Monthly Archives: November 2004

Lead Letter in Today's Wall Street Journal

Hey, check out my letter in today’s Wall Street Journal:


PC Busybodies Fear Christians, Not Terrorists

In regard to your Nov. 10 editorial “The Van Gogh Murder”:

Recently, at a yoga class at the local Y, the instructor was upset because a few of my classmates had gone to the director to complain about her. The complaint: At the end of each class she dabs a little nice-smelling oil on our heads, after which we say “Ohm” three times. This offended a few of the pursed-lips crowd who consider such things a “promotion of religion.” As the late Jack Parr used to say, “I kid you not.”

George Orwell, when he was asked where he got his inspiration for “1984,” replied that his model was the left-wing British Labor Party intellectuals he worked with at the BBC during World War II. The society depicted in the book, Orwell said, would be the kind of society these individuals would create if they ever got power. Their mentality lives on in today’s busybodies who claim to be threatened by a little spirituality symbolized by the oil and ohms, and who have, to give another example, conditioned us not to utter “Merry Christmas.” The generic “Happy Holiday” is still OK, I think.

They are the same people who are now predicting a new Orwellian/Christian America while simultaneously dismissing the murder of a Dutch film maker by Islamic radicals as the failure of the ever tolerant Dutch to accommodate themselves to the new multiculturalism. We should fear Christianity, but be tolerant of Islam, certainly the least tolerant religion there is.

Meanwhile, liberals continue to blame their electoral defeat on the stupidity of the voters. An ABC newswoman speaking on CSPAN took this line. She said she’s been visiting schools around the nation and found that the students don’t know anything. Well, they do know something — they know about Rush Limbaugh, she dubiously claims. I find it hard to believe kids are listening to Rush rant about the liberal media on those ubiquitous headsets. (I thought it was all about gangstas and hos.)

Still the newswoman worries that “Generation Y” doesn’t know the New York Times, ABC News and National Public Radio, which in her mind provide the real news untainted by, say, liberal orthodoxy (as opposed to Mr. Limbaugh’s admittedly conservative orthodoxy). In her world, you cannot be an informed citizen without listening to NPR. If the youth vote had been listening to NPR rather than Rush and Rap, they’d have elected John Kerry, I suppose.

Back at the yoga class, we right wingers stood up for the oil (and religion) and, like the majority of voters on Nov. 2, helped to vanquish the Enlightenment and thus usher in a new Dark Age.

Ronald James
Wynnewood, Pa.

Diverse in Everything but Thought

George Will describes the graves of academia.

Why Bush Won

Interesting discussion in RollingStone on the election. David Gergen describes the Democrats’ problem:

I think they may be in a more dangerous position. The Goldwater coalition was in a deep, deep hole. They were a distinct minority, but they could build from the ground up. The Democrats are in danger of sliding down. They haven’t won a majority of the white vote since 1964. They haven’t won fifty percent of the national vote since 1976. And in the last six congressional elections — starting with 1994 — they haven’t cracked 48.5 percent of the national vote. This is a party that needs to have some deep rethinking — not simply go out and turn a few dials.

A Christian Holiday

I’m thankful for these “fundamentalists.” From the Wall Street Journal:

A Very Christian Day

November 24, 2004; Page A12

The First Thanksgiving is one of those heartwarming stories that every child used to know, and some up-to-date teachers take special delight in suppressing. Many teachers approach children nowadays with the absurd presumption that they are triumphalist little bigots who must be taken down a notch and made to grasp that their country has made mistakes. In fact they are little ignoramuses who leave high school believing that their country has made nothing but mistakes, and they never do learn what revisionist history is a revision of.

It is especially sad when children don’t learn the history of Thanksgiving, which is that rarest of anomalies — a religious festival celebrated by many faiths. The story of the first Thanksgiving would inspire and soothe this nation if only we would let it — this nation so deeply divided between Christians and non-Christians or nominal Christians, where Christians are a solid majority on a winning streak and many non-Christians are scared to death, of “Christian fundamentalists” especially.

Christian fundamentalists were the first European settlers in this country, and Thanksgiving is their idea. (Puritans were one type of Christian fundamentalist — “fundamentalist” insofar as they focused on biblical basics. The Pilgrims were radical Puritans.) Many Americans are afraid that fundamentalists are inherently intolerant and want to stamp out all religions but their own. Yet that first thanksgiving was celebrated by radical Christian fundamentalists, and American Indians were honored guests — as every child used to know. Obviously fundamentalists are capable of tolerating non-Christians on occasion. In 17th-century America, some Christians used the Bible to explain exactly why American Indians must be treated respectfully. But another fact about that first thanksgiving is also worth pondering: no one tried to convert anyone else. Most of today’s fundamentalist groups don’t fish for converts either — but those who do ought to contemplate thanksgiving number one.

The Pilgrims celebrated that first thanksgiving in 1621; Edward Winslow describes it in a letter to a friend. “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labours.” There was a great celebration, “many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king, Massasoit with some 90 men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted.” The Indian contingent “went out and killed five deer which they brought to the plantation.”

The first settlers mostly wanted to be friends with the Indians — and not only for obvious practical reasons. Alexander Whitaker was an early Virginia settler. His description of America was published in 1613. He doesn’t think highly of American Indian religion, but goes on at length about American Indian talent and intelligence. (“They are a very understanding generation, quick of apprehension”; “exquisite in their inventions, and industrious in their labour.”) And after all, he points out, “One God created us, they have reasonable souls and intellectual faculties as well as we; we all have Adam for our common parent: yea, by nature the condition of us both is all one.”

In time, attitudes changed. American settlers and American Indians fell to treating one another savagely, and the Indians got the worst of it. But human greed and violence, not Christianity, brought those changes about. Christian preachers did not always condemn them — but, Christian or not, they were mere human beings after all.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony — settled by fundamentalists only slightly less radical than the Pilgrims — declared its first thanksgiving in 1630. By the late 1700s, independence was in the air, and the Continental Congress proclaimed many days of thanksgiving. President George Washington lost no time declaring the first thanksgiving under the new constitution in 1789. Each of these early proclamations was good for a single occasion. But after President Lincoln had proclaimed thanksgiving days in 1863 and ’64 — specifying the last Thursday in November both times — this characteristically American festival became a yearly custom. Lincoln was not only America’s greatest president; he was our greatest religious figure, too. In his last speech — four days before he was murdered, with the Civil War at an end at last — he proposed one more day of thanksgiving. “He, from whom all blessings flow, must not be forgotten. A call for national thanksgiving is being prepared.”

What to conclude? In a democracy where the majority is Christian, you can no more nitpick public life free of Christianity (as if it were so much lint on a frazzled sweater) than you can hold down the top on a pot of boiling water. Public life in this country has been fundamentally Christian since the first European settlers arrived. It continued Christian when the new nation won its independence and proclaimed its Bill of Rights, and will stay Christian forever, or until a majority decides otherwise — no matter how many antireligious rulings are extracted from how many antidemocratic power-mad judges.

Yet the fear of Christian fundamentalism that haunts a significant minority of Americans ought not to be casually dismissed. Some groups still see it as their duty to make converts of non-Christians. History suggests that they had better approach their mission with exquisite tact, or their designated target populations will soon come to hate their guts. I spend a fair amount of effort trying to convince friends and colleagues that their hostility to Christianity is ignorant and bigoted. But when a deadly earnest young Christian approaches, displays an infuriating though subliminal holier-than-thouness, and tries to convert me — it happens rarely, but occasionally — I metamorphose for an instant into a raging leftist.

But that long-ago First Thanksgiving still speaks to and for every American, and we ought to listen. It speaks to Christians; they thought it up. It speaks to Jews — Pilgrim Christianity was a profoundly “Hebraic” Christianity; the Pilgrims saw themselves as a chosen people arrived in a promised land; their organizations were based on “covenants,” and they were devoted to the Hebrew Bible. (Late in life the eminent Pilgrim father William Bradford began studying Hebrew, so he might behold “the ancient oracles of God in their native beauty.” More than most American Jews can say.) Those who are neither Christian nor Jew are also present in spirit, represented by the great king Massasoit. Everyone is “entertained and feasted,” and everyone leaves with the same faith that brung ‘im. Thanksgiving speaks for Americans too: it is just like us to set a day aside for a national thank you to the Lord, or (anyway) to someone. Americans continue to be what Lincoln called us, the “almost chosen people,” struggling to do right by man and God.

Mr. Gelernter, a professor at Yale, is the author, most recently, of “The Muse in the Machine” (Free Press, 2002).

The 9/11 Mafia Redux

I don’t like the 9/11 Commission. Never did. I always thought it was an election year stunt to undercut Bush’s national security credibility.

I would not trust any group that would have hyper-partisans Richard Ben Veniste and Jamie Gorelick as members. Nor do I care for many of the supposedly sainted 9/11 family members, like the constantly self-promoting Kristen Breitweiser, the top mouth of the “Jersey Girls.” Thus, I am thrilled the Commission’s vaunted recommendations may be dumped in the ash can.

Of course the intelligence agencies must be reformed, but reform will never be achieved by rearranging the bureaucracy. What’s needed (and apparently has already been partially accomplished) is the junking of all the rules, regulations and policies that came out of the post Vietnam/Watergate era, all of which rendered the FBI and the intelligence agencies ineffective. The same people who now scream about the Patriot Act were screaming during the 1970’s about Robert Kennedy’s bugging of Martin Luther King and then proceeded to destroy the FBI and CIA.

Those are the people who are trying to block real intelligence reform. Although William Safire, the libertarian, is hysterical about the Patriot Act, he is right about the 9/11 Commission:

Steamroller Out of Steam

Published: November 24, 2004

Washington — The sore-loser set has been complaining that the president has banished healthy internal dissent. Darryl Zanuck’s classic line to quavering executives has been evoked, “Don’t say yes until I finish talking!”

But wait: that was before a minority of a hundred or so members of Congress, basing their stand on the testimony of the nation’s five most senior military officers, refused to say yes to the private lobbying juggernaut set up by the disbanded 9/11 commission. This group had already brought the media, the Congressional leadership and finally the president to their knees.

The principled refusal of two House committee chairmen to be steamrollered into hasty passage of a pre-election-driven bill has flipped the previous bashing of the supposedly domineering Bush 180 degrees.

Now the party line is: “Whatsamatter, W., you can’t whip these right-wingers of yours into line? The Establishment has decreed that our intelligence operations will be reorganized now, quick, before the new Congress takes the oath and holds further hearings. Why can’t you force your generals and your saluting solons to get with the program? Where’s Tom (the Hammer) DeLay when we need him?”

That’s quite a flip-flop. As for me, I prefer the original complaint: a president needs close-in, loyalist dissent. I resist the steamroller, whether by a president who demands lockstep obedience or by a brilliant P.R. campaign financed by six foundations yet to reveal their names (except for Carnegie Corporation, on its Web site, down for $200,000).

Hero of the steamroller stoppage is Representative Duncan Hunter, chairman of House Armed Services, whose committee heard testimony from each of the four service chiefs about a letter from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Richard Myers. These officers made clear their worry about what some of us consider an unnecessary bureaucratic layer between highly perishable military intelligence and troops in the field.

Their testimony was derided by horrified editorialists and senators who look with disdain on the House as merely a desire to protect budgetary “turf.” Might it not be possible that these decorated officers were not puppets being manipulated by nefarious neocons, but stand-up guys who actually believed what they said – and were duty-bound to give Congress their best advice about the way postmodern war must be waged?

I’d like the next Congress to take a hard look at a radical notion in the current bill – to strip the C.I.A. of its covert-action arm and assign that function to the Pentagon. That calls for all-out war or no action at all – when sometimes it is wise to operate in the gray area of plausible denial.

The Senate bill, which slavishly follows the commission’s recommendations, has some sensible ideas; the counterterrorism center for dot connection is one. And the superczar role will do no harm, especially since the watered-down proposal makes him less of a budgetary superpower and a potential rival to the president in a crisis.

In today’s conventional media narrative, the Senate is heroically seeking to reform the dysfunctional C.I.A.; the villainous majority in the House is soft on terror; and the Machiavellian president is publicly posing as a reacher-outer, but is privately telling the House to drag a foot to protect the Pentagon. The K.G.B. had a name for that: disinformation.

The truth is that Senate intelligence oversight has long been as inept and blundering as the C.I.A., which at least is now getting its overdue shakeup.

Example: five months ago, I discovered that since 2002 the Senate Intelligence Committee had suppressed its own 30-page report on the terrorist attack on the U.S.S. Cole, which cost 16 sailors’ lives two years before. When asked for its release, the staff director said the report was still “classified.” I requested its C.I.A. clearance, which took three long months to do; the C.I.A. informs me it has finally been redacted and returned, unclassified, to the committee.

But Pat Roberts, the chairman, is said to think that the suppressed report is “disputatious.” He won’t make it public. Why? I suspect it may put not just the C.I.A. and F.B.I. but some senators and committee staff in a bad light.

Lame ducks shouldn’t stampede. “Evolving” intelligence reform should be an early priority for the 109th Congress.

The Tyranny of Goodness

From the Wall Street Journal: A victory for the virtuous in Britain:

Fox News


LONDON — With Britain’s Black Watch regiment camped in harm’s way outside of Baghdad, the spectacle of Labour MPs going rabid about banning foxhunting last week must have looked, at any distance, impenetrably quaint. Overriding the House of Lords by invoking the Parliament Act for only the fourth time since it was passed in 1911, anti-hunt MPs successfully closed down a centuries-old sport firmly fixed in the international imagination as quintessentially British.

But at issue is not merely the further erosion of the tourist’s Britain, sad like the passing of the classic red phone box, and soon the double-decker bus. This ban is not about animal welfare but human warfare, and of the pettiest, ugliest sort.

A few basics from the git-go: They may look cuter than rats, but foxes are pests, and prey on livestock. Even Londoners must increasingly appreciate the destructive power of their furry friends, for proliferating foxes are now commonplace in the city, frequently killing pets and ravaging rubbish bins. Bottom line: Foxes will be killed anyway. It is only a question of how. Despite their seeming savagery, hounds kill their quarry in an average of two to three seconds, far less time than it takes a fox to die when imperfectly shot. Hence even ban advocates focus on the “anxiety” a fox may experience when chased, rather than on its mercifully brief death throes.

Since anxiety is a less emotive matter than physical agony by a yard, how did antipathy toward foxhunting among Labour Party backbenchers grow so ferocious that as of next February any Briton who pursues a fox on a horse with a dog will now be put in jail?

Self-evidently, class antagonism plays a part. Decrying foxhunting as a decadent diversion of the aristocracy, Labour is now in the saddle, and will hound the toffs in their poncy red outfits. The fact that latterly foxhunting bridges class barriers, bringing rural communities of varying incomes together, has failed to diminish this class bloodlust, since most ban advocates are proudly ignorant about the sport they would abolish, and have never been on a foxhunt.

Yet the deeper modern rift between the urban élite and the disempowered countryside is more salient. The urban professionals backing the ban have ideas about themselves, very precious ideas. They are civilized. They recycle. They believe that meat grows in cellophaned packets. They abhor genetically modified foods and animal testing. They are good. Britain’s country dwellers, who actually make things, grow things, raise things and yes, kill things, are too busy to worry about being good.

Foxhunting turned an unpleasant necessity, the eradication of livestock predators, into a ritual — an excuse for a frolic on horseback, fresh air, fellowship and a warming drink. And therein lies the nugget. For the virtuous, killing animals grimly is OK, but killing animals and enjoying it amounts to sadism and is therefore unacceptable. What was legislated last Thursday was not so much what rural sportsmen are allowed to do as what they are allowed to feel.

Alas, Europe in general is suffering under the tyranny of Goodness. The same impulse to legislate virtue drives the anti-smoking lobby. Hate-crime legislation levies additional jail time on criminals not for what they did, but why. And recycling is embraced as an intrinsically virtuous idea, whether or not its economics or even its environmental merits add up. Thus Goodness is not about doing good but affecting it, and about telling moral inferiors what they may or may not enjoy. In sum, the hunting ban is about vanity.

Urban Labourites are welcome to be as vain as they like so long as they do not employ the powerful arm of the state to squelch one of the few pleasures remaining to a beleaguered minority. Government should only constrict individual liberty when the case for interference is iron-clad. (Indeed, had the U.K. a written constitution, Thursday’s law would probably be struck down by the courts. But parliamentary democracy allows for the triumph of unprincipled bullies, so long as they marshal the clout.) The case for banning foxhunting — vulpine anxiety, human emotions that are unattractive — is breathtakingly slight.

Whether this misconceived law results in widespread civil disobedience remains to be seen. Though opponents have threatened to foxhunt anyway, daunting police with the prospect of arresting thousands, Britain is lately less a nation of hunters than of sheep. But let’s hope that the opposition declines to simply roll over — massacring their hounds, putting down their horses, learning to play Parcheesi on weekends. The British defeated Hitler. Surely they can triumph over the smallmindedness of their own government.

Ms. Shriver, a novelist, is the author of “We Need to Talk About Kevin” (Counterpoint, 2003).

Peace in Our Time

Will Bush join the European effort to appease Iran?

From the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page:

Moment of Truth on Iran

Well, that was quick. Last week, the governments of Britain, France and Germany cut a deal with Iran whereby the Islamic Republic agreed to a temporary suspension of its nuclear-weapons programs. Yet within hours, evidence began piling up that Tehran was already in breach. What does this mean for the Bush Administration? We’ll get to that in a moment, but first let’s be clear on what this says about Iran’s purposes, and about Europe’s.

As everyone knows, this latest agreement rehashes a similar deal reached by the same parties in October 2003. In both cases, Iran promised not to seek nuclear weapons and pledged full cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency. And in both cases, Iran was given to expect that good behavior would be rewarded by European technical aid, economic assistance and diplomatic comfort.

Iran, however, violated its 2003 commitments by continuing to enrich uranium while lying to the IAEA about it. And now, it seems, it is doing that again. It is openly converting 22 tons of uranium tetrafluoride (yellow cake) into uranium hexafluoride, which can be enriched to weapons-grade levels and suffices to make five atomic bombs. An Iranian dissident group that has been right in the past has alleged the existence of an undeclared nuclear site, run by the Ministry of Defense, in the Lavizan area of Tehran. And then there is a 1,000-page dossier, recently delivered to U.S. intelligence by a “walk-in” source, which is said to contain a blueprint for a nuclear warhead adapted to Iranian ballistic missile specifications.

All of this should make it obvious that Iran fully intends to develop the nuclear bomb into which it has sunk some $16 billion over the years. It also seems obvious that Iran is using its so-called dialogue with the Europeans to win the time and diplomatic wriggle room to do so. So why are the Europeans going along with this charade? Maybe they really believe that Iranian good faith can be purchased by what they have to offer in terms of carrots and sticks. But we doubt it. Europeans are not as self-deceived as all that.

A more plausible explanation is that the Europeans are complicit with Iran in this diplomatic charade. That’s not to say Berlin, London or even Paris welcome the idea of a nuclear Iran. But they see it as a soon-to-be fact of international life that will have to be managed, just as other unsavory nuclear powers such as the Soviet Union and China were managed.

By contrast, what the Europeans really seem to dread are the potential consequences of a more determined American effort to halt Tehran, especially if that effort includes a pre-emptive military strike against Iranian nuclear installations. No wonder British Foreign Minister Jack Straw could be heard on the BBC the other day saying, “I don’t see any circumstances in which military action would be justified against Iran. Full Stop.” Any circumstances, Minister?

This, then, is what the latest Iranian-European deal is about. It is not mainly intended to stop Iran from getting a bomb. Mainly, it is intended to stop the U.S. from stopping Iran.

For the Bush Administration, this is the moment of truth. Because nobody knows exactly how close Iran is to producing a weapon, giving diplomacy a chance for the next six or 12 or 24 months is tantamount to acquiescing to a nuclear Iran. What the Europeans are tacitly offering President Bush is a face-saving way of doing just that. And we must concede that passing the buck to Europe would be a fine chance, if Mr. Bush wished to take it, to mend trans-Atlantic relations, repay Tony Blair for support in Iraq, and climb down from his first-term pledge that the world’s most dangerous regimes will not be allowed to acquire the world’s most dangerous weapons. It would also spare the President from possibly having to make some difficult and fateful decisions about a pre-emptive strike.

Then again, if the President is prepared to see Iran go nuclear, he must also be prepared to abandon the doctrine that famously goes under his name. “We make no distinction,” says the 2002 National Security Strategy, “between terrorists and those who knowingly harbor or provide aid to them.” How is this to be enforced once the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism builds a nuclear fence around itself? Another key tenet of that strategy is to prevent the emergence of dominant regional powers. But it is hard to see how the U.S. could restrain a nuclear Iran from playing precisely that role, its influence spreading wide in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, the Caspian and the Gulf.

We are not suggesting that the only feasible alternative to Europe’s current effort is military action. But as Mr. Bush considers his options, it’s important that everyone acknowledges just what the Europeans are offering. It is not diplomacy with the country of Iran. It is pre-emptive capitulation in the war on terror. Surely that’s not what the American people intended when they returned this President to office.

Reproductive Health

Although I haven’t read or heard about it in the media, emails are flying around the country warning of Bush’s “plan” to select Dr. W. David Hager to head up the FDA’s Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee. The problem is Dr. Hager’s anti-abortion and a Christian.

According to the email Paul Reveres, “…the committee has not met for more than two years, during which time its charter lapsed.” Despite that, I am told, the committe “makes crucial (my emphasis) decisions on matters relating to drugs used in the practice of obstetrics, gynecology and related specialties, including hormone therapy, contraceptions treatment for infertility, and medical alternatives to surgical procedures for sterilization and pregnancy termination.”

One wonders who made these “crucial decisions” while the committee was on its two year hiatus.

Please pardon me if I don’t worry too much about this obscure committee and the born-again OB/Gyn Bush “plans” to appoint as its head. Maybe those so exercised about a new American Dark Age ought to worry more about the “reproductive health” of that as yet unidentified woman disembowled by Islamonazis in Iraq, a phenomenon these slime balls would love to bring to the United States.

Indeed, they’ve already brought something similar to the hyper-tolerant Netherlands with the shooting and throat slitting of Theo Van Gogh. Unlike Dr. Hager and his putatively powerful committee, these murderers will not be influenced by email campaigns, nor the kind of firestorm of criticism the media will launch if Bush actually makes this appointment.

And how likely is it that a single woman will be denied an abortion if Bush stacks this committee with Christian zealots? Not likely, since the legislatures and the courts decide such issues.

No, your contraceptives and your “right” to an abortion are safe from the likes of Dr. Hager. If only I could say the same about the Islamicists.

The United Nations: It's the Jews

And you thought it was the Christians we had to worry about.

Semper Fi

The Journal answers the question: Why don’t I care about the “rules of armed conflict” in Iraq?