Monday, March 26, 2007

Hitchens among the Kurds

Christopher Hitchens and his son spent Christmas among the Kurds.
Everybody knows how to snigger when you mention Jeffersonian democracy and Iraq in the same breath; try sniggering when you meet someone who is trying to express these ideas in an atmosphere that only a few years ago was heavy with miasmic decay and the reek of poison gas.

While I am confessing, I may as well make a clean breast of it. Thanks to the reluctant decision of the first President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker, those fresh princes of "realism," the United States and Britain placed an aerial umbrella over Iraqi Kurdistan in 1991 and detached it from the death grip of Saddam Hussein. Under the protective canopy of the no-fly zone—actually it was also called the "you-fly-you-die zone"—an embryonic free Iraq had a chance to grow. I was among those who thought and believed and argued that this example could, and should, be extended to the rest of the country; the cause became a consuming thing in my life. To describe the resulting shambles as a disappointment or a failure or even a defeat would be the weakest statement I could possibly make: it feels more like a sick, choking nightmare of betrayal from which there can be no awakening. Yet Kurdistan continues to demonstrate how things could have been different, and it isn't a place from which the West can simply walk away.

And most of that has to do with the Kurds themselves:
Within recent memory, the Kurdish population of Iraq was being subjected to genocidal cleansing. Given the chance to leave the failed state altogether, why would they not take it? Yet today, the president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, is a Kurd: a former guerrilla leader so genial and humane that he personally opposed the execution of Saddam Hussein. Of the very few successful or effective ministries in Baghdad, such as the Foreign Ministry, it is usually true that a Kurd, such as Hoshyar Zebari, is at the head of it. The much-respected deputy prime minister (and moving spirit of the American University in Sulaimaniya), Dr. Barham Salih, is a Kurd. He put it to me very movingly when I flew down to Baghdad to talk to him: "We are willing to fight and sacrifice for a democratic Iraq. And we were the ones to suffer the most from the opposite case. If Iraq fails, it will not be our fault."

Barone on Preacher Gore and Enviro-Religion

The natural human yearning for spirituality has produced in many people educated in secular-minded universities and enveloped in an atmosphere of contempt for traditional religion a faith that we vulgar human beings have a sacred obligation not to inflict damage on Mother Earth. But science tells us that the Earth and its climate have been constantly changing.

Gore and his followers seem to assume that the ideal climate was the one they got used to when they were growing up. When temperatures dropped in the 1970s, there were warnings of an impending ice age. When they rose in the 1990s, there were predictions of disastrous global warming. This is just another example of the solipsism of the baby-boom generation, the pampered and much-praised age cohort that believes the world revolves around them and that all past history has become irrelevant.

We’re told in effect that the climate of the late 1950s and early 1960s was, of all those that have ever existed, the best of all possible climates. Not by science. But as a matter of faith.

Jonah Goldberg on Gore

Read the whole thing, but I especially liked this pithy observation:
Isn’t it interesting how the same people who think “dissent is the highest form of patriotism” when it comes to the war think that dissent when it comes to global warming is evil and troglodytic?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Enlightenment Gone Mad

Philip Trower enlightens on the Enlightenment.
MercatorNet: Do you sense a danger of people accepting the ideas of leading Enlightenment figures as having quasi-Scriptural authority? Should students be taught a more critical and detached view of Enlightenment values, do you think?

Trower: Again my answer is a double Yes -- if by quasi-Scriptural authority you mean treating the leading figures as if they had been recipients of a divine revelation. Since they were not, and to be fair did not claim to be, it is of the highest importance that those ideas should be looked at critically, which is what I have tried to do in the first seven chapters of my recent book. Looking at them critically does not mean denying the elements of truth but freeing the elements of truth from distortions, exaggerations, or downright errors.

Let me give some examples. If there is no God, where do human rights come from? The State? But a State which gives them can withdraw them. How do we know what is right and wrong? By majority vote? Who would seriously maintain that? Through conscience? Yes, but what is conscience and how does it fit into a materialistic or crudely Darwinian picture of world history? Why do many people, even if only implicitly, believe in perpetual progress? There is no evidence for it. That history is going to come to a climax in a kingdom of justice, love and peace is simply a Judaeo-Christian idea removed from the other side of the Last Day into this.

Trower also explains:

However it would be a mistake to overlook the fact that these ideas have not come down to us with a single meaning about which everyone agrees. Collectively, they are more like a religion with different denominations. Right from the start, which we can place in the second half of the 17th century, we can see a difference between what I will call the Anglo-Saxon Enlightenment and the French or Continental Enlightenment.

The former has always had a looser more pragmatic approach to ideas and situations, resembling an ethos or attitude of mind more than a creed. The chief emphasis has been on individual liberty and freedom of expression with room being made for the incorporation of Christian and other beliefs.

The French or Continental variety on the other hand, has invariably been highly dogmatic and anti-religious, with Christianity as its main target. What makes the situation particularly confusing is that since the end of the Napoleonic wars the adherents of both forms have usually referred to themselves as liberals.

Today, I would say, it is more accurate and meaningful to describe modern adherents of the French school as secularists, since they are increasingly bent on forcing other people to submit to their principles whether they agree with them or not -- a very illiberal standpoint -- and keep the name liberals for genuine adherents of the Anglo-Saxon form in so far as they survive. A notable feature of the English scene over the last ten years had been the decline of Anglo-Saxon liberalism and the growth of the French secularist form. Today, one can fairly, I believe, describe secularism and political correctness as "liberal fundamentalism".

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Post-Modernism and The Bible

James Arlandson:
Postmodernism is leveling multiple challenges at longstanding interpretations of the Bible and at the sacred text itself. There is nothing wrong with reinterpreting a text. But here are some questions that postmodern practitioners and theorists ask about the Bible. Are there such things as facts, specifically historical ones? Can we distinguish between the historical and the fictional? Are there any objective interpretations? How do we decide? Does that even matter? What would happen to the plain meaning of a passage if a psychoanalytical reading were applied? Would God the Father come out like a tyrannical father of a Freudian nightmare? Is God abusive?

Wilson, Plame and all that

Valerie Plame finally testified before the house that she was "covert" and didn't initiate or push for sending her husband, Joe Wilson, to Niger. Tom Maguire offers a broad corrective, Byron York reminds us what the Senate Intelligence Committee found, Andy McCarthy deals with "covert" and recalls that the MSM had argued she wasn't before reporting that she was:
Specifically, she was exposed by a Russian spy in the early 1990s. Thereafter, the CIA itself "inadvertently" compromised Plame by not taking appropriate measures to safeguard classified documents that the Agency routed to the Swiss embassy in Havana. According to Bill Gertz of the Washington Times, "the documents were supposed to be sealed from the Cuban government, but [unidentified U.S.] intelligence officials said the Cubans read the classified material and learned the secrets contained in them."

As I wrote here nearly two years ago, this is not my claim. It is the contention made in a 2005 brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit by the Times along with ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, AP, Newsweek, Reuters America, the Washington Post, the Tribune Company (which publishes the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun, among other papers), and the White House Correspondents (the organization which represents the White House press corps in its dealings with the executive branch). The mainstream media made the contention in an attempt to quash subpoenas issued to journalists — the argument being that if Mrs. Wilson's cover had already been blown, there could have been no crime when an administration official (who we now know to be Richard Armitage, not Scooter Libby) leaked her identity to journalist Robert Novak, and thus there was no need to compel reporters to reveal their sources.

Amazing how, when its own interests are at stake, the media manages to be very forceful in reporting relevant facts. But now, when those facts are even more relevant because Mrs. Wilson and congressional Democrats are bloviating about ruined intelligence networks and threatened lives, the media won't mention them. How can it be possible that a leak in 2002 "jeopardized and even destroyed entire networks of foreign agents" associated with Mrs. Wilson's covert assignment when, by the media's own account to a federal court, those networks had to have been blown for years?

And, don't forget, Joe Wilson was the real creep in this whole mess.

American Idol Feeds "hunger for realistic evaluation"

Christopher Ames:
We might think that Americans are eager to celebrate talented young people who can thumb their noses at the older generation and thus exorcise the lingering resentment so many harbor from being graded and evaluated in the classroom. But what American Idol reveals instead is a veritable hunger for realistic evaluation. Time and time again, contestants in the early episodes of this year's season whine obviously off key and then insist they are highly talented — in spite of the judges' protestations. Most of those kids have not learned how to sing, but they have mastered the self-esteem and "attitude" so valued in our culture. The persistent dynamic of these episodes is expertise putting down untalented braggadocio.

Friday, March 16, 2007

If your baby is gay, will you want to know?

Maybe, maybe not. Regardless, new ethical and moral dilemmas will emerge:

Conservatives opposed to both abortion and homosexuality will have to ask themselves whether the public shame of having a gay child outweighs the private sin of terminating a pregnancy (assuming the stigma on homosexuality survives the scientific refutation of the Right's treasured belief that it's a "lifestyle choice"). Pro-choice activists won't be spared, either. Will liberal moms who love their hairdressers be as tolerant when faced with the prospect of raising a little stylist of their own? And exactly how pro-choice will liberal abortion-rights activists be when thousands of potential parents are choosing to filter homosexuality right out of the gene pool?

Then there's the question of whether some gay parents will use genetic testing or hormonal treatments to intentionally produce gay offspring. It's hard to imagine the conservative culture warriors (who accused PBS of using a cartoon bunny to infect young minds with the gay agenda) sitting idly by as actual gays—even just a handful of them—use science to pass their sexuality on to the next generation. Will the surrogate mom replace the pervy Boy Scout leader as the anti-gay bugbear of choice?

Intellectual Opposition to the Military

James Holmes updates Robert Nozick's decade-old essay "Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?" by asking if--and why--they oppose the military. Good question:

Do intellectuals' attitudes even matter, given their predilection for the abstract over the concrete and for ideas over action? Yes, says Nozick. While wordsmiths cannot dictate the outcome of national discourse, they do set the terms of debate.
"They shape our ideas and images of society; they state the policy alternatives bureaucracies consider. From treatises to slogans, they give us the sentences to express ourselves. Their opposition matters, especially in a society that depends increasingly on the explicit formulation and dissemination of information."
Nozick left his inquiry open-ended, commending it to the study of social scientists, and so will I. Some enterprising social scientist ought to examine these matters in a sustained, rigorous manner. If wordsmith intellectuals indeed frame debates on affairs of state-in particular war and peace-then their views and prejudices must be taken into account in public discourse. Our system of civil-military relations could depend on it.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Power and the Printed Page

Edward Achorn explains why losing "print on paper" is bad for our rapidly digitizing society:
Printed papers offer something of incalculable value: context. It is easier to see how important something is by its placement on a page, something even a newspaper Web site cannot easily duplicate. Often, by means of turning a page, I stumble onto an important story about some topic I might never have clicked onto, or “called up” on a Web site’s search engine.

The elites will continue to read print, including history and fiction, because intelligence often translates to power and money. Books will survive, as will specialty periodicals. But, if our culture continues in its rapid flight from print to digitized information, many citizens will lose the ability to ponder seriously, to vote intelligently, or to understand the world around them.

Giulianni's Appeal to Conservatives

Michael Brandon McClellan:
Giuliani's enduring image is more conservative than McCain's. At the risk of oversimplifying, it is perhaps fair to say that Giuliani's image is loudly conservative and quietly moderate, whereas McCain's image is loudly moderate and quietly conservative.
Michael Barone also examines how Rudy compares favorably to Hillary:
Rudy's electoral vote position against Hillary is much stronger than Bush's against Kerry. Rudy puts almost the whole East into play and is significantly stronger in several target states in the Midwest and West. Hillary puts some states into play in the South but with many fewer electoral votes than Rudy does elsewhere. Even if you assume that Hillary is stronger against Rudy today than she was in July, the pairing does place the Republicans in a stronger position than Bush was in '04.

Father Thomas D. Williams and the Catholic Ideology of Progress

Fr. Thomas D. Williams:
The Enlightenment had taken the idea of progress as its leitmotiv, preaching a secular humanism that would usher in an age of reason, where religion would be replaced by science...the Enlightenment...also had a marked materialistic and anti-religious dimension as well. Man became his own savior, able to resolve his own problems, and no longer needful of a transcendent and personal God.

Nineteenth-century ideologies built on many of the aspects of the Enlightenment, and came to see progress as a necessary and inexorable phenomenon, an expression of Darwinian evolutionism...Add to the mix Hegel's philosophy of dialectical progress, whereby society necessarily progresses through conflict -- thesis, antithesis and synthesis -- and we had the perfect setup for the tragic totalitarian experiments of the 20th century... Paul VI taught in "Populorum Progressio," the Christian idea of progress is not merely material or technological....If a society doesn't advance in goodness, in justice and in love, it doesn't truly advance....Christians do not see human progress as a necessary phenomenon....Moving forward in time doesn't guarantee that we are moving forward in virtue....because progress isn't automatic, all of us must take responsibility for the direction our society takes. We are not simply swept along by the winds of change; each of us also influences the direction our culture takes....As Christians we believe that each of us has a specific vocation and a mission to fulfill. In this context, progress means doing our part to bring about the Kingdom of Christ in human society.

Finally, the progress of the earthly city does not exhaust the human condition. No matter how much human society progresses, our temporal existence will come to an end. We are called to eternal life in Christ. True progress must take into account man's spiritual dimension and transcendent vocation as a child of God destined for heaven.

Kling: Human Behavior is More than Self-Interest

Arnold Kling:
Economics should be subsumed under the general study of human behavior, not the other way around....I have no sympathy for the economic imperialists who insist that every action must be explained in terms of the rational, self-interested calculator. Instead, I would start with the presumption that every action can be explained in terms of habits, customs, and the like. Making rational economic decisions is just one of many habits. Rational, economic behavior is like a hat. Sometimes we wear the hat, and sometimes we do not.

I also have no sympathy for behavioral economics. All it does is take the rational, individualistic model and extend it to include common biases and mistakes. It generally ignores the larger context of behavioral influences, particularly the social ones...Finally, I should emphasize that I have no sympathy with those who view self-interested economic calculation as a bad habit. On the contrary, I believe it is a very good habit, particularly when it is combined with other habits and ethics for commercial behavior.

Ben Franklin Balanced Reason and Religion

Jerry Weinberger writes that Franklin strove for an "artful balance" between reason and religion. But what did he believe?:
Franklin concluded that rationalistic science could never prove the believers wrong. He also concluded that the rationalists were unlikely to admit to this fact. They turned out to believe in their rationalism as fervently as the believers believed in their miracles, especially the miracle of conscience, or of the voice and spirit of God moving within. Moreover, if one were to push this fact in the rationalists’ faces, they could get just as angry as believers about challenges to their faith. Franklin, it turns out, was a freethinking critic of Enlightenment freethinking.

The conventional and current take on Franklin—that he was a pragmatic moralist and serious Enlightenment Deist and eventually an American patriot—is flat wrong...Franklin was no Deist. He was no pragmatic moralist. And he wasn’t really “The First American.” Franklin was, rather, the first American Baconian. He was also a profound philosopher, deeply skeptical of religion (especially the metaphysical conceits of Deists) and of our everyday moral intuitions. He was also profoundly skeptical of the intellectual foundations of rationalism and the Enlightenment. And he was, to put his politics in a nutshell, a political constructivist and libertarian. Franklin was not as American as apple pie, but he was as American as the corndog.

The Symbiosis of History and Politics: Review of Constantin Fasolt's The Limits of History

Susanne Rau:
The fact that historiography can be influenced by politics, evidence of which can be found in histories written during the nineteenth century and under totalitarian regimes, is not a foregone conclusion, but due to changes in academic culture this connection has slowly slipped into the practice of history. To understand the place of Fasolt's argument, one must consider the differences between two views of the way politics has influenced history. One view focuses upon a work's perspective, the value judgments it makes and sometimes even the content of historiography that comes across in contract works or historical eulogies. The second, the focus of this book, concerns the principles of historical thought. Here, human actions are no longer considered to be governed by divine providence, and the study or writing of history is thus considered a form of political activity.

VDH: Mexifornia 5 Years Later

Victor Davis Hanson: "The flood of illegal immigrants into California has made things worse than I foresaw."

Gingrich Has Priorities over Running for Presidency

Newt Gingrich:
[American Solutions] will spend the next seven months developing an entire new generation of solutions, making sure they are understandable to the American people and that they are supportable by the American people.

Then, on September 27, we will use the power of the Internet to start to make these solutions available to every candidate from both parties in every elected office in the country....Our hope is to reach out across the country and create such a wave of change on a nonpartisan basis that anybody of any background who wants to use science, who wants to use the power of productivity, who wants to revitalize American virtues that work, has the tools to do so and to help others realize their potential as well....The liberated energies of 300 million Americans are a dramatically more potent force for good then anyone's force for evil. And I can't think of a more important way to spend the next seven months than helping unleashing that potential. I hope you'll join our effort at where you can make a difference.

Kling: Why Be a Conservative Libertarian

Arnold Kling at TCS:
The typical libertarian shorthand is that we are with the Democrats on social issues and with the Republicans on economic issues. In recent years, the Republicans betrayed us on economic issues. However, my sense is that many in the conservative movement are anxious to repent. On foreign policy, I think that we can gradually persuade more of them to come to their senses on the challenges of the Natural State.

Meanwhile, the Democrats seem to be completely dug in to hard-left positions on economics. They lack any vision for foreign policy. I think we should stick with our marriage to conservatives, and try to make it work.

Lee Edwards on Conservative Fusionism

From Heritage:
But fusionism requires more than a consensus as to goals: It needs a foe common to all conservatives. Militant communism served as a unifying threat from the late 1940s through the late 1980s...Leviathan's lengthening shadow across America did not suffice to bring conservatives together until Newt Gingrich and his merry band of congressional revolutionaries offered America a Contract...The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the jihad proclaimed by Islamic fundamentalists temporarily united the nation and the conservative movement...The impasse can be broken with a renewed fusionism based on limited government, the free market, individual freedom and responsibility, a balance between liberty and law, and a commitment to moral order and to virtue, both private and public. These are the core beliefs, bounded by the Constitution, on which American conservatism rests and by which its leaders have always sought to govern.

McClay: Is Conservatism Finished?
The fissures and conflicts within conservatism are getting so much attention now because conservatism is still, intellectually speaking, where the principal action remains. So long as the Democratic party continues down the road it has been following, led by its aging left-wing lions and lionesses, funded and directed by the most extreme and irresponsible elements in its ranks, and finding clarity only in discrediting George W. Bush and regaining office, conservatives will always have plenty to unify around. For their own part, so long as conservatives are able to remember Ronald Reagan as a leader who not only embodied the distinctive characteristics of American conservatism but who finessed its antinomies and persevered against the contempt and condescension of his own era—including among some of his allies—they can yet regain their bearings and prevail.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Mansfield: "Democracy and Greatness"

Harvey Mansfield:
The desire for distinction in a great man represents a threat to the established institutions of a democratic republic. Yet it is not likely that a democracy is going to express its gratitude to such a person for not overthrowing it--any more than a man will thank his guest for not raping his wife. Thus the great man in a democracy must show his modesty in noble condescension to his fellow citizens, as he must consider them. Lincoln did this, and so did George Washington, whose name Lincoln recommended to be revered "to the last."

Goldberg Explains: What is a Conservative

Jonah Goldberg answers: "Comfort with contradiction."

A New New Deal to Rebuild the Middle Class?

Joel Kotkin and David Friedman propose a new New Deal to help the slowly shrinking (as they contend) middle-class:
Is there any way to restore the prospects of middle- and working-class Americans? A comprehensive program to rebuild the nation's highways and bridges, upgrade its ports, construct and expand its energy lifelines and enlarge its public transportation systems could generate hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs. Admittedly, this back-to-basics strategy is not glamorous. But it has helped narrow economic inequality in the past by producing more balanced economic growth.

MacDonald: Hispanic Family Values Argument is a Myth

Heather MacDonald: Conservatives who support open borders are fond of invoking 'Hispanic family values' as a benefit of unlimited Hispanic immigration. Marriage is clearly no longer one of those family values. But other kinds of traditional Hispanic values have survived—not all of them necessarily ideal in a modern economy, however. One of them is the importance of having children early and often...The most powerful Hispanic family value—the tight-knit extended family—facilitates unwed child rearing.

Heritage - Container Port Security

Heritage Foundation issued a policy paper that includes various links to multiple studies on the current state of container port security.

Post-Post Modern = Pseudomodern

Alan Kirby at Philosophy Now buries post-modernism and replaces it with pseudo-modernism. For instance:
pseudo-modernism sees the ideology of globalised market economics raised to the level of the sole and over-powering regulator of all social activity" and "the pseudo-modernist communicates constantly with the other side of the planet, yet needs to be told to eat vegetables to be healthy, a fact self-evident in the Bronze Age. He or she can direct the course of national television programmes, but does not know how to make him or herself something to eat – a characteristic fusion of the childish and the advanced, the powerful and the helpless.

Here's the deal....

Originally, OSB was my solo blog in which I posted about things in much the same way I do now over at Anchor Rising. The new OSB is going to be a web-based suppository--a live-blog--of my own topic-based research library. Simple as that.

The Lights are Flickering...

More to come...I've decided--after 10 months--that the ol' girl has some life in her after all.