it, unless, perhaps, this was an idea from Ted Turner himself.

But that's just the beginning of what this operator got wrong. Since CNN expressed disagreement with the operator (and there is no evidence that CNN is lying), it is clear that the operator violated CNN's property rights in the exercise of his freedom of speech. Or was it freedom of speech? Assuming that CNN's X really was a glitch, the operator was not only violating his company's property rights, he was slandering it! Slander is not protected by the First Amendment any more than murder is protected by the Second! (I am not going over the top here by calling this slander, even if it was, as is almost certain to me, sarcasm. Within the context of so much leftist "reporting" today, the idea of a network doing such a thing -- and for the reasons given by the operator -- is hardly far-fetched. )

So the operator was half-right, but only about the X, if we spot him the assumption that someone purposely superimposed an X over an image of Cheney. He altogether ignores the issue of his employer's property rights with respect to the X-incident, as he does implicitly later with regards to his choice to promulgate his own pet theory on company time. And he demonstrates a failure to understand freedom of speech by lying about what occurred. (And, come to think of it, I've completely skipped over the whole matter of etiquette!)

It's amusing that such a liberal network possesses such a firm implicit grasp of property rights -- and seems to support said rights so unequivocally. But perhaps it needs what is left of its reputation for objectivity to more effectively undermine what is left of the free society that permits it to exist.

-- CAV

Chavez Propping up Cuba

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Back from Chicago

We spent this Thanksgiving in Chicago visiting with my wife's parents and some of her other relatives. This year's visit was more of a typical Thanksgiving than last year's jam-packed tourist package, and included some heavy lifting on my part since the in-laws had just barely moved into a new, larger condominium after their first year there. We did take time to see the excellent exhibit "Pompeii: Stories from an Eruption" at the Field Museum, and saw Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Considering that the latter was a condensation of a very long book into a single movie, I thought it quite good.

Hugo Chavez: Fidel Castro's New Sugar Daddy

For the flight back, I picked up a copy of the Chicago Tribune for the oddball masthead price of $1.79 and found this very interesting article on how Venezuela has replaced the old Soviet Union as Cuba's main financial crutch. The focus of the article is on "Miracle Mission" (or Mision Milagro), whereby expensive eye surgeries are given to people from all over Latin America and the Caribbean for "free" (read: bankrolled with looted oil profits and slave labor).

For the first time in nearly a generation, Cuba's moribund economy is showing signs of life because of a new program financed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to provide residents across Latin America and the Caribbean free eye surgery.

Called Mision Milagro, or Miracle Mission, the campaign has provided more than 122,000 cataract and other eye operations this year to patients from Venezuela to Jamaica to Bolivia.
As will unfortunately become even more than obvious shortly, this is a cynical propaganda ploy on the part of Chavez, who hopes to achieve a Christ-like reputation throughout the region as some sort of miracle worker. Even the "financing" sounds like a goofy shell game of the type only a gullible American newspaper reporter would fail to regard with a jaundiced eye.
The revenue is used to cover the cost of receiving 98,000 barrels of discounted Venezuelan oil daily, essentially canceling what traditionally has been Cuba's largest import bill and its greatest drain on hard currency resources.
Does anyone else really believe there is actual trade -- of the civilized, capitalist variety -- going on here between Cuba and Venezuela? Oh, wait. Reporter Gary Marx did manage to scare up an equally gullible economist.
"This is an excellent business for Cuba," said Pedro Monreal, an economist at the University of Havana. "This is like striking gold."
I prefer my gold nuggets without strings attached, but.... If you're a slave striking the gold, you may indeed enjoy some incidental benefit from such a find, but you will have no control over your life and therefore none over the expenditure of the profits. Translation: To the extent Castro relies upon this kind of help, he is beholden to Chavez. And, by the way, this predictably and unsurprisingly yields no real benefit to the Cuban people -- on top of helping keep Castro in power.
Even with the Venezuelan assistance and an economy that Cuban authorities say is growing 9 percent this year, few Cubans say their lives have improved. Blackouts, shortages of consumer goods and other problems persist.

Some Cubans express resentment at the resources being poured into Mision Milagro, complaining that foreigners get better medical treatment than they do. Other Cubans seethe as they watch foreign patients driven to and from hospitals in new Chinese luxury buses while they wait for hours for scarce public transportation.

"I was standing in the blazing sun, and three of these Chinese buses with patients passed with an ambulance behind it," said one Havana resident. "I thought these buses were for us."

Despite the complaints, Castro announced that Cuba is equipping and staffing hospitals throughout the island to sharply increase the number of eye operations.
Incidentally, this is not the first time I have heard of Cubans having to walk while foreigners got to ride buses. Not to condone Jim Crow laws in any way, but I would note, for the edification of leftist fans of Castro, that at least blacks in the Jim Crow South got to ride on the buses.

It is worth noting to whom the great benefits of socialism are being touted: Those naive souls imported into Cuba for the "free" operations. Anyone already under Castro's thumb is left to deal with shortages even though the Cuban economy is said to be improving at a 9% per annum clip. Ironically, Gary Marx mentions blackouts. In one sense, then, while the Cuban government is restoring site to foreigners, it is blinding its own citizens! Or perhaps if Marx were a better spinmeister reporter, he'd say something like, "the almost-daily restoration of sight to the customers of the state power company also fits neatly into Castro's agenda".

Or are these foreigners as lucky as they sound? There are, buried near the end of this gushing article, hints of trouble in the workers' paradise.
At least one nurse involved in the eye operations said Cuban physicians are sacrificing quality for quantity as they hurry to complete as many operations as possible.

The nurse said the number of eye operations at her hospital has soared from about 15 to more than 120 daily, and many patients fail to receive important preoperative tests, she said. The surgeries are performed round-the-clock.

"Nobody is in agreement with this, but they say that you have to do it without discussion," the nurse said. "The patients are being mistreated."
Sadly, until something is done about Chavez, he and Castro will probably collect brownie points even for these "efforts" when they fail.

Chavez Ally Loses Ground in Mexico

In related news, things now look less gloomy in the upcoming Mexican presidential elections than they did just a few months ago.
While the PAN and PRI primaries were developing, frontrunner [and Chavez ally] Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) decided to play safe and not involve himself in other parties’ activities. However his caution backfired, as [Felipe] Calderon [Hinojosa] not only outdistanced [Roberto] Madrazo but too managed to cut the margin of the populist ex-mayor of Mexico City from 19 percent to seven percent.
Interestingly, a recent diplomatic episode may have helped this in more ways than one.
Part and parcel too of Lopez Obrador’s dip in popularity was a verbal scuffle that sprang up between President Vicente Fox and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, following the Summit of the Americas in Argentina. As trade progress was obstructed by Chavez led Latin American socialists, Fox made indirect remarks criticizing Chavez who replied by insulting Fox, calling him a lapdog and the Americans. These events sparked a diplomatic crisis that led to the recalling of both countries’ ambassadors. It is speculated that Fox took advantage of the situation to rid Mexico of Venezuelan envoy Vladimir Villegas, who was allegedly coordinating a Venezuela-Cuba smear campaign against Fox while supporting Lopez Obrador’s candidacy [bold added].
Moral: It pays to stand up to the likes of Chavez.

An Interesting Line of Inquiry

This last is more along the lines of a note to myself....

A great benefit of subscribing to TIA Daily, aside from having a good digest of the most important news stories of the day with incisive commentary, is that one can occasionally learn how to read the news more critically for oneself. For example, while I noted in passing some time back:
... I am glad the House voted down immediate troop withdrawal. It will be interesting to see what becomes of the withdrawal plan handed to Rumsfeld recently and spun by the media.
Robert Tracinski said the following on November 23:
One of the more cynical interpretations of the recent hysteria over the Iraq War--and because it is a speculation on the motives of the left, the cynicism may well be justifiable--is that Democrats in Congress know that the war against the Sunni insurgency has been largely successful and that the US may be able to safely reduce the number of troops in Iraq next year (and that we will definitely remove troops added to protect Iraq's October and December elections).

Since that could be seen as a victory for the Bush administration, the Democrats are therefore stepping up their demands to withdraw troops, so that when President Bush does so, it will look like he is caving in to political pressure. The deep irresponsibility of this strategy, however, is that in trying to deny a victory to President Bush, the Democrats will also deny a victory to America, making it look as if the United States has withdrawn in failure.
I'll admit up front that I was nowhere close to making this integration. While the CNN story (second link in my self-quote above) about the proposed reductions in US military presence in Iraq does mention that these are contingent on "milestones" having been reached, I'd already forgotten that we'd stepped up our presence for the elections and I simply hadn't made the connection that our success against the "insurgency" in much of Iraq might allow us to draw down a bit in the near future.

These are crucial points, but those don't impress me as much as the conclusion Tracinski was able to draw concerning the general leftist hype of recent weeks concerning Iraq and troop withdrawals. Now, I'm also not about to pretend to be able to read Tracinski's mind here -- he may have reached his conclusion that the left found a clever way to deny Bush a victory from an entirely different premise than this -- but the second paragraph of the above suggests to me a line of inquiry to keep in mind when reading the news, especially from particularly liberal outlets. Namely: What might a leftist hope to achieve by reporting the news in a certain way? (Specifically here: How can it hurt Bush?)

I often ask this question anyway, but here, Tracinski did it at a time when I was halfway falling for the slant and fearing that Bush might indeed be about to pull out before appropriate. Granted, Bush, by not always effectively communicating his intentions, does not make it especially easy not to fall for such an interpretation of the Rumsfeld/withdrawal story. But asking the above question in this context anyway makes one able to consider other hypotheses about the story.

Only time will tell what is really going on here, but it apparently can pay to be extremely cynical of media coverage.

-- CAV

Around the Web on 11-23-05

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Due to holiday festivities with relatives, this post will probably be it for me until Monday. But that's okay! My fellow bloggers, including a few who haven't written in awhile, will take up the slack for your holiday reading pleasure.

This post also appears at Ego. Which award will it get for Martin this week?

Eye and Ear Candy for the Boys

(And one bad joke after another.)

Reader, good friend, and occasional comment-bomber Adrian Hester emailed me the following perky bit of news. (I'd considered submitting this to Boing-Boing, but noticed that the story had made the blogospheric rounds already.)

Computer chips that store music could soon be built into a woman's breast implants.

One ... could hold an MP3 player and the other the person's whole music collection.

BT futurology, who have developed the idea, say it could be available within 15 years.

BT Laboratories' analyst Ian Pearson said flexible plastic electronics would sit inside the breast. A signal would be relayed to headphones, while the device would be controlled by Bluetooth using a panel on the wrist.

According to The Sun he said: "It is now very hard for me to [think] of breast implants as just decorative. If a woman has something implanted permanently, it might as well do something useful."

The sensors around the body linked through the electrical impulses in the chips may also be able to warn wearers about heart murmurs, blood pressure increases, diabetes and breast cancer.
The last bit might sound like good news for the vain -- or the first step on the road to the invention of the Fembot! (And in that context, one could be forgiven for thinking that "Bluetooth" was some Austin Powers villain rather than a technology....) Until then, Paul Hsieh tells us how the human owners of these implants will be able to keep their music warm while keeping emissions of the greenhouse variety down.

The Spy Who Quizzed Me

Lubber's Line offers this cautionary tale from the cold war era about a rather suspicious line of questioning he received from a waiter during a port visit in the Caribbean. Be sure to read the comments, too.

All that ever happened to me during a port visit in the Caribbean was that three different guys offered to sell me drugs while I smoked a Cuban cigar. I had never had such an offer before, nor have I since!

The Fallacy of Self-Exclusion

Amit Ghate tells us about the latest bit of hypocrisy by the feds over at Thrutch.
If the Justice Department, i.e. the very department charged with protecting US property rights around the world, sets the standard that such rights are valid only until someone needs the goods, then how do they ever hope to defend any property rights? Any IP of value is needed, that's what makes it valuable! If it were unneeded, there would be no reason to defend it, since no one would have any reason to steal it. But by this precedent, no defense of intellectual property is possible, and we can kiss goodbye developments in all those fields which are principally intellectual (medicine, technology, etc.).

Now perhaps these government officials were counting on self-exclusion, i.e. they believe that rights and rules apply, unless the government is involved , in which case all bets are off. But such logic applies only in dictatorships (whether fascist or communist), not in a country founded on the very principle of individual rights.

It is terrifying indeed to think that we have now reached the stage where the very officials charged with defending the laws -- not only think that they are above them -- but are even prepared to come out in writing to say so!
Sex Offender Locator

At The Benjo Blog, the General tells us how to find any sex offenders in your neighborhood. This is worthwhile in and of itself, but the discussion was very interesting as well. Be sure to read the comments.

Empires vs. Victory

In a very interesting post, Gideon Reich takes us through the highlights of a review by Angelo Codevilla of "several foreign policy books across the political spectrum". My favorite "Codevillism"? This one: "Dead enemies are the firm foundations of peace." Heh! I concur.

d'Anconia (is Back) Online

After a long hiatus, it looks like Felipe Sediles is back in action at his own blog and as the webmaster of the Egosphere group blog at Objectivism Online. At his own blog, d'Anconia Online, he has a very good post about the importance of context, specifically with regard to Ayn Rand's novel, The Fountainhead.

A New Find

I think this post about Jack Wakeland over at Literatrix is really cute.

Jarhead Savaged by Jarhead

Ex-Marine Nick Provenzo isn't too happy with the movie Jarhead. Read his review to learn why.

On Pre-Invasion Intelligence

Subman Dave explains in great detail what is wrong with how the subject of pre-invasion intelligence concerning Iraq has been discussed lately. (HT: Molten Eagle )

Earth to Hollywood!

Zach Oakes has some pithy commentary on Earth to America .

Don Quixote to Tilt at Windmills from Below the Sea

Bubblehead informs us that Hugo Chavez (AKA El Loco), president of Venezuela, the world's largest Miguel Cervantes fan club, is now shopping for submarines.

Coincidentally, I read Don Quixote during an underway back in my Navy days.

A New Kind of White Flight

My, oh my, things have changed!

Caption Contest

Be sure to stop by this week's caption contest over at Riding Sun. This week's picture is priceless!

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

-- CAV

Charlatan's Web

This ad at the Drudge Report points to an ad hoc political organization that looks promising, "Doctors for Medical Liability Reform" (DMLR). From the "about" page of their "Protect Patients Now" web site, which is being used to collect signatures for a petition for medical liability reform:

Personal injury lawyers are driving good doctors out of the practice of medicine. Many doctors are cutting back on high-risk services, relocating to states with more patient-friendly liability laws or leaving the practice of medicine altogether. As a result, in many states doctors are harder and harder to find -- especially in specialties such as OB-GYN, neurosurgery and emergency medicine.

Some states have enacted medical liability reform legislation, others have not. The result is a patchwork system that only benefits personal injury lawyers -- at the expense of patients.

The American Medical Association has identified 20 states currently experiencing an access-to-care crisis. Of the remaining states, 24 have the potential to be deemed "in crisis." Only six states are considered stable -- the common denominator is that all of them have instituted some type of medical liability reform.
This sounds good on its face, but this is also the first I've ever heard of this organization. It is not mentioned yet at the web site of Americans for Free Choice in Medicine, but presumably it would support liability reform. I went ahead and signed up for the DLMR update list. and emailed a heads-up to the AFCM on the remote chance this has escaped their notice.

I do have one little quibble as an Objectivist. The Charlatan's Web (first link) cartoon's characterization of the lawyer as "greedy" is completely wrong. "Range-of-the moment" would be far better. These shysters are limiting and further endangering their own access to quality medicine. What good is wealth without the health to enjoy it? How is wrecking the medical system "greedy"?

-- CAV

Fascinating Read from the Front Lines

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Jack Wakeland of TIA Daily points to a fascinating must-read at the Washington Times on the war in Iraq as seen through the eyes of our soldiers, "A Marine Reports from Iraq". Below, I include assorted interesting excerpts, followed by my comments in italics.


I can't help but notice that most of the good fighting weapons and ordnance are 50 or more years old. With all our technology, it's the World War II- and Vietnam-era weapons that everybody wants. The infantry fighting is frequent, up close and brutal. No quarter is given or shown.

Things like night vision equipment and light body armor get rave reviews, so we at least haven't been flushing all our money down the toilet since the Vietnam era. Interestingly, the bad guys also have high tech at their disposal.

Bad guy technology is simple yet effective. Most communication is by cell and satellite phones and also by email on laptops. They use handheld Global Positioning System units for navigation and "Google Earth" for overhead views of our positions. Their weapons are good, if not fancy, and prevalent. Their explosives and bomb technology is top of the line. Night vision is rare.

They are very careless with their equipment, however, and the captured GPS units and laptops are intelligence treasure troves when captured.

Remember what I said about the dependence of this anti-Western war on the fruits of Western civilization?

And while our technology keeps them afloat in some respects, their propaganda makes them ill-prepared!

Fun fact: Captured enemy have apparently marveled at the marksmanship of our guys and how hard they fight. They are apparently told in jihad school that the Americans rely solely on technology, and can be easily beaten in close quarters combat for their lack of toughness. Let's just say they know better now.

I wonder how many start wondering what else they were lied to about in jihad school....

Driving is by far the most dangerous thing our guys do over there. Lately, they are much more sophisticated "shape charges" (Iranian) specifically designed to penetrate armor. Fact: Most of the ready-made IEDs are supplied by Iran, the country which is also providing terrorists, Hezbollah types, to train the insurgents in their use and tactics. That's why the attacks have been so deadly lately. Their concealment methods are ingenious, the latest being shape charges in Styrofoam containers spray-painted to look like the cinderblocks that litter all Iraqi roads. We find about 40 percent before they detonate. The bomb-disposal guys are unsung heroes of this war. [all bold added]

Iran, which Rep. Murtha et al. are making sure we don't get around to discussing, comes up quite a bit in this article. F'rinstance:

Who are the bad guys? Most of the carnage is caused by the Zarqawi al Qaeda group. They operate mostly in Anbar province -- Fallujah and Ramadi. These are mostly "foreigners," that is, non-Iraqi Sunni Arab jihadists from all over the Muslim world and Europe. Most enter Iraq through Syria -- with, of course, the knowledge and complicity of the Syrian government -- and then travel down the "rat line" which is the trail of towns along the Euphrates River that we've been hitting hard for the last few months. Some are virtually untrained young jihadists who end up as suicide bombers or are used in "sacrifice squads."

Most, however, are hard-core terrorists from all the usual suspects -- al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas. These are the guys running around murdering civilians en masse and cutting heads off. The Chechens, many of whom are Caucasian, are supposedly the most ruthless and the best fighters. In the Baghdad area and south, most of the insurgents are Iranian inspired and led Iraqi Shi'ites. The Iranian Shia have been very adept at infiltrating the Iraqi local government, police and army. Since the early 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war, they have had a massive spy and agitator network there. Most of the Saddam loyalists were killed, captured or gave up long ago. [all boid added]

Here's the story the news media could be reporting. Instead, they are calling the Iranian proxies "insurgents" and reporting that they are "winning":

According to [name redacted], morale among our guys is very high. They not only believe they are winning, but that they are winning decisively. They are stunned and dismayed by what they see in the American press, whom they almost universally view as against them. [Correctly, I might add. Example: Newsweek.]The embedded reporters are despised and distrusted. They are inflicting casualties at a rate of 20-1 and then see s*** like "Are we losing in Iraq?" on television and the print media.

For the most part, they are satisfied with their equipment, food and leadership. Bottom line, though, and they all say this: There are not enough guys there to drive the final stake through the heart of the insurgency [sic], primarily because there aren't enough troops in-theater to shut down the borders with Iran and Syria. The Iranians and the Syrians just cannot stand the thought of Iraq being an American ally -- with, of course, permanent U.S. bases there.

Backtracking a bit, I found this very amusing.

When engaged, the enemy has a tendency to flee to the same building, probably for what they think will be a glorious last stand. Instead, we call in air and that's the end of that, more often than not.

These hole-ups are referred to as "Alpha Whiskey Romeos" ("Allah's Waiting Room"). We have the laser-guided ground-air thing down to a science.

And here, we can see the effects of a blanket "avoid civilian deaths" policy.

The insurgent tactic most frustrating is their use of civilian non-combatants as cover. They know we do all we can to avoid civilian casualties, so therefore schools, hospitals and especially mosques are locations where they meet, stage for attacks, cache weapons and ammo and flee to when engaged. They have absolutely no regard whatsoever for civilian casualties. They will terrorize locals and murder without hesitation anyone believed to be sympathetic to the Americans or the new Iraqi government. Kidnapping of family members, especially children, is common to influence people they are trying to influence but cannot otherwise reach, such as local government officials, clerics or tribal leaders, etc.

The blame for civilian casualties, regardless of who inflicts them in a war like this one (i.e., with a good side and an evil side), lies with the evil side. It is arguable that a willingness to inflict a few civilian casualties from time to time would greatly deter such behavior. As a result, in addition to causing our victory to be quicker, it could, as a beneficial side effect, have the effect of fewer civilian lives lost.

-- CAV

Where should we go, Mr. Murtha?

Christopher Hitchens is, as usual, simply brilliant in this decimation of the founding member of the Sir Robin Congressional Caucus.

... I think that the continuation of the Saddam Hussein regime would have been even more dangerous than the Bush administration has ever claimed. I also think that that regime should have been removed many years before it actually was, which is why the Bush administration is right to remind people of exactly what Democrats used to say when they had the power to do that and did not use it. No, there are two absolutely crucial things that made me a supporter of regime change before Bush, and that will keep me that way whether he fights a competent war or not.

The first of these is the face, and the voice, of Iraqi and Kurdish democrats and secularists. Not only are these people looking at death every day, from the hysterical campaign of murder and sabotage that Baathists and Bin Ladenists mount every day, but they also have to fight a war within the war, against clerical factions and eager foreign-based forces from Turkey or Iran or Syria or Saudi Arabia. On this, it is not possible to be morally or politically neutral. And, on this, much of the time at least, American force is exerted on the right side. It is the only force in the region, indeed, that places its bet on the victory and the values of the Iraqis who stand in line to vote. How appalling it would be, at just the moment when "the Arab street" (another dispelled figment that its amen corner should disown) has begun to turn against al-Qaida and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, if those voters should detect an American impulse to fold or "withdraw." A sense of history is more important than an eye to opinion polls or approval ratings. Consult the bankrupt Syrian Baathists if you doubt me.

But all right, let's stay with withdrawal. Withdraw to where, exactly? When Jeanette Rankin was speaking so powerfully on Capitol Hill against U.S. entry into World War I, or Sen. W.E. Borah and Charles Lindbergh were making the same earnest case about the remoteness from American concern of the tussles in Central and Eastern Europe in 1936 and 1940, it was possible to believe in the difference between "over here" and "over there." There is not now--as we have good reason to know from the London Underground to the Palestinian diaspora murdered in Amman to the no-go suburbs of France--any such distinction. Has the ludicrous and sinister President Jacques Chirac yet designed his "exit strategy" from the outskirts of Paris? Even Rep. Murtha glimpses his own double-standard futility, however dimly, when he calls for U.S. forces to be based just "over the horizon" in case of need. And what horizon, my dear congressman, might that be? [All links removed. All bold added.]
Read it all. I also like his earlier point on the turn the debate about the war has taken -- or has failed to take.
[T]he problem with the Iraq confrontation, as fought "at home," is not its level of anger but its level of argument. After almost three years of combat, the standard of debate ought to have risen and to have become more serious and acute. Instead, it has slipped into a state of puerility.
I would add that had the debate ever risen to this level, it would likely have ended by now, and we would be moving on to other urgent matters, such as what to do about Iran.

So we're having a food fight over Iraq while the Mullahs are patiently building atom bombs. Interesting what Murtha's folly is accomplishing, isn't it?

-- CAV

One Last Tortuous Thought

Over at Capitalism Magazine, there is a Thomas Sowell column on torture, which is very good, but which is improved by the addition of a clarifying note on the nature of rights at the end by the editor.

Banning torture categorically by federal legislation takes on a new dimension in an era of international terrorist networks that may, within the lifetime of this generation, have nuclear weapons.

If a captured terrorist knows where a nuclear bomb has been planted in some American city, and when it is timed to go off, are millions of Americans to be allowed to be incinerated because we have become too squeamish to get that information out of him by whatever means are necessary?

What a price to pay for moral exhibitionism or political grandstanding!

Even in less extreme circumstances, and even if we don't intend to torture the captured terrorist, does that mean that we need to reduce our leverage by informing all terrorists around the world in advance that they can stonewall indefinitely when captured, without fear of that fate?

This is not only an era of international terrorist networks but also an era of runaway litigation and runaway judges. Do we really want a federal law that will enable captured terrorists to be able to take their cases to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals?

Regardless of what the free-wheeling judges in that unpredictable body may end up deciding, they are not likely to decide it soon. Anybody can call anything "torture" at virtually no cost to themselves but at huge costs in money and delay to the efforts to protect Americans from terrorism.

There is no penalty for false claims but potentially deadly consequences for letting international terrorists tie up our legal system by exercising rights granted to American citizens and now thoughtlessly extended to people who are not American citizens and who are bent on killing American citizens and destroying American society.*

To which the editors at Capitalism Magazine remind us:

Rights are inalienable. This means that they may not be alienated from the person who possesses them, i.e., they may not be given or taken away, i.e., they may not be morally infringed upon. For example, a man may violate your right to your property by taking it away from you, but your right to that property has not been alienated, i.e., you are in the right and the robber is in the wrong. Properly, governments do not grant rights, but protect them. For a fuller discussion see the Capitalism Visual Tour.

Sowell's points, with this important reservation, are well-taken, but do not go far enough. He is right that threat of torture might make some terrorists talk, but intelligence is not the only possible use for this military tactic. For example, torture, as Bob Tyrrell reminds us, was used to deter terrorism by American soldiers in World War I:

Even Americans have dealt brutally with Islamic terror, and to good effect. In 1911 in the Philippines, our Gen. John J. Pershing arrested several of the most brutal Islamic terrorists of the day. They were found guilty of capital crimes and shot, but not before the bullets used by the firing squad were dipped in pig fat, thus denying them according to the rule of Islam a soft landing in Heaven. Pershing, however, did allow one of the terrorists to escape so that he might report his chums' fate to their superiors. Islamic terrorism ended. [Update: I have subsequently learned that this story may not be true.]

I would also add the following thought. It is the same criminal-coddling left that eviscerated the ability of the criminal justice system to keep law-abiding Americans safe -- by keeping criminals off the streets and by deterring would-be criminals via threat of punishment -- who are coming out against torture.

And what is torture in the contexts that Sowell and Tyrrell bring up? A means of keeping civilians safe from foreign combatants -- by finding out what the ones who are still out are up to, by deterring would-be terrorists, and by deterring imprisoned terrorists from helping their fellows by witholding information. Interesting -- and potentially ominous -- parallels, I'd say.

-- CAV


2-20-06: (1) Added update on Pershing. (2) Removed numerous bad HTML tags.

McCain-Graham to Hillary: Us Too!

Monday, November 21, 2005

I recently speculated, winning all the wingnuts in the process, that John McCain might run as a sort of "Republican John F. Kerry" in 2008.

John F. Kerry had the advantage, having been in the military, of being able to pose as a patriot while actually serving as the Democratic Party's anti-war candidate in the last presidential election. Some recent news about John "F." McCain seems to indicate that this possible 2008 candidate may have an even better cover: He, too, is a veteran, but he is also a member of the supposedly -- based on recent Senate activity -- pro-war Republican Party.
McCain is certainly on the short list of people thought likely to run in 2008, and today, he dropped a hint that he'd like Lindsay Graham of South Carolina as a running mate.
McCain, looking at Graham, told the crowd of about 100 people that "some people have said this might be a very attractive vice presidential candidate."
But this was not before he warned that his own party might be in trouble.
With the war in Iraq, higher energy costs and breakneck government spending, the GOP faces a tough round of congressional elections in 2006 unless things change, two key Republican senators warned during a campaign appearance.

"I think if this were not an odd-numbered year, we would have great difficulties," said U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

McCain and fellow-Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina were interviewed by The Associated Press when they stopped here Sunday night to campaign for Republican state Attorney General Henry McMaster.

"But we can recover," McCain said. "Reagan recovered. Clinton recovered. We can recover."

The party must show "progress in Iraq, we need a comprehensive energy package and we need to stop this profligate spending," he warned.

"If the election were tomorrow, we'd be in trouble," agreed Graham, who said the party must work to cut spending.

"If we really want to do well in 2006, we need to have fiscal discipline like Republicans campaigned on," he said. "We have lost our way as a party. Our base is deflated and taxpayers don't see any difference between us and the Democrats."
Much of what he says is correct. However, neither crippling our nation's executive branch in a time of war by outlawing torture nor passing a bunch of environmentalist legislation as an "energy bill" strikes me as a way of distinguishing oneself from the Democrats.

When one considers that McCain and Graham were both members of a senatorial global warming junket to Alaska earlier this year -- with Hillary Clinton, by the way -- the inescapable conclusion is that McCain's idea of "distinguishing himself" from Democrats is to act more like a Democrat than Hillary Clinton -- and on all the wrong issues at that.

This is not good news for those of us who would like a choice in the 2008 presidential election.

-- CAV

States Tweak Medical Sectors

I am not a fan of the notion that states' rights allows our nation to have fifty "laboratories for democracy" -- when that notion is taken to mean that states can decide to violate individual rights, from which states' rights are properly derived.

The best that can be said for such a state of affairs is that at least one can move to another state to escape if things get particularly bad in one's own state. Many physicians from Massachusetts already do this to escape the partial slavery to which that state holds them. Sadly, it looks like there will soon be fewer places for them to run to.

And so it seems that we are subjecting our nation's physicians to fifty "experiments in "democracy"in this article, which discusses the fact that individual states are, at least prima facie experimenting with different solutions to the government-created health care crisis.

Last week, one day apart, two governors took dramatic steps that could crystallize a healthcare debate developing in the states -- even as Washington mostly averts its eyes from the problems of declining access and rising costs.

On Tuesday, Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed legislation making Illinois the first state to guarantee all children access to health insurance.

The next day, Republican Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina asked the federal government for permission to shift [link added] responsibility for providing health coverage for the state's poorest citizens primarily to private insurance companies.

These divergent initiatives signal an escalating competition to develop models for coping with the slow-motion crisis in healthcare.

Several Democratic-leaning states are rallying around plans to ensure universal coverage for children as a first step toward expanding access for adults.
Before we get too excited about the program in South Carolina being a "step in the right direction" (which might be arguable), note that it is not a repeal of its state insurance program, but an attempt to reform it. The basic premise of socialism remains unchallenged. In the meantime, our republic marches towards socialism piecemeal.

To paraphrase what I recall as an old Soviet joke, South Carolina is standing at the edge of a precipice, and Illinois is about to take a great leap forward.

-- CAV

Leaving the Back Door Open

Long ago, I wrote a post called "Outflanked by the Commies", in which I said:

[T]he bad news really only begins with M-13. It seems that Central America and northern South America are rapidly falling under the influence of the Marxist government of Venezuela, which is headed by Hugo Chavez....
In that article, I focused more on how Chavez might help smuggle terrorists into the United States, but I soon started tracking China's increased influence in Latin America. (I most recently alluded to Chavez's flirtations with China here.)

An article appearing today in the Washington Times (HT: TIA Daily) gives me the cold comfort that I was right to be alarmed.
China, striving to match the superpower status of the United States, is boosting military contacts throughout Latin America and eyeing the region as a market for its growing arms industry, U.S. officials say.

Chinese military officials made 20 visits to counterparts in Latin America and the Caribbean last year, says Gen. Bantz Craddock, who heads the U.S. Southern Command.

Gen. Craddock, in congressional testimony, reported that nine Latin American defense ministers visited Beijing during the same period.

"An increasing presence of the People's Republic of China [PRC] in the region is an emerging dynamic that must not be ignored," he said.
The article discusses Chinese arms dealing in more detail, and then notes that Chinese interest in Taiwan also plays a factor.
Part of China's interest in Latin America stems from rival Taiwan's success in maintaining diplomatic relations with several nations in the region.

China continues to refashion its military for a potential attack on Taiwan, the democratic island nation that it regards as a breakaway republic. Officials and analysts widely agree that China's key political goal in the Western Hemisphere is to strangle Taiwan diplomatically.

"China is also interested in matching its economic power with political influence in the region," Charles Shapiro, deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, told Congress in recent testimony. "China's desire to compete with and ultimately isolate Taiwan diplomatically is a key factor in Latin America."
This article is a must-read.

Incidentally, China, already known for its interest in influencing American politics, has a willing assistant for the same purpose in Hugo Chavez, who is already known for bribing his own people with government handouts and for meddling in the affairs of other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. This is the whole blurb on the subject from The American Thinker.
If you think Hugo Chavez's regional meddling is confined to Bolivia, you're in for a surprise. Chavez not only meddles in Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, Colombia, Nicaragua and any other country he can find an opportunity in, he also is actively meddling [via Citgo --ed, link added] in U.S. politics. Not only is it through his phony Citgo subsidy program, a pork-barrel scheme targeted at the underclass here to buy pro-Chavez votes in Congress, he's also seeking influence through leftwing groups who have now-re-Christened themselves "Bolivarian Circles." It's something we should be concerned about because it's the exact same thing he's doing to win influence in places like Bolivia. Miami Herald has a good descriptive piece here but you can see more -– much more –- about the extent of Chavez's penetration of leftwing domestic groups here on sites like Indymedia. They aren't hiding a thing.
Bolivarian Circles? That has a vaguely familiar stench to it as well.... (Scroll down about a screen.)

-- CAV