Thursday, February 28, 2008

More on McCain

...by George Will in a new column.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Around the web...

  • Caroline Glick has written another excellent column reviewing a recent AEI report on Iran's activities in the Middle East. She writes:
    IN AN attempt to break through the post-Iraq invasion compartmentalization of Western discourse on Iran, the American Enterprise Institute published a 68-page report last week that sets out Iran's actions in Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, Iraq and Afghanistan. Authored by Frederick Kagan, Kimberly Kagan and Danielle Pletka, the report, "Iranian Influence in the Levant, Iraq and Afghanistan," shows in copiously documented detail how Iran is strengthening its regional posture at the West's expense not only through military actions but also through economic, cultural and infrastructure projects that build bilateral and multilateral relationships with states and terror groups based on dependency on Teheran.
  • Scott Powell has posted the second part of his fascinating series on intellectual trends in Europe called Europism: Collectivism’s Failure and the Resentment of America.
  • Alexander Marriot posts an anecdote from his graduate school experiences that illustrates the remaining loyalty to socialism (and its moral basis altruism) and its relation to slavery:
    ...it means quite unequivocally that socialists are the only ones who make a moral case against slavery as a labor system. When I queried in class if it were possible for a capitalist to morally condemn slavery I was told quite simply, "No." The only thing which comforted me in this moment was the fact that I was not the only one in the room insulted by this remark, in fact the sense of shock was quite palpable.
  • A combination of David Brooks and Robert Scheer make the case of why I will not vote for John McCain. Let's take the Nation's Scheer first:
    ...the 1996 legislation, although you would never have learned this from the mainstream media at the time, opened the floodgates for massive media consolidation, thus rewarding media moguls for their many millions in campaign contributions. McCain was a big player on that Commerce Committee at the time, and I expected a Times revelation as to just how Iseman got McCain to help gift the media barons with their dream legislation.

    The revelation never came, because the annoying reality is that McCain was one of the rare Senate opponents of the telecom bill that Iseman was pushing--as opposed to the New York Times, which, like every other major media outlet pushed for the legislation (in the case of the Times, without ever conceding its own corporation's financial bias in the matter). McCain was one of five senators (and the sole Republican) who, along with Democrats Russ Feingold, Patrick Leahy, Paul Simon and the great Paul Wellstone, who voted against the atrocious legislation, which President Bill Clinton signed into law.
    I'm sorry but I think legislation that removes barriers for companies to merge is something to be supported not opposed. Brooks mentions McCain's opposition to the above law as well as his support for some others. Examples:
    In 1998, McCain championed anti-smoking legislation that faced furious opposition from the tobacco lobby. McCain guided the legislation through the Senate Commerce Committee on a 19-1 vote, but then the tobacco companies struck back. They hired 200 lobbyists and spent $40 million in advertising (three times as much as the Harry and Louise health care reform ads). Many of the ads attacked McCain by name, accusing him of becoming a big government liberal. After weeks of bitter debate, the bill died on the Senate floor.
    and
    In 2003, the Senate nearly passed the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act. The act was opposed by the usual mix of energy, auto and mining companies. But moderate environmental groups were thrilled that McCain-Lieberman was able to attract more than 40 votes in the Senate.
    In all fairness to McCain, Brooks also mentions McCain's opposition to agricultural subsidies, a position I support but I'm afraid the negatives (particularly support for campaign finance legislation, which Brooks also mentions) here overrule any positives.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Europism

Speaking of Scott Powell, check out the first part of a new series of posts of his on his Powell History Recommends blog. Scott discusses "Europism," a term he coined to identify an important feature of European history:
Europism is rooted in the dismal historical record of European people living as separate, antagonistic tribal and national groups. From the earliest time of the barbarian migrations, to the nineteenth century and twentieth centuries when Germany, Italy, and the various Slavic nations were formed, Europeans have had virtually no grasp of “man qua man.” They’ve always seen themselves as man qua Briton, or man qua Salian Frank, and later man qua Aryan, and man qua Serb, Bosnian, Croat…
Read the whole thing.
The Islamist Entanglement

The situation in the Middle East poses a substantial challenge to those who seek to understand what exactly our government has been doing there over the last few years. At times, the deeper significance of these actions seems a mystery. Let's take a look at a small sample of headlines from the BBC:
  • Claim UK troops 'executed' Iraqis
  • Hamas urges EU Israel pressure
  • Israel to vanish, says Hezbollah
  • Kuwait warns on Lebanon travel
  • Iranians spar with Israel at UN
  • US slaps sanctions on top Syrian
  • W Bank building 'bias' condemned
  • Ahmadinejad Imam row grows
  • Palestinians 'may declare state'
etc., etc.

Clearly, the number of players local to the Middle East is quite large and, combined with the interaction of various Western countries such as the UK and US, there seems to be no lack of complexity to the situation. Add to that the fact that the region's issues did not arise yesterday but have a long history, it becomes a non-trivial problem to study and understand what exactly is going on there and why. I like to think I know more about the Middle East than many Americans, since I lived in Israel for a few years, and have read a good amount about the history of Israel and its neighbors. However, even I get overwhelmed by the number of facts, dates and the sheer complexity of it all.

Fortunately, there is now a new resource available to make sense of the region: Scott Powell's course on the Islamist Entanglement. Scott Powell, who also happens to be my daughter's history teacher, has, via a generous arrangement, allowed me to blog on each of the upcoming 10 lectures of the course. Registration is still open and all lectures will be digitally recorded and available, so feel free to join now. The Islamist Entanglement is part 3 of Scott's A First History for Adults and I have not taken the first two parts. However, based on having now listened to the first lecture, I think that Scott reviews enough relevant history so that I can enjoy part 3 without having to listen to the previous parts.

After an excellent orienting introduction, the first lecture in the course focused on the history of Britain's relationship with the Middle East. Britain was one of the first major European powers to get deeply involved in the Middle East and the effects of its influence are still evident. The pattern of Britain's involvement was guided substantially by its imperial interests, until those ended shortly after World War II. Scott discusses the origin of British involvement in the region, its sometimes conflicting motivations, and the reason for the decline of its involvement. The next lecture will focus on the history of the United States in the Middle East.

I was impressed with Scott's ability to create the sense of an overall story with specific causes leading to specific effects. Scott is quite properly ruthless in only allowing relevant facts to play a role in the story he tells. As a result, while there is still an abundance of dates and events, I never felt lost while listening to the lectures. The milestones that he outlined at the beginning served as anchors to strongly ground the overall story.

A key element of Scott's approach, the five key dates or milestones for the history of the Middle East vis-a-vis the West, are crucial signposts to the history's important trends. The first date is 1683. The date refers to the failure of the siege of Vienna by the Ottoman Turks. This event marks the beginning of Western Ascendancy after a previous period of about a thousand years of increasing Islamic threat. The other dates also refer to pivotal events in the history of the interaction of the Middle East and the West. Scott presents the important concrete events that point to the overall trends that shape history. He intends to review the same historical periods from the perspective of different countries throughout the course, thus reinforcing the trends, as well as the concrete events and dates. This promises to allow one to build up one's knowledge about this important history with each lecture. I'm very much looking forward to the next lecture.

Update: Fixed date.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Some effects of Campaign Finance Laws

For various reasons I'm not a fan on Ann Coulter. However, on occasion she makes some pretty decent polemical points and her recent column on the effect of campaign finance laws is a good example. Her basic point is that a politician such as Reagan, whom she admires, was able to get enough financial support from a relatively small group of rich admirers and thus did not have to beg everybody and their sister for every nickel and dime they can afford to give to his campaign. I think the article is a good illustration of what the campaign finance laws are causing in practice. She writes:
What a bizarre coincidence that a few years after the most draconian campaign-finance laws were imposed via McCain-Feingold, our two front-runners happen to be the media's picks! It's uncanny -- almost as if by design! (Can I stop now, or do you people get sarcasm?)

By prohibiting speech by anyone else, the campaign-finance laws have vastly magnified the power of the media -- which, by the way, are wholly exempt from speech restrictions under campaign-finance laws. The New York Times doesn't have to buy ad time to promote a politician; it just has to call McCain a "maverick" 1 billion times a year.
Unfortunately I think we can expect ever more such restrictions on free speech since the current high dollar figures in use will no doubt be used again to argue that there's too much money in politics. The end result that supporters of such laws are aiming at seems to be publicly financed campaigns, a frightening prospect.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Facets of Ayn Rand -- now available online

It is important for people to know the truth about Ayn Rand the person, as well as Ayn Rand the novelist-philosopher. A good place to begin are the memoirs of Mary Ann and Charles Sures, now available for free online. The Sures family knew Ayn Rand for almost 20 years, and Mary Ann knew her even longer. The memoirs paint a picture of an intelligent and highly passionate woman -- passionate about ideas and about life. At the same time they show a woman who lived on this earth, not in the clouds, who enjoyed spending time with her friends, playing games and even joking around occasionally. Here is a representative excerpt:
ARI: This brings me to the ques­tion: what kind of a boss was Ayn Rand?

MARY ANN:
She was, in a word, a love­ly boss, very easy to work for. She never issued terse orders, or showed impatience, or stood over my shoulder. She was not your stereotypical temperamental genius. There was a graciousness in her manner — there was always “please” and “thank you” when she had a request. But she wasn’t chatty; there was seldom any small talk before I started to work, if she was already at her desk. We agreed on the day’s work and I got right to it.

This raises what I call the spiritual atmosphere of the household. In a few words, it was sheer, unadulterated, never-end­ing good will — an atmosphere created by both Ayn and Frank. Here were two unpretentious and considerate peo­ple. In that home, there were no meta-messages or hidden agendas or speak­ing between the lines — there was always complete candor. And no tension hang­ing in the air. It was, truly, a benevolent universe.

When there wasn’t a full day’s work for me, she apologized. I didn’t mind; I used to float to work, eager to get there. Once, I told her that I liked com­ing over because it was a sane and friend­ly place, and she said, “Oh?” in her characteristic way, and nodded and said, “Well, yes it is, you’re right.” And she added that I was free to come over and br­ing work of my own on days when I wasn’t scheduled to work for her.
Those who are curious what kind of person Ayn Rand really was would be well advised to take a look.
Fidel Castro's Legacy

Fidel Castro has resigned as Cuban President dictator, officially handing command of the country to his brother Raul Castro. This is a good a time as any to review the legacy of this monster and Humberto Fontova provides an excellent summary. Following are some excerpts.

To start with Castro was never one to keep his peaceful promises:
Upon entering Havana on January 7, 1959, Cuba's new leader Fidel Castro broadcast that promise into a phalanx of microphones. "Cuban mothers let me assure you that I will solve all Cuba's problems without spilling a drop of blood." As the jubilant crowd erupted with joy, Castro continued. "Cuban mothers let me assure you that because of me you will never have to cry."

The following day, just below San Juan Hill in eastern Cuba, a bulldozer rumbled to a start, clanked into position, and started pushing dirt into a huge pit with blood pooling at the bottom from the still -twitching bodies of more than a hundred men and boys who'd been machine-gunned without trial on the Castro brothers' orders. Their wives and mothers wept hysterically from a nearby road.
The idea that the US immediately opposed him is a myth:
Former U.S. Ambassador to Cuba, Earl T. Smith, during Congressional testimony in 1960, declared flatly: "We put Castro in power." He referred to the U.S. State Department and CIA's role in aiding, both morally and materially, the Castro rebels, to their pulling the rug out from under Batista with an arms embargo, and finally to the U.S. order that Batista vacate Cuba. Ambassador Smith knew something about these events because he personally delivered the messages to Batista, who was then denied exile in the U.S.

"Me and my staff were all Fidelistas," boasted Robert Reynolds, the CIA's "Caribbean Desk's specialist on the Cuban Revolution" from 1957-1960. The U.S. gave Castro's regime its official benediction more rapidly than it had recognized Batista's in 1952, and lavished it with $200 million in subsidies.
and finally the conditions in Cuba before the revolution were so disastrous as to justify Castro's takeover is another myth:
A UNESCO report on Cuba circa 1957 stated: "One feature of the Cuban social structure is a large middle class.The U.S. Department of Commerce Guide for Businesses from 1956 stated: “Cuba is not an underdeveloped country." In 1958, that "impoverished Caribbean island" had a higher per capita income than Austria and Japan and Cuban industrial workers had the 8th highest wages in the world. Cuba also had the hemisphere’s lowest inflation rate and her peso was always equal in value with the U.S. dollar.

Cuba also had more doctors and dentists per capita than Britain and lower infant mortality than France and Germany the 13th lowest in the world, in fact. Today, Cuba's infant mortality rate despite the hemisphere's highest abortion rate which skews this figure downward is 34th from the top. So, relative to the rest of the world, Cuba's health care has worsened under Castro and a nation with a formerly massive influx of European immigrants needs machine guns, water cannons and Tiger sharks to keep it's people from fleeing. In 1958, 80 percent of Cubans were literate and Cuba spent the most per capita on public education of any nation in Latin America. In 1958, Cubans had the third highest protein consumption in Latin America, more Televisions per capita than any European nation and more autos per capita than Japan and half of Europe.
Read the whole thing.

Friday, February 15, 2008

More on the mass murderer Mughniyeh

...by Caroline Glick at the Jerusalem Post. I especially liked the last paragraph:
Mughniyeh's legacy is not simply a laundry list of massacre and torture. It is the nexus of global terror. While it is a great thing that he is dead, it must be understood that his death is insufficient. Hundreds of thousands converged in Beirut to celebrate his life's work. The West must understand the significance of that work and unite to destroy it - layer after layer.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Good Riddance!

Imad Mughniyeh is dead.
Prager evades Christian Love

In his most recent column Dennis Prager writes down some relatively reasonable thoughts on love. Here's an excerpt that caught my eye:

...But in the love of equals -- i.e., the love between a man and a woman and the love of friends -- it is not only all right to seek to be loved, it is a good thing. Taking the love of a spouse or friend for granted is perhaps the single greatest cause of marital divorce and the breakup of friendships. "What can I do to ensure his/her continuing love?" is a wonderful thing to keep in mind.

3. That is one reason the notion of "unconditional love" is foolish. The fact is, we all earn love, and it is a good thing to have to do so. What possible good purpose can the belief that your spouse loves you unconditionally -- i.e., no matter how you act -- serve? If we believe our spouse loves us no matter what we do, what would motivate us to be on our best behavior at all times? Why be kind even when we are in a foul mood? Why work to stay attractive if he will love me no matter how much I neglect how I look? Why continue to pay attention to her -- like regularly calling her from work -- if I know that even if I ignore her, she will continue to love me?

Unconditional love is not a good idea. I don't know where it originated, but I am quite certain it's relatively recent, a product of an age that has put primary importance on feelings.[emphasis added]

Relatively recent? That is a truly bizarre statement to make for someone who is as enthusiastic about religion as Prager is. Hasn't Christianity has advocated such "unconditional love" for all its history? Here's a relevant passage from the Catholic Encyclopedia on love:

The expression "to love the neighbour for the sake of God" means that we rise above the consideration of mere natural solidarity and fellow-feeling to the higher view of our common Divine adoption and heavenly heritage; in that sense only could our brotherly love be brought near to the love which Christ had for us (John 13:35), and a kind of moral identity between Christ and the neighbour (Matthew 25:40), become intelligible. From this high motive the universality of fraternal charity follows as a necessary consequence. Whosoever sees in his fellow-men, not the human peculiarities, but the God-given and God-like privileges, can no longer restrict his love to members of the family, or co-religionists, or fellow-citizens, or strangers within the borders (Leviticus 19:34), but must needs extend it, without distinction of Jew or Gentile (Romans 10:12), to all the units of the human kind, to social outcasts (Luke 10:33 sqq.), and even to enemies (Matthew 5:23 sq.). Very forcible is the lesson wherein Christ compels His hearers to recognize, in the much despised Samaritan, the true type of the neighbour, and truly new is the commandment whereby He urges us to forgive our enemies, to be reconciled with them, to assist and love them.

And here's another one from a Sermon on love by Martin Luther:

Third, the commandment names, as the sphere of our love, the noblest field, the dearest friend--our neighbor. It does not say, "Thou shalt love the rich, the mighty, the learned, the saint." No, the unrestrained love designated in this most perfect commandment does not apportion itself among the few. With it is no respect of persons. It is the nature of false, carnal, worldly love to respect the individual, and to love only so long as it hopes to derive profit. When such hope ceases, that love also ceases. The commandment of our text, however, requires of us free, spontaneous love to all men, whoever they may be, and whether friend or foe, a love that seeks not profit, and administers only what is beneficial. Such love is most active and powerful in serving the poor, the needy, the sick, the wicked, the simple-minded and the hostile; among these it is always and under all circumstances necessary to suffer and endure, to serve and do good.

No, Mr. Prager it is unconditional love is not a recent idea. It's been around for about 2000 years.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Boycott Berkeley Petition


Enough is enough. Sign the petition!