September 30, 2007

Fake But (Horribly) True

The Jerusalem Post published a story, with pictures, of an honor killing of a 16-year-old girl that supposedly took place in Gaza. Then the story disappeared without explanation.

It turns out that the killings were real, but took place in Iraq, among the Yezidis, a strange neoplatonist, syncretic sect--and these same Yezidis were the targets of a horrendous massacre not too long ago.

I almost posted about the story, taking the reporter, Khaled Abu Toameh, presumably some sort of Arab, to be reliable. Eager to find horror in Gaza, the JP goofed big time. They ought to own up to it.

Meanwhile, very real "honor killings" of girls do happen all over the Middle East, and the killers almost invariably go unpunished.

HT: Roger Simon

UPDATE: To its credit, the JPost has owned up to the mistake, blaming a pro-Fatah propagandist.


Greg Kandra, a newly minted Roman Catholic deacon, reproduces a fine homily. The core is a story of the sacrament of penance:
One afternoon a few years ago, my wife went to confession down at St. Francis of Assisi, on 32nd St., in Manhattan. It’s one of the few places in the city that has confession all day, every day – in part, because they have enough friars to handle it. They also can be very creative, and know how to teach a valuable lesson, as my wife found out.

When she completed her confession, the priest didn’t tell her to say five Hail Marys or 10 Our Fathers.

Instead, he asked her to go buy a meal for someone who was homeless.

So, my wife left the church and walked a couple blocks, to the Manhattan Mall, where she went to their food court, and put together a meal in a Styrofoam container. Then she went out to the street, to find someone to give it to.

The first lesson of today: you can never find a homeless person when you need one.

She walked all over Greeley Square, and around Herald Square, for blocks, looking for someone, anyone, to give it to.

Finally, she found one lone ragged man crouched on a street corner. She took a deep breath and went up to him. She held out the container and said, “Hi…I bought you dinner.”

He looked at the container, then looked at her, and said:

“It’s not pork, is it? I don’t eat pork.”

It seems my wife had found the one homeless man in New York City who is kosher.

She told him, no. It was lamb.

His face lit up. “Oh,” he said, “that’s great. I like lamb. Thank you!” and he took the meal, and my wife said goodbye and went on her way.

I think that single gesture was much more than an act of penance. It was a gift. And not just to the homeless man. But also to my wife.

She was required to do what the rich man in today’s gospel wouldn’t do: she had to seek out a man everyone else ignores.
The word for sin in Greek is hamartia, which means "missing the mark." This story illustrates how much we miss the mark, every day.

HT: The Anchoress.

PS: I didn't know the Romans let their deacons preach.

Strange New Respect Department, Take Two

The insufferable Frank Rich made a little bit of sense this Sunday. And not a gay reference in sight. Will wonders never cease?
Not every president can be Reagan or J.F.K. or, for that matter, Bill Clinton. But in her case, as in Mr. Gore's in 2000, the performance too often dovetails with the biggest question about her as a leader: Is she so eager to be all things to all people, so reluctant to offend anyone, that we never will learn what she really thinks or how she will really act as president?

So far her post-first-lady record suggests a follower rather than a leader. She still can't offer a credible explanation of why she gave President Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq (or why she voted against the Levin amendment that would have put on some diplomatic brakes). That's because her votes had more to do with hedging her political bets than with principle. Nor has she explained why it took her two years of the war going south to start speaking up against it. She was similarly tardy with her new health care plan, waiting to see what heat Mr. Edwards and Senator Obama took with theirs. She has lagged behind the Democratic curve on issues ranging from the profound (calling for an unequivocal ban on torture) to the trivial (formulating a response to the Petraeus ad).

* * * *

You don't want to push historical analogies too far, but it's hard not to add that the campaign slogan of that sure winner, Thomas Dewey, had a certain 2008 ring to it: "It's time for a change."

Hillary's certainly dull enough to pull a Dewey, people who dislike her tend to hate her, and a lot of people dislike her.

Let's see. Hillary's Dewey. Romney is Max Headroom (and Phil Gramm). Who are the others?

September 29, 2007

Ahmadinejad at Columbia

I've resisted posting on the kerfuffle surrounding Columbia's invitation to Iranian President Ahmadinejad to speak on campus, Columbia President Lee Bollinger's hostile introduction, and A's speech.

The hysteria from certain circles was notable--especially on Commentary's Contentions blog, from Hugh Hewitt, and the ogress Caroline Glick. When Contentions and Glick, in particular, become hysterical, I become suspicious. These are people for whom every adversary is Hitler and it's eternally 1938. I'm also suspicious of anti-Iranian propaganda because it's part of a run-up to a military assault on Iran, to which I'm very much opposed.

On the other hand, A. is no pussycat. In addition to his apparent involvement in the embassy hostage-taking in the early days of the Islamic Revolution, his régime has been highly repressive toward Iranian universities, he has hosted a conference featuring some of the nastiest holocaust-deniers, and (depending on which translation you read) advocated abolishing the state of Israel or wiping out its inhabitants. The régime of which he's a part is allegedly now supplying weapons to those who are attacking our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Apparently A. awaits the arrival of the Mahdi, the Shi'a Messiah, who will complete the conquest of the world for Islam. None of this makes him very attractive as an invited, official guest of an American university. I agree with Daniel Larison that it would have been better for Columbia not to have extended an official invitation to such an unsavory character:

Manifestly, the man’s views are very often ridiculous, and he is a ranting demagogue, an Iranian Huey Long with less common sense. He is, however, a shrewd political operator who knows how play the angles. To give him a forum is to play into his hands and to treat him as the world leader that he would like to pretend to be. It flatters his ego, builds up his reputation around the world and strengthens his hand at home. It makes the task of those who oppose anti-Iranian warmongers at home harder, it helps stoke the fires of Persophobia and it is in itself a colossal blunder on every level. It is quite one thing to argue that Ahmadinejad is a preposterous demagogue whose rantings pose no threat to anyone but his unfortunate listeners and quite another to pretend that Ahmadinejad is just another citizen in the republic of letters and a participant in free-flowing intellectual debate to whom we issue “sharp challenges,” such as: “Dear boy, wouldn’t you reconsider your slightly troubling claims about the Holocaust?”

The problem with inviting Ahmadinejad is revealed by a simple test: would anyone in an academic institution be willing to vouch for a speaker with similar views if he did not come from a country currently being vilified by our government, or if he were a white European? When Columbia and other universities extend invitations to far, far more reasonable and decent foreign politicians–a Joerg Haider or Filip DeWinter, for instance–then I will begin to believe their claims about a desire for open and active debate. Until then, I will hold the view that such “free speech” and “academic freedom” mean speech and views of which some established consensus already approves.

That said, the follies of the critics are worthy of note.

  • Free speech. This is not a free speech issue. The point is not whether the many is allowed to speak at Columbia, but whether the University should have extended him an official invitation. I doubt Columbia suppresses speakers who advocate Shi'ite Islamism, reserving that honor for opponents of illegal immigration. (The Columbia administration did not suppress Gilchrist's talk, just winked at unofficial suppression). Even if Columbia banned pro-Iranian Islamist speakers, that might be a campus freedom issue, but not a First Amendment matter--that amendment prohibits only government repression of speech.

  • Hitler analogies. Unsavory as A. is, the Hitler analogy is over the top. Iran has funded some unsavory activities, supplied weapons to people we dislike and dabbled in terrorism, to be sure, but it has not made war on anyone, other than Saddam before we did, and not by their own choice. Nor does Iran appear likely to make war on anyone, not even Israel, from whom, under the present régime, it in fact purchased weapons not so long ago. Iran is a second-rate power and will remain so even if it acquires nukes.

  • War drums. The agitation against Columbia's decision to invite A. was in large part powered by people who want the U.S. to bomb Iran. I suspect that these folks created the controversy as a way of inflaming opinion against Iran and those who favor diplomacy over bombs as a way of dealing with the issues raised by Iranian policy. They could play into popular prejudices (partly justified) against namby-pamby academics who would forgive anything in the name of tolerance and multiculturalism.

The opponents changed their tune when Columbia President Lee Bollinger introduced A. with a denunciatory speech. This diatribe won Bollinger points with the bomb Iran crowd, and presumably with potential donors who are pro-Israel and might have been put off by the invitation.

In the Middle East, however, where hospitality is a cardinal virtue, this diatribe played into Ahmadinejad's hands, making Bollinger seem crude, rude and petty.

The Iranians also have questions to ask Bollinger. Lefty blogger Louis Proyect, who has some sort of staff job at Columbia, points out that Columbia has had issues with invitations and honors to unsavory characters in the past, including its award of an honorary degree to the Shah, who was unsavory in his own pro-US way.

Lee Bollinger himself seems to be what is called an infeliz in Spanish, appointed President of Columbia because of his association with the affirmative action program at the University of Michigan.

Like everything else, this overplayed flap will blow over. The issue of relations with Iran will not. The danger of war remains.

September 23, 2007

Wudu Follies

PowerLine is huffing about a move in Indianapolis to provide Muslim cabbies with foot baths at the airport, for the pre-prayer ablutions called wudu. PL is irate.

I don't know why this is such a big deal. If Muslims want to wash their feet and pray, why not let them do it without forcing them into contortions and endangering the sinks?

Perhaps one can construct a constitutional argument that for the government to pay for foot baths is somehow an establishment of religion, although it seems weak to me, in that foot washing has secular purposes. In fact, Establishment Clause jurisprudence is a mess and ought to be loosened up for Christians and Jews, as well as Muslims.

No doubt the PL guys have concerns about jihad, as do I. I would prefer to restrict all immigration and in particular make it harder to immigrate from Muslim countries; why buy a problem? But these guys are here, they're working, and they want to wash their feet. Relax, already.

Frank, Tongue in Cheek

My bête noire, Frank Rich the insufferable, is accessible again, the NY Times's effort to build a successful pay site having failed.

Gay-obsessed as ever, Frank pretends to leap to the defense of poor Larry Craig (with friends like these . . . ). He makes the legitimate point that Craig's arrest is legally questionable; if he'd asked the cop to come to a hotel, it would be no crime thanks to the Supreme Court.

Rich then snarkily proceeds to twit the GOP for not attracting minorities, and suggests it be nicer to the homosexuals closeted in his ranks.

He doesn't comment on the merits, moral, practical, or esthetic, of sex in the loo. That's probably just as well. Rich is annoying enough as it is.

September 15, 2007

Listen to Vladimir

Mr Putin defended his authoritarian style, making clear that he thought a strong president was essential for many years to come as the country had not developed strong enough political parties for a Western-style democracy. Otherwise, he said, there would be chaos. Even in Germany, the system could misfire, as it did after the last election, and the Czech Republic, he said, had been without a government for months.

Mr Putin said that, after he had stepped down, he would not disappear or take up residence in another country. He loved his country and felt rooted to it. But he all but ruled out any return to power for himself in 2012. “In 2012 I hope to find a place where I will be comfortable instead of reading in the Western press nasty things about becoming the new president.”

In a three-hour meeting, the fourth he has held with the same group of Western academics and journalists, Mr Putin demonstrated an extraordinary grasp of detail and statistics and ranged across domestic policy, Iraq, Afghanistan, investment policy, macroeconomics and the future of the various political factions in the Duma.

--The Times

The man actually knows what he's about. He's not some Slavic Voldemort.

Remember diplomacy, fellows?

HT: Larison

Poisonous Pabulum

Americanism is the set of beliefs that has always held this country together in its large embrace. Americanism calls for liberty, equality, and democracy for all mankind. And it urges this nation to promote the American Creed wherever and whenever it can--to be the shining city on a hill, the "last, best hope of earth." Ultimately, Americanism is derived from the Bible. The Bible itself has been a grand unifying force in American society, uniting Christians of many creeds from Eastern Orthodox to Unitarian, and Jews, and Bible-respecting deists like Thomas Jefferson--and many others who respect and honor the Bible whatever their own religious beliefs.

--David Gelernter
This sort of thing used to be heard at a certain kind of patrioteering rally. Don't get me wrong, love of one's place, one's people, one's country is a fine thing. But what is preached here is love of an abstraction, and replacing one's own particular love with a universal imperative. It's like preaching motherhood instead of caring for one's own children. Universal imperatives, usually founded in seemingly praiseworthy ideals, lead to universal bloodshed and universal tyranny. "Americanism" is no different.

Gelernter's is a rather silly and inaccurate reading of the Bible. Whatever interpretation of the Bible one favors, it's certainly not about equality or democracy, and the liberty it preaches is not Bill of Rights liberty but freedom from sin and death. The Bible is the story of particular communities--Israel in the Hebrew Bible, and the followers of Jesus and then the early church in the New Testament--it's not a philosophical, let alone political, manifesto.

For that matter, "democracy" was hardly beloved of the founders. Madison advocated many of the nation's institutions as checks against democracy. Civil society and consensual government are not the same thing as democracy, and as Goethe tells us, equality and liberty are inconsistent. You can't have both. "Legislators and revolutionaries who promise equality and liberty at the same time," he wrote in his Maximen und Reflexionen, "are either psychopaths or mountebanks."

Gelernter's actually not bad on the follies of pacifism and globalism, though horrible in his acceptance of allied propaganda in WWI.

Gelernter was a victim of the unabomber, and apparently quite a fine computer scientist. Too bad he writes political drivel.

September 14, 2007

Islamofascism, Basilisks and Other Mythical Beasts

[T]he type of fascist dogma which is an inherent feature of Islamism.

--James Kirchick

If “fascist” is more than a political swear word, I don’t see how it applies to Islamists, not even Hamas.

If “fascism” as an analytical category has any meaning in the Middle East, it might be applicable to the Ba’ath or the Lebanese Kataeb (Phalange). These are groups founded on a party structure with a strong authority, national/ethnic chauvinism, and a self-conception as future-oriented (”progressive”) revolutionaries. They aren’t sectarian and often appeal to minorities such as Christians and Allawites.

The Islamists, on the other hand, tend to look beyond nationality and ethnicity to a dreamed of pan-Islamic order that will restore an imagined past when sharia reigned. They are reactionary, which fascism is not. (Hamas is a bit more nationalist; although springing from the Ikhwhan (”Muslim Brotherhood’), they put more emphasis on the Palestinian cause than on the Caliphate.

The “Islamofascist” concept appeals to people for whom it is always 1938, and for whom every diplomatic démarche is another Munich. Jihadis are a real threat, perhaps more intractable than the European isms of the Thirties, but they’re not fascists, and it’s not 1938.

Your House Doesn't Exist

Steven Bainbridge is a law professor, blogger, and connoisseur of fine wines.

He reports that he wanted to build an addition to his Los Angeles home, only to be told by the zoning gnomes that officially it didn't exist, and it would take a year before a hearing could be held to determine whether to recognize its existence. Alas, its nonexistence would not afford tax relief--"Not our department," it seems:
I then recovered enough to ask what we had to do to have the existence of our house established, which I thought would be a simple process - after all, you can see it on Google Earth. I was told we would first have to have a hearing to determine whether the street that runs in front of our house is a public street or private road. Given the backlog, it would be about a year before that process could be completed. Then we'd have to have another hearing to establish the existence of our house. Then we'd have to apply for a building permit, geological inspection, etcetera etcetera. At which point, I gave up in despair. After all, I was starting to have visions of being told that we'd have to tear our house down because it doesn't exist, which was getting kind of metaphysical. Anyway, goodbye addition.
Years ago, Paul Goodman wrote a novel, The Empire City. As I recall, the conceit is that the hero is never registered with the Gummint, and thus grows up free. Not a very good novel, as I recall, and a silly, if amusing, conceit.

As for Prof. Bainbridge's plight, no, you can't make this stuff up. Keep your powder dry.

HT: Hewitt.

September 12, 2007

Oy Vey!

Weird and ominous stuff going on in Israel and environs:
  • Israeli planes did something in Syria, leaving fuel tanks in their wake, with the Arab world strangely quiet and the North Koreans whining.

  • Homemade rockets from Gaza wounded some 60 Israeli army recruits, and so far the Israeli response has been mild, even as the Hamas guys in Gaza go into hiding, fearing retaliation.

  • Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, who has zero popularity and might be indicted any day, and feckless Palestinian leader Abbas, who doesn't control half of the potential rump state of Palestine, are talking peace and preparing for an international conference.

  • War drums are beating between Israel and Syria, but neither seems really to want a war now.

  • The Jerusalem Post reports that because Germany won't go along with sanctions against Iran, Washington is planning a bombing campaign against Iran--for the Presidential election season.

  • It's Ramadan and Rosh Hashanah.
Most crises aren't Sarajevo 1914. There are lots of nasty variables knocking around out there, though, and Israel, the US, and Palestine are all run by idiots.

Strange New Respect Department

Could 2010 look for Iraq like 1975 looked in Vietnam? Yes. I just do not see evidence that either the new Iraqi political class or the Iraqi security forces are likely to have the maturity to avoid a conflagration when the US military withdraws.

There are three major wars going on in Iraq: 1) for control of oil-rich Basra, among Shiite militias and tribes; 2) for control of Baghdad and its hinterlands between Sunni Arabs and Shiites; and 3) for control of oil-rich Kirkuk in the north, between Kurds on the one side and Arabs and Turkmen on the other.

Gen. Petraeus believes that the Sunni-Shiite struggle for Baghdad is the central struggle, and that if it cannot be calmed down, nothing can be accomplished. His main energies have been put into reducing violence in Baghdad itself, in which he has succeeded to a limited extent (i.e. getting violence back down to summer, 2006, levels instead of astronomical January 2007 levels).

-- Juan Cole
Juan Cole is a University of Michigan professor who has been a consistent critic of the Iraq War. He was on the short list for a post at Yale, but those who felt him too outspoken helped put the kibosh on the offer. (He's better off in Ann Arbor than New Haven, anyway).

Having started out as a skeptical supporter of the war and more to the point, hostile to the left-wing critics of the war (a hostility I still possess), I was rather dismissive of Cole. However, he has one great advantage. He actually knows something about Shi'ism, Iraq aned Iran. He's written books like this one.

I also think his analysis of the three wars in Iraq is plausible, although I'd add the battle in Anbar between the Sunni tribes and the jihadi fanatics, one source of what passes for modest success in Iraq these days.

Looked at from the perspective of three civil wars, there ain't much we can accomplish with 160,000 troops and an impatient Congress, skeptical media, and unmotivated populace. The guys who thought this up weren't very smart; the people who followed along, as I did were suckers; and whoever manages to get elected president in November 2008 is going to inherit one hell of a problem.

Meanwhile, Cole's all coming up roses.

The University of Chattering Idiots

Our local branch of the University of California, UC Irvine, is known for its (hideous, IMO) post-modern architecture, some distinguished scholars, a money-losing hospital, and its predominantly Asian student body, among other things.

Lately the powers that be have decided to start a law school. We have a few, locally, including Chapman University's which started slow but is getting better and better, so one wonders why we need another. The truth be told, law schools are profit centers. No labs, research on paper and by computer, and alumni who earn good incomes and become generous donors.

So UCI decided to start a law school, and offered the Deanship to one Erwin Chemerinsky, a quite liberal constitutional law scholar who is also bright, diligent, articulate, and probably generous enough in spirit to hire professors of all shades of opinion. Someone, however, wasn't happy that they picked such a liberal guy to head a law school in Orange County, where the machine politicians, some crooked, are in the GOP. So UCI backed out.

Hugh Hewitt, a talk show host and blogger who is a GOP partisan, often has Chemerinsky and Chapman professor John Eastman on his show doing a con law point-counterpoint. He calls them the Smart Guys and lets them talk.

To his credit, Hugh is irate.

The whole thing is hugely embarassing to the University. The episode is worthy of the basest cow college. Whoever is responsible ought to be fired or quit. And having hired Chemerinsky, they ought to hire him back and apologize.

Let me be clear. I don't agree with Chemerinsky about much, and if I were on the hiring committee I probably would have picked someone else, like Justice Kozinski or Eugene Volokh. But Chemerinsky is amply qualified. Firing him because of discomfort with his views is despicable.

Forget about the law school. Open a cosmetology school instead.

UPDATE: The superb Patterico agrees with me on the firing, but like me, wouldn't have hired the guy in the first place. He offers specifics.

Trogs In Tearooms

Back in the day, what were then called "fairies" were abundant in certain circles, notably the arts high and low, from opera to hairdressing, and in certain neighborhoods, such as New York's Greenwich Village. The rubes supposedly weren't aware of metropolitan pansydom, to use another archaic term.

My father, a very straight lawyer, represented lots of designers. Some, from time to time, got caught soliciting vice cops in places such as Riverside Park near the Soldiers and Sailors monument. Dear old Dad was a clever lawyer, and often got them off (no, not THAT way) with tactics such as showing that vice cops seemed always to be solicited in the same exact language.

Paw had three thoughts on this. He couldn't fathom why anyone would want to have anonymous sex in a park; he thought cops should mind their own business unless the boys were frightening the horses; and he didn't want to become a specialist in gay solicitation cases.

Fifty-some years later, my reaction to the Larry Craig case is pretty much the same. What a sordid way for a cop to spend his day! What a pathetic way to get one's ashes hauled! And yet . . . it's a public bathroom in a busy place, folks. Moms send their little boys in when they start to protest being brought into ladies' rooms. I suppose we need vice cops to keep such places safe.

The charge among the liberals is "hypocrisy." But not all of us can conform our behavior to our beliefs. I may believe it's wrong to raise my voice in anger, and still scream at my kids or another driver. That doesn't make me a hypocrite, just a sinner. So if Craig believed that whatever acts he intended to perform were wrong, but couldn't conform his conduct to his beliefs, he's not necessarily a hypocrite.

Now he COULD be a hypocrite, if he doesn't really believe what he says about sexual matters, but preaches on the subject for political advantage. No one knows.

There is, of course, a great tradition of secret faggotry in right-wing circles, from J. Edgar Hoover and Roy Cohn to Richard Bauman to . . . you name it. There is hypocrisy in the fact that inside-the-Beltway and political junkies know about it and really don't care--but oppose the gay political agenda to win votes from the rubes. When I was mixed up in the GOP, gays were everywhere. They had the time to spend and no wives and children to hold them down. Privately accepting what you publicly denounce IS hypocrisy. If you think it's OK, don't pretend otherwise.

Meanwhile, Sen. Craig continues to shoot himself in the foot. If he succeeds in withdrawing his guilty plea, he's in for one hell of an embarrassing trial. Are past similar acts, to show predisposition and modus operandi, admissible under Minnesota law? Why is he putting his wife and kids through this?

Well, at least he hasn't blamed alcohol or gone into rehab. Not yet.

To My Vast Fan Base

TK begs me to return from hiatus.

I have been buried at work and dealing with pesky problems of one sort and another. That's an explanation, not an excuse.

With wide stances, the Petraeus Report, Hsu-gate, and the University of California, Irvine's shenanigans with its new law school--not to speak of reading I've done--there's a rich fishnet full of shiny, smelly stuff to write about.

I promise to do better. Really, I do.