Monday, March 31, 2003

There is something very ironic about this picture being taken by a French news agency. Nevertheless, quite inspiring. I actually got it from the Houston Chronicle.

Agence France Presse

A U.S. Army soldier inspects a convoy as it arrives at the front gate of an allied airbase which coalition forces have nicknamed "Bush International Airport" today in the southern Iraqi desert.
Perhaps the facts in the graphic below will finally lay to rest the idea that we created Saddam or that he was our ally. It is true we used Saddam's ambitions when he invaded Iran and we did sell him more than we should have (which was nothing). But we hardly made him an ally and his biggest supporters were Russia, China and France.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Today Dennis Prager, during the third hour of his broadcast, hit on the topic I most emphatically disagree with him on. As usual the disagreement occured while Prager was discussing a concrete issue with which I do tend to agree. Somewhere in a Quaker elementary school in Pennsylvania, second graders were asked by their teachers to write letters to the President calling for an end to the war in Iraq. I completely concur with Prager's point that this propagandizing to young children is wrong. Children at that age should be taught primarily reading, writing, and arithmetic. If they ask a question, the teacher should certainly answer it honestly, but the teacher should not assign letter writing based on political points of view the children may or may not understand.

Prager's second point about this letter writing assignment was the fact that Jesus and Christianity were used as arguments against the war. Prager asked Christians to call in to give their views as to whether such an interpretation of Christianity was justified. The Christians who did call in argued that individuals using Christianity and Jesus in opposition to war were engaging in a rather selective reading of the New Testament, and several cited sections of the New Testament that do lend support to governments engaging in wars to root out evil. Prager added that they were completely ignoring pro-war sentiments expressed in the Old Testament.

It was during a call by a Christian expressing his frustration with "humanist" opponents of war and other issues that Prager made a comment to which I am utterly opposed. The caller described situations in which policy issues were discussed with secular people and whenever the Christian would offer his faith as a justification for the policy, the secular side would argue that they would only accept secular arguments and any policy arguments backed by faith are by that very fact invalid. To this Prager responded that all moral evaluations whether secular or religious are based on faith.

It is to this last statement I have to respond. Let's take this seriously for a moment. Prager claims that all moral evaluations are based on faith. Faith is basically belief in the absence of evidence. This means that faith is the feeling that something is right without any rational reason to support it. And how is the feeling that war is right to be justified? How can any appeal to feeling be justified? It cannot. Not if feelings are claimed to be the fundamental basis our moral judgements and on which all our subsequents argument for or against an issue are depend. Imagine any argument of a high level of complexity. The argument begins with both sides making the case rationally but according to Prager necessarily ends with both sides reaching their fundamental feelings on the matter about which they cannot argue at all. So basically the secular Pragmatists like Dewey and Peirce who argued that moral pronouncements amount to emotional ejaculations are correct. I thought Prager's reason for support of religion over secularism was that religion provides an objective basis for moral values. But clearly Prager has now entirely conceded the case to the moral relativists. Their positions are based just as much on feelings as Prager's faith. Who's to say who's right? I do feel Prager is right most of the time but others feel differently. Why are some people's feelings better than others? Is there no way in which feelings can be judged rationally?

Make no mistake about it, this is precisely the reason why our culture is in the mess that it is. The religious and the secular, despite some vigorous denials to the contrary primarily from the religious side, agree entirely with the statement that Prager made which basically means: There is no rational, objective, scientific basis for morality. There are only faith and feelings. Faith that God's pronouncements are correct, the feelings of the majority or the feelings of the individual. This is the great myth of the present culture. Only the remnants of the Enlightenment ideas of the founding of this country are keeping it from turning into the moral wasteland of Europe. The fact is that it is possible to base morality on something other than faith. And this fact has been known since the publication of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged in 1957 where Ayn Rand first offered her Objectivist ethics, the first truly objective, rational, and scientific morality in history, to the world. I will not attempt to reconstruct her argument for it here. In the early sixties Ayn Rand published an essay called Introduction to Objectivist Ethics, in which the argument is clearly presented. The essay is reprinted in her book Virtue of Selfishness. In addition Leonard Peikoff in his 1991 book Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand gives a complete and thorough presentation based partly on a lecture course authorized by Ayn Rand that he gave in the seventies. Tara Smith's Viable Values published in 2000 gives a detailed academic presentation of the metaethics of Objectivism with some important criticisms of non-Objectivist alternatives. Finally, Craig Biddle's Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It published in 2002 gives a complete, easy to read, presentation of Objectivist ethics for the educated layman and demolishes the false alternative of religion vs. relativism.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Just a slight clarification to what I wrote below. I wrote "we seem to value Iraqi civilian casualties higher than we value casualties among our own troops." Of course, what I meant was we seem to value Iraqi civilian lives more than we values the lives of our own troops. The irony with such an attitude is that critics never quite believe it no matter how many of our soldiers are lost compared to the number dead and injured Iraqi civilians. The Israeli experience here is instructive.
While I still have no doubt about our ultimate victory certain things about this war do irk me. It does appear that we seem to value Iraqi civilian casualties higher than we value casualties among our own troops. This no doubt derives partly from our attempt to completely separate the Iraqi people from its government. While President Bush has been admirably on target when it comes to the correct justification of the war, namely, the intolerability of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist sponsoring regime like Iraq, particularly in the shadow on the 9/11 massacre, others such as Dennis Prager seem to focus primarily on the benefits that the overthrow of the regime would have for the Iraqi people. Unfortunately, there is some reason to belive that his war is being fought more in line with Prager's assumptions than our own national self-interest. Particularly relevant is the following column, which concludes rather thoughtfully: "The declarations of respect for Iraq look like a cover for the U.S. administration's own uncertainty - reflecting a desire not to be seen launching an American war in the name of American interests." It is truly a sad day when the greatest and most powerful country in history cannot proudly assert its own self interests.

Of course, this should all sound very familiar, as that is almost exactly how the Afghan war was fought, and, I might add won, despite various politically correct efforts which seemed to undermine it. It does appear that we have some leeway in the extent to which we can undermine our own efforts, at least up to a certain point. An interesting thought experiment would be to imagine how the battle would go if we did not engage in these pc shenanigans. I suspect it might just go a lot better than people would expect (not that things are going particularly bad at the moment).

During his second hour today, Dennis Prager conducted an interview with a Jordanian businessman who runs the largest Arab language online community. The Jordanian man had clearly been to the West, had contacts with Israeli businessmen, and regularly watches the western media. Nevertheless his opinions were eye-openers for people overly optimistic about "democracy" in the region. He thought Al Jazeera was a source of greater truth than the Washington Post. He thought the Iraq war is a tragedy and big mistake for the United States and that support for Saddam among Arabas was increasing as he is increasingly seen as defending the Iraqi people from American agression. He thought that one of the reasons the US is hated in the Arab world is its support for Israel. He blamed the US and Israel for the millions of Palestinian refugees still in camps after 55 years. While he thought that peace with Israel was ultimately necessary, he rejected Prager's characterization of Israel having offered the Palestinians 95% of the West Bank and Gaza and instead asserted that what was in fact offered was 10-20% of the original territory lost (clearly referring thereby to the 1948 conflict in which Israel was established). At the same time and somewhat in apparent contradiction he thought that Israel at minimum should withdraw from all the territories conquered in 1967. He thought that while the 9/11 terrorist attack was to be condemned, the US made a mistake by overthrowing the Taliban regime and should have instead looked at the "root causes" of the hatred generated by American policies with respect to Israel and the Arab states. For example, he thought that the main reason that there are Arab dictatorships is that the US supplies them with weapons.

What is one to say to such fantasies?

Add to that Barry Rubin's column titled "Can the 'wall of lies' be breached?" Rubin recounts his participation in a "a panel discussion on the US war with Iraq, facing journalists and academics in three Arab capitals." Here are some choice excerpts of some of the assertions he encountered:

* The United States was leveling Baghdad, deliberately attacking residential areas and hitting such buildings as hospitals. One panelist said he knew Baghdad well and that the neighborhood being hit was a place where many people lived.

* The plan for the attack had been set at a 1997 meeting to honor the centennial of the first Zionist Congress.

* Americans hated Arabs and Muslims.

* Bush was the true leader of the Axis of Evil, and basically the United States was seeking world conquest. Of course the widespread opposition to the war in Europe and even in the US was cited in this regard.

I can only echo Rubin's conclusion:

What remains so disturbing is the disconnection between reality and the beliefs and ideas offered up by most of the Arab world. What will it take to shake these misperceptions, which have led to so much suffering and failure? Perhaps Iraq, at least, might escape the treadmill to nowhere.

Here's a good article about war casualties and another one about so-called Operation 'Setbacks'? Both articles are from Tech Central Station.

Monday, March 24, 2003

A U.S. pilot flashes a victory sign. (AP)

Having watched the watched the war coverage since its inception about 5 days ago, it is still amazing to me how quickly some of the coverage has turned negative, implying that the war is not going as well as it in fact is. For an excellent analysis of this kind of coverage see James Lileks blog. I will just add that I still expect the actual major fighting in this war to be over in a matter of weeks, not months. I expect the casualties to be in the hundreds, not thousands. And yes, I do expect most Iraqis will cheer us when we finally liberate them from Saddam's grip. Unfortunately most still means "not all" and thus there will be some Iraqis who will fight us for various reasons. As I was telling my wife the other night, a country is not held in terror by one man alone. Saddam had numerous henchmen and they feel in many ways more sympathetic to Saddam than we do. So it is not surprising that not everybody has surrendered just yet. Saddam also has access to various hired goons and terrorists as we are already seeing in Northern Iraq. None of that will help him. We will be victorious.
Prager's quality deteriorated severely during the third hour. He had on a guest, a Rabbi Mark Gaffney (sp?) who had written a new book called "Mystery of Sex." The book was apparently published by Simon & Schuster though during a quick search I could find no trace of it on the Internet. According to the author, the book is about the relationship between the sexual and erotic based on Kabbalistic stories. Kabbalistic refers to deriving from Jewish mysticism. Since the first ten or so minutes of discussion lived up to the author's mystical intent I stopped listening so my comments are only based on these minutes. Religion is still the original mysticism and mysticism by its very nature is irrational. It's a confusing statistic today that many self-proclaimed mystics are more rational (at least in their moral conclusions) than many so-called scientists and that has to do with the corruption of reason in the sciences over many centuries but it does not make the original mystics at base any more rational. It simply means we should not be fooled by either.
During the second hour of the Dennis Prager show, Prager spent some time trying to discredit the efforts of the "Peace Activists." Prager expressed his wish that eventually when people hear the words "peace activist" they will equate them in their heads with "torturer protector" -- something I think has already happened in my mind.

Prager read detailed excerpts from an essay by Daniel Pepper a former "human shield." The essay was appropriately titled "I was a naive fool to be a human shield for Saddam". Mr. Pepper describes that upon his encounter of real Iraqis supporting a war by the US to overthrow Saddam he began to question his assumptions and change his mind about the war to the point where he is not "exactly pro-war - no, [...] ambivalent - but [with] a strong desire to see Saddam removed." It is certainly to Daniel Pepper's credit that he did change his mind and was willing to admit he was wrong. But I can't help but wonder why it took going to Iraq to figure this all out -- after all the information of which Mr. Pepper speaks is widely available in the West. I have to conclude that people like Mr. Pepper are so completely distrustful of their goverment and any sources to the right of Noam Chomsky that they have to actually have people in Iraq tell them personally that they are wrong.
Today's Dennis Prager show coverage

During the first hour Prager talked about the spectacle of the academy awards which could not find time for any supportive comments for the troops presently fighting for their freedom. He also talked about Michael Moore's statement against the President and the war, as well as about Adrien Brody's statement. Ironically, my wife and I while sitting in the kitchen eating dinner couldn't find anything interesting on TV so we tuned to ABC to watch the Oscars just as the nominations for Best Documentary Features were announced. To our great dismay Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine won at which point we immediately changed the channel.

If we had stayed tune, we would have heard Michael Moore say the following:

"We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president," Moore said. "We live in a time where we have a man who's sending us to war for fictitious reasons, whether it's the fiction of duct tape or the fiction of orange alerts. "
AP via Yahoo News

Fortunately, Moore was booed by the crowd.

Meanwhile Adrien Brody, upon winning the Academy Award for best actor in the movie The Pianist said the following:

"After making this film, I am aware of the sadness and dehumanization of people at times of war and the repercussions of war. Whatever you believe in, whether it be God or Allah, may he watch over you and pray for a peaceful and swift resolution."

Let me begin by saying that I saw The Pianist with my dad. Neither of us thought it was a particularly good movie. While the acting was good, the main character in the story is not much of a protagonist and is simply moved about by events entirely outside of his control. A minor point was that according to my dad, some of the brutality of the Nazi soldiers seemed to be slightly exaggerated for effect. The movie was definitely in what Ayn Rand called the naturalistic tradition and thus portrayed events rather journalistically. Of course this is not surprising since this movie was attempting to portray a real person's life. Nevertheless, it does not make for particularly appealing drama.

Now, as Prager pointed out with respect to the comment that Mr. Brody made, Mr. Brody does not seem to have understood anything from making this film. Prager asserted that it is not war that dehumanizes people but Evil. "Were American soldiers who freed concentration camp inmates in Europe dehumanized?" Prager asked rhetorically. I couldn't agree more. There was no war within the areas under German control, yet one could hardly imagine a group of people more dehumanized. As a wise woman once pointed out there is something worse than war -- dictatorship. And dictatorship is the cause of war. Free people do not initiate wars against other free peoples.

Unfortunately, Brody's comment, having a neutral air about it, was cheered by the crowd at the Oscars, indicating that the above subleties entirely escaped their understanding.

Let me also comment on something that Prager didn't. Last night a confessed rapist received the academy award for best director. I was vaguely aware of the rumors surrounding Roman Polanski before watching The Pianist. However, it was only recently that I was able to read Grand Jury testimony of his victim. Reading it made me ashamed of having seen any movie by that monster. And it is a further shame on the Academy that they ignored this man's criminal history in their award selection.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Nothing particularly worthwile on the Dennis Prager show today. Charles Krauthammer was on railing against the United Nations. Prager predicted asserted that this war is as important an event as World War II. I agree with Krauthammer -- the US should have long ago withdrawn from the UN. I also agree with Prager, this is a seminal event.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

The highlight of Prager's show today was the amusing spectacle of the Professor of Law who hung up on Prager after he would not consider Prager's hypothetical question about when it would be legal to go to war against Iraq. This was at the begining of the third hour. The second hour was spent talking about the state of the airline industry with Edward Hudgins, an adjunct scholar of the Cato institute and Director of the Washington Office of the misnamed "Objectivist" Center. In the first hour Prager talked about an article by a self-proclaimed atheistic BBC journalist who described the average American as being quite religious and believing in such things as Good and Evil, heaven and hell, God and satan. The journalist was not sneering but seemed to be somewhat incredulous that this country is still permeated with such beliefs.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Today is March 18, 2003 and war is imminent. It is expected to be no more than about a day away. Prager's show today started out by talking about the coming war and reviewing the justifications for it and the inadequacy of the arguments against it. He also talked about Rachel Corrie, the "American" "protestor" who died when she tried to stop an Israeli bulldozer trying to destroy a terrorist's home. In the second hour he talked about the New York Times finally acknowledging that Paul Ehrlich had been wrong all those years when he predicted a population explosion and asked callers if they had fewer children as a result of listening to zero population group arguments. Prager concluded in the third hour with a discussion of what children should be told about the war. He thought children should be told that there are some bad guys in the world but we're about to take care of them. The Lone Ranger was used as an example of the kind of fiction that children could draw important lessons from.

Monday, March 17, 2003

On today's Prager Show, Dennis Prager talked mostly about the coming war and about what was left to say about the anti-war side. Much of the first hour was spent railing against the "it's not moral if we go it alone" argument. Prager quite correctly pointed out that whether or not a war is moral is not determined by the number of supporters we have. Much of this sort of talk continued into the second hour. In the third hour, Prager quoted from a history textbook his son is using at his college, and demonstrated the bankruptcy of university text with some examples of the coverage of the Korean War in the 1950s. Prager mentioned for example that the book accuses the US of holding up the armistice talks by refusing to enforce a provision of the Geneva Convention for Prisoners of War. The provision was that prisoners of war were to be returned to the home country whereas the US wanted to give the prisoners a choice as to whether they might prefer to stay in (presumably) South Korea rather than going back to Communist North Korea or China. He further recalled what happened the last time prisoners of war were returned to a communist country, namely the Soviet prisoners of war during World War II, which upon being returned to the USSR were murdered by Stalin's regime. But, as Prager points out, the text seems to mention none of that but rather chooses to focus on the apparent irrational stubborness of the United States in preferring to follow its own ideals rather than "international law."

Virtually all of my knowledge of history, particularly US history, came from my own reading. In High School I had the required year of U.S. History though I don't really remember too much of it. I only took one history course at UCLA and that was Japanese history which I actually did enjoy. The Professor was clearly Liberal, though he seemed mostly fair. It was clear from the way he talked that his personal view was that we should not have bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, though he allowed some discussion of this and did not press the point to the best of my knowledge.
Well, I'm back from a relaxing weekend. Some personal notes: My wife and I watched Gladiator Saturday night, a truly great if somewhat tragic movie. Also I had enough time to reread Craig Biddle's Loving Life, a book that can be said to very effectively and concretely cover the essential argument for the Objectivist ethics. I'm also beginning to reread the J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, starting with Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Friday, March 14, 2003

Actually since Prager spent the third hour rerunning his show on the right-wing nature of the Nazis, I have an opportunity to post an analysis of my reasons for disliking the whole right-wing, left-wing terminology. This analysis was originally contained in an email to a friend of mine.

Originally written on January 23, 2003

By the way, I can't resist commenting on the "Nazism is an extreme right-wing goverment" claim that Prager made and defended during the week against numerous unfortunate right-wing callers. I think you know my basic take on this. The right/left continuum is in my opinion at best rather limited in utility and
ultimately unhelpful.

Apparently historically (and I haven't checked on this but it's repeated everywhere) this distinction traces itself to the assembly during the French
revolution where the supporters of the monarchy sat on the right and the revolutionaries sat on the left. Since then the continuum's basic distinctions
are usually regarded as follows:

On the right wing we generally put the following ideas (in no particular order):

Nationalism, racism, religion, capitalism, fascism

On the left wing we generally put the following ideas:

Socialism, Communism, internationalism

Of course this list is not meant to be exhaustive. The extreme right is represented by fascism, national socialism, and religious theocracies. The extreme left is represented by the communist countries. The continuum is curved and thus the extreme right and extreme left almost meet. The center is taken to be liberal democracy presumably with a little religion and capitalism as well as a welfare state.

I would say this scheme is okay as far as it goes and of course I frequently refer to it myself. But I would say it is in the end not very helpful either morally or politically.

I reject the idea that because something is held to be "extreme" it is therefore necessarily bad and for that matter if an idea is "moderate" it is therefore necessarily good. I think this is part of the assumption that Prager works from; he calls himself "a passionate moderate" (or is it centrist?) after
all. In response, I could pose the same criticism that he posed to the poor right-wingers who called up and tried to say that only extreme left-wing
regimes are evil. He said their position is self-serving since by their definition no matter how extreme the right, it can do no wrong. But it seems to
me by a similar argument I could say that Prager's position is self-serving since he implies nothing evil could ever come from a moderate position. I claim
the so called "extremity" of a position (whatever that is supposed to mean) has little to do with whether something is right or wrong. We evaluate right and
wrong by comparisons with a proper moral standard. If systems meet the standard then to that extent they are good whether they are right-wing or left-wing. If
systems fail to meet or go against the standard, then to that extent they are bad. A properly defined moral standard should be consistently upheld. I don't
think it would be more moral to be "moderate" and uphold it only 50% of the time. Rather one should be "extreme" (consistent) and uphold it 100% of the
time or as close as one can get.

To give a simple example: There are two extremist positions: 1. We should execute all murderers. 2. We should not execute any murderers. Presumably the
moderate position is: We should execute some murderers. It may be the moderate position but it is not the moral one. Morally, we want position 1. It may
always be possible to find an extreme that is bad but that is because of the way we set up the continuum. I could set up the positions in such a way that
both the extremes are bad: 1. All criminals should be executed 2. No criminals should be executed. Here the presumably moderate position is:
Only some criminals should be executed which is the moral position since presumably we don't want pick-pockets executed. But this all depends on how the
continuum is set up.

In politics a proper moral standard would be the protection of individual rights and in that respect there is indeed a proper continuum. From the U.S.
and the West in general where individual rights are largely respected to the various totalitarians, whether right or left, religious or secular where rights
are basically absent.

So to summarize, I think it's okay to continue to use the terms right-wing and left-wing. I will certainly continue to do so. But the reality is that both are
grab-bags of different ideological strains and movements, most of which, frankly, are bad to varying degrees. These days I still say I am part of the
right but if I announce it to a stranger I have to spend quite a few minutes distinguishing my views from all the other right-wingers (moderate or extreme).
So again I think the terms are at best of limited utility and ideally would be replaced with actual ideological terms such as Objectivist, Catholic, Orthodox
Jew, Marxist, Socialist, Pragmatist, etc.

By the way I think the terms "liberal" and "conservative" are basically as limited as "right" and "left" and in some ways more so. But that's a whole
other story.

On Fridays Dennis Prager's second hour is always the so-called "Happiness Hour," a feature which usually causes me to stop listening to his show during that day, perhaps primarily because he insists on singing along with his happiness hour theme music. It appears that additionally today the shows were all reruns. The first hour was a rerun of the interview with Norma Khouri, whose book Honor Lost: Love and Death in Modern-Day Jordan vividly recounts the so-called "honor killings:" Murders of Arab women by male members of their families for activities by the women considered dishonorable by their families. The third hour was a rerun of his challenge to right wing listeners who had responded angrily to one of his recent columns, in which, while he was discussing the reasons as to why Jews and Blacks vote Democratic, he dared claim that Nazism was a right-wing doctrine. I am not sure whether the "Happiness Hour" was a rerun since I don't listen to enough of them for the reason stated above, but it seems unlikely that Prager only broadcast the middle of his regular three hours without commenting on this fact (which he didn't seem to in the first 5 minutes of the second hour). Thus I think it is safe to assume that the "Happiness Hour" was a rerun as well.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Today Dennis Prager focused on the apparent rise of antisemitism in his first hour, proceeded to talk about the importance of marriage to society and its members during the second hour and concluded his program with an interview of Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard.

I think I shall keep my comments brief. I am somewhat worried about rising antisemitism in the world but less so in the US. I think the fact that the US is neither racially nor religiously homogeneous prevents anything untoward from happening here. My own experience in this regard has fortunately been limited to only one incident in college where I recall a conversation that ended with the claim that the Jews control the media. Other than that I don't think I have really encountered any antisemitism. Nevertheless, the increasing number of antisemitic voices on the Left in the US, as well as a few definite voices on the Right are worthy of keeping an eye on.

On the issue of marriage I agree with Prager with the the usual provisos. I also believe marriage is important and signifies a public declaration of commitment. As he says it is certainly a contract but in many ways more than a contract. I cannot agree with his view that a religious ceremony is necessarily superior to a secular one. A religious ceremony is certainly usually more elaborate but whether it means that the individuals involved will take their vows more seriously depends on their integrity and rationality (and the rationality of the vows themselves). Of course, if one religiously believes that divorce should never happen (as some Catholics still do) then one will stay together for life regardless of the consequences. I don't consider such an outcome superior to a secular divorce.

Finally, the interview with Mr. Kristol reviewed some of the arguments for war with Iraq and some of the positions that Mr. Kristol's publication took over the years with respect to terrorism and other issues. In general, I like Mr. Kristol's positions in the area of foreign policy far more than his stances on some social policy issues. However there are exceptions in both cases.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Just finished reading a fascinating essay at Tech Central Station. The article is called Our World-Historical Gamble and was written by Lee Harris (here is a link to his bio). It is quite long -- if printed it would come to about seventeen pages. The primary point of the article seems to be to establish that the advent of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of radical Arab and Islamic regimes necessitates a change in world-outlook away from the classical political ideas of Realpolitic and self-determination. If one ignores some unnecessary Hegelian notions spread liberally throughout the article then there is much with which one can agree in Harris' essay. Here are some choice excerpts:

But it is equally critical that we are not misled into trying to win the hearts and minds of the Islamic fantasists. We must not set about trying to convert them in believing in our principles and accepting our values, however noble and lofty these values might be. Nor must we be seduced into believing that we are in a popularity contest, as if we were trying to sell Western values as if it were a consumer product. If it should happen to come about that these values make inroads in the Islamic world, fine and good. But it must not became our aim.

Our aim is simple. It is to make the Islamic fantasists respect the dictates of reality...

And that is why, in order to achieve our end of heightening their grasp on reality, no means should be ruled out. We must be prepared to use force "unstintingly," as Woodrow Wilson declared on America's reluctant entry into World War I. On this count, we must have no illusions. Until they are willing to play by our rules, we must be prepared to play by theirs.

I think I will limit my comments to Prager's third hour. First, I have to say, as someone who does not believe in an afterlife, the idea that I might not get salvation in this alleged afterlife if I don't believe in Jesus, may provoke various reactions in my psyche but offense is not one of them. Thus, like Prager, I am not offended by this doctrine. And I fully agree with Prager's other broader point about the exclusivity of belief. However, that raises an interesting question: What kinds of ideas would justify taking offense? This is a question worth pondering.

In Prager's third hour he addressed the view of Christian Evangelicals that without a belief in Jesus salvation is not possible. Prager asserted that he was not offended by this and proceeded to criticise people who are offended. He pointed out that it is a broad truth that anybody who passionately believes in a specific way to salvation, whether in this life or in the next will necessarily conclude that others who are not following that way will not be saved. In other words this type of exclusivity is not limited to Evangelicals.
During Prager's second hour, he conducted an interview with feminist Professor of Arabic Literature Miriam Cooke of Duke University. Professor Cooke was quoted in a March 8, 2003 Wall Street Journal op-ed piece entitled Liberation's Limits by Kay S. Hymowitz. Here is the relevant paragraph in which she is quoted. (I have bolded the part that quotes her:)

Postcolonial, or multicultural, feminists who tend to congregate in the universities have a different reason than gender feminists for not wanting to speak up about the oppression of women in the Muslim world. For them, the guilty legacy of imperialism has made any judgment of formerly colonized peoples an immoral expression of "orientalism" and a corrupt attempt to brand "the other." If Muslim men could be said to oppress their women, it is in any case the fault of Western imperialists, or more specifically, Western men. "When men are traumatized [by colonial rule], they tend to traumatize their own women," says Miriam Cooke, a Duke professor and head of the Association for Middle East Women's Studies. The postcolonial feminist condemns not just war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but any instances of what Columbia professor Gayatri Spivak calls "white men saving brown women from brown men."

Prager's first hour today was devoted to the increasing subjection of schoolchildren to what amounts to political indoctrination by school teachers. I have a personal experience with this sort of thing which I would like to briefly recount.

During my 10th grade year in 1985 at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, CA, I was enrolled in a Hebrew class. One day during the class a teacher introduced a guest speaker who proceeded to take over the class and gave a talk about how Israel should withdraw from the territories it originally conquered in the 1967 Six Day War and how that would result in peace for Israel with the Arab countries in the Middle East. I have to say that, being even then substantially opposed to such notions, I was not amused. Fortunately, few people in the class (except, of course, the teacher) agreed with the speaker and his attempt at indoctrination ended in failure.

Of course the main point here is that the incident recounted should not have happened at all. As Prager correctly pointed out on his show, regardless of the whether the political views presented are right or wrong, "left-wing" or "right-wing," this sort of thing simply has no place in school. The students at that age generally do not have the knowledge or intellectual means to properly understand the issues involved. Perhaps if students were properly taught logic and rhetoric, then as part of a debate class some analysis of political positions might be appropriate during the last years of High School. But the reports that I've read on the web and the calls on the Prager show indicate that these are not attempts at debate or logic at all and the target audience appears around the age of Middle School and younger. Apparently the situation in schools has only gotten worse over the last 18 years. Yet another reason why my wife and I will homeschool our child.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Correction: The utilitarians are a kind of combination of Epicurus and a certain aspect of Christianity, not Kant as such. Epicurus was a hedonist. He advocated that the standard of moral value is happiness. Christianity, among other things, advocates "love thy neighbor as thyself." If one puts the two together one gets that the standard of moral value is your neighbor's pleasure or as the utilitarians usually put it, "the greatest happiness of the greatest number." Of course one is allowed to count one's own pleasure but only as one among all the others.
Now on to the meat of the matter. Prager spent the last hour of his program today attempting to clarify his views on the consequences of the decline of Judeo-Christian values and the rise of secular ideas. Specifically, Prager maintained that it is only the belief that man is created in God's image that could be a valid basis for believing in human moral superiority to animals. He further blamed the decline of marriage and reduced desire to have children on secularism. His third example consisted of foreign policy where the morality of the war in Iraq is to be decided by a UN consensus rather than the fixed viewpoints of religion. And finally he pointed to the absence of wisdom at the university, a largely secular institution, which has the distinction of discussing and advocating some of the most foolish ideas in society.

Interestingly Prager insisted he was not trying to convert any atheists or encourage anyone to believe in God. He was simply trying to make clear the consequences of what he termed secularism. He was arguing in effect that no matter what side of the issue one is on, one has to acknowledge that without religious Judeo-Christian values the consequences he enumerated are inevitable. Prager as usual is merely insisting on "clarity."

I will begin by commenting that not all the consequences mentioned by Prager are bad in my view. For example, the issue of whether or not one has children, everything else being equal, is not a moral issue in my view. Context can make it a moral issue in both directions: There are people to whom children would be a great value and there are people who should never have had their children. But human beings as such do not have a moral obligation to have children, notwithstanding the biblical view.

Prager is quite correct on the university as the source and instigator of numerous foolish (and in fact worse than foolish) ideas. They are in fact the source of his two other examples: The consensus view of morality and the moral equivalency of human and animal suffering. The consensus view dates back to the pragmatists such as John Dewey and Charles Peirce, who ultimately derive their ideas from Immanuel Kant. The moral equivalency of humans and animals is a view pushed by Princeton's Peter Singer, among others. Singer's utilitarianism traces its roots to the original utilititarians Mill and Bentham who themselves in effect combine the views of Epicurus and Kant. Ultimately the reason for the presence of these ideas is not secularism as such but a long philosophical development of increasing irrationality that started all the way back in times when most people (and universities as well) were still quite religious. It was the errors and absurdities of the various early religious philosophers which then culminated in the errors and absurdities in the later secular ones. There were parallel trends: The increasing secularism and the increasing tower of irrational errors. Initially, various religious ideas were quite properly rejected in the name of reason. Later on as philosophers made crucial mistakes in understanding how reason works and concluded that reason is impotent, they started to reject almost all abstract principles and concepts due to their initial mistakes. Religion was rejected at the same time as reason. This unfortunately doomed proper secular morality until the arrival of novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand's Objectivism in the 20th century.

First a word on the interview itself. Departing from his habitual politeness, Prager was very combative. He frequently interrupted his guest's answers and did not hesitate to condemn his guest's views morally. Nevertheless, I thought that he was rather too polite. I don't think he should have invited this person at all. What is served by bringing him on and shouting at him? It is one thing to take on the "argument" about the comparable moral worth of humans and animals and expose its fallacies. It is quite another to implicitly treat the absurd claim asserted by the PETA compaign as worthy of discussion among civilized human beings by having a representative of the view in question present his side of things. Prager clearly was partly motivated by the desire to expose the campaign's originator as someone who cannot possibly believe what he is saying. I don't think that's a worthy goal. It is far more important that the ideas behind the campaign are completely invalidated than that the specific people pushing it are exposed as hypocrites. Giving PETA representatives an extra platform from which to speak does not aid the cause of the opposition to such nonsense. Frankly, the less exposure PETA gets the better.
Today Prager interviewed a representative of PETA. This interview occured because PETA has a campaign comparing the treatment of chickens in industrial farms with the treatment of Nazi concentration camp inmates using images of both with the slogan "the holocaust on your plate." The representative interviewed was the creator of the campaign. Prager followed the interview with a cultural analysis of the United States from the perspective of the increasing influence of secular ideas and declining belief in religious ideas. In terms of the issue raised by PETA, Prager presented his view that the idea of human beings being more valuable than animals derives from a belief that man is created in God's image. He then proceeded to give several examples of what he considers to be the perverse consequences of the decline of Judeo-Christian values and rise of what he termed "secularism" and thus secular values. Among the examples were the decline of marriage and increasing number of people choosing not to have children, the large number of people looking to the United Nations as a moral authority, and the absence of wisdom in general and specifically at the University, the premier secular institution.

Monday, March 10, 2003

Finally, let's get to Catholic anguish with respect to the Pope and the Catholic hierarchy. I have to say that at least from my casual glances in the direction of Catholic commentary on this conflict, I've found them much superior to what I've read in other places since at least it does seem to carry the recognition that war is sometimes necessary and that Saddam Hussein is an evil dictator. But having said that the Church seems to by and large in the end come down on the anti-war side.

Not being Catholic or religious for that matter I am not as such bothered by this but I can see how Catholic supporters of the war such as Michael Novak of National Review would have a problem.

Religion and I have a love-hate relationship. There are many aspects of many religions that I can respect, for example, their systemic approach to the world, their insistence on treating issues from a moral perspective, the kindness and generosity of many of their practitioners. On the other hand, I have some severe (and ultimately fatal) objections as well, including, the untenability of the idea of God, the irrationality of a belief in miracles, their advocacy of self-sacrifice (altruism) as a virtue and pride as a sin.

But religions can be interpreted in many different ways, and at least in the limited context of this war, with certain qualifications, I am grateful that our current President is religious. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I am grateful for his specific religiousity which is of a distinctively American kind and thus in many ways superior to, for example, the Pope's.

Sooner or later however, due to inherent limitations, something more than relatively good Americanized religion will be required. But that will depend upon wider cultural changes that may not happen for decades.

On to Jimmy Carter. While Prager addressed every argument in Carter's article, Prager's criticism seemed to refer mostly to the following passages:

As a Christian and as a president who was severely provoked by international crises, I became thoroughly familiar with the principles of a just war, and it is clear that a substantially unilateral attack on Iraq does not meet these standards. This is an almost universal conviction of religious leaders, with the most notable exception of a few spokesmen of the Southern Baptist Convention who are greatly influenced by their commitment to Israel based on eschatological, or final days, theology.

The unanimous vote of approval in the Security Council to eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction can still be honored, but our announced goals are now to achieve regime change and to establish a Pax Americana in the region, perhaps occupying the ethnically divided country for as long as a decade. For these objectives, we do not have international authority. Other members of the Security Council have so far resisted the enormous economic and political influence that is being exerted from Washington, and we are faced with the possibility of either a failure to get the necessary votes or else a veto from Russia, France and China.

Prager was very much upset that Carter seemed to claim his religious values are part of reasons for opposing a war against Iraq. Prager argued that there is no religion that decides the morality of a war based on the number of countries that support its prosecution. I think the broader point is also true: Moral principle (regardless whether its source is considered religious or not) is not decided by a popularity contest.
The idea that moral principles come from the majority seems to have ultimately come from Immanuel Kant (who made collective subjectivism a substitute for objectivity), via a long series of intermediate philosophers. More on that some other time.

Frankly, I don't want to spend too much time on Carter, the worst President in U.S. history, as Prager has accurately characterized him.

Let's get the shorter items out of the way. I heard only a little from the Minnesotans Against Terrorism. They seem to be a good group speaking out against the blatant media white-washing and inconsistency on terror.

This has been one of my frustrations with the news for some time. In the case of Israel, the media refuses to characterize anything violent that the Palestinians do as terror and instead always identifies the perpetrators as militants. Interestingly, the media and some intellectuals also do the reverse to some extent, occasionally characterizing some attacks on military targets as terrorism. This is undesirable and unneccessary. The words terrorism, terror, and terrorist should properly only be used when the civilian population is deliberately targeted in an attempt to terrorize it. When such is clearly the case, as with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the like, to use an inappropriate term adds to the injury done to the victims.

I might also mention the morally unjustifiable habit that the media has of adding the death of the terrorist bombers to the total victim count. Proper coverage of such an event should always separate the deaths of the victims from the terrorists.
For the foreseeable future, much of this blog will be devoted to my comments about the Dennis Prager show. These days I try to listen to Dennis every day -- he is, to the best of my knowledge the most interesting commentator in talk radio.

Among other issues today, Prager discussed former U.S. President Jimmy Carter's op-ed piece in the Sunday NY Times, as well as whether or not Catholic supporters of President Bush's stance on war with Iraq experience frustration and anguish when it comes to the position of the Pope and much of the Catholic hierarchy in general since it is substantially against this war. In addition Prager talked to representatives of the group Minnesotans Against Terrorism.

Sunday, March 09, 2003

First post

Had some good news today: I'm going to get tax refunds from Federal and State taxes totalling over $1500. Thank you President George W. Bush!

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