Saturday, February 18, 2006

Nick Lachey: Losing Your Man-Card

Nick Lachey, the man-half of your favorite former newlyweds (now getting divorcelywedded), has filed for spousal support from Jessical Simpson.

Have some self-respect man. You're in your twenties and have both your health and a measure of celebrity. You're in danger of losing your man-card forever with this petition. Take it back while there's still time!

It's Jay Day!

In honor of Mr. Homnick, our consummate playa-on-words (see the title of his post below this one, for example), we offer this bit of e-mail apocrypha to completely ruin your sleepy, snowy weekend:

Here are the 10 first place winners in the International Pun Contest:

1. A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at him and says, "I'm sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger."

2. Two fish swim into a concrete wall. The one turns to the other and says, "Dam!"

3. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can't have your kayak and heat it too.

4. Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says, " I've lost my electron." The other says, "Are you sure?" The first replies, "I'm positive."

5. Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root canal? His goal: transcend dental medication.

6. A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. "But why?", they asked, as they moved off. "Because," he said, "I can't stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer."

7. A woman has twins and gives them up for adoption. One of them goes to a family in Egypt and is named "Ahmal." The other goes to a family in Spain, and they name him "Juan." Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wishes she also had a picture of Ahmal. Her husband responds, "They're twins! If you've seen Juan, you've seen Ahmal."

8. These friars were behind on their belfry payments, so they opened up a small florist shop to raise funds. Since everyone liked to buy flowers from the men of God, a rival florist across town thought the competition was unfair. He asked the good fathers to close down, but they would not. He went back and begged the friars to close. They ignored him. So, the rival florist hired Hugh MacTaggart, the roughest and most vicious thug in town to "persuade" them to close. Hugh beat up the friars and trashed their store, saying he'd be back if they didn't close up shop. Terrified they did so---thereby proving that only Hugh can prevent florist friars.

9. Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him...a super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.

10. And finally, there was a person who sent ten different puns to friends, with the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in ten did.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Candid Dates?

Here is our online weekend quiz, inspired by the liberal polemicists who claim that Bush lies, and Helen Thomas who claims that all Presidents lie. Do our readers agree with my assessment of the personal integrity of Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates since I began voting in 1976?

In a regular business situation, if you had an investment opportunity based on the truthfulness of one of those men and women, would you assume that they are reliable? Here is my impression.

For personal gain....

Jimmy Carter would not lie.
Waler Mondale would not lie.
Gerald Ford would not lie.
Bob Dole would not lie.
Ronald Reagan would not lie.
George H. W. Bush would not lie.
Geraldine Ferraro would lie.
Dan Quayle would not lie.
Mike Dukakis - not sure.
Lloyd Bentsen would not lie.
Bill Clinton would lie.
Al Gore would lie.
Dan Quayle would not lie.
Jack Kemp - not sure.
Joseph Lieberman would not lie.
George W. Bush would not lie.
Dick Cheney would not lie.
John Kerry would lie.
John Edwards would lie.

Please let us know if you agree, and if not, why not?

(By the way, I don't think John B. Anderson, Ross Perot or William Stockdale would lie, and I had no impression of Patrick Lucey, Anderson's running mate. Perot, however, could fantasize in paranoiac directions, so that tendency would bear watching.)

Speaking of GOP Blondes That Drive Us Nuts

I'm probably going to attract some friendly fire here, but I gotta say it: Peggy Noonan makes me crazy. I have never understood precisely why she is considered a political sage, and I have never thought her analysis or advice was either valuable or entertaining.

Noonan's only real ticket to a seat at the table is her supposed brilliance as a wordsmith, and even here I have to dissent. She rose to prominence after publishing a memoir of her days as a speechwriter for Reagan and GHW Bush. She specializes in a sort of flowery mystical optimism; her most famous phrase is "a thousand points of light." What the hell is that supposed to mean, anyway, does anyone know? It's just one more empty phrase to be delivered while pretending to gaze over the horizon towards some misty new future. Everything she writes sounds like someone gave William Blake a lobotomy to get rid of the hellish hallucinations and then crossbred him with Madeleine Bassett.

Now Ms. Noonan turns her attention to 28 Gauge-gate, and pronounces Cheney the wounded one. I don't follow.

First, it's not like Cheney is the only "hate magnet" in the Bush administration. If the Kososphere is to be believed, Alberto Gonzales taught Jack Bauer everything he knows about torture and Michael Chertoff's dungeons are full of men who innocently phoned their Croatian great-aunts for the secret family paprikash recipe.

Second, it's not like Cheney did something to earn the title. I have never understood the visceral, subrational hatred the looney left harbors for this man. He's about as frightening as a small-town pharmacist. In fact, he reminds me of many of my high school friends' fathers. Oh, he's more articulate and intelligent, and certainly more powerful, but his small-town laconic regular guy essence is still very, very close to the surface. If he ran a repair shop or a hardware store I'd be his loyal and trusting customer, and I see no reason not to trust him to honorably perform the tasks he ended up doing instead.

Which brings me to third: the people whose hate is attracted by Dick Cheney will construct their own targets, and flushing him will do nothing to encourage a cease-fire.

Dick Cheney has served this country for forty years with uninterrupted dignity and equanimity. In payment he has suffered not just unsubstantiated charges of financial and political impropriety, which are now obligatory. He has endured, silently, the most outrageous attacks on his personal life, from the implication that he impregnated his wife to avoid the draft, to the public appropriation of his daughter's sexuality by his political rivals. If Noonan is by some slim chance correct, and powerful men are whispering his doom this afternoon over lunch at The Palm and Ebbitts Grill, then I say: shame on you, you insufferable maggots. Happily, odds are she's wrong again.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

A Different Kind of Media Bias

S.T. Karnick has expanded on his analysis of the odd unbalancing act performed by the Western press that adores defecating on Christianity while it abhors bad taste in Muhammed portrayals.

Check it out at Tech Central Station, which seems to have had a makeover (nice).

The Logic of Illogic: Redefining Israel

If world opinion can be determined from recent newspaper accounts, it seems that there is strong sentiment for Israel to return to the 1967 borders or what has been called the Green Line, notwithstanding the Hamas victory in the recent Palestinian election.

While this desire has certainly gained momentum in the last few years and may indeed be the inexorable direction of policy, it is simply illogical. At this stage of Israel’s history these borders are indefensible jeopardizing the very existence of the state. If Israel were to withdraw to its old borders, every airplane entering and leaving Ben Gurion airport would be subject to attack from a shoulder-held missile launcher. Recognizing precisely this security risk George Schulz in 1988 said, “Israel will never negotiate from or return to the 1967 borders.”

Why, then, has this illogical position gained so much ground?

International opinion suggests that the Palestinian cause must be recognized as a prelude to regional peace. In fact, most people – even Israelis – refer to the West Bank as “occupied territory.”

Yet the West Bank, obtained in the ’67 war, is to occupied territory what California is to the United States – land secured from war. Moreover, in the period from 1948 to 967 when Gaza was in Egyptian control and the West Bank was part of Jordan, there wasn’t a Palestinian issue and certainly no call for a separate state.

As a result of very effective propaganda, the Palestinian cause has moved from non-issue to the front burner with even Tony Blair declaring that this matter is among the most important on the globe and must be addressed before other issues are considered.

From the standpoint of the G-8 the financial and emotional cost of the issue is too great. It is the symbol of unattended Muslim interests is said (or rationalized) to be a factor promoting terrorism. Of course, no serious analyst would maintain that the existence of a Palestinian state would pari passu reduce terrorist ambitions.

Perhaps the overarching reason for the pressure is the consequence of 9/11. The Bush doctrine, predicated on the spread of democracy instead of stability, cannot make inroads in the dysfunctional Arab world as long as the Israeli Palestinian conflict is seen as an excuse to oppose liberalization. Why, note Arab leaders, should we reform our nations when you cannot embrace a reform in behalf of Palestinians?

It is instructive that a majority of Israelis and Palestinians support a two state solution, but the devil is in the details. The Barak plan, endorsed by President Clinton, was the most far reaching since it gave the Palestinians almost everything they asked for. Still it was rejected by Arafat.

Now it seems this plan is being trotted out again, notwithstanding the appropriate skepticism on the Israeli side.

In order to gild the lily, Palestinian leaders contend that their ability to reach some accommodation with Hamas is dependent on an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. How else can the Palestinian government demonstrate its influence and legitimacy? With Hamas terrorists part of the government, progress on an independent state must be made in order to extract concessions for peace, at least this is the Abu Mazen line.

For most Israelis making concessions before there is a visible reduction in violence is foolhardy. The G-8 see it differently, but then the G-8 do not reside on Middle East terrain.

Demography also complicates any state creation. Israel is about the size of New Jersey. There are 10.8 million people who live between the Jordan River and the sea. Assuming a modest birthrate slightly below replacement level (2.1 children per family) this area will have more than 30 million people by 2050 and be one of the most densely populated regions on the globe. Space, clean air, and water will become stretched to the limit. Yet here, too, it should be noted that the G-8 leaders don’t spend their vacations in Gaza.

The problem is that this illogical proposition is regarded as indispensable, thereby making the irrational logical. Can Israel resist? Can it engage in “a carom shot” that allows the G-8 powers to find solace in reform without resorting to statehood?

I think not, but then again, in this part of the world miracles happen. Maybe one awaits the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Strange Bedfellows, or: What To Do About Ann?

As for the first part of the title, I'll be speaking metaphorically herein: Ann Coulter's just not my type. I'm sure she'll be devastated to hear that when they tell her, but for God's sake, girl, order the pork chops instead of the watercress salad.

"There is more dissent on a slave plantation then amongst moderates in the Republican Party," said the fetching-to-many Ms. Coulter last night. Well, I fancy myself a moderate. I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' no babies, Missy Ann, but here goes:

She bewitches me as she does most conservatives: she is a guilty pleasure, because she is criminally funny. She is demonstrably brilliant and knowledgable, with a mind fortified and honed by a top-flight legal education, and she says many things we're all thinking and daren't say. She is our Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl or Chris Rock. But it was last night, as a featured speaker at a major conservative conference, that our Ann uttered:

I think our motto should be post 9-11, raghead talks tough, raghead faces consequences.

(According to this account, that riff received a "boisterous ovation" from the 1000 young conservatives in attendance.)

Now after the murders of 3000 of our fellow citizens on 9-11, it's totally understandable and not just a little cathartic to cheer such a statement with an even greater fervor than a touchdown for the home team.

But as a part of our politics, no. Ann Coulter cannot be a part of our politics, and in this case, anywhere near the forefront of the Republican Party. I (we) made great hay of Michael Moore, who should remain an equally "guilty pleasure" for the left, sitting next to ex-President Carter at the 2004 Democratic Convention. The inmates had taken over the asylum, and it was a legitimate political attack to point that out. We shall be judged not only on how we deal with our opponents, but our problematic allies.

Ms. Coulter is welcome to remain in our asylum, because in politics, especially in a two-party system, you don't often get to pick who occupies your beds. The GOP took in the Dixiecrats; the Democrats accept the entertaining demagogue Al Sharpton, and many who are far worse.

But larger than partisan considerations, some "ragheads" are our fellow American citizens, too. Some were teammates on my cricket club. And if the war with militant Islam is to be contained (and it is a war), it will be moderate "ragheads" who will contain it. We cannot kill them all.

Ms. Coulter was dismissed as a contributor to the intellectual godfather of today's Republican Party, National Review, for refusing to retract the following statement:

We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.

Her friend Barbara Olson had just been murdered in the 9-11 attacks. Ms. Coulter's anger was understandable, and under the circumstances, even measured. She is obviously still angry.

So be it. Society has a place for those who will speak the unspeakable, think the unthinkable, our madmen, our artists, our philosophers, our passions, our minds.

We just gotta keep 'em from getting anywhere near the controls of the airplane. Bad things happen.

Re-inventing the NBA All-Star Weekend

I can remember when the NBA All-Star game was a great event. Certainly a can't miss venture in the days of three stations and no remote control.

That is no longer the case. The game goes on, but with less interest than ever. Something more is needed to make things interesting and no, I'm not talking about gambling.

A friend of mine has come up with the answer. Click here to check it out if you are any kind of sports fan at all.

Cartoon Mary Worth: Meddling Whore

From the incomparable Rob Long at NRO:

LARRY KING: Tomorrow! The whole hour with the Van Patten clan! From Hilversum, Holland, hello!"

CALLER: "Hello, Larry. I was wondering to ask your guest why it is just European cartoons he finds offensive? Perhaps there are some American cartoons to be angry about?"

LARRY KING: "What about it? Do you guys object to Beetle Bailey?"

MULLAH RAMZI AL'QUADAR: "No, no. Look, Larry, this whole thing has been misinterpreted, and, if I may say, really exacerbated by the media. The cartoon that was published in Denmark was offensive — deeply offensive — to Islam. I mean, depicting our Holy Prophet with a bomb on his head instead of a turban? Come on!"

LARRY KING: "So Peanuts is okay in your book?"

MULLAH RAMZI AL'QUADAR: "Of course, Larry. The world of children and Snoopy and the whole thing: We love it."

LARRY KING:"Dilbert?"

MULLAH RAMZI AL'QUADAR: "Workplace Everyman! Who could object to that?"

LARRY KING: "Hagar the Horrible?"

MULLAH RAMZI AL'QUADAR: "Wry observations with a historical bent! It's cute!"


MULLAH RAMZI AL'QUADAR: "Well, Cathy is a whore and should be stoned to death."

LARRY KING: "Excuse me?"

MULLAH RAMZI AL'QUADAR: "Her and Mary Worth both. Whores."

LARRY KING: "Honestly, I don't see your point about Mary Worth."

MULLAH RAMZI AL'QUADAR: "Meddling prostitute. Crush her to death under a boulder."...

For the record, the caller may be right about Mary Worth.

A "Dangerous Professor" and My Experience

I am pretty much your standard issue evangelical Christian. Culturally conservative. Orthodox in the essentials of the faith. Jesus really did rise from the dead. He really is the son of God. He really did establish the Christian church. As you can see, standard issue.

I am also pretty much your standard issue American political conservative. Free markets. Strong America in the world. Prominent role for religion in public life. Limited role for the state. Standard issue.

Most of my adult life has taken place with academia in the background. Undergrad at Florida State University. Master's degree at University of Georgia. Law school at University of Houston. I’m currently involved in Ph.D. work at Baylor, which is my first Christian institution and would generally fall in the moderate camp. Most of the time I have felt like a minority and have taken great care to articulate my positions and my reasons for holding them. In the academic world, being a conservative is a little like being a gangsta at the golf course: you start with two strikes against you.

At Baylor the scale is a little more balanced. There on that contested campus in Waco I can find both sympathetic mentors and profs who would just as soon I weren't around. One person who is prominent both on campus and in my program is a liberal Jewish man named Marc Ellis. You might recognize his name. He appears in a new book by David Horowitz as one of "the one hundred and one most dangerous professors in America."

The new book, The Professors, is a Regnery book. Regnery is the flagship conservative publisher. They made their name with authors like William F. Buckley and Whittaker Chambers and have published some great books. If I can go purely by the chapter on Marc Ellis, The Professors isn't one of them.

I haven't taken classes with any other members of the notorious "one hundred and one," but I have spent a semester in Marc Ellis' classroom. Make no mistake. He has a particular point of view. He is generally liberal. He is a Jew who is very critical of Israel and is equally critical of Christianity. Both faiths in certain manifestations, according to Ellis, suffer from "Constantinian" tendencies, which means they take the path of domination and violence rather than love. As you can imagine, I don't share his point of view about everything or probably even most things. My orientation has always been to support Israel and to defend the Christian church reflexively. At the same time, I can see his point. Not being a great student of the history or politics of the Middle East I don't know if he's right about the contemporary situation, but his broader critique is relevant and worth considering.

Being who I am and feeling the way I do, I, like others similarly situated, did not want to take Marc Ellis' class. Nevertheless, we are required to take him in my graduate program. I thought about trying to convince the department chair to exempt me from the requirement. Friends assured me there would be no chance, so I started the class with a big chip on my shoulder.

In the early going, Ellis didn't take a lot of comments or questions from the students in the seminar. Smart move. Many of us were ready to challenge every point and turn the session into a debating society. That's not what Ellis is about. Instead, he seeks to push students outside of their pre-defined ideological territory and get them to engage him on a purely human level. He shares his thoughts, reads a little of his poetry, hands out typed monologues, draws diagrams of history, spends a good bit of time on the I and Thou, and talks a lot about Bob Dylan. In short, he puts himself out there. You can make fun of him. You can dislike him. You can hate him. You can engage him. Your choice. And see, that is sort of the point. This is not a man who is brainwashing students. This is merely a passionate man with whom many of us might disagree passionately.

The result of what he does can be astonishing. I felt space opening up inside of myself where I would be willing to discuss the issues on a personal level rather than as a member of a team trying to win an argument. In an increasingly polarized world of red state v. blue state, liberal v. conservative, believer v. unbeliever, hawk v. dove, and the rest, what Marc Ellis can accomplish in a classroom is valuable not dangerous.

Even as I write this, I know that friends and allies will be tempted to distance themselves from me because I am defending a person from "the other side." But I know wrong when I see it and what David Horowitz has done to Marc Ellis in his book about professors is wrong. Instead of engaging Ellis at any point, Horowitz campaigns rhetorically to convince the reader that this man is not a worthy person. To paraphrase, Horowitz proclaims: He lacks solidarity with his people. Jews don't listen to him. Holocaust deniers like him. He writes for an Arab newspaper. His scholarship is published by the wrong presses.

In addition, the chapter on Ellis is wrong on at least one major point of fact. For example, Horowitz claims Ellis is a "passionate endorser of the 'One-State Solution,' in which Israel will simply be eliminated as a Jewish state and will be enfolded within a larger Palestinian-dominated state." That statement, an important one, is factually incorrect. Ellis favors a two-state solution that maintains a separate Jewish state.

I hate it when I see my friend and mentor Francis Beckwith treated this way by unthinking leftists and advocates of scientism who object to his defense of the philosophical pro-life position or his willingness to consider the constitutional arguments for intelligent design in public education via a nasty mixture of ad hominem attacks and repeated commissions of the genetic fallacy. The spectacle offends my sense of justice.

When I see these tactics turned against Marc Ellis, I still hate it and my sense of justice is equally offended.

[I hasten to remind all readers that I defend Dr. Ellis not as part of some pro-Palestinian program of my own or as my own endorsement of some future two-state plan approved by the U.N. or some other body. I have no such program and as I said above, have always been pro-Israel in my politics. The program I do have is to attack this sort of non-argument argumentation that deals in personalities and alliances rather than the substance of a point of view. I also want to be clear that I have read much of David Horowitz’s work and have enjoyed it, but I think he has attacked Ellis in a way he would find abhorrent if done to him.]

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Canned Openers

Reform Clubbers get a five hour jump on the rest of the nation in enjoying the latest piece at The American Spectator by everyone's favorite columnist.

This one is a primer on how to begin an effective column with a witty opener. 25 examples should suffice to give you the idea.

Please drop by afterwards and share with us the tally of how many chuckles we scored out of 25.

Ben Stein’s Blunder

Ben Stein’s column in The New York Times, February 12, says, “CEOs routinely take home hundreds of times what the average worker is paid, whether or not the company is doing well. The graph for the pay of CEOs is a vertical line in the last five years.”

These statements are wildly incorrect. Estimates of CEO pay in 2005 won’t be available until April. But two pair of professional critics of CEO pay have calculated that compensation of CEOs of the largest corporations fell by 48-54 percent from 2000 to 2003.

Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez gathered one set of CEO pay from Forbes, by cherry-picking a revolving list of top 100. By that selective measure (which is not at all “average”) CEO pay fell from $40.4 million in 2000 to $18.5 million in 2003, or 54 percent.

The reason should be obvious: As much as 78 percent of elite CEO pay in the late 1990s came from exercising options granted in the early 1990s, while options granted at the peak of the boom were soon worth little or nothing as stock prices crashed from about March 2000 to March 2003.

Another set of estimates was assembled by Lucian Bebchuck and Yaniv Grinstein. For S&P 500 firms, they figure that CEO pay fell from $17.4 million in 2000 to $9.1 million in 2003, or 48 percent. Among small-cap firms, CEO pay never got much above $2 million, where it was in 2003. Among mid-cap firms, CEO pay fell from $5.1 million in 1999 to $4 million in 2003.

Any increase in CEO pay since 2003 needs to be put in the context of what happened before. CEOs in the Piketty-Saez elite 100 earned considerably less in 2003 than a different “top 100” did in 1996. The broader, more comparable Bebchuck-Grinstein list of 500 earned no more in 2003 than they did in 1997. In those 5 years the "trend" in CEO pay was much closer to horizonatal than vertical (albeit with a big spike in the middle), and CEO pay has been almost steadily down since 1998 among all but the biggest firms.

As for Ben's comment about CEO’s supposedly earning “hundreds of times” what the average worker is paid, “The State of Working America 2005” from the Economic Policy Institute estimates “the ratio of CEO to average worker pay” at 145 in 2002 and 185 in 2003. The further-left pamphlet “Executive Excess” fabricated a figure of 431, but did so by such devices as multiplying weekly wages of part-timers by 52 weeks and calling that average worker pay.

When it comes to writing about CEO pay, it appears perfectly acceptable to make totally false statements of fact so long as the accompanying rhetoric expresses a righteous sense of outrage. Personally, I find the absence of journalistic standards on this topic far more outrageous than anyone's income, even in Hollywood.

Love Pistils

Forgetting for a moment whether Valentine’s Day has religious antecedents or it is just a Hallmark and FTD gimmick to sell cards and flowers, the pertinent question should be: “Is it positive for a society to have a day that celebrates love?”

One potential argument can be easily swatted away, the one that points at various manifestations of illicit love, or at any rate questionable sexuality identifying itself as love. Sure, it is fascinating to read that private detective agencies around the country are booked to capacity with surveillance work of wayward spouses whose paramours demand a surreptitious visit during the course of the day. Still, it is not reasonable to reject social institutions on the basis of their abusers; the sun itself served as a magnet for much idolatry in its early history. The only legitimate complaint would be if a case could be made that the holiday apotheosizes love in a way that encourages abuse. This is patently not the case here.

Still we ask. Is love a phenomenon that benefits society?


THE BIBLE HAS always fascinated me on the subject of love. Concentrating on the five books of Moses, we note that only two couples have their love, and its genesis, recorded in the text. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Joseph and Moses all get married at some point in the narrative, and some of the interactions in the marriages are transcribed, but at no point is their feeling for each other specifically described as love. The only two men whose love for their wives is noted are Isaac and Jacob.

Yet the evolution – you should forgive the expression – of those loves are a study in contrasts. In Isaac’s case, there is first extensive research undertaken by his emissary to determine that Rebecca is of a suitable character to be the wife of a great man. Until such clarification has been achieved, they do not even meet. Once all the legwork, and some footwork, had been done by proxy, then the couple finally met in an open field. Thereafter we are advised that Isaac “took Rebecca, made her his wife and he loved her” (Genesis 24:67). First the checklist, then marriage and finally love.

Jacob’s story is quite the opposite. He goes to Haran, hoping to find a wife among the members of his extended family. Stopping at the well, he sees that the shepherds are gathering; it usually takes the combined strength of the entire group to move the stone off the opening to the well. Suddenly he sees Rachel leading her flock of sheep towards the area; immediately he is so energized that he single-handedly lifts the huge rock. The verse twice stresses that he loved her before marriage, even that his love was so powerful that the seven years he worked full-time as a shepherd to win her hand seemed like a small price to pay (ibid 29:1-20). Love at first sight, then a long grueling effort to bring the courtship to fruition and finally marriage.

Clearly the Bible sought to isolate and highlight these two models, each legitimate in a given setting. There is the conservative by-the-book approach of finding a good match, with the prospect of a cumulative love emerging from the shared experiences of marriage. Then we have the prophetic flash of love at first sight, where the bond precedes all the rationales and Fate emblazons its signature on the emotions before reason gets a chance to blink. Since in Jewish tradition Isaac represents the transitional figure whose charge is to be a guardian of the family patrimony and Jacob is considered the perfected man who brings history to climactic moments, their two versions of love and marriage seem to suit their roles.

Hollywood, along with most romantic literature, is more captivated by the second version, and our reading bears them out. Love at first sight may be exciting in a sensual way, too, but more than anything it is a spiritual experience; it reinforces the notion that there is a Creator who has a plan for you and has designed someone who complements you perfectly, like two puzzle pieces that seem awkward apart and symmetrical together. Add to that the idea that it is the Jacob-type personality, the closer, the man who makes big things happen, who has this experience, and it becomes the dream of every person. Perhaps destiny will visit me in this dramatic way and mark me as a candidate for an extra-meaningful life.

In either of its forms, love makes us whole. It takes us out of ourselves into the world of the other. We are reminded, sometimes a tad shrilly, that there are other ways to approach things, other ways to see the world, other tastes and flavors to life. Bring it on, I say, let us be a nation of lovers. Now where did I put that phone number for the florist…?

Monday, February 13, 2006

Where Nothing is Sacred, Nothing is Profane

Or so goes the Western thinking on the cartoons in question.

This article from the dreaded National Review points out that Muhammad has been shown in portraits all through Muslim history. That should be the counterargument in the current brouhaha, not an insistence of the "right" to bait someone else with cartoons. (Let's be frank---offense was definitely intended by them.) It's one thing to have some respect for a religion (which is really for the people who believe in it), quite another to give relativistic tolerance to the crazies' own interpretations of it.

If this clash of civilizations, and it is indeed one, is going to be kept from becoming a full-scale war, it's going to be up to those in the West to study up and engage Islam on its own terms. Hopefully, there's enough liberalism in its history to build on and enable it to turn the corner from the implacable enemy of Western Civilization to something that won't kill us or necessitate us killing them.

(A new scholarly approach to the Qur'an is discussed here. It is imperative that it or something like it succeed.)

My favorite GK Chesterton quote is "reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it."

Beating Muslims about the head to teach them the absolute value of free speech rights shows a lack of prudence if not outright brutishness. If Muslims are willing to die for their faith (and they are), then faith is a matter of life and death, on a higher plane than the exercise of "rights." (I say this because I myself am not inclined to die for the right to publish aggressively offensive cartoons, but more importantly, I am certainly not willing to kill for it. But there are things for which I would do both.)

The West's exercise of the right to publish unflattering cartoons of Muhammad is consistent with its worship of reason. But to the Muslim mind, where faith is more important than life itself, and where personal identity, honor and dignity are inextricably linked with that faith, it is an unspeakable violence, as real as any violence in this world. Unless we are willing to kill and die for these cartoons to match the commitment on the other side, perhaps we ought to take a breath here.

One need not respect faith in order to respect the reality of the situation. The West uses pictures of Muhammad as a truncheon at its own peril, not so much for the threat of retaliation, but for the loss of opportunity. Better to learn the language of Islam, engage it as it understands itself, and find out if there's any way we can learn to share this earth. The hideous alternative will always remain, looming.

Freedom of Speech for Them but Not for Us

Charles Krauthammer has it just right in his column on the Western intellectuals' and journalists' reaction to the "studied frenzy over the Danish Muhammed cartoons" in the Muslim world. Krauthammer makes the point that Western self-styled "moderates" are not being evenhanded when they endorse the principle of free expression while "they criticize the Danish newspaper for abusing that right by publishing offensive cartoons, and they declare themselves opposed, in the name of religious sensitivity, to doing the same."

In refusing to republish the cartoons, the Western media are giving in to a mob:

The mob is trying to dictate to Western newspapers, indeed Western governments, what is a legitimate subject for discussion and caricature. The cartoons do not begin to approach the artistic level of Salman Rushdie's prose, but that's not the point. The point is who decides what can be said and what can be drawn within the precincts of what we quaintly think of as the free world.

Krauthammer points out that the Western press and intellectuals have shown no sympathy whatever when Western leftists have created works openly insulting Christianity. You can easily find photos of "Piss Christ," a so-called art exhibition that explicitly did just that. When Christians are being attacked, the Western pseudointelligentsia and their journalistic catamites stick their fingers in their ears and shout "freedom of the press!!!!"

But when it is Islam being insulted, suddenly freedom of the press is less important than sensitivity. But why are the the intellectuals and their bag carriers so concerned about the sensitivities of alien people living thousands of miles away in self-created nightmare conditions when these same self-styled Western eminences are so unmoved by the concerns of their Christian neighbors? (Those same neighbors whose principles led to the modern idea of freedom of the press, incidentally.) Westerners who praise the Islamic "moderates" who are asking the mobs to quiet down, the Western press are, in Krauthammer's apt phrase, endorsing the goals of the mob while not endorsing the means:

What passes for moderation in the Islamic community -- "I share your rage but don't torch that embassy" -- is nothing of the sort. It is simply a cynical way to endorse the goals of the mob without endorsing its means. It is fraudulent because, while pretending to uphold the principle of religious sensitivity, it is interested only in this instance of religious insensitivity.

Have any of these "moderates" ever protested the grotesque caricatures of Christians and, most especially, Jews that are broadcast throughout the Middle East on a daily basis? The sermons on Palestinian TV that refer to Jews as the sons of pigs and monkeys? The Syrian prime-time TV series that shows rabbis slaughtering a gentile boy to ritually consume his blood? The 41-part (!) series on Egyptian TV based on that anti-Semitic czarist forgery (and inspiration of the Nazis), "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," showing the Jews to be engaged in a century-old conspiracy to control the world?

A true Muslim moderate is one who protests desecrations of all faiths. Those who don't are not moderates but hypocrites, opportunists and agents for the rioters, merely using different means to advance the same goal: to impose upon the West, with its traditions of freedom of speech, a set of taboos that is exclusive to the Islamic faith. These are not defenders of religion but Muslim supremacists trying to force their dictates upon the liberal West.

Krauthammer says, "What is at issue is fear. The unspoken reason many newspapers do not want to republish is not sensitivity but simple fear. They know what happened to Theo van Gogh, who made a film about the Islamic treatment of women and got a knife through the chest with an Islamist manifesto attached." The Westerners' sensitivity, he says, is simply an attempt to keep the Islamic hordes' anger concentrated on the Danes and the few other European newspapers that reprinted the cartoons.

I believe that the level of fear is an important element, however. The Western intellectuals certainly fear Islam, but the threat appears quite distant and attenuated at this time, so they believe that they can dismiss Islamic rage as no real, immediate threat. They figure, if radical Muslims do anything really bad to us, as they did five years ago, we can always get behind our government in a concerted response as we did then, while the fear-adrenaline was still coursing through our veins. That should stop the problem. Plus, most Muslims are moderate and really don't want to kill us, and they certainly don't want to get bombed and crushed under Westerners' tanks because of a few big-mouthed religious fanatics in their midst. We can count on their good sense to stop the radicals among them, and if that fails, our government will step in and threaten the bad guys with serious retaliation, at which point they will retreat with their tails between their legs and resume murdering people in Indonesia, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Africa, and other places that don't affect us.

In short, they believe, Islam is a threat, but a distant and easily defeatable one.

Christians and believing Jews, by contrast, are all around us, the Western psuedointelligentsia observes, and these particular religious fanatics pose an immediate threat to our freedom. These lunatics want to force us to have replicas of the Ten Commandments on our courthouse lawns, to hear people pray in our forcibly tax-supported schools, to have voters (instead of the Supreme Court) decide what a human life is and how it should be protected, to teach children that Darwin's theory is just a theory, and other such instances of their repulsive Western version of Sharia law.

Those people must be stopped, and any way we can undermine their faith is a very good thing indeed, think the Western intellectuals and their lapdogs in the media. That is why there is this disconnect between the Western press's treatment of Islam and its attitude toward Christianity and Judaism.

Flacking a Flick

Finally I had the opportunity to see The Great Raid, based on Laura Ingraham's recommendation a few months ago.

It is absolutely fabulous. It is done with balance, very honest and very powerful. Besides for being pleasurable and educational, I think that there is a social virtue in giving a few dollars to the producers of this sort of valuable work.