"You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out." - William Tecumseh Sherman

Name: The General
Location: Sacramento, California, United States


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Saturday, October 30, 2004
  Nihilism vs. Religion
I said that I would post my thoughts on which group is worse, the nihilistic left or the religious right, so here goes. The left has imploded; while they still control massive parts of the country (college and media), they are like Arafat - death is on the way. There is nothing vital in their philosophy any longer; indeed, nothing unifies the left except for their hatred. Their hatred of capitalism, of freedom, of religion. This is a major source of their weakness today; they are capable of destruction, but have nothing positive to replace what they have destroyed.

As a result, the various groups of lefties are fragmented. The analogy for the left which comes to mind is that they are to the culture what David Hume was to philosophy - their skepticism and subjectivism are slowly (and sometimes rapidly) eating away at the vestiges of rationality. But they have left a vacuum in its place.

If the left is David Hume, then the conservatives are Immanuel Kant. Like Kant, the modern day Humes have roused the conservatives from a deep slumber. They have gone from a splintered, ineffectual group to a unified one, dedicated to implementing their morality in politics. In contrast to the left, which has nothing to unite them, the conservatives are united. They may quibble over details, but in essence they agree on fundamentals. The religion of Christianity unites them, and they are actively working to break down the remaining parts of the wall separating church and state.

What is worse, they are openly and avowedly irrational, and this is not seen in a bad light (I owe this point to Onkar Ghate). Indeed, faith is their central, fundamental value. That this does not turn off more American's is disturbing; the left never did and still can't get by with appeals to faith as their primary.

The left also seems to be much more concrete bound than the right. I think this is partly due to the opposing natures of the two groups - the left is splintered, while the conservatives are united. Without a single philosophy to unite the movement, the only alternative is to have disparate groups randomly fighting different (and oftentimes non-essential) battles.

The conservatives, by contrast, are fighting the essential battles, and fighting them step by step. Abortion is the clearest example to date; the right knows that it is impossible to eliminate abortions overnight. They are extremely practical in this regard, and principled. They have taken essential steps on the road to banning abortions, passing the Laci Peterson law (which treats the murder of a pregnant woman as a double homicide, implicitly upholding the idea that a fetus is a human being) and the partial birth abortion ban. The latter bill doesn't even allow exceptions where the health or life of the mother are in jeopardy. We can see similar examples in the anti-Gay marriage constitutional amendment proposed by President Bush (and the similar measures in something like 10 states), as well as in President Bush's support for Faith based groups.

A poignant example of the faith based groups is a prison in Florida. It features an anger management class led by a Christian minister, in a church! While no one is forced to convert, nearly all the inmates have. And their "stretch" is notoriously easier than in other prisons! Imagine the scandal if Objectivism were given complete control over anger management course at any prison!

Thus overall I am most alarmed and afraid of the right; they are just as destructive as the left in principle, except that today they are more deliberate, united and effective in achieving their goals. I have little fear of a communist dictatorship evolving here; a fascist theocracy, however, appears all the more likely if the religious right is not stopped.

This is really the central reason that I am voting for Kerry on Nov. 2 (aside from the fact that Bush is incompetent and will make us less safe, not more). Kerry, as I've said before, is god awful. But he is not principled. I disagree with those who see him as emblematic of the New Left. He is a politician, pure and simple; he will say and do whatever he has to stay in power - that is the John Kerry I've seen. He is a flip-flopper and an opportunist; and while these things are reprehensible, they are damn near palatable when put up against a consistent, principled theocrat (namely, Bush). Kerry will do all kinds of horrible things as President - but I think they will be random things, which won't add up or accumulate to anything at the end of four years.

Bush will also do horrible things, but they will add up, and I think lay the foundation for much worse things to come. And to be frank, I don't think four more years of Bush will be heavy on foreign policy; Bush is not going to make any major offensives against Iran or North Korea (or anybody else). He'll see Iraq to "elections" (a.k.a., Islamic theocracy), and let Israel bomb Iran if they are too close to developing a nuclear weapon. He'll attempt to continue the six party song-and-dance with North Korea, and instead focus the majority of his term on domestic issues.

As a final point, I want to take issue with the idea that since Bush hasn't made religion the central plank of his campaign, he isn't entirely despicable or unpalatable. I disagree 100%. I would argue that the absence of religion from such a religious man is much more telling. Here I take the RNC 2004 as instructive. I think many people were relieved when they saw secular republicans given prominent speaking roles (namely, McCain, Giuliani, Pataki and Schwartzenneger).

But this relief is pyrrhic. For while they were given prominent positions (and Buchanan, Robertson and Falwell were all absent), they only spoke to defense issues. There was no mention of differing views on abortion or homosexuality (both issues where each of the speakers differ from the Republican core). I think this was deliberately engineered to draw in secular Republicans, who would be given a false sense of comfort from the lack of religiosity present, while the conservative base would already know that "their" guy was running the show. Bush and the conservatives know that they can't inject religion into politics explicitly; that failed abjectly during the RNC in 1996. They know that they can't make further inroads if they don't get re-elected, and so they have chosen to mute religion and exploit defense, knowing that this will bring in more votes.

This newfound subtlety makes me all the more nervous - worse than unabashed and unapologetic religion is one that is calculating in its political policies. The pure, consistent poison would kill us instantly (and thus be rejected today); the watered down brand will slowly poison us, and most American's won't notice it until its too late.
  What Might Have Been
Victor Davis Hanson is an interesting individual. I first came across him when I heard his name mentioned in Dr. Peikoff's lecture America vs. The Americans. Dr. Peikoff referenced his outstanding book, The Soul of Battle, which I wholeheartedly recommend. Since then I've been following his essays on National Review, sometimes with interest and other times without. His understanding of war and of how it should be fought is quite good, however, and I have been impressed by his ability to see Bush's critical errors in Iraq, especially the refusal to shoot looters and the retreat from Fallujah.

His latest article, The Power of Will, tosses out an idea that I found fascinating:
Had we secured Iraq by June 2003, the sputtering Kerry candidacy would by now have been faulting Bush for not going into Iran.
This is an interesting what if; would this really be the case? If Bush had been principled and defeated the terrorists and established order in Iraq (both of which were 100% possible to have accomplished), would such a striking victory have made it impossible for an anti-war liberal to have won the Democratic primary? Would it have been so powerful that it would have destroyed any vestiges of appeasement as a practical policy?

I tend to think so. If Bush had lived up to his words following Sept. 11, we would probably now be in a position where the only viable president was one who was strong on defense and foreign policy. And if I'm right, that is exactly why Bush has got to go. He has done more for the policy of appeasement than John Kerry or Howard Dean could ever do; because of his default, he has given it the appearance of respectability and practicality, which it could never have gotten by itself.
Friday, October 29, 2004
  Those Difficult Ethical Questions
Life is so hard for government bureaucrats, especially when people's lives hang in the balance. From Thursdays New York Times:
For the first time in its history, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has created a permanent panel of ethicists on vaccine distribution, to help navigate the life-and-death questions of who should get flu vaccines in the current crisis and how the agency should cope with any future epidemics.

"Ethicists have unique tools to help shape our decisions," Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, director of the C.D.C., said in an interview yesterday. "We want to make sure that whatever we decide is equitable."

The panel began deliberating Monday. One member, John D. Arras, a professor of bioethics at the University of Virginia, said the group might eventually tackle the question of whether babies should have priority over the elderly in receiving the flu vaccine, or vice versa. Another question the panel might have to decide is whether, in the event of a pandemic, members of crucial professions - perhaps even undertakers - should receive priority.

Such questions, Dr. Arras said, are explosive.

"This country doesn't like to talk about rationing at all," he said.
Yes, those are puzzling questions; who should be sacrificed first? Of course, this only leads to more difficult questions:
Dr. Arras said one health official at the meeting was grappling with the question of whether to vaccinate all residents of his state's nursing homes.

"Some of those people in nursing homes will be extremely old, extremely debilitated and also demented," Dr. Arras said. "The question arises, Where is the vaccine better deployed?"
Fortunately, our public officials are infused with strong doses of altruism, to help them decipher these unseemly questions. Uh oh, better increase the dosage; there's more confusion ahead:
Public health officers in North Dakota were able to agree that chronically ill patients in the state's nursing homes should be vaccinated first. The decision was reached for medical and practical reasons, said Larry Shireley, the state epidemiologist: such people not only are at great risk of contracting the disease, Mr. Shireley said, but also are easy to reach.

But state health officers could not agree, he said, on whether babies or the healthy elderly should be next on the list.

Babies are more susceptible to the disease, but the elderly are more likely to die of it. On the other hand, most babies, unlike most of the very old, have decades of life ahead.

A standard ethical argument is that "people are supposed to get a certain number of fair innings in a lifetime," Dr. Arras said.

"That would incline you to treat the young rather than the old," he said, "since the old have already had their innings."

But since the old are more likely to die of the disease, another way to decide the issue is to determine the number of years that would be saved by inoculating them first rather than the young.

The committee will examine all those issues, Dr. Arras said.
It makes me feel better knowing that responsible government officials are asking such important questions, and taking them so seriously. Of course, I'd feel infinitely better if they would look not for how to best ration vaccines, but instead how to insure that there was plenty available to anyone who wanted them. Then again, this would lead to messy issues like selfishness, property rights and capitalism (not to mention reason, ick!). We just can't have that.
"These are tough decisions," Dr. Gerberding said, "and they are not going to get any easier."
  Free Speech Means Equal Airtime
An awful story happening in my neck of the woods is being reported by the AP:
A gift of free air time to GOP candidates from a Fresno-area broadcaster drew challenges on several fronts Thursday, as Democrats tried to stop the ads from running in key areas before Tuesday's election.

Attorneys representing Assemblywoman Nicole Parra, D-Hanford, filed a formal complaint with the Federal Communications Commission arguing that Pappas Telecasting Cos. violated federal equal time rules by offering free time to GOP Assembly candidate Dean Gardner of Bakersfield — but not to Parra.

Parra's lawyers also filed a complaint with the state's Fair Political Practices Commission, saying Pappas' offer of $25,000 in free radio and TV air time made to 13 county GOP committees violate contribution limits, among other regulations.
I wonder how long it will take for this idea of "fairness" in broadcasting to branch out from the "political" arena into other sectors. And how long it will be before it infects discretionary choices in progamming ("You're paying Rush Limbaugh to host a show, you should also be paying Al Franken!"). God this is depressing. Does anyone ever try to imagine what it would be like to speak with the lawyer who filed the complaint to the FCC?
Thursday, October 28, 2004
  Can Islam Be Reformed?
(Author's Note - My apologies in advance, I know this posting is a little long, but I personally found the exchange fascinating, and have reproduced relevant portions.)

I've been following an interesting set of articles between Stephen Schwartz (a moderate Muslim) and Robert Spencer (director of JihadWatch). It all started when Schwartz published a paper at FrontPage Magazine The "Islamic Reformation" Revisited, which argued that Islam didn't need to be reformed, but instead to return to its "true" nature.
I say therefore that Islam needs no Reformation, merely to return to its long-established tradition: pluralistic, spiritual, and committed to the protection and refinement of its civilizational heritage. Nothing need be abandoned; nothing will be lost in God's message. The outcome should be obvious: Islam will survive and be revived as a civilization of beauty, or there will be no Islam.
This is essentially the viewpoint of President Bush; the (Islamic) terrorists aren't religious or Muslims - they hijacked one of the world's great religions. In response, FrontPage published two articles (combined in one article), An Islamic Renewal?. The first part of this article was penned by Mustafa Akyol, another moderate Muslim who disagrees with Scwartz because he believes that there are parts of Islam that must be thrown out (namely parts of the Hadith, the collected sayings of Muhammad). In the second part, Robert Spencer presents some prescient questions to Mr. Schwartz's dismissal of any need for reformation:
A few final questions: how will this revived civilization of pluralism and beauty induce Muslims to set aside the command to fight Jews and Christians until they convert or submit and pay the jizya (Qur'an 9:29)? Or the idea that it is permissible to kill those who leave Islam (Qur'an 4:89, 2:217)? Or lying to protect Islam (taqiyyah), as based on Qur'an 16:106? Or Muhammad's statement that "no Muslim should be killed for killing an infidel" (Sahih Bukhari, volume 4, book 52, number 283)? Or all the many Qur'anic declarations of hostility toward Jews and Christians (see Qur'an 2:62-65, 5:59-60, 7:166, 9:30, 98:6, etc.)?

There are many other elements I could raise that should be rejected: the punishments for adultery and theft, the whole legal superstructure of dhimmitude, etc. In short, Schwartz's statement that "nothing need be abandoned" raises critical questions -- chief among them being this: Shouldn't the needed Islamic renaissance (or reformation -- whichever you prefer) be an explicit abandonment of Qur'anic literalism? And if it isn't, how will it keep that literalism from reappearing?
Schwartz (who didn't respond to an earlier posting by Mr. Spencer about another of his articles) responds to Mr. Spencer's questions in an article published at FrontPage Magazine today, A Schwartz-Spencer Exchange. Instead of answering the questions though, Mr. Schwartz responds with disdain to a non-Muslim:
Third, I do not feel compelled to reply to Mr. Spencer's disquisitions on my religion because I not not consider him in the slightest manner competent to comment on my religion. He has a magpie knowledge of what he imagines Islam to be based on fairy tales and armchair reading. His obvious aim is to instil fear of Islam in Western readers who know even less than he knows about the faith of Muhammad. I do not in general respond to comments on Islam by non-Muslims, except when they are made by apologists for Wahhabism. I am more interested in convincing Muslims of the need for moderation, than in wasting my time trying to persuade biased non-Muslims that moderate Islam exists.
Spencer's reply is eloquent, with just a dash of tongue-in-cheek:
I was saddened to read Mr. Schwartz's letter, particularly its heading, since I have never attacked him in any way. I have merely asked questions about his recommendations for a reconfiguration of Islam so as to make it no longer a refuge and motivating force for international terrorists. Had Mr. Schwartz answered these questions honestly, fully, and civilly, we might have been on the way to a fruitful dialogue that could have helped accomplish what he professes to work for: "convincing Muslims of the need for moderation.”

But instead, we learn that he does not “in general respond to comments on Islam by non-Muslims.” In this I suppose Schwartz demonstrates his bona fides as a moderate Muslim, for while his radical coreligionists want to kill, convert, or subjugate us (cf. Qur’an 9:29), Schwartz merely won’t speak to us. Thank heaven for small favors. But I can’t help but wonder: this Islamic Ozymandias may demand that I tremble silently before his mighty works, but what of other non-Muslims? Does he really mean to dismiss out of hand the great scholarly works on Islam of John Wansbrough? Patricia Crone? A. S. Trittan? Arthur Jeffrey? Joseph Schacht? Bat Ye’or?

Are ex-Muslims acceptable? Would Schwartz deign to respond to Ibn Warraq? Ali Sina? Or does leaving Islam disqualify one from understanding it? What about, then, the heroic Iranian dissident Ali Dashti, author of a revealing study of Muhammad’s career, 23 Years, who as far as anyone knows never explicitly renounced Islam? Would Schwartz have responded to Ali Dashti before he was tortured and killed by Khomeini’s thugs? Yet many of the questions I have raised about Islam and the Qur’an are raised also by Ali Dashti. Are they valid questions coming from him, but not from me?

Unfortunately for Schwartz, his stance is self-defeating. I have asked him a number of questions about the Qur’an and Islam. He has chosen not to answer them, but to characterize them as personal attacks and to content himself with impugning my knowledge of the subject. The result is that for every person of good will, the questions remain. Islamic texts are widely and easily available today. Do they mean one thing when non-Muslims read them and another when Muslims read them? If only Muslims possess the secret key to understanding them, and will not share that key with anyone else, non-Muslims will continue to read these texts, and to see the easy use to which Muslim radicals put them in recruiting and motivating terrorists. But Schwartz will not share his secret decoder ring with us, and so instead of demonstrating true Islamic moderation, he leaves the field to the radicals.
Mr. Spencer has done an excellent job of pointing to the ultimate problem with Islam and Muslims; until Muslims are willing to at least temper faith with reason (let alone "fix reason firmly in her seat"), there will never be progress in the Muslim world. I think he is definitely a blogger worthy of further study. Check him out here.
Palestinian "leader" Yasser Arafat is in bad shape; many speculate he is on his deathbed. Wretchard at Belmont Club makes some good observations:
Twenty years of European and UN Middle Eastern policy may be lying on the deathbed with Arafat. That they had to fly in doctors to treat him in a makeshift clinic underscores how, after 50 years of UN relief and billions in European investment, there are no Palestinian institutions. Not even decent hospitals for its supreme leader. The downside of the Arab Way of War -- the Intifada in this case -- is that the concept of victory through denial is inherently pyrrhic. 'We burned our village in order to keep it from falling into enemy hands' is like lighting a match to examine the gas tank; it works but misses the point.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004
  The Wisdom of Savages
This sound byte goes into my horror file. It's from the book Our Oriental Heritage by Will Durant (pgs. 5-6, emphasis added).
"Three meals a day are a highly advanced institution. Savages gorge themselves or fast." The wilder tribes among the American Indians considered it weak-kneed and unseemly to preserve food for the next day. The natives of Australia are incapable of any labor whose reward is not immediate; every Hottentot is a gentleman of leisure; and with the Bushmen of Africa it is always "either a feast or a famine." There is a mute wisdom in this improvidence, as in many "savage" ways. The moment man begins to take thought of the morrow, he passes out of the Garden of Eden into the vale of anxiety; the pale cast of worry settles down upon him, greed is sharpened, property begins, and the good cheer of the "thoughtless" native disappears. The American Negro is making this transition today. "Of what are you thinking?" Peary asked one of his Eskimo guides. "I do not have to think," was the answer; "I have plenty of meat." Not to think unless we have to-there is much to be said for this as the summation of wisdom.
  Big Trouble in Little Fallujah
The coming showdown in Fallujah will be a very telling moment on many counts. Bombings by US forces have been increasing steadily, and forces are massing for the siege. My prediction is that no matter what American force do in Fallujah, the Islamic theocrats will be victorious.

If Bush and Allawi have indeed understood the seriousness of this conflict, they will attack Fallujah with extreme force and prejudice, with the goal of taking over the city completely. This would be a stunning victory for the US and a poignant demonstration that we are not the paper tiger we have appeared to be. It would also be a hopeful sign that perhaps President Bush has learned that half-assing it will ultimately lead to our downfall. Unfortunately, the cost of such an incursion will be many civilian casualties. I think this will have a very nasty effect upon most Iraqi's, and will only push them further into the hands of the clerics. This compounded with the fact that Bush supports mob rule in Iraq, will most likely lead to an Islamic theocracy in Iraq, which will mean that we might as well have stayed home and not sacrificed several thousand US soldiers.

But if we fail to take Fallujah now, this will also be a glaring defeat for both our own morale and any vestiges of strength we might have left. That we failed to decimate the insurgents in April 2003 did more to undermine our efforts to secure Iraq than any civilian casualties would have. If we fail now, I don't really see how we will ever retake Fallujah, for such a defeat will only embolden the insurgents and demoralize any opposition that might be left in the city. It would also have the same effect throughout Iraq. Every step we take away from a proper foreign policy only makes it that much harder to change direction.

Either way I think we are in big trouble in Iraq; Fallujah just happens to be the concrete which best captures our dilemma. If we fight hard, we risk Iraqi's choosing our greatest enemies; if we don't fight, we guarantee that they will. And the worst part is that Bush will probably try to pick the middle of the road here too, which means that more American's will be sacrificed so that Iraqi's could vote themselves out of a secular dictatorship into an Islamic one.
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
  An Interesting Question...
A good part of the debate over who to vote for centers around which "party" is most dangerous, in both the long and the short term. I happen to think it's the evangelicals, not the socialists. The Right scares me a hell of a lot more than the left. So I asked myself, why? Both sides support and advocate horrible policies that will ultimately destroy us.

In thinking about this question, I wanted to concretize what I was thinking about, and that's when it hit me. When I think of the Left, I think of the assortment of freaks (and in fairness, some people who looked civilized) marching in New York against the RNC this year or those who marched against globalization. Now contrast that view with a giant auditorium, full of say 6000 evangelical Christians. They are mostly dressed nicely and bow their heads reverently as they are ministered to by the pastor.

What's the fundamental difference between these two groups? Which one scares you more? Why is one more dangerous than the other?

I'll post my thoughts on these questions in the next few days.

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