Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Obama and the Dalai Lama

Why aren't the Chinese afraid of offending the US?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Viva Le Revolucion!

Miguel Muro is a brave and gifted filmmaker whose documentaries have taken on the corruption and violence of Cuba’s monolithic ruling Party and crushing bureaucracy.

Muro’s style is controversial and confrontational: he specializes in placing authority figures in awkward situations—on film--wherein they must either defend their actions or be make to look like simpletons or bullies.

For instance, Muro brought a group of elderly and infirm Cuban citizens to one of Havana’s “tourist only” health clinics and demanded to know why Cuban citizens were forbidden to enter.

“Why can’t a man who has worked all his life for Fidel and the Party receive the same quality care that rich visitors from Europe and South America get here?”

His question was not answered. Rather, he and his retinue were forcibly removed from the clinic.

In another film Muro infiltrated one of Cuba’s youth camps and demanded to know why children were being indoctrinated in party dogma and mindless worship of the Castro brothers instead of being taught factual history. He also wanted to know and why Cuban children were not allowed to live with their parents.

“Given that Elian Gonzalez was forcibly removed from the United States, after his mother had sacrificed her life to get him there, because, supposedly, his father wanted him back home; why then do parents in Cuba have no say in where their children may live and what they may learn?”

Again, Mr. Muro was escorted out by armed guards, but his question was not answered.

In his most recent documentary Muro showed up, uninvited, at several of the vast palatial estates owned by the Castros and other members of Cuba’s nomenklatura. Muro demanded to know why Cuba’s ruling elite saw fit to live in luxury while the Cuban people starved and did without basic necessities.

Muro’s films have been honored at Sundance and the Cannes Film Festival. He has become an international celebrity and, not surprisingly, a cause of consternation and anger for the Communist Party of Cuba.

Or rather, he would be, if he actually existed. But of course he does not. He cannot exist. There may be many potential Miguel Muros among the Cuban people, but no filmmaker hostile to Cuba’s ruling regime will ever be granted access to Cuban institutions or be given permission to film anywhere in Cuba.

Such a filmmaker, if he were a foreigner, would have his film confiscated and destroyed. Should a Cuban citizen attempted to make such a documentary, he would be imprisoned and probably tortured. His family and friends would be rounded up and beaten in front of him. He would be asked if he wanted to apologize and recant, and he would, most likely, say: “Yes, of course I want to apologize. Viva Le Revolucion!”

Friday, July 31, 2009

Good Cop, Bad Cop

Barack Obama speaks to crowds and conventions as if he is speaking to a friend. He exudes a corona of charm, competence and trustworthiness

Whereas the snarling acolytes of Gramsci and Alinsky speak of revolution and destruction from within, Obama speaks of reconciliation and progress. All empirical evidence suggests that his sympathies lie with the far left, but he doesn’t sound like the far left.

Whereas rabid anti-Semites such as Edward Said and Rashid Khalidi cheer the work of Islamic terrorists, Obama presents himself as philo-Semitic and a friend of Israel. All empirical evidence indicates that Obama is more sympathetic to Islamists than he is to Israel, but he doesn’t sound like an Islamist.

Whereas William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn boast of their acts of domestic terror and contemplate how many millions of Americans will have to be eliminated after the communist revolution, Barack Obama says that they did ‘despicable things’ when he was only eight years old.

All empirical evidence suggests that Obama and Ayers are friends, colleagues and mutual supporters, but Obama doesn’t sound like a domestic terrorist.

Whereas the currupt Chicago Democrat machine leaks private details of Republican politician’s divorce proceedings, sells Senate seats and destroys anyone who gets in its way, Obama speaks of ethical government and “transparency.”

All empirical evidence suggest that Obama was part of, and benefited greatly, from that corrupt Chicago machine, but Obama doesn’t come across as a thug or a bully.

Whereas Black Liberation Theologists such as Reverend Wright scream about “white devils,” and shout “God Damn America,” Obama speaks quietly and respectfully and wants to be “post-racial.” All empirical evidence suggests that Obama is sympathetic to Black Liberation Theology, but he doesn’t sound like a Black Liberation Theologist.

In other words, Obama has always played the “Good Cop.”

The old “Good Cop, Bad Cop” routine works, because even though you know, intellectually, that the two cops are actually working together--that they want the same thing--that the whole phony dichotomy is worked out ahead of time in order to get you to confess—it works nevertheless, because when you are under pressure, and afraid, you will look to someone who presents himself as a friend and protector, and you will be grateful.

When Obama accused the Cambridge police department of acting “stupidly” he sounded, ironically and uncharacteristically, like the “Bad Cop.” For an instant he broke character and the illusion was shattered.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Obama’s Words

No one disputes that President Obama is an eloquent and persuasive speaker. Occasionally, however, he makes statements that demand careful parsing and exegesis. Sometimes, in fact, his statements are downright appalling.

Consider the following quote from his most recent press conference, in response to a question from reporter Lynn Sweet, concerning the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.

President Obama:

“Now, I don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts what role race played in that, but I think it's fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry. Number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home and, number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. And that's just a fact.”

Let’s take a look at these words carefully. “Somebody” was in his home, but there was proof that “they” were in their home. Who are they? Is professor Gates Legion? Were there codefendants known to Obama that have not been reported upon? How many people were arrested?

The President seems to have a problem with pronouns: he frequently misuses the reflexive pronoun: “Michelle and myself…”

He also frequently utilizes the pleonastic phrase: “The reason is because…”

So one must ask: does the President so famous for his ability with words, know how to speak English?

Is this what he learned at Columbia and Harvard?

This may all seem pedantic and nit picky (it is) but I raise these issues because what, other than his ability with words, were supposed to have been his qualifications for the presidency?

Or was there another qualification?

Perhaps liberals are guilty of racial profiling.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Palin's Conservative Critics

Many conservative intellectuals don’t much care for Sarah Palin.

Among these are: David Brooks, Christopher Buckley, David Frum, and Peggy Noonan.

On the other hand, some conservative intellectuals don’t seem to have a problem with her at all.

This group includes: Joseph Epstein, Victor Davis Hanson, Roger Kimball, and Thomas Sowell.

I think I discern a pattern here.

For Epstein, Hanson, Kimball, and Sowell, have credentials and expertise independent of their punditry. They are not considered to be intellectuals because of their political views or activities, rather they are intellectuals with non political bona fides, who also comment on political matters.

You could learn something from each one of them, without ever getting into politics.

For instance, Joseph Epstein could teach you about literature and about the history and theory of literary criticism; Victor Davis Hanson could teach you about philology, about Greek and Latin grammar and literature, and about ancient history and philosophy; Roger Kimball could teach you about the history of art and the theory of art criticism; and Thomas Sowell could teach you about the history of economics, and the theory and praxis of various economics models and philosophies.

All of the above have written scholarly books in their fields whose worth transcends politics or fashion.

David Brooks, Christopher Buckley, David Frum, and Peggy Noonan, on the other hand, can only really tell you about themselves: how they feel and what they think about current trends and events.

They are considered to be “intellectuals” not because of their knowledge or their accomplishments, but because of their style.

They share an intellectual patois, a sesquipedalian vocabulary, an impressive academic pedigree, a snobbish and pretentious demeanor, an impressive roster of friends and acquaintances, and an overwhelming sense of their own importance.

Sarah Palin, who does not share any of these traits, and yet whose actual accomplishments far exceeds any of their own, seems to horrify them to no end.

I wonder why?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Science and Consensus

Let us set aside, for the moment, the question of whether or not there is truly a consensus among scientists that global warming is both real and anthropogenic.

Let us stipulate—for the sake of argument—that such a consensus exists. The next question to ask is: so what? What is the value of consensus in science?

I contend that its value is not very great.

In fact, I would argue that were it possible to integrate the opinions of scientist over time and space, that is, to know the opinions of all the scientists in the world, for the entire history of science, you would find that the consensus opinions were, more often than not, wrong.

Most scientist before Pasteur believed in spontaneous generation; most scientists before Einstein believed that Mercury’s precessional anomaly of 43 seconds of arc per century was in no way an indication of the inadequacy of Newtonian Dynamics; the general consensus among biologists, before the experiments of Griffith, Avery, and Harvey and Chase, was that proteins, not DNA, were the molecules responsible for inheritance.

I could go on and on, but you get the point. Scientific consensus is usually wrong.

This is in no way an indictment of science. In fact, just the opposite, it is a consequence of science’s greatest strength: that it is self-correcting.

Because of the fundamental weakness of (nonmathematical) inductive reasoning, scientists must always be on the lookout for counter examples, and scientific theories must be falsifiable.

One can have absolute certainty in mathematics and, in a different sense, in religion, but in science, all truths await (and welcome) falsification.

Appeals to consensus (argumentum ad populum) are appropriate—perhaps--in matters of theology or politics, but they have no place in science.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Definition of a Right-Wing Extremist

A right-wing extremist is anyone who at any time, for any reason, criticizes anyone or anything on the left in any way.

-From the Dictionary of 21st Century Newspeak

Bill Clinton Believes in Unfertilized Embryos

Former President Bill Clinton has no idea how human reproduction actually works (insert your own joke here).

Mr President, I humbly suggest that you read Langman’s Medical Embryology.

Obama’s Education

David Brooks, Christopher Buckley, Warren Buffet--all seem now sadly perplexed and disappointed that Barack Obama is not a moderate conservative, or even a moderate liberal.

Where did they ever get the idea that Barack Obama was a moderate?

Aside from such vapid locutions as: “post partisan,” “post racial,” “soft power,” “smart power,” that arguably don’t mean anything anyway, Barack Obama has been quite straightforward about his views and about what sorts of policies he would pursue if elected.

No one who has been paying attention should be surprised. And yet many are.

Those who believed that Barack Obama would magically tact to the center, or even the center-right, should have asked themselves: where, at what point in his education and professional career, would Obama have even been exposed to moderate or center-right philosophies and policies?

Did he study Hayek, Mises, Milton Friedman--or even Burke, Hume, Locke, and John Stuart Mill--at Columbia? If so, then most likely he was told that they were all members of the white male patriarchy, whose real agenda was to oppress capitalism’s victims.

And what, do you suppose, did he learn at Harvard Law?

Do you think that his professors and classmates were strict constructionists, opposed to judicial activism, or did Obama learn Critical Legal Theory at Harvard, the theory for which Harvard is famous, and which posits that law is merely a vehicle used by the powerful white oppressors to keep the poor and minorities down.

When Obama spoke, in 2001, of the constitution as a negative document that limits what the state can do but does not say what the state should do, such as redistribute wealth, he was speaking the language of Critical Theory. But the three Bs didn’t notice or didn’t care.

Would Obama have been exposed to moderate, or moderate-conservative views on economics, law, and foreign policy as a community organizer in Chicago? Or while working with Bill Ayers and attending Reverend Wright's church?

Many have defended Obama against the charge of guilt-by-association with respect to Ayers and Wright. I agree with Obama’s defenders: Obama is not guilty of Ayers crimes, nor can one assume that he shares Wright’s views. But this whole argument misses the really important point, which is not a matter of Obama’s guilt, but of his knowledge.

For what voices in Obama’s past were in competition with Ayer’s and Wright’s, with his professors at Columbia and Harvard Law, with his colleagues on the boards of left-wing foundations and among the radical Left of Chicago’s Democrat Party?

At what point in Obama’s life would he have learned that raising taxes during a recession is a bad thing; that appeasement doesn’t work and usually leads to war; that part of America’s exceptionalism stems from the fact that we are a nation of laws, and not of men: our belief that rights are not granted by governments, but are inalienable?

Obama is successful, at least in part, because he is fashionable—and none of the ideas in the preceding paragraph are currently fashionable.

Brooks, Buckley, and Buffet probably learned all of these things and internalized them and now take them for granted. Obama, very likely, did not.

For these ideas have been expunged and expurgated and “discredited” by the people who taught Obama. When Obama was exposed to these ideas—the legacy of classical liberalism--it was only to be told how wrong and evil they are and how much damage they have inflicted and how they must be replaced with the shiny new and exciting theories of the academic Left.

Obama was a good student; he absorbed the lessons he was taught. No one should be surprised.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Who's to Blame?

“Who’s to blame?”

I hear you asking and I’m ready to assist

I humbly set about to draft

A true and thorough list:

We comprehend the culprits

And we know who must atone

Those vile and thieving bastards who

Will not leave us alone:

The champagne-sipping plutocrats

The beer-stained redneck trash

The crooked politicians

Who have siphoned off our cash

Elitist urban hipsters

Overeducated snobs

The pick-up driving hoi polloi

Unkempt benighted slobs

The yokels in the country

And the dandies in the towns

I’m sure we all agree

There’s so much blame to go around

We’ll blame those prudish Christians

And those funny-talking Jews

We’ll blame the Easter Bunny

And the Loch Ness monster too

Those vicious probing aliens

The endless zombie hordes

Their clear responsibility

Must never be ignored

We’ll blame those fruity unicorns

We’ll blame those filthy elves

Of one thing we are sure:

That we must never blame ourselves.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Socialism and the Re-animator Syndrome

In the 1985 movie version of H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-animator, there is a fascinating scene that does not correspond to anything in Lovecraft’s original story.

In the movie, Herbert West’s classmate, Dan Cain, has an affair with the daughter of the medical school’s dean. (In Lovecraft’s story there is no love interest.)

By the end of the movie Dan’s girlfriend is dead and West’s glowing green chemical concoction has reanimated several corpses, not back to life, but into terrible monsters that can only be stopped via power-tools.

In the film’s final scene, Dan looks at his dead girlfriend, and he looks at West’s reanimating fluid; he has seen the result of reanimation with his own eyes: his empirical experience tells him that injecting his girlfriend with the fluid will turn her into a monster, but the only alternative is to do nothing, and this he cannot bear.

And so he injects his dead girlfriend, not because of his experiences and his knowledge but in spite of them, because the psychological pressure to do something is too great.

Those of us who wonder how anyone could believe in socialism, the greatest empirical failure is the history of human ideas, should remember this scene--and keep our power-tools ready.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Idols of the Theatre

“His ideas have such intuitive appeal that many of the words he used have infiltrated popular parlance, although no one thinks of them as science because he never did any experiments.”

-V.S. Ramachandran on Sigmund Freud, from Phantoms in the Brain.

In 1620 Francis Bacon published The New Organon, an epigrammatic treatise challenging scholasticism and promoting a more empirical approach to science.

In the Organon, Bacon identified four kinds of illusions (idola—usually translated as “idols”) that “block men’s minds.”

First there are the “idols of the tribe.” These are the illusions or distortions that are common to all men. In modern terms we would identify these with the physical limitations of our perception organs and the physical nature of the brain: we are all limited in the frequencies that we can see and hear and our brains produce artifacts and distortions that we all share.

Next are the “idols of the cave.” These are the illusions peculiar to an individual.

“For…each man has a kind of individual cave or cavern which fragments and distorts the light of nature.”

Third, there are the “idols of the marketplace.” These are distortions due to the shared use of false, equivocal, or fatuous language. Bacon recognized that language can function not only to elucidate but also to obfuscate reason and perceptions, and that furthermore, this power of obfuscation is proportional to the degree of general acceptance of misleading language.

“Plainly words do violence to the understanding, and confuse everything; and betray men into countless empty disputes and fictions.”

Finally, there are the “idols of the theatre.” These are shared illusions implanted by education.

“…for all the philosophies that men have learned or devised are, in our opinion, so many plays produced and performed which have created false and fictitious worlds.”

Bacon sensed that the versions of reality created by man-made philosophical systems--both the “facts” and the “logic” derived from these systems--are often more compelling, and have greater influence upon thoughts and perceptions, than true facts and proper logic. Furthermore, the influence of these philosophical systems is often invisible (in modern terms, subconscious) to those they afflict.

Bacon anticipated Karl Popper by noting that the “idols of the theatre” represent complete systems that can accommodate any external datum and bend any logic to fit their intrinsic curvature.

“There is no possibility of argument, since we do not agree either about the principles or the proofs.”

Bacon also recognized that the smart and well educated are more susceptible to the idols of the theatre, precisely because they are smart and well educated:

“It is absolutely clear that if you run the wrong way, the better and faster you are, the more you go astray.”

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Just a thought:

Can you be truly “post racial” without rejecting identity politics?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Unpopularity is Worse than Terrorism

This is why terrorism works: because although specifically targeting civilians in free societies should making moral distinctions between the perpetrators of these crimes, on the one hand, and the victims of these crimes, on the other, exceedingly easy for anyone with even a modicum of decency and sense, acts of terror force free societies to take actions to defend themselves that make them unpopular with Western European left-wing intellectuals.

This is what has happened to Israel since Arafat began his terror campaign against the Jewish State; this is what has happened to the US since 9/11.

And the American and Israeli left-wing intellectuals’ need to be loved by Western European left-wing intellectuals, is, apparently, greater than their desire to not be blown to bits, or have their fellow citizens blown to bits, by Islamic terrorists.

Israel will never be popular with Western European left-wing intellectuals (until, perhaps, it is destroyed). The US is now more popular with Western European left-wing intellectuals than it has been since 9/11, but the Obama Administration will, no doubt, soon be forced to make a choice between sacrificing this popularity and sacrificing Israel.

And it will have to make a similar choice with respect to America’s security.

What good, really, is popularity, if you are dead, or radioactive?


Does anyone else remember this movie?

Horrifyingly prescient...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Prediction is Difficult

Prediction is difficult, especially the future.
— Niels Bohr

I very rarely attempt to predict anything, but I am prepared to make one exception: Obama’s plan to cut the deficit in half by raising taxes will fail. The very act of raising taxes will shrink the tax base, and there will either be a vast shortfall, or taxes will have to be raised even more, leading to further shrinkage, leading to… Well, you get the picture.

Tax raisers are either zero-summers, in which case they are simply wrong; or else they are ideologues, in which case they don’t care that raising taxes may actually shrink revenues. Their goal is redistribution.

Either way, we are in for a mess. And seeing as neither major American political party seems to care much about deficits anymore, it may be a very long time before we ever see a balanced budget.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Muslim Moderates

There is no question of the existence of Muslim moderates; what percentage of the total umma (the world-wide Muslim community) they may represent is a much debated, and, in my opinion, almost entirely pointless question.

I am all in favor of moderation and there is no doubt that many, if not most, Muslims are moderates.

Unfortunately, in the current climate, moderates simply don’t matter much.

The lacuna within the umma is not the absence of Muslim moderates, but rather the absence of anti-Salafist radicals: Muslims who are radically anti-Jihadi, anti-Islamofascist, and who are willing to fight: morally, verbally and even physically, to save their religion from dangerous and murderous fanatics who kill innocents in their name and in the name of their faith.

Simple indifference or equivocation is not enough. A lack of murderous intent is not enough. Given a choice between Osama bin Ladin and Hazrat Inayat Khan (an ecumenical and irenic Sufi sage whom I much admire), a lack of preference does not amount to moderation.

And even if a majority does prefer Khan to bin Ladin, if this majority does not contain a subset that is willing to actively combat the Salafists, it does not constitute a barrier to violence.

Saying that ‘Only a small minority among group X is radical’ is generally a truism, and also, almost entirely meaningless. Revolutions are led by radicals, and a violent and organized minority can easily overcome a majority that is factious, disorganized and disinclined to fight.

Consider: Hitler came to power with a minority of the vote and the percentage of the German public who were active Nazi Party members was never terribly large: less than three percent at the time of Hitler’s ascension and slightly more than ten percent at its peak. But the vast majority of the German people went along, or sat by quietly as the Nazis destroyed liberties, unleashed the Blitzkrieg on their neighbors and sent the Jews (and other ‘undesirables’) to the gas chambers.

Before 1917, membership in the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party was minuscule and, in spite of their name, the Bolshekivi were a minority within that party.

The pattern is similar for the Communist Parties in China, North Korea, and North Vietnam before they came to power. The radicals were a tiny minority but once they seized control, the entire population was mobilized for war.

America’s defensive war against Islamic terrorists has been continuously mischaracterized as an offensive ‘War on Islam’ within the umma. Given that the majority of Muslims in Western Europe consider themselves more Muslim than European, what will be the response of Europe’s Muslim communities if they are called upon by their Imams to engage in a religious war against their host countries? Would they actively resist such a call, or would the majority remain quiescent and allow the radical minority to fight?

Ironically, in the West, the fear (and denial) of this possibility tends to motivate a desire for a policy of appeasement in order to assuage the extremists and forestall a war. But the West’s odd cacoethes to appease the most militant and radical faction within a given group has, historically, had the unintended consequence of disempowering those within that group who may be most inclined to oppose the extremists. Palestinians who spoke out against Arafat and the PLO were eliminated. Legitimating Arafat made their opposition and their sacrifices meaningless. (And, of course, Hamas came to power by following Arafat’s example and killing Palestinians who opposed it (ironically Arafat’s successors in Fatah).)

Similarly, appeasement of the Soviet Union weakened resistance movements behind the Iron Curtain.

Today, equating criticism of Islamofascism with ‘Islamophobia’ undermines intra-Islamic opposition to violent fanaticism.

The West must resist the urge to appease Islamofascism and encourage resistance to it within Islam. We must speak out, not only against the radicals, but also against the so-called ‘moderate’ Muslims who, while disinclined to personally commit terrorist acts, nevertheless aid and abet the terrorists among them, morally equate Islamic terror with Israel’s existence or justify or deny the existence of Islamic terror. Claiming that Islam is a ‘Religion of Peace’ or that terrorism is ‘un-Islamic’ is meaningless if peaceful Muslims are unwilling or unable to prevent, or even oppose, Islamic terror.

The number of Muslims who personally volunteer to carry out suicide missions will always be small, just as the number of Japanese flyers who chose to be kamikaze pilots in World War II was always small. But this must not be construed as evidence that either the West, or the nonviolent subset of the umma, is in any way safe or secure. For the salient question now is not:

“How many among the Muslims are Islamofascists?”

But rather:

“How many among the Muslims are anti-Islamofascists?”

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Everything Old is New Again

With the liberal illuminati set to implement a bold new program based upon the bleeding edge of financial theory, circa 1848, the strategic logic of the 1930s, the cultural aesthetic of the 1960s, and the diplomacy of the 1970s--mixed, masticated and reprocessed into a vast bureaucratic olio of “progressive” policy, we can be sure of one thing:

When these policies fail, when they and crash and burn and the world collapses around us, we will be told by the fawning media and the chattering classes that these failures were the results of “fluke” events: “a perfect storm,” that was entirely “unforeseeable.”

Most important of all we must all always remember that critics of the current administration’s policies will in no way—under no circumstances—in no manner whatsoever, be vindicated by said policies’ failures.

Please remember that truth is no longer determined by such mundane and outmoded concepts as “facts,” and “reality.” And, of course, (it seems gauche to even have to mention) such archaic dichotomies as that between “victory” and “defeat” no longer apply as criteria for measuring the success or failure of American foreign policy. By that embarrassingly unsophisticated logic we might even be said to have achieved “victory” in Iraq.

No, truth is now determined by consensus: at university faculty lounges and by the editorial department of the New York Times. Failure is not an option.

Beware of Saints

When a free nation--governed by the rule of law--is attacked by violent thugs who have achieved power and obtained weapons by killing their own people, that nation not only has the right to defend itself, the leadership of that nation has a moral obligation to defend the people it represents.

This defense may, and usually must, involve violence, destruction, and killing people. It is therefore easy to draw a sort of lazy and intellectually dishonest moral equivalence between the violent acts of the thugs who attack a free society, and the violent acts of the free society that defends itself.

The next step is to extend this fallacy of moral equivalence to the two groups in toto.

If we are just as guilty as the thugs who attack us, then we must drop our swords and reach out in a spirit of friendship. We must "unclench our fists."

The belief that “reaching out” to and legitimating the most violent and brutal members of a group of people will bring peace and prosperity to those people is a fallacy. This approach has failed over and over again. Reaching out to Arafat did not help the Palestinians; it hurt them. Appeasing Hamas will make things worse. Appeasing Iran's Mullahs will hurt the Iranian people, and may lead to nuclear war.

And yet the supporters of this belief will never hesitate to tell you how confident they are of their strategy and how peace-loving and compassionate they are.

The problem, perhaps, is that in the real world, defending free societies requires people at times to behave violently and hence to compromise their own moral perfection.

Those who desire saintliness, who take great pride in their peace-loving and compassion, will not deign to engage in the ugly, but necessary business of defending free societies from thuggish violence.

It is far easier to proclaim, from the lofty heights of self-satisfied perfection, that all violence is unjust, than to engage in the far more difficult task of determining how far a free society may go in defending itself against violent thugs, without compromising its values.

Allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good, when “the good” is the security of free societies, is stupid, and self-defeating.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Narcissism is Fatal

“Allah is its target, the Prophet is its model, the Koran its constitution: Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes.”

-From the Hamas Charter 18 August 1988

Facing real evil is not only frightening; it is humbling. For evil imparts limits on our ability to shape the world according to our hopes and desires and compels us to do more than lecture or condemn. Evil does not respond to lofty rhetoric or to negotiations or to “soft power.” It cannot be bought off or neutralized by apologies or promises.

The defeat of fascism at the end of World War II, by a collation that included both free nations and the Soviet Union, followed, almost fifty years later, by the eventual victory of the free world in the Cold War, led many in the West to assume, explicitly or implicitly, that free societies were not only morally superior to totalitarian states, but also inherently stronger, more resilient: destined to prevail in any prolonged clash.

This view is not necessarily supported by pre-twentieth century history, nor does it seem so obvious in the twenty-first.

We must now ask ourselves whether free societies can prevail against religiously driven totalitarians who will stop at nothing, who long for death—ours and even their own—in pursuit of their goals and who can be neither reasoned with nor appeased.

Currently, free societies seem to be incapable of grasping the nature of this existential threat, and the West’s instinct for self-preservation is paralyzed by a culture of arrogant self-deception.

The Intellectual class that is now dominant in academia, the media, and in most governments in the West, is happy to lecture endlessly about its own moral superiority, its infinite “tolerance” and respect for “human rights,” and yet it is incapable of speaking out against an Islamofacist ideology that advocated and practices: clitoridectomies, suicide/homicide bombing of civilians, beheadings, stoning of adulterers and homosexuals, honor killings, killings of apostates, and Jihad against the West.

Simply mention one of the magic words: “colonialism,” “racism,” “imperialism,” and any given intellectual is liable to lecture ad nauseam on the moral turpitude of the West and the “root causes” of terrorism.

That Islamofacists are imperialistic, racist, and even genocidal cannot be stated by these intellectuals: for to say so would be judgmental and “Islamophobic.” And nothing must tarnish the Western intellectual’s perfect tolerance for anyone who wishes to destroy Western civilization.

And so Western intellectuals, and islamofascist intellectuals, always agree on at least one thing: it’s all the fault of the West.

For intellectuals in free societies this is simply the path-of-least-resistance; the easiest way to achieve tenure, or status, or a phony sense of “rebelliousness” without paying any real price, or angering anyone who might want to blow you up, or cut your head off. It is much more convenient to have enemies who respect the rule of law, and who can be peacefully voted out of office, than to have enemies who will kill you for insulting them or drawing a cartoon of their prophet.

It is a point of pride among Western intellectuals that they are “self critical.”

But this is a false form of self-criticism, for the present set of Western intellectuals do not see themselves as the inheritors of a great and precious tradition; rather, they see themselves as revolutionaries overturning that tradition.

What is missing from all the apparent self-criticism in the West is any sense of responsibility or accountability. This, no doubt, is one reason why blaming everything on George Bush is so popular; it is a variation on the theme of blaming all your problems on your parents.

Indeed, true self-criticism, humility, and respect for one’s own limitations, are all aspects of the vilified Western tradition, happily jettisoned by contemporary intellectuals who have replaced it with a suicidal narcissism.

The word “narcissism” is defined in the dictionary that came with my Mac as:

• excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one's physical appearance.

• Psychology extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one's own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.

This seems to be in accordance with the current usage of the term. What is missing from this usage, however, is the profound wisdom imparted by the myth from which the word was derived, that Narcissus’ self-love was ultimately fatal.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Soft Power

What the hell is “soft power”? This phrase has slipped into the au courant logosphere in association with Barack Obama.

The intelligentsia confidently assure us that Obama’s administration will either utilize, or improve, or magically call into existence America’s “soft power.”

Does “soft power” mean: negotiating while threatening force; negotiating while not threatening force; appeasing, begging, cajoling, importuning, surrendering, hoping for the best?

My guess is that it means all of these things and none of them; it is a flaccid and vapid neologism tossed about smugly by those who seek to demonstrate their moral and intellectual superiority without committing to actually trying to make any sense or saying anything in danger of being contradicted by actual facts.

An internet search reveals that the term was coined by Harvard professor Joseph Nye who defines it thus:

“Soft power is the ability to obtain the outcomes one wants through attraction rather than using the carrots and sticks of payment or coercion.”

Which, I believe, proves my assertion above. QED.

What, one wonders, might “attract” Ahmadinejad, or Haniyeh, or Assad, or Osama bin Laden, or Raul Castro, or Hugo Chavez, or Kim Jung Ill, to give one the “outcomes one wants”?

I Agree with Barack Obama

I just watched Barack Obama’s interview with Matt Lauer on NBC’s pre-superbowl show, and once again Obama addressed the need for a play-off system in college football. I agree. The interview also re-enforced the impression I got during the campaign that Obama is a decent and likable guy. I would happily watch a football game with him and buy him a beer. I certainly wish him well.

His family seems charming and should be entirely off limits. Unlike Bill Clinton, who promised “buy one get one free” and then hypocritically claimed the mantle of chivalrous uxorial protector when Jerry Brown legitimately criticized Hillary’s professional ethics, Obama has not indicated that Michelle will have any responsibility for policy in his administration.

Obama’s family members have just entered a pressure-cooker (sorry for the cliché, but how else to say it?). They deserve our support and respect for their privacy.

I sincerely hope that those of us who did not vote for Obama, and who will, no doubt, have many opportunities to criticize his policies and decisions in the next four or eight years, will never slip into the cesspool of vitriolic ad hominen attacks that critics of Bush wallowed in and canalized and befouled, with increasing hysteria, for eight screech-filled years.

Barack is my president—he is every American’s president.

Now let’s get to work setting up that play-off system.

Strict Constructionist Democrats

During George W. Bush’s two terms in office, the Democrats rediscovered the constitution. Democrats' frequent claims that the tactics utilized by the Bush administration in prosecuting its “War on Terror” were unconstitutional, and hence illegal, were predicated on the assumption that the constitution is a fixed and inviolable document: a proscriptive text that recognizes individual's rights that the government must not infringe upon, and not a “living document,” subject to the whims of fashion or caprice, nor a vile conspiracy against the poor and oppressed perpetrated by a cadre of greedy racist dead white western males, nor a mere assemblage of meaningless words to be “deconstructed” via turgid exegesis by tenured academics, nor, apparently, is the constitution merely, as Barack Obama has stated, an “impediment” to the redistribution of wealth.

In other words, under Bush, the Democrats were transformed—mirabile dictu--into strict constructionists. Now that Barack Obama is president, and Eric Holder is Attorney General, we shall see how long this new-found dedication to the constitution lasts.

Friday, January 30, 2009

I Remember Dinkins

David Dinkins was a nice guy, an amiable and inoffensive fellow who spoke well and looked good in a suit. He was not terribly ideological; in particular, he was not a racial grievance monger. His calm demeanor almost certainly helped to prevent riots from erupting in New York City after the verdict in the Rodney King trial.

His style of governance was based on the dominant intellectual theories of the day: increased taxes; the creation of more government jobs, and more government spending in general; dealing with crime by addressing the “root causes,” etc., etc.

Among college professors, intellectuals, bureaucrats, and Democrat politicians, there was virtually no disagreement that these were the correct strategies.

Because Dinkins was black, liberals felt that the very act of voting for him was a good deed: a concrete demonstration of their moral superiority. And liberals will never balk at an opportunity to demonstrate their moral superiority.

Under Dinkins, crime skyrocketed and property values plummeted. The tax base shrank as taxpayers fled the city. Black-on-black crime was especially prevalent.

But despite the anomie and carnage in the streets, liberals felt good every time an image of Dinkins reminded them that they had voted for a black mayor.

They continued to sing Dinkins’ praises for four long years--even as they moved to the suburbs. Those who stayed told pollsters that they would proudly vote for Dinkins’ again, but when they slipped into the voting booths, and pulled the curtains shut, many quietly voted for Guiliani.

Irony of Ironies

George W. Bush is a victim of his own success. The great successes of Bush’s tenure were the prevention of another terrorist attack on US soil after 9/11/01, and the weakening of al-Qaeda’s ability to wage war against the US and the West.

This success has allowed much of the voting populace of the US, and in fact much of the world, to convince itself that Islamic radicalism really poses very little threat to western civilization and that what anger does exist towards the West is predominantly the fault of Bush and his policies (or, perhaps, the Jews).

Had Bush been less successful, this delusion would be unsupportable to all but the clinically insane.

But there is an even greater irony: for it was one of Bush’s greatest failures: his failure to secure Iraq after deposing Saddam Hussein, allowing the country to slip perilously close to civil war—a failure acknowledged by almost everyone, independent of support for the initial invasion of Iraq—that contributed, inadvertently, perhaps the most to weakening al-Qaeda and diminishing its standing in the Muslim world.

For it was in the “quagmire” of post-Saddam Iraq that al-Qaeda suffered its most decisive defeat; and it was amidst this “quagmire” that local Muslim populations came to see al-Qaeda as a force for evil and to turn against it.

The question now is how significantly has al-Qaeda’s ability to make war against the West been damaged? If the victory has been nearly complete than Bush’s War on Terror has been a success, and ironically, Bush will almost certainly continue to be judged a failure.

Unfortunately for the US, and for the world--but strangely perhaps fortunately for Bush’s reputation—his success was almost certainly not complete. Islamofascists: sunni salafists and shia radicals, have not called off their Jihad against western civilization.

Dreamers, hopers, and pacifists in the West are now in a state of denial about this fact, but this denial is unsustainable. Precisely because they were not complete, Bush’s successes against Islamofascism may become rather apparent rather soon.