28 September 2006

Proclaim liberty throughout the land

Democrats want terrorists to have habeas corpus. Today they have argued against doing away with this protection. John Kerry gave us a lesson on the Constitution.

Sadly, for Democrats, no one is seeking suspension of habeas corpus for Amercans citizens. Of course, Democrats know this--just like they know that no one (who's to be taken seriously) is against immigration, only illegal immigration. The reason that Democrats are arguing against doing away with this precious protection for Americans is that they probably believe that most Americans have no idea what exactly this legislation is all about. They can use this ignorance by arguing against boogey man legislation in order to paint a useful picture of Republicans as political opportunists (no doubt, like Julius and Octavius Caesar) who are using the present crisis to establish tyranny.

Typical. It's the race card, the Social Secutiry card, or the freedom card. Clearly, the are running out of ideas.
27 September 2006

Partying with Lileks? Could be fun.

Just heard Hewitt say there's a party at Lileks' house on election night and we're all invited! I can't wait!

Anyone know where he lives, exactly?

Inconsistency, thy name is ‘Liberal’

I was listening to Laura Ingraham this morning. Chris Matthews was her surprise guest. They got into it over the Valerie Plame leak, with him insisting Scooter Libby and gang are guilty of leaking her name.

It occurs to me to wonder why the liberals are no where near as concerned about the sort of intelligence leaks of which we just got another sample on Sunday, prompting the President to declassify portions of the leaked document.

Of course, we know the answer. A leak that could harm a Democrat? Not good. A leak that could potentially harm our soldiers, or at least be used in some way against the Administration? Good.

Yoda and Han Solo: a deep thought

I think they’re the same person. I’ve watched all six movies again just recently. You never see the two of them in the same place at the same time. And when you think about it, Solo does seem to have unbelievably good luck. Now we know why: it’s not luck; the Force is with him. And for a Jedi master on the run, Han Solo is a great disguise! And isn’t it interesting how both Yoda and Solo are both friends with Chewbacca?

Think about it.
26 September 2006

Are executive compensation packages too high? (1)




Reader Tom Palaima, a professor of Classics at The University of Texas at Austin, graciously takes me to task on the following points in my first post on the minimum wage issue:

(1) Note that executive salaries have increased without any help from Congress.

and

(2) To listen to Democrats and quite a few Republicans you'd think that executives set their own salaries, or, alternatively, that executive salaries are the result of someone's greed.


Professor Palaima writes:

Indeed, they do set their own salaries, at least as a group or class. The salaries are set by corporate boards made up of executives and other professionals.

This same applies to university head football and basketball coaches salaries. There all the revenues gathered by their independent operation are left in their control. So OSU raises its coach's salary and UT Austin does likewise. It is a closed system which no outsider can penetrate and which exploits cheap labor, aka 'scholarship athlete-students' who at UT Austin generate, through their play and their work at full-time jobs of playing sports (by the AD's own admission), now ca. $95 million per year, and the coaches make high salaries while players......

I.e., it operates on the same model as CEO's and their corporations and Congress has done many things to promote 'free trade', outsourcing and so on to generate the revenues that Boards of Directors channel obscenely not to Chinese workers making 33¢ per hour but to CEO's.

On a superficial reading he seems to have me. Executives set their own salaries because their salaries are set by boards composed of other executives and professionals. This would be a devastating response but for two errors in logic on his part.

1. When I asserted, tacitly, that executives don’t set their own salaries, I was speaking of executives distributively, that is singly. In others words, I was saying that for one executive, John Doe, John Doe does not determine the salary of John Doe. Professor Palaima seems to refute my assertion, but he does so by speaking of executives collectively. He’s free to do so, of course. But if he thinks that for purposes of discussing who sets salaries we should speak of executives collectively rather than distributively he should present a separate argument justifying that move. At this point, I believe it an illegitimate move and have only his implicit say-so that we should conceive of the matter collectively rather than distributively: executives may run corporations collectively, but they do not determine their salaries so. Some executive salaries are determined by other, senior executives, whose salaries are in turn determined by boards of directors.

2. Professor Palaima’s argument that executives determine their own salaries “as a group or class” because those “salaries are set by corporate boards made up of executives and other professionals” is logically fallacious. This is as precious an example of composition as a logic teacher could ask for. He attributes to a whole (the class of all executives), the activity of a few parts (boards composed of some executives and other professionals). A class is the set of all objects which have some specified characteristic(s) in common, so he seems to be correct, doesn’t he? Those who set salaries and those who have their salaries set are executives; therefore, executives as a class set their own salaries. But for discussions such as this, surely the specified characteristic ought to be one which is relevant to the issue of salary determination. And ‘executive’ isn’t enough. I was once an executive, a very, very junior executive, but an executive nonetheless. My salary was determined by another executive, the executive vice-president of the corporation for which I worked. That executive vice-president, in turn, determined my salary from an authorized range which was determined by his superiors. The simple fact of the matter is that executives themselves fall into various sub-classes. Some executives are subordinate to other executives, who are subordinate to still other executives, who are subordinate to yet other executives, subordinate to a board composed, yes, of yet another sub-class of executives. As an executive, I most certainly did not feel as if I had a hand in determining my salary by virtue of the fact that, like the man who determined my salary, I was an executive. I certainly was not a member of the group or class which determined my salary.

Only if we allow Professor Palaima to (1) speak of executives collectively, rather than distributively, and (2) rely upon a logical fallacy, can we regard as true his assertion that executives determine their own salaries as a group or class. They don’t. It is a superficial, not to mention specious argument to assert that, because the salaries of executives are determined by boards composed of other executives and professionals, executives set their own salaries. Executives as a class or group have as much to do with salary determination as Muslims as a class or group have to do with terrorism.

Now, as for Professor Palaima’s assertions regarding the ‘cheap labor’ of college scholarship recipients. Given the fact that these athletes (in Texas public universities, anyway) are being given a college education worth tens of thousands of dollars or more, depending upon the institution, that the rest of us have to pay for, I just cannot agree with a characterization of them as ‘cheap labor.’ I should have been so abused!

However, as one who has done fairly well as both scholar and athlete (in the Army), I have never really seen the logic in providing someone a ‘free ride’ because he’s an excellent athlete. To my mind athletics are important for a myriad of reasons. Into my forties I no longer have time for competitive athletics, but I still run, eat properly, and train with weights. It’s good to do for—for life. So I’m not critical of college athletics because I’m a geek. (Well, at least I’m a geek who can run fast—relatively speaking, of course.) I’m critical of college athletics because it has so little to do with what one should rightly conceive as the university’s raison d’ etre: the advancement of knowledge. I’m an unabashed and unapologetic purist in my conception of the nature and purpose of the university. Much as I love sports; much as I admire those who are better athletes than I ever could have hoped to be—much of college athletics has no place in a university.

That being said, Professor Palaima’s characterization of scholarship athletes as exploited cheap labor is not one I can agree with. In the first place, as I’ve already mentioned, the education they receive is not cheap. In the second place, scholarship athletes compete for the ‘hardship’ of being ‘exploited’. Scholarship athletes are not drafted; they compete for these scholarships. They must want to be exploited. And they can turn down these scholarships. (Palaima may wish to assert that they don’t turn down these scholarships because they are in many cases the only hope these athletes have to receive an education. But if that truly is the case then they are not being exploited. They are in something like a work-study program, aren’t they?)

I have no idea which body at either OSU or The UT determines anyone’s salaries, so I will stipulate to Professor Palaima’s assertion’s regarding the respective coaches’ salaries. I would only observe that those universities are not private business corporations but state-owned corporations, so the comparison is interesting but in the end not relevantly similar. Corporations, though publicly held, are still owned by shareholders.

Professor Palaima goes on to characterize the situations at OSU and the UT as operating “on the same model as CEO’s and their corporations…outsourcing and so on to generate the revenues that Boards of Directors channel obscenely not to Chinese workers making 33¢ per hour but to CEO’s.” His reference to a channeling of revenues makes we wonder if he has an accurate understanding of what ‘revenue’ is. It just seems to me that he should understand that corporate boards, in order to enhance profits, have an almost equal interest in keeping executive salaries as low as possible as they do in keeping hourly wages as low as possible. The reason is just this. Revenue is the amount of money that a company receives from its activities in a given period, mostly from sales of products and/or services to customers. All revenue is ‘channeled’ to someone. And what is left after all this channeling is the net income or profit. In other words, from a corporation’s revenue are subtracted: the cost of goods sold, any sales discounts, any returns and allowances, any other expenses. Somewhere in that mix are labor expenses: hourly wages, overtime pay; executive salaries, vacation pay, bonuses; the corporation’s share of healthcare benefits; training; continuing education (if applicable), and so forth. So, those revenues that get ‘channeled’ get ‘channeled’ all over the place. Clearly, if profit is what’s left over after all that ‘channeling’—and especially for any executives who have profit-sharing and stock options as parts of their package—then contrary to Palaima’s assertions, those CEOs ought to be keeping all labor costs as low as possible. ‘Channeling’ clearly isn’t in their best interests, especially if greed is their prime motivation.

And that raises the question: If it truly is to their advantage to keep all labor costs as low as possible in order to increase profit, then why do executive salaries continue to out pace hourly wages, especially the minimum wage?

Before moving on to my discussion of executive wages I just want to point out that Professor Palaima’s comments don’t really constitute a refutation of my argument, which was that minimum wage legislation doesn’t work, and that, given how the market compensates executives, it is reasonable to suppose that the market would better compensate hourly wage employees than Congress can. Apparently, Palaima agrees with my assertion that executives are well compensated. He doesn’t deny my assertion that executives, if well compensated, are so without any legislation from Congress mandating a minimum salary. What he would say, more than likely, is that the reason for this is that greed needs no help from Congress. Greedy executives (as a class or group, no doubt) give each other hefty pay raises that they deny to hourly wage employees. If this is what he would argue then this argument will rely upon the two errors I identified above.

Even for all that, though, aren’t executive salaries a little excessive? It looks like I owe Professor Palaima at least one more post on the issue.
25 September 2006

The Wallace-Clinton interview; a post script

There is something I wish to add to my previous remarks. In the interview, Wallace did admit to President Clinton that hindsight is 20/20. They both agreed to that statement.

As I’ve freely confessed, I was no fan, politically, of the former President. It was nothing personal; I just didn’t care for his leftist policies. Little that he did, provided those things were leftist in nature, was ever going to change my mind about him. The whole Monica thing neither raised nor lowered my opinion of him, politically.

However, hindsight is 20/20. It’s easy enough to see now that he didn’t do enough. It’s also easy enough to see that President Bush didn’t do enough early in his administration. It’s always easy enough to see, after an event, what one could have done better. With a child in college, I can see, looking back, times when I could have spent more time with my little girl. After 16 years of marriage, I can look back and see days that could have been better in my marriage if only I had said, or not said this or that, if only I had done, or not done this or that. But at the time I certainly felt I was doing enough.

As far as I’m concerned the answer that President Clinton should have given to Wallace’s question, “Did you do enough?” was, rather than, “No, because I didn’t get him” was something like this:

Clinton: It really seemed to me, at that time, that we were doing all that we could do—the way we were dealing with terrorism, as a law enforcement problem. Treating it like a law enforcement problem was, in retrospect, not the way to go. But it seemed so at the time. I believe most of us thought so. I believe most of us thought we were doing the things that needed to be done, and the way they needed to be done. It’s not that I should have done more per se. It’s that I should have done differently, not necessarily more of what we were doing. What we were doing, as I now can see, wasn’t the way to go. Doing more of that would still have failed.

You see, I think he’s wrong. I don’t think that his not getting OBL is sufficient evidence that he did not do enough. Let’s (those of us who have never been fans of his) admit that it is possible to do enough and still fail. And I don’t mean simply that it’s possible to think you’re doing enough and still fail. I mean that it is possible actually and truly to do enough and still fail. If we deny that possibility here in the case of President Clinton, then we lack the intellectual honesty, and hence the integrity, to be critical of him on this matter.

And in fact, I do think he did enough, in terms of the way the ‘war’ on terror was being fought at the time his administration was responsible for fighting it. (Moreover, as I’ve mentioned several times previously, part of the problem is just the number of other so-called wars we are, necessarily, fighting as law enforcement matters: on drugs, on poverty, and so forth.) And as for the criticisim, in The 911 Commission Report, that neither he nor President Bush took OBL as seriously as they would have a 1st, 2nd or 3rd rank enemy, we need to acknowledge that terrorists have never been taken as seriously as such ranked enemies. Historically, 1st, 2nd and 3rd rate enemies have been nation-states, capable of launching a 1st, 2nd or 3rd ranked attack. I still don’t think OBL and al-Qaeda are 1st, 2nd or 3rd ranked enemies. I think they are lesser ranked enemies who got extremely lucky on 911 by doing the then-unthinkable. They may get lucky again. I’ve been studying terrorism since the mid-1980s; and I never would have imagined what happened 11 September 2001.

And imagination is an important thing. If memory serves, Clausewitz said something like this: A great number of variables can determine success or failure in battle. But sometimes it comes down to “the silken thread of imagination.”

We were not out-gunned on 911, or even out-smarted. We were out-imagined.

We were also out-imagined on 7 December 1941.

Note: I’m still not a fan of the former president, but it’s nothing personal. It’s just that I’m a right-of-center Christian-Democrat and not a left-of-center quasi- or semi-socialist. That’s all.

Laura Ingraham agrees with me about President Clinton’s finger, and Chris Wallace’s admirable restraint.

A paradoxical necessity of the Iraqi theater

Of course, the news on everyone’s mind today is the National Intelligence Estimate’s claim that the war has helped create a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks. According to Democrats this is evidence that we need to chose new (i.e., Democrat) leadeship in the November elections.

"Unfortunately this report is just confirmation that the Bush administration's stay-the-course approach to the Iraq war has not just made the war more difficult and more deadly for our troops, but has also made the war on terror more dangerous for every American," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel head of the Democratic effort to take control of the House.

"It is abundantly clear that we need a new direction in Iraq by strategically redeploying our troops to fight and win the real war on terror and make our country safer," said Sen. Edward Kennedy. "The American people know it and our military leaders do as well. It's only the Republican leaders who have their heads in the sand, stubbornly refusing to change course and making the war on terror harder to win."*


Typical.

I just happen to disagree with Democrats, on this. It is a necessity that our presence in Iraq would spawn more Islamic radicals and terrorists. How could it be otherwise? Recall that Osama bin Laden has them convinced that we are weak. They are committed to showing that to the world. It is unthinkable to them that we should win. Apparently, Democrats and others thought that at the first sign of resistance from us, the terrorist movement would just shrivel up and blow away. They should have known that the enemy would re-double their efforts.

Early in this war President Bush announced that it would be a long war, perhaps decades long. How could anyone hear that and not anticipate an increase in the number of terror participants? If, as they seem to have expected, the number of terrorists would dwindle, then the war would be a short one. Implicit in the statement that a war on terror would be a long one is the understanding that at least one of the reasons for this would be an increase in the number of those engaging in terrorism. I do not recall any Democrats contradicting the President’s assertion that the war would be a long one, which they should have done if they thought that terrorists would begin surrenduring after we started killing them.

Then too, there is OBL’s informing the Islamofascist world that Iraq is the central battlefield in the fight against terrorism. If I were a Muslim, inclined to acts of terrorism in order to advance this brand of Islam, and I heard OBL say that, I’d be on my way to Iraq. And I’d be taking as many of my friends along as I could convince to go with me, the cause being so worthy and all. Allow the ‘great Satan’ to win? Allah forbid it?

I don’t know about these politicians, but where I come from, when someone pushes you and you push back, it doesn’t end there. It’s just getting started, and someone is going to get hurt. Maybe that’s not true in the cute and cuddly neighborhoods where these politicians grew up. I don’t know. I do know that they have not been paying attention to terrorism. For the last several decades we’ve been fighting a ‘war’ on terrorism. And for the last several decades terrorist activity has escalated. How can anyone be surprised that the number of terrorists increases? The days of the Bader-Meinhof gang and Carlos the Jackal are gone, and they’re not coming back. This is the day of Allah-sanctioned war against the ‘great Satan’ and the ‘little Satan.’ Things are likely to get even worse than they are now before they get better. (And the Democrats are already wussing out.)

How can anyone not know all this?

My answer: The Democrats do know this. They’re counting on the possibility, if not the probablity, that most voters don’t know this.

On the other hand, maybe Democrats don’t know this, in which case they don’t know the enemy. And if that is true, then just why in the world should we give the leadership of this war to them? Madness!

Oh yeah: the National Intelligence Estimate was a classified document. So now our enemies, to hear the Democrats talk, have reason to believe they are succeeding in wearing down our resolve. Thank you, news media and liberal Democrats. You should be proud of yourselves. You’re the best players the other side has.

_________________

* These quotes are from the AP story by Nedra Pickler.

24 September 2006

Clinton on Fox. Or was it the other way around?

Where to begin blogging an interview between Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday and former President Bill Clinton?

Clinton is promoting his second annual Clinton Global Initiative. As Wallace explains it, he was given 15 minutes, half of which was to be devoted to the Initiative and half to any thing Wallace chose to bring up. The interview began politely enough, with Wallace asking about some of President Clinton’s comments in a recent New Yorker article, specifically his admission that, being thoroughly honest with himself about his own mortality, he isn’t going to live forever and wants to help as many others live as he can. This is part of the former president’s motivation. Wallace then asks about the difference in effectiveness between a president and a former president when it comes to this sort of work. President Clinton believes that it’s easier being a former president.

Then Wallace tells the president that he received a lot of e-mail in anticipation of their meeting and that the vast majority want to know why he didn’t do more to put Osama bin Laden (hereinafter, OBL) and al-Qaeda out of business. In large part this is a consequence of people having read The Looming Tower, one of the assertions of which is that OBL said the Clinton’s pulling the troops out of Somalia in ’93 proved to him the frailty, the weakness and the cowardice of U. S. troops. The book also mentions that after the attacks on the Cole and Kobar Towers incidents OBL dispersed him men and leaders in expectation of a retaliatory strike, which never came.

President Clinton answered the question but first found it necessary to discuss “the context in which this question arises.” First of all, he’s being asked this question on the Fox Network. Second, ABC-TV broadcast a “right-wing conservative” hit piece, “The Path to 911”, which makes three assertions contradicted by The 911 Commission Report. (Remember that. It’s going to be important, below.) I point this part out, only to mention it’s irrelevance, even if it’s true. (I find this interesting on a personal level because I know that when he took the LSAT, he had to answer questions which asked him to distinguish true assertions which are relevant from true assertions which are irrelevant. He did it well enough to get into law school. I’m pretty sure he still knows how to do it. So this trip down Irrelevant Lane must have been a debunking strategy—very popular among those who have nothing.)

According to President Clinton all those who now say he didn’t do enough are the same people who said, when he was president, that he did too much. They were all trying to get him to withdraw from Somalia in 1993 “the next day” (i.e., the day after the ‘Black Hawk down’ incident). But he didn’t, and refused to, staying another six months and had “an orderly transfer.”

In a telling moment President Clinton responds to the aforementioned assertions by OBL by informing Wallace that, “There’s not a living soul in the world who thought [OBL] had anything to do with Black Hawk down, or even knew that al-Qaeda was a going concern in 1993.” (That’s true enough, I suppose. Although I’ve been following terrorism since my own Army days, I was not privy to the intelligence briefings that the President was, so I’m sure I didn’t know anything about OBL. Besides, in my day, OBL was in Afghanistan involved in the resistance against the Soviets.) Mogadishu, he goes on to say, “wasn’t about [OBL]. It was about Mohammad Farah Aidid killing 22 Pakistani Muslims.” We were there on a humanitarian mission, not to establish a certain kind of government in Somalia.

All of that is true. But, like the earlier discussion of the ‘context’, it’s irrelevant. The assertion was not that OBL had anything to do with ‘The Moge’. The question (i.e., Why didn’t Clinton do more to put OBL out of business?) doesn’t require that OBL had anything to do with the Black Hawk down incident. No one said that, certainly not The Looming Tower. What was said was that OBL said that the incident showed us as weak. OBL observed our performance there, and took note. (Many of us here at home in October 1993 observed our performance there and took note. Heck, the world took note.)

When Wallace points this out President Clinton responds by saying that if we had pulled out “the next day” as “some” wanted him to do, that would have shown us as weak. And this I found most interesting. Let’s slow down and ponder this. According to sources, OBL says that our performance at Mogadishu showed him that we’re weak. In the face of this, the former president tells us what would have shown us as weak. So, never mind what OBL says showed our weakness, Clinton knows better. He knows that, despite what OBL says actually showed him that we’re weak, it’s our leaving the next day that would have shown him that we’re weak. What nonsense.

Here’s the former President’s argument:

1. If we had left the next day, then we would have looked weak.
2. We did not leave the next day.
3. Therefore, we did not look weak.

Just one problem: OBL says that this is when he decided we were weak.

Pathetic.

Wallace goes on to remind the former President that The 911 Commission Report says of both the Clinton and Bush (2) administrations that although they both took the OBL threat seriously, the preparations were not the same as would be mustered for a 1st, 2nd or even a 3rd rank enemy. (Did you remember what I told you to remember about President Clinton’s reliance upon this same report?) According to him, the report is wrong, and we need to read Richard Clark’s book. This was monumental. An ABC-TV docu-drama may not make assertions contradicted by the 911 Commission Report, but Richard Clark may. A very telling reversal of position isn’t it? (Like I always say: Leftists think we’re stupid.) I recall that before the movie was aired, the former president said he thought they “ought to tell the truth.” And at that time the truth was The 911 Commission Report. But now that the same report (which may not be contradicted by a docu-drama) says something less-than-favorable about him, we must turn to someone else, someone who is also contradicted by The 911 Commission Report. According to Clark, the Clinton administration took “vigorous action” after the Kobar Towers attack.

He sums up by saying that anyone who doesn’t think he did enough should read Clark’s book, after which there is this exchange:

Wallace: Do you think you did enough?
Clinton: No, because I didn’t get him?
Wallace: Right!
Clinton: But at least I tried. That’s the difference in me and some, including all the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for trying. They had eight months to try. They did not try. I tried. So I tried and failed. When I failed I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and the best guy in the country, Dick Clark, who got demoted. You did Fox’s bidding on this show. You did your nice, little conservative hit job on me.” [Pound pulpit here, argument weak!] More left-wing ad hominem garbage designed to distract us from the fact that he has nothing.

First of all, The 911 Commission was aware of all that he had done and still finds that what he did simply did not rise to the same level of preparedness as would be given to a 1st, 2nd or 3rd ranked threat. Second, when asked if he did enough, he said “No.” Well, once he admits to not having done enough, why object to anyone who agrees with his own assessment? It staggers the imagination!

And apparently, President Clinton has not been reading papers and watching television news. He had the audacity to claim that tough questions such as this have never been asked of anyone in the Bush administration! I found it almost impossible not to laugh one of those laughs that hurts your stomach muscles.

Clinton: I want to know how many people you have asked, “Why didn’t you do anything about the Cole?” [I think I do remember this question being asked.] I want to know how many people you asked, “Why’d you fire Dick Clark?” [I know I remember this question. It was asked of several people in the administration several times, right after Clark’s aforementioned 911-Commission-Report-contradicting book was released.] You’ve never asked that, have you Chris? Tell the truth.”

The former president closed this segment with some more ad hominem. He claimed that Wallace set the interview up because Fox is going to be criticized by its viewers because of Rupert Murdoch’s support for Clinton’s work on global climate change. Yup. More ad hominem. Oh, and irrelevant too. Even if it’s true that Fox viewers are upset, their being upset has nothing to do with the truth of any assertion at all about whether President Clinton did enough to put OBL out of business. (I wouldn’t know: I don’t watch much television news in the first place. It takes too long. I can read tens of times more news in a half hour than I can catch on TV or even radio. And I certainly don’t need pictures!)

I’ll tell you one thing. If I were a reporter interviewing that man, it’d be awfully difficult to resist the urge to break that man’s index finger. I envy Chris Wallace his self-control.

Note: This was written by special request. I hope the requesting party is not disappointed.
22 September 2006

Joseph Ratzinger: a serious opponent in a continent of pushovers?

That’s what Peter Hitchens says:

[W]hen I was invited to a debate on religion at the Cambridge Union, I accepted with a heavy heart. Religion? Students? Surely not. I expected to speak to a thinly-populated, uninterested hall. Why couldn't we have something more controversial? Yet when the speakers walked in we were all amazed to see the place full to the ceiling, fuller than I'd ever seen it before, with people who stayed to the end, made lively, passionate contributions and voted, if my memory serves me right, in favour of religion rather than against. Or maybe it was just very close. And by the way, one of my allies that evening was a highly-articulate and persuasive Muslim, one of a small but growing number of British-born converts to that faith.

I strongly suspect that his decision to choose Islam was a result of that religion's self-confidence, its refusal to apologise for its existence or be embarrassed, the sense of belonging that it gives, and because of the simple, clear demands it makes on its followers.

If any serious Muslims really were disturbed by the Pope's lecture, I suspect it was because they recognised in Joseph Ratzinger the same tough single-mindedness and determination that they themselves show. And, in a Europe where Muslims generally get what they want from weak and complacent leftist establishments, they see Joseph Ratzinger as a serious opponent in a continent of pushovers. They are right to do so.

But what of the liberals? When Islam is a stage more powerful than it is now, and begins to demand more and applications of Sharia in European cities, will they then regret their failure to stand up for the man who is in many ways best qualified to defend our open society from the veil, the Mullahs and the other things Islam brings with it? They will not like these things when they arrive, as the Netherlands has already found.

The Left's flirtation with the Mosque is one of the oddest alliances in the history of either politics or religion. Surely it cannot last much longer? I can see why Islam is happy to take the benefits the alliance gives it. But quite how people such as Ken Livingstone justify their position, I do not know. You can pay too high a price for your votes
(emphasis mine, of course).

I think he's right about the Pope. His Muslim critics just want him to a push-over, like every other European leader. And he won't play ball, darn it!

As a Christian, like Hitchens, I find myself wondering about something else he wrote in the selection from which I've quoted. I wonder what it would be like with respect to the growth of the Church catholic if Christianity be could decribed as he does Islam above:

I strongly suspect that his decision to choose Islam was a result of that religion's self-confidence, its refusal to apologise for its existence or be embarrassed, the sense of belonging that it gives, and because of the simple, clear demands it makes on its followers.

Let’s face it. Christians are always apologizing (no I am not referring to apologetics); and to listen to many Christ makes no personal moral demands, only that we work for peace and the elimiation of poverty—other than that we can fornicate, sodomize and idolize at will. His crimson blood serves as our wonderful all-excusing ecclesiastical white-out. Many will point to Muslim extremes such as forcing women to dress completely covered from head to toe (including veil), but Christian women, increasingly it seems, cannot be prevailed upon not to wear halter tops just to church. Some Christian couples are so busy carressing each other in worship that one supposes that if they forgot where they were (and they look like they just might!) they would copulate right there in the pew.

Increasingly, Christianity looks like a religion for moral bozos and intellectual wimps who are too weak to do anything, whether it’s thinking for themselves, or behaving themselves.

What Chavez and Ahmadinejad both understand about peace

In their respective speeches before the United (against the U. S. A.) Nations, both Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad discounted the President’s claims that the U. S. government wants peace. This they do because we are presently at war. If we wanted peace, I suppose, we wouldn’t be at war. War is not the way to persue peace.

I happen to believe that both Chavez and Ahmadinejad understand that in fact peace can be secured through war. Their problem is not that they think we don’t want peace. Their problem is that peace, when it comes through war, is on the victor’s terms. The victor’s terms—that’s their problem with this war. Well, that’s their problem with the probability that we will win this war.

This problem is rather similar to the left’s problem with President Bush: It’s not that he’s a dictator (if we grant them the assertion); it’s that he’s not a leftist dictator. Harsh, I know. But what else can we conclude after observing the leaders from around the world whom these people do like? You know, the kind of people to whom they will give standing ovations and so forth.

Which Narnia character am I?

This was not exactly the result I was expecting.


Which Chronicles of Narnia character are you most like?
created with QuizFarm.com

Well, I am quiet and independent. And once upon a time I betrayed two people for the sake of something like Turkish Delight. But contradictory? Me?

I suppose it’s better than being the White Witch.

H/T: Reluctant Puritan (who happens to be on sabbatical)
21 September 2006

Maybe it’s more like ‘jobs Americans can’t get to first’

Maybe the truth about those jobs Americans supposedly won’t do is that those Americans who might otherwise do those jobs are being, well, discriminated against in favor of immigrants (both legal and illegal). The Center for Immigration Studies has a report on “The Impact of New Immigrants on Young Native-Born Workers, 2000-2005” available here. It’ hard to do those low-skill jobs Americans won’t do if immigrants are already doing them when you go out low-skill job hunting as a young native-born low-skilled American.

I’m sure it will be dismissed in certain circles as ‘anti-immigrant’, employing typical ad hominem arguments. Not much you can do about that I guess. It's like rain: You know it's coming and there's nothing you can do except grab your umbrella.
20 September 2006

What’s wrong with Common Article 3


Note that the title is not in the form of a question. I’m not asking what’s wrong with; I’ve my own ideas about that. As always, though writing about the law here, I’m not writing as a lawyer (heaven forbid!). I used to want to be a lawyer, but changed my mind. (Thank you, Texas Tech philosophy department!) I write as a citizen in a republic in which the practice of the law may be reserved to lawyers, but the reflection upon it ought to be the daily lot of all.

The President wants a law out of Congress which will clarify for intelligence operatives just how Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions if to be interpreted and applied. His critics, John McCain among them, are characterizing this as a ‘re-interpretation’ of Common Article Three, and whining and weeping about what will happen to our soldiers if other nations apply their own ‘interpretations’ of the article.

As of yet, there is nothing to be ‘re-interpreted’. When the Supreme Court, in the Hamdan decision, informed us that, somehow, Common Article Three was to be applied in the war on terror, they didn’t interpret the article. They said only that it applied and that courts in which accused terrorists are to be tried must be created by Congress. The President is asking for a law out of Congress which will comply with this new, wonderful right for terrorists created from whole cloth by the utopia seekers on the Supreme bench.

We can’t just ‘apply’ Common Article Three. It’s too vague. And that’s what’s ironic about this. McCain and the other stooges pretend concern for our operatives. Those operatives are in danger of being sued by terrorists for violations of Common Article Three or of being tried in international courts for violations of Geneva, thanks to (in)justices Breyer, Kennedy, Souter and Ginsberg. If there is some provision of law the violation of which can get you sued or tried, wouldn’t you want as much clarity about that provision as possible? I would. And I don’t think that intelligence operatives would be unreasonable if they refused to interrogate on the grounds that they can have no reasonable assurance that at any moment they are not violating Common Article Three.

And it wouldn’t be that difficult to be sued. Here, read Common Article Three for yourself:

In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:

1. Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of the armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all cases be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, color, religion or faith, sex, birth of wealth, or any other similar criteria.

To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:

(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
(b) taking of hostages;
(c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;
(d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgement pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

2. The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.


An impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict.The Parties to the conflict should further endeavor to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of the present Convention.The application of the preceding provisions shall not affect the legal status of the Parties to the conflict.


Now that Breyer, Kennedy, Souter and Ginsberg have ruled, it doesn’t matter that according to Common Article Three’s own language, it applies to “armed conflict not of an international character”. But that doesn’t matter, because even if that were not the case, certain of the provisions are so vague as to make someone guilty of ‘torture’ if a prisoner doesn’t get his special blanky sent to him from mommy back home in Syria. Surely such an act would constitute ‘cruel treatment’, wouldn’t it?

In general laws specify with as much precision as language allows just what sorts of acts constitute violations. Here in the U. S., for example, we don’t have laws that simply prohibit ‘murder’. We have laws that prohibit murder and specify what ‘murder’ is. You think you know, don’t you? Well, did you know that in your state murder is not assumed to be understood by everyone as if it were a matter of ‘common’ sense? Your state law defines it for you, probably in language like this:

Criminal homicide constitutes murder when: (a) it is committed purposely or knowingly; or (b) it is committed recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life. Such recklessness and indifference are presumed if the actor is engaged or is an accomplice in the commission of, or an attempt to commit, or flight after committing or attempting to commit robbery, rape or deviate sexual intercourse by force or threat of force, arson, burglary, kidnapping or felonious escape.

So if you ever found yourself on trial for murder, you would hopefully have no doubt what you are accused of or exactly how you violated the law and becamse liable to trial. Wouldn’t it be nice, if you were an intelligence interrogator and wanted to know, in the conduct of your interrogation, which of the many techniques would under the now-applicable Common Article Three be defined as ‘torture’ or ‘cruel treatment’? Sure you would. But John McCain doesn’t think you should. John McCain thinks you should do your job with no idea how your government, or an international court, is going to apply that law against you if one of your subjects later accuses you of torture. Read Common Article Three again. Ask yourself: How does this article define such important terms as ‘torture’, ‘cruel treatment’ and so forth?

McCain and others think it’s just awful that the President is asking Congress for legislation which will specify for interrogators just what sorts of acts constitute torture. They think it’s wrong for us to apply our own interpretation of Common Article Three.

News flash for John McCain: Any country which thinks it wants to abide by Common Article Three will have to apply its own understanding. Important terms aren’t defined by the Article itself! In order to be applicable law the terms in the article must be given meaning by someone. Breyer, Kennedy, Souter and Ginsberg, in their infinite foolishness, did not do so when they decreed from the imperial bench, that we are now bound by Common Article Three in a conflict which is international in character. Who is supposed to give those terms meaning? Al-Qaeda? Hezbollah? The French? The U. N. Security Council? International courts? If those, or similar entities are the only choices other than Congress, then one just has to wonder how McCain and his ilk can object to having the matter decided by Congress. Personally, I think it’s because McCain and his ilk are political, self-seeking, sanctimonious jack asses. Apparently they see an opportunity here. Maybe there is one. Of course, there’s always an opportunity to put your country’s future ahead of your political fortunes. Yes, I really said that.

And they want us to think they are concerned about our nation’s future. They want us to believe they are concerned about our compromising our nation’s principles. They are concerned that it violates our national principles to have a trial in which the accused is never confronted with the evidence against him.

This they willingly forget. Those constitutional principles are there not as a declaration of human rights; the Constitution is not that ambitious a document. Those principles are there to protect us, the subjects of the government outlined in that document. Those principles are there not to protect humankind, but to protect us—from that government. The people who have a right to confront the witnesses against them are the citizens of the nation created by the ratification of the Constitution—not the enemies of that nation. The idea that the Constitution—which creates a government designed, among other things, for the common defense of the member states and, by implication, the citizens of those member states—also protects our enemies, while a pretty idea (not to mention stupid), is more importantly a deadly one. Deadly for us, you know: the people of the United States of America.

If we want to extend the protections of the Constitution to the whole world then we ought to bring the whole world under its jurisdiction. So be it. Let us sally forth and take our empire. Then, and only then, let the world claim those protections. Until then, they are for our protection. And we ought to apply those protective principles with at least a moderate—if not extreme—prejudice.
18 September 2006

Attention angry (and ignorant!) Muslims: The Pope has nothing to apologize for.

My man Pope Benedict continues to to take heat for supposedly quoting a Byzantine Emperor to take a swing at Islam. The way some have carried on, one would think that the Pope’s lecture was on Islam. It wasn’t. It was on the place of reason in discussing matters of faith. You wouldn’t know it from all that is being said, but the lecture was styled, “Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections”. His topic was the ‘dehellenization’ of the Christian faith. (He’s opposed to it. I’m for it—for whatever that’s worth.)

Here in its full context (read the entire thing for yourself
here) is what the Pope said:

[The] profound sense of coherence within the universe of reason was not troubled, even when it was once reported that a colleague had said there was something odd about our university: it had two faculties devoted to something that did not exist: God. That even in the face of such radical scepticism it is still necessary and reasonable to raise the question of God through the use of reason, and to do so in the context of the tradition of the Christian faith: this, within the university as a whole, was accepted without question.

I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) of part of the dialogue carried on - perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara - by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both. It was presumably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than those of his Persian interlocutor. The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur'an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship between - as they were called - three “Laws” or “rules of life”: the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur'an. It is not my intention to discuss this question in the present lecture; here I would like to discuss only one point - itself rather marginal to the dialogue as a whole - which, in the context of the issue of “faith and reason, I found interesting and which can serve as the starting-point for my reflections on this issue.

In the seventh conversation edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2: 256 reads: “There is no compulsion in religion”. According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the “Book” and the “infidels”, he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”. The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God”, he says, “is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...”
(emphases mine).

That amounts to the only mention of Islam in a 7 page speech.* Awful, isn’t it? You’d think the entire lecture was about Islam. You’d think that his entire lecture was a comparison of Christianity and Islam.

Now, what the Pope said was that reading this dialogue (i.e., between the Emperor Paleologos and a Persian scholar) reminded him of the importance of something. And what was that something? That Christianity is rational and Islam is irrational? No. How awful Islam is? No. How violent Islam is? No. He was reminded of the importance of the necessity and reasonableness of raising the question of God through the use of reason, and doing so in the context of the tradition of the Christian faith. And he was reminded of this by reading a dialogue between two men who were discussing—get this—the same darn thing: the relation of reason to matters of faith. Horrible, isn’t it?

In the end, what the Pope said are words. Even if he quoted Paleologos approvingly (which he certainly did not) it would amount to a truth claim. One who objects to such a claim has only to present a rational refutation. It's that simple.

But what do those peaceful adherents of the religion of peace do in response? Take to their pulpits and refute? No. Publish letters to the editors of local papers? No. Call in to a nationally syndicated radio talk show? No. Blog? No. (Now, before you bleeding heart types remind me that most of these people live in places and in circumstances where these activities are not options, recall that NOT TORCHING STUFF still reminds an option.)

They burn churches. They kill nuns. They present their objections to being called violent (which really didn’t happen) by being--get this--violent. It staggers the imagination.

Ironic, isn’t it? That in response to a lecture on the importance of reason to discussion of matters of faith, people would respond so irrationally? It would almost be laughable, but for burned churches and dead nuns.

Getting back to last week's news: Rosie O’Donnell can say all she wants about the dangers of ‘radical’ Christianity, but in the end she knows it isn’t true. She still has her head. And her house hasn’t been torched.

Note, for clarity: The designation, ‘angry (and ignorant!) Muslims’ refers only to those Muslims who are angry with the Pope at present, due to their ignorance of what he actually said. It does not refer to all Muslims indiscriminately, especially those Muslims, if any, who actually know what the Pope said and are therefore not angry with him.
___________________________
* Technically, he does say some more about Islam, specifically the thought of the Muslim scholar
Ibn Hazn. But he does so by way of pointing out similarity between the thought of Hazn and the Christian scholar Duns Scotus. I doubt any Muslims, even the ignorant ones, will have a problem with that part of the lecture.

† UPDATE: This original link got screwed up somehow. Here is a link to the Vatican’s posting of The Pope’s Regensberg lecture.
15 September 2006

Oh, I get it: The Geneva Conventions are a suicide pact

Given the behavior of some of our lawmakers, one has to wonder if they have even read the Geneva Conventions. I have, and somehow missed the apparently obvious fact that they constitute a suicide pact.

It is true enough, as various lawmakers assert, that the Conventions govern among other things, prisoners of war. But they also define who are properly to be considered prisoners of war (i.e., Art IV). And given those definitions, it’s difficult to understand just what these lawmakers don’t understand. Terrorists just don’t qualify. The fact that we are in a war, and taking these people prisoner doesn’t necessarily make them prisoners of war in the Genevan sense, any more than drug dealers are prisoners of war just because we have a ‘war’ on drugs. (I still place most of the blame for all this confusion on our ill advised use of the term war.) As I have said previously, terrorists are sui generis:

I believe that terrorists belong to a class all their own. And just as we have separate rules governing criminals and prisoners of war, I believe that we are justified in formulating separate rules for terrorists.

If anything we may need a separate set of conventions to deal with them, or a subsequent amendment to the present convention specifically stipulating that terrorists are to be accorded the same privileges as soldiers—the very thought of which makes me want to vomit. Calling a terrorist a soldier and according to him the same privileges is almost as repugnant to me as if someone were to assert that my beloved wife is a prostitute on the simplistic grounds that she agrees to have sexual intercourse with me. Now there is some moral equivalence for you!

Jackasses.

One justification for this garbage is the protection of our soldiers. Disregarding the Conventions could motivate other countries to do the same. We want to make sure that our soldiers are afforded these protections, so we have to make sure that we apply them faithfully. The only problem is that the present war isn’t fought against a nation. Al-qaida and other groups (Hezbollah?) are not nations. The Geneva Conventions apply to warfare between nations. Not only that, but al-Qaida have not signed on to the Geneva Conventions. Our adherence to Geneva, however scrupulous, will not protect our soldiers. The enemy will not put these shackles on themselves. Why should we?

One consistent answer has been that, well, we don’t want to stoop to their level. We have to be better than they. We have to stand by our principles because if we don’t they enemy have already won.

Even at my scholarly best, I can think of no better response than this:



BULLSHIT!!!



The enemy will use our own systems against us. Five years ago they successfully used our own airline system against us. Now, with a little help from various elements in our government, they will be able to use our legal system against us. I'm certain they are using our dysfunctional border protection system against us. How nice.

It’s time for a parable.

The Parable of the Dying Do-Gooder


In a certain city there lived a man who always treated others better than himself. One day this man found himself in a conflict with another man, a bad man, in a dark alley. In the conflict, the bad man pulled a knife and was threatening to kill the good man and violate his wife. The good man, wanting to demonstrate his goodness, ran away home. When he arrived at home he was very pleased with himself and celebrated his goodness by saying, “O, how happy I am with myself for not being like that bad man. For I have never pulled a knife on anyone. I have never threatened a man’s life or willed to violate his wife for I am too good for such things. Why I am even too good to respond with violence to such threats, for I was armed with a gun when the bad man threatened with his knife. O what a good man am I.” That night the good man and his wife were awakened by a sound. When the good man went downstairs to see what the sound was he discovered that the bad man was there.

“I told you I would kill you and rape your wife you foolish man,” said the bad man. “You should have believe me and killed me when you had that gun with you.” The good man smiled and said, “Friend, I could not have killed you, for that would be to stoop down to your level and then you would have won. Far be it from me to allow that to happen. I cannot deny myself by compromising my principles.”

“Well that pleases me to no end,” said the bad man, as he stabbed the good man fifteen times. And as the good man lay dying, listening to his wife’s screams for help while the bad man made good his threats upon her body, the good man smiled, thinking to himself, “O what a good man I am for not surrendering my principles and stooping to his level.”

The dead man’s widow lived to have a different opinion of her husband.

The bad man lived happily ever after, life preying upon the goodness of fools like our dead—dumb ass—hero.
14 September 2006

Yes. Let’s rob Muslims of their case against us. (2)

In a previous post I mentioned a post by Peter Hitchens to his blog. A commentator made an astute observation. Many people who oppose a ‘reawakening of Christianity’ do so because they have been given no clarity on what this ‘reawakening’ entails. Does it mean, for example, that secular laws and values are to be abandoned?

Most Christians, I dare say, would expend a great deal of time and energy and verbiage attempting to placate secularists, assuring them that secular laws and values will survive the ‘reawakening’ of Christianity. But really, why bother with all that? Let’s say that the answer to the question is: Yes, secular laws and values are to be abandoned? So what? What this commentator fails to see, I think, is that one perennial question, particularly in the philosophy of law, is just this: How do these secular laws come to have any claim upon us in the first place? The philosophy of law isn’t dead, which means that the question (i.e., How do laws come to have a claim upon us in the first place?) remains unanswered to the satisfaction of a great many people. Natural law theorists give one set of answers, positivists another set, and the critical legal theorists yet another set. Since that question remains unanswered, why worry about reassuring people that secular laws will remain?

The question of whether secular laws and values are to be abandoned assumes that these laws and values have a legitimate claim upon us in the first place. I don’t think they can have. In fact, I don’t think they have anything to commend them.


It doesn’t do much good to talk about ‘secular’ values with out defining the term. For the sake of brevity, I’ll use the term ‘secular’ in the sense it has in the phrase ‘secular humanism’, especially since, as a former secular humanist, it is the sense with which I am most familiar. Secular values include (among others, of course):

+ Need to test beliefs - A conviction that dogmas, ideologies and traditions, whether religious, political or social, must be weighed and tested by each individual and not simply accepted on faith.

+ Reason, evidence, scientific method - Commitment to the use of critical reason, factual evidence, and scientific methods of inquiry, rather than faith and mysticism, in seeking solutions to human problems and answers to important human questions.

+ Fulfillment, growth, creativity - A primary concern with fulfillment, growth, and creativity for both the individual and humankind in general.

+ Search for truth - A constant search for objective truth, with the understanding that new knowledge and experience constantly alter our imperfect perception of it.

+This life - A concern for this life and a commitment to making it meaningful through better understanding of ourselves, our history, our intellectual and artistic achievements, and the outlooks of those who differ from us.

+Ethics - A search for viable individual, social and political principles of ethical conduct, judging them on their ability to enhance human well-being and individual responsibility.

+Building a better world - A conviction that with reason, an open exchange of ideas, good will, and tolerance, progress can be made in building a better world for ourselves and our children.


On first glance there doesn’t seem to be anything objectionable about these values. Indeed Christians can affirm them, with certain qualifications, of course, despite what critics will say about dark periods in the history of Christianity (like, e.g., the Galileo affair). For one thing, the period that critics like to raise was brief episodes in the life of the Church. Not only that, but those episodes are better explained as unjustifiable attempts to maintain an unwarranted political stability by closing off new ideas. But that, even if true, is not critical to my present purpose.

No doubt, the fact that Christians can affirm many of these values accounts for the reason that many Christians will want to reassure others that ‘secular laws and values’ will remain. But, as I said, these values and laws have nothing to commend them. These values are arbitrarily selected and, therefore, cannot be justified. They are valued simply because those who hold to them for no other reason than that they just happen to like them.


Take for example just one of the values, reason. Why should reason be valued? No doubt the answer is its utility in discovering those “solutions to human problems and answers to important human questions.” That’s fine as far as it goes, but it really doesn’t go far enough. For if reason is to be justified on the basis of its utility in finding these solutions to human problems, then we have to ask exactly what justifies attaching such value to humans that their questions and problems deserve solutions in the first place. The argument that would seem to justify reason’s being a value goes something like this:

(1.) We value humans.
(2.) Humans have questions and problems.
(3.) These questions can be answered, and the problems solved.
(4.) These questions ought to be answered, and the problems solved.
(5.) Reason has tremendous utility in answering these questions and solving these problems.
(6.) Therefore, reason ought to be valued.

Proposition (1) is true enough for most humans, I suppose. We do value humans. But in order truly to complete the argument, (1) should really be rewritten as (1') We ought to value humans. (And indeed I think we are well within our epistemic rights to suppose that this is what secular humanists believe, since they frequently fault religions for not valuing humans above all other considerations.) But is the proposition that We ought to value humans true? If it is true, then how precisely are we to know this? We cannot employ reason here: we are predicating our valuation of reason upon the proposition the we ought to value humans. Or must it be accepted as an assumption (unproven and improvable)? Looks that way, doesn’t it? In fact, thinking about that first bullet point above (i.e., the one about requiring that dogmas, ideologies and traditions, whether religious, political or social, must be weighed and tested, not simply accepted on faith) it begins to look as if we must accept 1' on, well, faith. (Alternatively we could accept is a ‘reasonable’ assumption, but since it serves as part of our reason for valuing reason in the first place I don’t see why we should bother.)

Now that I’ve called into question the justification for valuing humans in the first place, all of the other bullet points above must be called into question: they all assume that human life ought to be valued.

I suppose one could argue that I’m just saying all this because it helps me grind my theistic (Christian) axe. “You’re just saying that because you’re a Christian.” Perhaps. (It’s actually the other way around.) But several nontheists have recognized the fact that these values have no grounding. (That is, if we really need to disregard Nietzsche’s talk of the “revaluation” of all values.) Dr. Steven Weinberg, in his, Dreams of a Final Theory wrote:

[T]hough we shall find beauty in the final laws of nature, we will find no special status for life or intelligence. A fortiori, we will find no standards of value or morality (251).

The finals laws of nature are those laws which will explain—and let’s be clear on this—everything. Those laws will provide, in addition to no special status for human life, no standards of value. That is to say, these laws will not give us any justification for preferring any set of values to any other set of values, not even reason itself, which will have been, ironically, the means by which the final laws are discovered. And too, these laws will give us no standards of morality, no reason for preferring one action to its opposite. Now, it is true that laws of nature don’t give us standards of morality now, so we shouldn’t expect them to do so in the future. But we have already disposed of reason, which, at present, we do employ in making ethical decisions. We’ve been informed by Weinberg that we shall have no reason for preferring any value to any other value, so an appeal to irrationality would be just as worthy as an appeal to rationality. The preservation of a human life is of no more value than the taking of a human life, with or without cause. And science has no more value than anti-science, even if that ‘anti-science’ is only falsely so-called.

I would be lacking in integrity if I did not go on to quote a bit more of Weinberg:

Many...religions teach that God demands a particular faith and form of worship. It should not be surprising that some of the people who take these teachings seriously should sincerely regard these divine demands as incomparable more important than any merely secular virtues like tolerance or compassion or reason (258).

I suppose someone could now say, “Ah! You see, James, Dr. Weinberg disagrees with your claim about values.” Perhaps he does, but in so doing he contradicts himself. He has a complaint about “divine demands” being more important than “merely secular values.” One has to wonder what the grounds of his complaint are: he’s just told us we have no standards of value. We have no standard for deciding to prefer these “secular values” to the “divine demands”. So why prefer secular values to such an extent that “divine demands” present any sort of problem? (That and he’s ignorant: some of those “divine demands” include tolerance, compassion and the use of reason, but within certain limits. And of course those limits are objectionable to him, but Weinberg is in no position, having no standards of value or morality, to complain about them.)

So in answer to the question, “Are secular values to be abandoned?” the answer is, “Yes, if those values truly are secular.” But, they won’t really be abandoned because in actual point of fact, most Christians don’t hold those values as being properly secular. They are values precisely because humans are bearers of God’s image. So, depending upon what specific values the commentator has in mind the answer is, “Those values will be abandoned as secular values (i.e., because they aren’t secular) but will be retained as Christian values. This would even go so far as to ensure the tolerance of (simply to list a single example) homosexuals. I would have to explain why in a separate post, so I won’t do so here. Let me just say that, on a Reformed catholic view, nothing about the retention of these values as properly theistic entails the establishment of a theocracy. And no passage of Scripture grants to the Christian the right, or creates in him an obligation, to establish a theocracy. Post-Calvary, the only theocracy which can now exist must be ruled by Christ Himself. If He wants a theocracy, He’ll have to come establish it himself. And we think He will, naturally. (For a more detailed explanation of a Reformed view of this matter, I recommend Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures in Calvinism, specifically the lecture on “Calvinism and Politics.”)

I’ll have to deal with the issue of ‘secular’ laws another time.

12 September 2006

The Path from 911

I watched both installments of ABC-TV’s “The Path to 911”. The Clinton Administration has taken a great deal of heat for treating the war on terror as a law enforcement issue.

As much as I hate to do this, I have to offer a brief, and grudging, defense of this approach. In a previous post I talked about contemporary use of the word war. The word is used with reference to activities which are law enforcement matters, the ‘War’ on Drugs, the ‘War’ on Poverty and so forth. This nation has as many “wars” as it has social issues (you know, The ‘War’ on Science, The ‘War’ against Gays, The ‘War’ on Immigrants The 'War' on Christmas, etc). It comes as no surprise to me that the Clinton Administration would have treated the war on terror as if it were properly waged in the same way as our other 'wars'.

And in all fairness, we should remember that this way of waging the war on terror did work, sort of. After the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center (as dramatized in the movie) a manhunt began for Ramzi Yousef. That manhunt was successful. Yousef was arrested, tried, found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without parole, a sentence which he is serving at the Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. Going after bin Laden in the same way no doubt seemed like a good idea at the time. (I personally did not think so, but I was not a member of the Clinton Administration.)

In one scene in the movie, viewers learn (if they didn’t already know) that the Clinton Administration informed the government of Pakistan of plans to bomb bin Laden’s compound in Afghanistan. As it turns out, more than likely, someone in the Pakistani government alerted the Taliban. The Clinton Administration is criticized for this as an instance of stupidity, or worse, playing politics. The justification is that the missiles launched against bin Laden would have to fly over Pakistani airspace and the Administration feared that this might have been interpreted as an attack on Pakistan by India. Quite frankly, I think this fear was entirely justified. And a decision to inform the Pakistani government cannot easily be disparaged without ignoring the very real possibility of provoking a war between two nations who don’t need much provocation in the first place. (Talk about a rush to judgment!) In all candor, if the present Administration had made the same decision for the same reason I would be defending it, not as the right idea, but as an understandable and forgivable idea.

That being said, I do believe that there was a way to inform the appropriate element(s) of the Pakistani government without informing everyone. Hint: Jack Ryan in the Hunt for Red October.

Another problem with a missile strike on the bin Laden compound was the fact that, as a law enforcement operation a missile strike would seem like overkill. After all, we don’t launch missile strikes against the leaders of the South American drug cartels. We don’t bomb the drug zones in, say, New York City. In a true war (as opposed to a law enforcement exercise) civilian casualties are generally acceptable as unavoidable despite best intentions; in a law enforcement exercise civilian casualties are absolutely unacceptable. I find it easy to understand the qualms which the Clinton Administration had about civilian casualties in a ‘war’ on terror.

I also find it easy to understand why the Bush Administration, prior to 911 continued the war on terror as a law enforcement matter: that’s how it was handed over.

Most of the failures prior to 911 are understandable, even forgivable.

What is not understandable—what is not forgivable—is the insistence after 911 on continuing to fight the war on terror as a law enforcement matter. Insisting post-911 on repeating the failed tactics and strategies of the past is not understandable; it is not forgivable. When your enemy, in declaring war on you, makes clear by word and by deed that he recognizes no class of individuals called ‘civilians’ or ‘noncombatants’ you ought to understand that things have changed. It didn’t take five years for the passengers aboard flight 93 to realize that; they launched the first counterattack.

The world that existed before 11 September 2001 is gone; and it’s never coming back. We live in a different world. We live in a different world because the enemy have altered the conditions under which the war—a world war—is to be waged. We have to fight the battle that the enemy have pitched, not the battle we want them to pitch, or that we wish they would pitch. It is no longer (if it ever was) a law enforcement problem; the enemy have decided that issue for us. Those days, if they ever truly existed, are gone.

In just the same way as World War I ended the 19th century; this war has ended the 20th century. The Cold War is over; and the tactics developed for fighting that war are as useless as sending horse cavalry against tank battalions. And just as World War II left a new world in its wake, when this war is finished, many years down the road no doubt, there will be a new world. What that world will look like will be determined by the victors of the present war. We have to live and fight in the world which now exists. And in the world which now exists, Osama bin Laden and whoever replaces him after he’s arrested or taken out wants that world to be an Islamic world and is fighting a war to bring about just that result. That is their stated objective; and it is foolishness to pretend* that we can fight that issue as a law enforcement matter. The law enforcement route was the path to 911. To insist otherwise, this side of 911, is neither understandable nor forgivable.

For me the importance of the movie was not an answer to the question, “Who’s responsible?” Four different presidential administrations can take responsibility for various failures along the way. The importance of the movie, for me, was that it seems to ask a question, “What is the path from 911?”

Plan A—the plan that liberals want to stick to—didn’t work. That may have been arguable on 10 September 2001. Now, it isn’t. Plan B, for all its attendant messiness, is to fight the war as if it’s a war, bearing in mind that this is a new type of war, calling for us not to adhere unalterably to older notions of warfare and how to conduct it. Some of the war will be fought nation against nation, some nation against nations-within-nations, some nation against well-armed paramilitary organizations.

Today, the President’s critics are upset because he ‘politicized’ 911 in his speech last night. They still don’t get it. Yesterday was not the anniversary of a day on which thousands of Americans just happened to be killed in a tragedy. Yesterday was the anniversary of the day on which the enemy made clear that they meant it when they declared war on us. Yesterday marked the fifth year of our active and overt participation in a war that has been waged against us for decades--a war which was not taken seriously until 11 September 2001. War is, among other things (i.e., not the only thing†), the extension of politics, whether the left like it or not. The President did not politicize 911; the enemy did, five years ago. If not for the enemy’s actions, we might have have been doing something else yesterday.

As the Ghost of Christmas Past said to Ebenezer Scrooge, “That these things are as they are, don’t blame me.” Want to complain about the politicization of 911? Go bitch to a terrorist. I’m sure you’ll find a sympathetic audience there.

___________________
* The reason it’s pretending is that al-Qaeda and other groups of their ilk have stated this objective plainly.

† You have to be careful with Clausewitz. He did actually say that war is the extension of politics. But he wasn’t making a statement of fact, or general priniple. This statement was part of a larger argument in which he pointed out that war cannot be simplified by saying either that it is like a duel or even that it is merely the extension of politics. The larger argument is that war is comprised of a ‘trinity’ of emotion, chance, and rational calculation. That being said, I, James Frank Solís, speaking for myself and not Clausewitz, do just happen to believe that war is, in addition to many other things, also an extension of politics.
11 September 2006

Five years after

File this under When Someone Has Already Said It:

I don’t have anything to say that The Tanker Brothers don’t say better, here (especially the clip of The President), The RedSky! Brothers, here, or Right Truth, here (see also this informative post).

Having nothing to say that would be an improvement on anything else in the blogosphere today, this blog is observing a day of silence.
08 September 2006

Really, just why do nations rise and fall?

Yesterday, Mike Rosen interviewed Ian Bremmer of The Eurasia Group and author of The J Curve: A New Way to Understand Why Nations Rise and Fall. (Economist review here.) You can listen to the interview here. It’s about 40 minutes long. The last 10 minutes are devoted to a brief application of Bremmer’s ideas to our relations with China and Iran, and dealing with terrorism. (And yes, as a matter of fact, I do expect you to listen to the interview on my mere say-so.)

I need to get that book.

The ‘conservative’ stereotype and climate change: a slightly meandering rant

Reuters (now there’s a reliable source) has this report about how climate changes resulted in the creation of civilizations. According to Nick Brooks, “[W]hat we tend to think of today as civilization was an accidental by-product of unplanned adaptation to catastrophic climate change. Civilization was a last resort.”

Reading the article got me to thinking about the stereotyping of conservatives as people who are opposed to change. It is ironic, I think, that at present Liberals, who (in addition to styling themselves ‘Progressives’) employ that stereotype with relish, are the very ones working so hard to convince us to take measures against global warming. Clearly (tautologically, even) this amounts to working to prevent climate change.

This points up the absurdity of dismissing ‘conservatives’ as opposed to change or seeking only to maintain the status quo. Everyone is ‘conservative’ about something. Everyone wants something to remain the same, something to remain unchanged, constant, reliable. What was all the complaining about last year after Katrina ruined New Orleans, if not that a drastic change had taken place in the status of her victims? Liberals were busy blaming the President for the whole mess. They certainly did not sing his praises for permitting change to occur. A President may not be able to alter the weather, but he darn sure better make sure that no changes result from nature taking her course.

When unemployment claims were rising in the near past liberals complained, blamed the Administration. When someone loses a job that certainly counts as a change in his economic status. And that is just the sort of change that liberals cannot abide. Neither can liberals abide the rich getting richer, another change. No, something needs to be done about those sorts of changes. Those sorts of changes are unacceptable, even to a liberal. More than likely, the liberal will count those sorts of changes as regressive not progressive, but that’s persuasive definition. So, what is the complaining about changes in peoples’ economic status all about, if not a complaint about a change in the status quo?

What if global warming is taking place in any sense that truly is significant? I’m skeptical, but let’s just say that it is happening. Obviously, that will change a great many things, won’t it? Change? What are liberals worrying about? Why are they wanting us to work so hard to prevent...change?

Here’s a thought experiment. What if global warming really is taking place? What if we succeed in halting it? And what if, by halting it, we prevent the creation of a civilization better than any other yet produced on this planet?

We have no way of knowing, of course. It is just as likely, perhaps, that a drastic climate change will simply destroy the present civilization, leaving a planet of barbarians in its wake.

It is amusing to observe that much which liberals want is designed to maintain certain aspects of the status quo which they like (e.g., Social Security, Affirmative Action, the power of unions) and to change those aspects of the status quo which they don’t like.

The issue isn’t whether one is opposed to change. Everyone is conservative about something.
The issue is what things need to be changed, what things don’t, and for both, why or why not.

And I do wish liberals would drop the ‘Progressive’ business. It is as irksome as the President’s ‘compassionate conservatism.’ A ‘compassion’ which is expressed with other peoples’ money should be viewed with suspicion. Perhaps, as liberals like to claim, conservatives are not compassionate. But here’s a dirty little secret: neither are liberals. Compassion which costs the ‘giver’ nothing is not compassion.


Change is one of those things in life that are only good or bad, profitable or costly, not in themselves but depending upon how we respond.

Okay. Rant over.

07 September 2006

Ignoring the Constitution? What Constitution?

I can't contextualize it, so I don't know if it was recent or some sort of replay, but I heard Senator Shumer ciriticize the Administration for, among other things, ignoring the Constitution.

It really galls me to hear liberal Democrats--the same people who inform us that the Constitution is a "living, breathing document"--talk about ignoring the Constitution. It is awfully darn difficult to ignore something that isn't there in any significant way, as I observed some time ago:


If the Constitution really is a "living, breathing" document then there is no constitution. If the meaning of the text just changes over time, then the text really doesn't say anything. Consider the right to an abortion. Today, the "living, breathing" document gives us this right. But this same right could be gone tomorrow. (And it will be, says the left, if Goerge Bush gets his nominees on the court.) And right there, they reveal that they do not believe this "living breathing" document excrement either. Right there, they reveal that they really do understand that it is not the document that is living and breathing, but the justices who "interpret" (we should really say, translate) the oracle. But I digress.)

This same right could be gone tomorrow because the "living, breathing" document, whose meaning changes over time, could (it is at least hypothetically possible, is it not?) change back to a document that no longer protects or recognizes that right. (Is it not the least bit interesting that this "living, breathing" document is a left-liberal, and not a right-conservative, document?) And so it is with all of our rights. This "living, breathing" document could change into a document that no longer gives us the rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly, or of the press, or religion. Why this living, breathing document could once again give us the right to own slaves. It could give law enforcement officers the right to interrogate suspects without "Mirandizing" them. It could take away our right to trial by jury. This "living, breathing" document could become as arbitrary a ruler as the worst tyrant--all the while hiding from simpletons the fact that the real tyrants are the black-robed pretended prophets who claim to be translating for us the will of this living, breathing, riddle speaking oracle.

When people tell you (a) something like that the Constitution is a "living, breathing document" whose meaning changes over time and (b) that someone is guilty of ignoring that living, breathing document whose meaning changes over time, then you may rest assured that you are being addressed by someone who takes it for granted that you are stupid.

Victor David Hanson on The Good Life

You can file this under Better Late Than Never.

I meant to post something about this just after I read it in late July, but lost the link and then kept getting interrupted in my attempts to find it.

Anyway, my hero Victor Davis Hanson published a column 31 July on “The Fragility of the Good Life.”

Think back to the Roman era of the "Five Good Emperors" — between A.D. 96-180 under the reigns of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antonious Pius and Marcus Aurelius — when all problems of the turbulent past at last seemed to have been solved. There was a general peace, ever more prosperity from Mediterranean-wide trade, and a certain boredom and occasional cynicism among the Roman elite. Few then had any idea that three centuries of war, revolution, poverty and scary emperors like Commodus and Caracalla awaited their descendants — all a prelude to a later general collapse of Roman society itself.

I was reminded of this column yesterday morning while listening to the Mike Rosen Show. A caller was complaining about his wages not increasing to match his increased health care costs. He was just certain that this is wrong; it shouldn’t be that way. Prosperity should never come to an end. Our fortunes should never change, unless that change amounts to an improvement, of course.

But what if prosperity ends?

Prosperity can also be deceiving. Many Americans, despite superficial affluence, are in debt and often a paycheck away from insolvency. By historical standards, they are pretty helpless. Most of us can't grow our own food, don't know how cars work and have no clue where or how electricity is generated. In short, few have the smarts to survive if the thin veneer of civilization were to be lost, as it has been from time to time in places like downtown New Orleans (emphasis mine).

Not that Hanson doesn’t say enough, but let me close with this quote:

Wherever businessmen gather the talk turns to the present prosperity in America; how long it will last, and what will follow it. Periods of prosperity like the present always have one accompaniment. Always it happens that a considerable number of people think this particular prosperity will not end, that there will never be another panic or another depression. They are always wrong. They will be wrong this time.

That was written in The New York Herald on 27 November 1925. In case you don’t know, the writer was correct: that period of prosperity did come to an end. It came crashing to an end almost exactly four years later on 29 October 1929.

The present prosperity will end. Rather than deal with that—or apparently any other—reality, and prepare for it, Democrats would rather whine about how bad the present economy is, how bad the present unemployment numbers are. (Of course, like any politician, they will give lip service to the idea of preventing another depression.)

Oh, there’s one other thing. In a previous post I briefly mentioned, among other things, the “war” on poverty. Some time before the October 1929 crash, President Hoover declared that poverty in America had been abolished (see J. Garraty, The American Nation, somewhere around page 800 or so, I think; look in the index for ‘Depression’). The market did not return to pre-1929 levels until 1955—twenty six years.

Just something to think about as you contemplate the future and listen to politicians, regardless of party, talk about the economy.
06 September 2006

This is what happens when fools play at wisdom

Gee. John Kerry, the Vietnam veteran, sure is smart.

In his speech to the Military Officers Association of America the President quoted bin Ladin as declaring, among other things, that Iraq is “the capital of the caliphate.”

Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, no doubt thinking himself brilliant for having done, responded by asserting that if President Bush had killed bin Laden in late 2001, “he wouldn’t have to quote this barbarian’s words today.”

Senator Kerry thinks he’s brilliant, no doubt. Yes, it’s true that if bin Ladin had been killed in 2001 then, of course, the President wouldn’t be quoting him today. But the ability to state a tautology is not the mark of a genius, unless Forrest Gump is someone you consider a genius. For although it is true that the President wouldn’t be quoting bin Ladin, it is also true that he’d just be quoting someone else who was interested in establishing The Third Caliphate.

Can Senator Kerry really believe that every Islamofascist terrorist in the world is going to give up the Dream of The Caliphate just because Osama bin Ladin gets his head filled with air? If he does, then he’s wrong. Here are some words by bin Ladin himself, to back up my claim (because I’m just good like that):

It has become clear that the West in general and America in particular have an unspeakable hatred for Islam…Terrorism against America deserves to be praised because it was a response to injustice, aimed at forcing America to stop its support for Israel, which kills our people. We say that the end of the United States is imminent, whether Bin Laden or his followers are alive or dead, for the awakening of the Muslim umma (nation) has occurred. It is important to hit the economy (of the United States), which is the base of its military power...If the economy is hit they will become preoccupied (Statement of Osama bin Laden as broadcast by Al-Jazeera, December 27, 2001, [a. q. i. this source] emphasis mine).

This is why I don’t think liberals are as smart as they want us to think they are. They think stating tautologies constitute offerings on the order of magnitude of a Platonic dialogue. To think that one has made a pungent retort by pointing out the obvious (“He wouldn’t be quoting bin Ladin if bin Ladin were dead”) is the mark of the sophomoric.

The real problem isn’t that Senator Kerry is stupid. Sadly, it’s worse. He thinks many, if not all, of the people listening to him are stupid. That makes him feel smart (you know, the biggest fish in the mud puddle), so he has no need to engage in the sort of self-examination which leads a man to increased self knowledge and, if your worldview can accept it, repentance.

Here’s another tautology, Senator Kerry: President Bush wouldn’t have been quoting Osama bin Ladin in that speech if he hadn’t been elected President. Man, I must be a genius too.

John F. Kerry: Loser Extra-ordinaire. You have to hand it to guy for making you glad—over and over and over and over again (yeah, like just about every time he opens his mouth)—that you voted for his opponent. The President may not be the smartest man ever to reside in the White House, but he is smarter than John Kerry, for he knows something that John Kerry, five years into the War on Terror and three years into the Iraqi theater, still doesn’t know: it’ll be bin Ladin or someone else leading the opposing force, until that opposing force is wiped out.

President Bush: smarter than John Kerry. Now that has just got to mean something.

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About Me

James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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