Answering back

One of the things that has infuriated me for years in the roiling battle between Israel and her neighbors is Israel’s utter ineptitude at courting the media.  For decades, after ever single “event,” the Palestinians offered dozens of sympathetic people up for interviews with the MSM, while the Israelis offered terse, uninformative commentaries from tight lipped “military spokesmen.”  It allowed the Palestinians to gain complete control over the dialog.  No matter what was going on on the ground, Israel was steadily losing in the war of ideas.

I’m not the only one, of course, who has noticed this.  Michael Phillips has come up with an idea:  a simple chart that examines, not the facts of every event, but simply the number of times Hamas and its ilk have been caught in lies.  I’m not the only one, by the way, who likes this idea.  Michael got over 3,000 extra daily hits from people interested in the concept.  It might actually impress the Arabs too:  as many have been impressed by Israel’s willingness to go after a corrupt Prime Minister.  It can be very useful to separate facts from ideology.

Acknowledging human nature

When I was 12 or 13, I used to have heated discussions with my father about Communism.  Even then I had the wit to see that Communism’s major failing is its denial of human nature.  Daddy, one of the smartest people I’ve ever known, had been so indoctrinated in Communism in the Germany of the 1920s and 1930s that he simply wouldn’t acknowledge this as a problem.  That is, he agreed that I was correct that it denied human nature; he also believed, though, that humans could be changed from their feisty, competitive, greedy selves to fit into the Communist mold.  I couldn’t imagine that Utopian event.  Even then I touted Capitalism as the system most likely to turn human foibles to the greater good.

I thought of those long ago fights when I read Ex Cathedra on the subject of human tribalism, another quality that doesn’t seem erasable.  As with capitalism, and it’s ability to harness innate greed and competitiveness, we need to hit upon a way to take our bone-deep tribalism and leverage it into mutual benefit for more than one tribe or, at the very least, to acknowledge that, in a tribal clash, we want our side to win.

Saturday funnies

When I’m at work, I act like a professional.  Even if I had ever lost my temper on the job, though, my moment of rage would have quickly vanished.  If you’re someone a little unclear on professionalism, though, with a blue mouth, and you work in the news business, you might find yourself captured on camera forever.  (Caution:  expletives ahead):

Hat tip:  The Bald-Headed Geek

An abstract God

Yesterday, my son’s third grade class presented charming (and very well done) sketch performances based on Greek mythology. They carefully hewed very closely to the original stories, and the hour-long performance was a great refresher course for me about the Greek myths, most of which I hadn’t thought about in years, if not decades.

As you know, the basic myths (as opposed to the legends) are aimed at explaining the origin of things. Echo and Narcissus tells how a flower and an auditory effect came into being; the story of Persephone tries to explain winter; and so on. In each case, the Greeks had before them an effect, and tried to work backwards to come up with a cause. And in each cause, the cause was the panoply of Gods.

The Greeks saw their Gods as very human, very, very human. These Gods were not bound by a moral code. They were pure id, embodiments of driving human passions pretty much untouched by any type of morality. They personified lust, jealously, anger, greed, suspicion, impatience, and any other negative quality you’d like to imagine. Their acts were often random, not because they operated on a plane we can’t understand, but because they operated on a plane with each every two year old is familiar: It’s all about me, me, me and the immediacy of my desires?

PersephoneThe Greek Gods’ all too human motivations means that their stories play out like the worst kind of soap operas. Things happen, and poor humans, nymphs, dryads and naiads are hideously battered about , solely because of the Gods’ whims. Persephone is wrenched from her mother and her peaceful life because Zeus decides that Hades needs a companion, and co-opts Psyche to force an otherwise supremely disinterested Hades to become mad with passion for the poor girl. When Zeus realizes that he’s made a major miscalculation, and plunged the world into endless winter, he tries to undo the mess he made. He, the head God, is then tricked by Hades’ decision to feed the unwitting Persephone four pomegranate seeds, which forces her to return to the underworld four months a year. Voila! Winter. Taking a step back from its iconographic mythological origins, It’s a profoundly silly story. It also makes a very interesting contrast to the Jewish God.

The Jewish God is, first and foremost, a God of rules and morality. In this, he is sharply distinct from the Greek Gods, who have no apparently morality beyond their desires. This means that his followers aren’t constrained in their conduct by his randomness and ego, but by the fact that their forefathers’ entered into a covenant with him, by which they follow his rules and he, well, he makes them “his people.”

There’s actually no direct benefit to being God’s chosen people (either in the Bible or in the centuries since the Bible). That is, he doesn’t reward his followers with showers of gold and eternal life and frolicking on some heavenly mount. There are direct downsides, though. If you don’t follow God’s explicitly stated rules, he will trounce you, big time.

Thinking about it, the benefit to the Jews (and Christians) of this special relationship is actually the byproduct of the relationship. In other words, what they lack in direct rewards from God, they gain indirect rewards flowing from their changed conduct. In lieu of cruel, Hobbesian world, they create a civil society, within which people know the rules that tie them to each other and to the societies around them. They have the consciousness of virtue in a random world. They can’t change the randomness, but they can change their own perception of themselves. They are not the Gods’ toys anymore. They are actors, who have adult obligations to this abstract, unknowable God.

God’s unknowability is also a distinct virtue specific to this new monotheistic religion. This unseen God is not cheapened by cavortings with nymphs and with his ungovernable passions. He may be a jealous God, but his is not the jealously of lust. It is a deep desire to keep his people pure, to assure that they pursue the virtuous path he devised, and that they don’t fall off that righteous pathinto the random emotions of the surrounding Pagan religions. For the people of faith, moral behavior is internalized because this unseen God expects them to be good, not because if they follow the wrong ritual, he might show up one day and turn them into a plant.

The Jews (and, following them, the Christians), don’t need to ascribe bizarre soap operas to God to explain the unexplainable on the earth around them. It is enough to know that God works in mysterious ways. He is not just a human with a lightening bolt and a magic wand. He is something different altogether. We do as he desires because it is good for us, not because he’ll fall into a screaming fit on some heavenly floor.

I love the Greek and Roman mythologies because they are wonderful stories — and because, in their overwhelming humanness, they do allow us to peer through the mists of time and feel a connection to the long dead Greeks and Romans who created these stories. But that’s what they are: stories. They have nothing spiritual about them, nothing that talks to a society’s super ego and that enables it to have aspirations that rise above base human emotions.

Lynn Woolsey confirms her status as an idiot *UPDATED*

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but Lynn Woolsey represents me in Congress. I didn’t vote for her — but this is what you get in a majority style democracy. Marin County has many virtues, which is why I like to live here, but wise political choices are not among those virtues.

Right now, as progress in Iraq gets better and better, Woolsey is attempting to subvert local councils by pressing them to denounce the war as “unwinnable.” Fortunately, in most communities, the council’s have figured out that (a) such denunciations are beyond their area of responsibility and (b) they really don’t want to end up looking like the Berkeley City Council:

REP. LYNN WOOLSEY wants Marin’s city councils to join her in opposing the war in Iraq.

Woolsey has made no secret that she wants the troops to pack up and return home .

Aside from the Fairfax Town Council, which often jumps into politics that stretch far beyond town borders, many Marin councils have rebuffed pressure to take official stands on the war.

They cite policies that limit their vision to local or state issues that directly affect their towns.

Local peace activists are hoping that Woolsey’s political prodding will be enough to get them to depart from business as usual. A petition is making the rounds in Mill Valley, asking the City Council to take a stand against the war, just as it did opposing the Vietnam war in 1968.

Woolsey asked local mayors: “To bring an end to the occupation and to halt the hemorrhage of tax dollars from local projects, I encourage local governments to add your voices to your constituents; by adopting resolutions sending a strong message to Washington – our troops have done everything that has been asked of them, and it’s time to bring them home.”

Woolsey said the war is “unwinnable” and affects every citizen.

Larkspur Mayor Kathy Hartzell said she hasn’t seen Woolsey’s letter, and Mill Valley’s was mailed to an old post office box address, said Mayor Shawn Marshall.

Hartzell added the Larkspur council doesn’t take stands on matters “that are outside the parameter of our responsibilities.”

Boro said he’s not planning to put Woolsey’s request on his council’s agenda, either.

There’s not a lot of political support for the war on the San Rafael council, he said – adding it is not an issue the council can control or have an impact on.

I’m too lazy to look into it, but I’d be willing to bet that Woolsey has never talked to Petraeus or anyone else with feet on the ground information about Iraq, and I also suspect that she’s never actually visited Iraq on a fact-finding mission. Facts don’t drive her; ideology does. As Bugs says, what a maroon.

UPDATE:  I dashed off the above post this morning, without a lot of effort.  Marooned in Marin, however, did put a lot of effort in a post on the same topic, and it’s well worth reading.

The fall out from legalizing gay marriage *UPDATED*

Gay marriage has a warm, fuzzy feeling. Those who support it ask, who can be hurt by granting to gay couples the same rights we give to straight couples? As you know, while I have no trouble with same sex relationships between consenting adults, and favor granting civil benefits to gay couples, I do think marriage is a unique institution that should not be given away lightly.

As I’ve explained before, I think that the State has an interest in supporting heterosexual marriage. When you think about it, it’s really a guy thing. Heterosexual marriage, by tying a man to a woman, gives him something very special: The presumptive belief that the children she has are his. In order to protect these little fruits of his loins, the average man will embark on a behavior trajectory that makes him a good citizen: He will work hard so that he, not the state or the street, supports the little ones; he will avoid criminal activity; and he will use his testosterone to defend his nation, not commit revolution against it. Homosexual marriage, because it is not an inherently fruitful relationship, despite the fact that gays and lesbians can parent children, advances none of these purposes.

That’s my problem with gay marriage: it doesn’t advance any of societal purposes, but it does serve to devalue the marital currency. And it does this because of the gals. I noted that, in societal terms, heterosexual marriage is beneficial because it serves as a positive rein on guy energy. But guys, no doubt recognizing and resisting that rein, aren’t the ones who push for marriage. It’s the gals who do, with their vision of being princess for a day and of having someone committed to fatherhood with them. When there are two girls and a guy standing next to you queuing for wedding gowns, it saps some of the magic. It cheapens it, if you will. It also sends a very clear message that marriage is not about motherhood, which encourages more single parenting (have the baby, and don’t worry about the toilet seat being left up), and makes men extraneous and useless. (And yes, I know that there are a lot of other factors damaging the institution of marriage. That only makes it more serious that we don’t pile on more anti-marriage hits.)

There’s one other big problem, which is what Dennis Prager noted the moment the California Supreme Court issued its ruling: Once gay marriage is a state right, you’re going to start having discrimination claims that will fan out and affect every area of life. Schools are going to have to have equal numbers of books touting homosexual and heterosexual relationships, and that’s going to be true right down to kindergarten. And people are going to be constrained in what they can do in ways that are antithetical to their fundamental values.

You already know that a Boston Catholic organization (that is, not a state organization) is out of the business of providing homes for children because it felt it was doctrinally wrong to place a child in a homosexual household. Now, in England, an Earl who opened his 600 year old home for weddings has been banned from the wedding business because his Christian faith could not tolerate joining a man and a man in state sanctioned partnership in his home:

An Earl has been banned from holding weddings at his 600-year-old castle after refusing to allow a gay marriage.

The Earl of Devon, Hugh Courtenay, has had the licence to hold civil ceremonies at Powderham Castle near Exeter revoked by Devon County Council.

It is thought to be the first case of its kind in the country since the introduction of civil partnerships last year.

The council acted in response to a complaint from a gay couple from London who tried to book the castle for their own partnership ceremony.

The case was taken up by gay pressure group Stonewall and now the Earl has been told his licence has been revoked because of discrimination.

Devon County Council withdrew the licence because Lord Devon was in breach of the Sexual Orientation regulations of the Equality Act 2007.

[snip]

Mr Courtenay is the 18th Earl of Devon with a title going back to 1553. He says he is a devout Christian and is acting out of faith.

The Earl said: ‘I have to follow my religion in this case. The question has never arisen here before but I suppose I knew it would at some time.

‘Now it has, then this is the way it has to be. I have no option. As a Christian I have to object to this.’

There’s one last little interesting thing about that article and it’s the selfishness permeating the whole thing. The gay couple who got the whole thing started are delighted that, if they can’t have a wedding at the castle, no one can have a wedding at the castle:

The gay couple whose wedding was refused by the Earl say his decision was discrimination and they are delighted at the revocation.

So much of this rights thing has that nasty edge: If I suffer, everyone suffers. I will feel better only if you feel miserable. What a petty group.

UPDATE:  I simply want to urge everyone who glances at this post to read the comments.  They are much more interesting than the post itself.

Why you shouldn’t cut off your nose to spite your face

I’ve been finding very disturbing the intense hostility that conservatives direct against John McCain. So much so that I wrote a very long rant on the subject, which American Thinker was kind enough to publish and which I reprint below:

Perhaps because I’m a neocon, and not a dyed-in-the-wool, native-born conservative, I look at John McCain, with all his flaws, and still think that he’s a pretty darn good candidate for our time. More importantly, I think that Obama is a very dangerous candidate precisely because of the time in which we live. I therefore find disturbing the number of conservative purists who insist that they’re going to teach John McCain — and everyone else, dammit! — a lesson, either by sitting out the election or by throwing their vote away on a third party candidate. This is a kind of political game that may be fun to play in uninteresting eras, but I think it’s suicidal given the pivotal existential issues we now face.

It’s easy to target John McCain’s flaws. Most recently, he’s managed to buy into the whole green machine just as it’s becoming clear that the greenies probably rushed their fences, and leapt into hysteria well in advance of their facts. Still, whether because you view the world through green colored glasses, or because you really hate funding totalitarian governments that are hostile to America, there is a lot to be said for exploring energy alternatives. McCain’s free market approach should help that effort. Also, by the time he becomes President, there should be a sufficient aggregation of rationally based information about the climate to allow McCain a graceful retreat from a foolish campaign promise.

McCain also seems to be unresponsive to the feeling ordinary Americans have that illegal immigration is a big problem. This feeling arises, not because we’re all xenophobic nutcases, but because we recognize a few fundamental truths: (a) American law starts at American borders, and it is deeply destructive to society’s fabric to have an immigrant’s first act in this country be an illegal one; (b) a country’s fundamental sovereign right is the ability to control its own borders; (c) unchecked immigration provides a perfect pathway, not merely for the field worker, but for the bomb-maker; and (d) immigrants who come here should be committed to this country and its values, and shouldn’t just by moseying over to grab some illegal bucks to send to the folks back home.

Nevertheless, while illegal immigrants are irritating, they’re not an existential threat that can bring America to its knees within the next four years. They are a problem, but not an imminent one.

McCain may also never be absolved of the sin he committed with the McCain-Feingold Act, a legislative bit of bungling that has George Soros singing daily Hosannas. However, that’s done. There is no doubt that it reflects badly on McCain’s judgment, but I think it’s a sin that needs to be ignored, if not forgiven, in light of the person facing McCain on the other side of the ballot box.

You see, from my point of view, this election isn’t really about John McCain at all. It’s about Barack Obama. Of course, it shouldn’t be about Barack Obama. During a time of war and economic insecurity, one of the two presidential candidates should not be a man who has no life history, beyond a remarkable ability at self-aggrandizement, and no legislative history, despite a few years paddling about in the Illinois State Legislature and three years (count ‘em, three) doing absolutely nothing in the United States Senate.

That Obama is a man of no accomplishments or experience, though, doesn’t mean that he hasn’t managed to acquire some bad friends and bad ideas. The friends are easy to identify: Comrade . . . I mean Rev. Wright; Michelle “the Termagant” Obama; the explosive Ayers and Dohrn duo; Samantha “Hillary is a Monster” Power; Robert “Hamas” Malley; Zbigniew “the Jews are out to get me” Brzezinski; etc. Over the years, he’s sought out, paid homage to, and been advised by a chilling collection of people who dislike America and are ready to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone who talks the Marxist talk and walks the Marxist walk.

Obama’s ideas are as unnerving as his friends. To my mind, the Jihad that Islamists have declared against us is the fundamental issue of our time. Thanks to the nature of modern asymmetrical warfare, the fact that these Jihadists number in the tens of thousands, rather than the millions, and that they’re often free operators, not formal armies, does nothing to lessen the serious threat they pose to American freedoms. We’ve seen with our own eyes the fact that, using our own instruments of civilization, 19 determined men can kill almost 3,000 people in a matter of hours.

Nor was 9/11 an aberration, committed by the only 19 Islamic zealots on planet Earth. Whether they’re using the hard sell of bloody deaths, or the soft sell of co-opting a nation’s institutions and preying on its well-meant deference to other cultures and its own self-loathing, the Jihadists have a clearly defined goal — an Islamic world – and they’re very committed to effectuating that goal. And while it’s true that, of the world’s one billion Muslims, most are not Jihadists, the fanatic minority can still constitute a critical mass when the passive majority either cheers on the proposed revolution from the sidelines or does nothing at all. As Norman Podhoretz has already explained, this is World War IV.

I understand this. You understand this. McCain understands this. Obama, however, does not understand this. He envisions cozy chit-chats with Ahmadinejad and loving hand-holding with Hamas. There’s every indication that, given his world view, he’ll take Clinton’s “Ah feel your pain” approach one step further, and engage in a self-abasing “I — or, rather, America — caused your pain.” That approach failed when Carter tried it, and it’s only going to fare worse the second time around.

Obama is also bound and determined to withdraw instantly from Iraq, even though the momentum has shifted completely to the American side. Even though another famous Illinois politician spoke scathingly of General McClellan for “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory” at Appomattox, Obama has not learned from that painful lesson. He is adamant that he will repeat McClellan’s errors and enshrine the snatching method as national policy. Every five year old understands that you don’t leave the fight when it’s going your way; Obama, however, does not. That is scary in and of itself.

There is one thing, though, that Obama understands with perfect clarity: the role of Supreme Court judges. He knows that they should apply compassion and empathy, without the restrictive hindrance of the outdated United States Constitution. I’m not making this up. He’s said so: “I want people on the bench who have enough empathy, enough feeling, for what ordinary people are going through.”

As someone unfortunate enough to litigate in a jurisdiction filled to overflowing with these empathic judicial actors, I can tell you that this approach is disastrous. First, it’s unfair within the confines of a single case when the judge can ignore the law and, instead, decide a case based on the color of his underpants on any given day. Second, and more importantly, judicial activism (for that is what Obama describes) also destroys the stability necessary for a safe, strong society. It becomes impossible for people and entities to make reasoned calculations about future behavior, since they cannot rely on cases or statutes as guides. They simply have to hope that, if things go wrong, the judge before whom they appear likes them better than he likes the other guy. This is no way to run a courtroom, let alone a country.

What should concern all of us is the power a President Obama will have to effect an almost permanent change on the Supreme Court, one that will last far beyond his presidency. Those with gambling instincts point to the fact that, if anyone leaves the Court during an Obama presidency, it will be the existing liberal justices. In other words, they say, Obama, by replacing the departing liberal justices with equally liberal incoming justices, will simply be maintaining the status quo. I’m not so sanguine.

Although I preface the thought with a “God forbid,” it is possible that conservative justices might leave the Court too, whether through death, illness, incapacity, or personal choice. If that’s the case, Obama, backed by a compliant Democratic Congress, will be able to appoint anyone he pleases to the Court. With a solid activist majority, you can bet that, in your lifetime (as well as your children’s and grandchildren’s lifetimes), the Supreme Court will become the second Legislative branch, with the sole difference being that it will be completely unhindered by having to woo or be answerable to any pesky voters back home.

It’s these last two points — the War and the judiciary — that make me feel very strongly that we have to accept John McCain as president, warts and all. While he is far from perfect, he is rock solid on the two issues that can’t just be massaged away in four years. He will continue to wage war, both on the field and in the realm of ideas, against the Jihadists, and he will appoint conservative Supreme Court justices.

He is, therefore, a much better bet than the scenario in which the gamblers among us have placed their faith; namely, a replay of 1976 and 1980. These risk-takers believe that, as happened before, we’ll elect a horrible, horrible ultra-liberal President who will expose to the world how hollow Democratic ideologies really are. Then, after a mere four years, a sadder but wiser American public will elect the next Ronald Reagan who will magically make everything right again.

I have my doubts. First, I think there’s a great deal of conservative hubris in believing that we can just wish for and get the Second Coming of Ronald Reagan. Not only was he a pretty unique man, he’d been kicking around the political arena for decades. Do you look out in that same arena right now and see anyone remotely like him who will be ready to serve and acceptable to the American public in the next four years? Second, Reagan came in facing two primary problems: a stagnant Cold War and a moribund economy. Both of these situations were remediable. Reenergizing a stagnant war game America the dominant position; and rejiggering a damaged, but fundamentally strong economy was difficult, but do-able.

Here, however, we have two situations that are not so easily repaired should Obama bungle them (as I confidently expect he will). We are not fighting a Cold War, we are fighting a hot war. To walk away now inevitably places the momentum in the hands of our enemies, enemies who have done what the Soviets never did: entered our borders and killed our people in the thousands. Further, unlike the Soviets who had replaced their revolution with a cold, calculating political machine, one that could yield to rational self-interest, we now find ourselves facing fanatics in the blind grip of an ideology completely antithetical to any rational negotiation. To lose the high ground now – and we certainly have that high ground in Iraq – may mean to lose it forever. Even the best case scenario would only echo the changes between the late 1930s and early 1940s, when the Allies, having lost the high ground, were eventually able to win it back at the cost of more than twenty million lives.

Likewise, the Supreme Court situation, if Obama is able to switch the balance from strict constructionist to activist, cannot magically be remedied. Even Reagan was unable to make that change. It’s been thirty-five years, and American is still riven by Roe v. Wade, the most famous activist decision of them all (and that is true whether you are pro-Choice or pro-Life). One can only imagine how many decades of damage an activist Obama Supreme Court can do.

It is very tempting to those who care deeply about their country and their politics to “punish” an ostensibly conservative politician who has, too often and too visibly, wandered from the fold. Sometimes, however, teaching someone a lesson can be infinitely more painful for the punisher than for the punishee. That’s what I fear will happen now, if conservative voters decide that McCain has failed to pass the purity test and then gamble that Obama can’t really be that bad. I’m here to tell you that Obama can be that bad, and that we owe it to ourselves and our fellow citizens to keep him out of office.

Word from the Watchers

Well, I voted for Soccer Dad, but the Watcher himself (or herself) was kind enough to vote for me — breaking a tie between Soccer Dad’s post and mine.  I have to admit to being rather pleased, because I thought this was a week of exceptionally good contributions from Council members, and actually didn’t think I had a snowball’s chance of showing up in the top ranks on this one.

Without further ado, let me give you the results from this week’s vote at the Watcher of Weasels:

Votes Council link
3 Why Jews Are Right To Suspect Obama’s Advisers
Bookworm Room
2 Dear Mr Hoyt
Soccer Dad
1  2/3 Strange Device
The Glittering Eye
1  2/3 In Which It Gets Worse
Done With Mirrors
1 Peacekeepers Raping Children… Again
Cheat Seeking Missiles
1 Will History Redeem President Bush?
The Colossus of Rhodey
2/3 Cowbama Diplomacy and Iran
Wolf Howling
Votes Non-council link
2 Deep Thoughts with Biggie Smalls
Kaboom: A Soldier’s War Journal
1  2/3 Return to Sender
Iowahawk
1  2/3 Over Red Coffee Cans and Cigarettes
The Paragraph Farmer
1  1/3 All the Views They Spit Into Print
Big Lizards
1  1/3 An Open Letter to Senator Obama on Iran
Pajamas Media
2/3 Democratic Congress Votes to Defund the Future of Military Prepardness
UrbanGrounds
2/3 The State of Englishness
The Brussels Journal
1/3 Unavoidable Sadness
Eternity Road
1/3 Madonna of China: Chinese Policewoman Saves Orphan Babies’ Lives by Breastfeeding Them
The Moderate Voice