News And Comment

Depending on whom you ask, the surge in Iraq is working or making things worse. Who is right? Let’s see how easy it will be to find out.

We begin with a piece by Michael Kinsley, a leftist journalist with a long history of advocacy in “progressive” causes. His snide attitude makes him a favorite on TV and with those who do not need convincing. A quote: thanks to the success of the surge, Kinsley notes that in Iraq, “Performances of Shakespeare by local repertory companies have tripled.”

Kinsley argues that a surge could be considered successful only if it promptly permitted massive reductions of US forces in Iraq. His presumptuously idiosyncratic definition has attracted criticism such as this post on the internet.

Next, here’s a damning report on the surge that recently appeared in Rolling Stone. No, the fact that the magazine knows a lot more about sex and drugs and rock and roll than it knows about anything else does not automatically disqualify the source. The author argues that police brutality is routine for US forces, who kick in doors and beat people up without let or hindrance. That’s both confusing and upsetting, because the US military told us that misbehavior of that sort is aberrant and infrequent. Now we learn that it is actually de facto policy! And it gets worse: the surge will prove to have been, according to Stone, a contributing cause of an apocalyptic civil war the Iraqis intend to begin as soon as they can.

If the Rolling Stone‘s man in Iraq is right, what can the answer be for Iraq? It’s hard to say, but perhaps the ideal solution would have been to leave Saddam in power. After all, those WMDs did not exist, there were no ties to Al Qaeda, and Iraq can never become a modern nation with a responsible government. (Wrong on all counts, by the way, but facts don’t matter in this irrecusable fantasy.) Oh. Well….Ashes, ashes…all fall down.

Finally, to gain some perspective, have a look at Michael Yon’s website. Pick a post, any post, and read it. Compare to what you find in the Kinsley and Rolling Stone documents. The verdict is yours….

Yes, it is a lot to ask. It would take hours to give even these four sources the consideration they deserve. Few have the time or the interest.

The implications of that fact are dismaying.

Because we have neither the time nor the interest, we are the targets of propaganda. Our ignorance and lack of involvement make it easier to trick us into thinking in slogans. Don’t assume that has gone unnoticed.

 

Ralph Nader killed the Corvair, and he might just kill the Democrats’ nominee — again. Abe Greenwald explains:

Many believe Ralph Nader’s joining the presidential race will have little effect on the election, but if one looks at the issues and ideas bolstering Democratic support it seems 2008 may be a particularly Nader-friendly season. The Democrats — particularly Barack Obama — need to worry about votes potentially lost to this strange, old antagonist.

Today’s Democratic climate is in some ways a product of the anti-corporate, pro-outsider zeal that’s defined Nader’s public presence. The Democrats’ change mantra, pacifist imaginings, demand for universal healthcare, anti-lobbyist fervor, environmental hysteria, and young voter turnout all spell good news for Nader. Additionally, the somewhat widespread acceptance of a fringe thinker like Ron Paul is an indication that the 73-year-old election spoiler is entitled to, as Obama might say, his audacity of hope.

Yes, Ralph Nader is old and marginalized. But his organization is packed with bright young dreamers (Obama having been one for a brief time). It’s fair to suspect a coming viral push, followed by some sort of groundswell. If Nader’s 2.7 percent of the national vote was enough to douse Al Gore in 2000, things could get interesting.

 

Consider US foreign policy for a moment. Regarding which, here is Christopher Hitchens as quoted on Oliver Kamm’s weblog:”If American liberalism had seriously wanted to regain its moral standing after the Cold War ended, the re-emergence of the one-party, one-leader aggressive state, in the forms of Greater Serbia and Greater Iraq, should have provided the ideal opportunity.”

Or, if you are in the mood for something found floating upstream, get a copy of Noam Chomsky’s latest book. There is a connection between leftist Chomsky and leftist Kamm, of course. No more rational and effective counter to Chomsky’s lunatic analyses exists than Kamm’s graceful prose. Proof of that is available at his weblog. Do visit, for the air is clear and brisk.

 

How embarrassing: there are, it is claimed, regions of Britain where only Muslims dare set foot — entire neighborhood, streets, sections of cities. Can it be? That depends on how politically correct you are. Judge for yourself, but the smart money will be on the prediction that thefracas is just getting underway.

 

Well, Kosovo. Kosovo? What about it? It may be yet another huge European mistake, that’s what. Melanie Phillips, an extraordinarily sensible female, has a trenchant column that deserves a careful read. And at Gates of Vienna, there is more. Oh, boy. Trouble ahead!

 

Muslims in the West just want respect, which means they get to live under their laws, and we can’t give piggy banks to children to encourage thrift. Simple enough? Not according to Daniel Pipes, who has some neo-colonialist, imperialistic, triumphalist, bigoted and utterly reprehensible ideas, such as, “When Westerners broadly agree on rejecting a specific Islamic law or tradition and unite against it, Western Islamists must adjust to the majority’s will.” Horrors. The fellow even claims that, “If Westerners stick together, the Shari’a is doomed. If we do not, we are doomed.” Read it all here. Please.

 

Here’s a valuable lesson from history: the US Civil War, as cartoonists saw it. It’s sometimes surprising how the past can inform the present, making it easier to navigate what we mistakenly thought were uncharted waters.

 

Russia’s Putin is not a good man. End of report.

“Evidence?” You want evidence? All right, times three: one and two and three.

 

Advisory: Contains Material That May Be Upsetting To Democrats. Some folks are gleefully writing the political obituary of Hillary Clinton. It does seem the embarrassing lust for power and the, er, flexibility, of, ah — well, the lack of principles have convinced many Democrats of the need to walk away from both Clintons. Here’s a weblogger’s dyspeptic view of Hillary and her party.

 

The snotty item immediately above might suggest partisanship on the part of the PenPo. Not guilty. This newsletter is a metaphorical equal-opportunity attack dog. Let it be noted that John McCain, a man who is profoundly confused about immigration, also does not believe that a free press is permissible. He was a primary sponsor of the egregious “Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002,” of which has correctly been said

Now it is official: The United States of America has a federal bureaucracy in charge of deciding who can say what about politicians during campaign season. We can argue, and people do, about whether this state of affairs is good or bad, better or worse than some alternative. What is inarguable is that America now has what amounts to a federal speech code, enforced with jail terms of up to five years.

It is not simply the case that McCain must be given no opportunity to influence US immigration policy. His primeval, censorious mentality makes him an enemy of the first amendment to the US constitution — and therefore unfit to be president.

 

What have we here — Time magazine expressing bias in a headline? Probably not. This is what a publication gets when it has sensitized a lot of people to its profound, abiding prejudice. The magazine’s frustrated critics over-react. That only deepens the divide between the defenders of the propaganda machine and those who point out that it IS a propaganda machine.

Not all claims of bias are accurate.

 

“Ideas do not enjoy human rights, people do.”

Thus spake the Dane who dared to publish the cartoons of Mohammed the mass murderer and charlatan. And he has a lot more to say about Slick Willy’s observations about Islam. Read the former president’s quotes, and consider: do you agree with Swordsman Billy? Is that howyou feel about the religion that absolutely denies your freedom to speak, write, read and believe as you see fit? Are those your sentiments regarding a faith that literally intends to conquer the world, exterminate Western Civilization, and end the moral evolution of mankind?

 

In a nutshell: Obama regaled some folks the other day with a story about how an army captain in Afghanistan ran an under-manned and under-supplied outfit. Things were so bad the soldiers were using weapons they scavenged from the people they killed.

The point? We don’t know. We can’t tell whether Obama was saying, “See what total incompetents we are? We gotta get out of there, yesterday!” or maybe, “When I’m president, I’ll see to it that our soldiers have what they need to do the job, dammit!” We just don’t know what he was getting at, but we do know that those who are heavily invested in the defeat of the US in Iraq/Afghanistan love stories like this.

So some right-wing types started fisking Obama, and ABC News got into the act, and somebody managed to get the story from the army captain, and it turns out the story is correct. It was a FUBAR from beginning to end. Of course ABC News played that up in an internet post, ending the discussion.

But…the captain may have described a situation in Afghanistan that was not nearly as he perceived it. Soldiers gripe, and they always want more supplies, more support, more attention from higher up. The dates of the captain’s tour in Afghanistan are also critical, as one retired Lieutenant Col. Evers points out in comments on the ABC post. He begins by quoting from that text:

“The Army captain, a West Point graduate, did a tour in a hot area of eastern Afghanistan from the Summer of 2003 through Spring 2004.”

The invasion of Iraq took place from March to May 2003. The order of battle for US Army combat forces at the time under discussion was V Corps, 3ID, 4ID, 1AD, 173ABde, elements of 3ACR, 82AID, 1ID. 10th Mtn. Div started rotating brigades in to Afghanistan to replace elements of the 82 Abn Div in August of 2003. In December of 2003 the time in question there were 83 KIAs in Iraq and 6 KIAs in Afghanistan. Up-Armored HMMWV and other vehicles were not introduced into the theater by the Army in any numbers until 2004.

I point this out because I find it difficult to believe that the “Captain” is correct in his assertions. I do not believe that the officer is lying but rather because of inexperience and a limited field of view he has misinterpreted what actually happened.

In particular I find it hard to believe that 10 or 15 of his personnel would have been detached for duty in Iraq just prior to his deployment. That some might have rotated normally that I can believe. That some were cross-leveled within the division is also possible but not that 15 EMs were rounded up and sent to the 101st or 82d or the 173d (the only units in Iraq that had light infantry). Why? Well, because all of those units were getting ready to come home and be replaced by other units like the 10th Mtn. Div. (Emphasis added.) Nope, does not pass the make sense test.

I am also surprised that his unit had any vehicles much less two/three armored HMMWV. Up-Armored vehicles did not start moving into theater in any numbers until 2004. There were a few running around but mostly in Iraq. That is where the causality figures come in. Afghanistan was just not that dangerous during the time the Officer X was deployed there. I am not sure how many enemy weapons Officer X used but with limited combat opportunities I doubt if it was many. Nope, I am afraid that unfortunately for Mr. Tapper and indirectly Mr. Obama this story is so much Bunkum.

The captain’s whining may be mild exaggeration, it may be yet another “Boy, did we have it rough” war story, it may be more true than false — we’ll never know. But it would be nice to know why Obama considers this story important, and why ABC considers it important enough to look into and defend. Those questions matter.

So whether US troops are properly supplied and supported does not matter? Not at all. It always matters, and, like automobile accidents and the flu, FUBARs in the military will always be with us. We can reduce them to a minimum, but we can never stamp them out. There are folks who know that, and are more than willing to wait for something bad to happen — so they can exploit it. How nice are people like that??

 

If you do not recall the Levant case in Canada, you did not look at the videos, so shame on you! Go back to the fourth issue of the PenPo and look at them now! Then file away for future reference this very good summary of the whole stinking mess. It’s Canada’s disgrace, eh, and if the Canadians don’t clean it up they will lose the respect of Liberty-loving people the world over.

 

More on the terrorist who was assassinated recently in Syria. His connections were extensive, and it’s amazing that anybody finally managed to get through his security!

 

We have to wonder: what went wrong? Why is the world in such a mess? Why are so many in the West aligning themselves with the forces of evil, catering to the worst people on earth, and trying not to offend them? Why is appeasement the core of the “human rights” movement?

The answer is depressingly simple: we have broken our link with The Enlightenment.

Fortunately, a clarification is available. Read it.

Natural Selection In Action: Unsurprisingly, The Inbred New York Times Slithers To A Lower Level

When the NY Times published its recent attack on Sen. McCain, the outrage was universal. The PenPo had nothing to say, however, as the innuendo was just the latest misstep of a sclerotic dinosaur. The newspaper’s maladaptive meanderings are no longer particularly noteworthy.

(Those interested in what happened will find links in the addendum at the end of this item.)

The fuss over the NYT news department’s decision to smear McCain directs attention to larger issues, however.

A little over three years ago, the predecessor of the PenPo published a commentary titled, “Let Me Spell It Out.” It merits repeating. Here it is, slightly edited to omit specific examples (that were current back then) of the abuse of the power of the press.

My rants about the biased media are so frequent that it would be reasonable to ask me: “What do you want? To banish all subjectivity from the press? How can any reporter, no matter how fair and careful, possibly exclude bias from his writing?”

Here are the things I do not ask of the media:

1. Totally objective reporting that is utterly apart from opinion.

2. Balanced reporting.

3. Unfailing accuracy.

I recognize, in other words, that journalists are human beings, so I’m willing to be reasonable about their errors, both unintentional and deliberate.

I reject “balanced” reporting as the presentation of two wildly divergent lies in the expectation that the public can do the impossible: discern the truth therefrom.

These are the things I wish the major news media would do:

1. Stop lying.

2. Stop spiking stories. Some news never gets out because it is not politically correct.

3. Stop hiding stories. The editor gives a misleading headline to his favorite story, puts it on page one, and thereby influences the public. A few days later, when the story proves to be a mistake, the same editor buries that report deep in the paper.

4. Check facts professionally.

5. Report the story, and if it turns out to be significantly incomplete, follow up responsibly.

6. Stop trying to abuse their positions to advance a partisan agenda.

7. Be honest. As professionals who understand how words can be used to create a mood, journalists should take into account the impact their work will have on the reader. It is simply disingenuous of reporters and editors to insist that the tone, emphasis, choice of words, overall style and subtle expression of shades of meaning do not make an article negative or positive. Too often journalists write powerful stories that evoke a sense of hopelessness and defeatism, and then deny their advocacy. This is dishonest and contemptuous of the public. Every writer knows which direction his words are taking; even the most untalented writer (I, for instance) realizes what he is doing as he writes, and knows how the reader is likely to react.

8. Do a better job, not a perfect one. I do not expect perfection. I just want professional journalists to be more principled and decent.

Note: in the article written by the “Public Editor” (ombudsman) of the NYT regarding the assault on McCain (linked below), this quote appears:

A newspaper cannot begin a story about the all-but-certain Republican presidential nominee with the suggestion of an extramarital affair with an attractive lobbyist 31 years his junior and expect readers to focus on anything other than what most of them did.

Compare that with point 7 in the wish list directly above.

Some apologists for the NYT have suggested that the smear of McCain was not politically motivated and indicates no bias because the editorial department of the paper endorsed McCain while the news department wrote, edited and ran the hit piece. This is transparent nonsense. It is the same as saying, “I won’t bite you, but my dog will.” The editorial bias of the paper has nothing to do with the McCain story. It’s the bias of the news reporters and editors responsible for the innuendo about McCain that is the target of criticism. Note well: the most effective propaganda is always found in the news, not in the editorials, for it is the news that is assumed to be an account of truth.

No one should be surprised that the NYT would pull a stupid stunt like this. The newspaper’s multiple scandals and lapses of journalistic ethics have failed to provoke reform. The Gray Lady is shriveling to a dessicated, quirky journal preserved by a minority that hates its own cultural heritage. The details of the mummification matter only to scholars who specialize in such things and to a few eccentric hobbyists.

Now the bell tolls.

Addendum: links to web pages that provide a guide through the “Living Fossil” exhibit.

The original article is followed by the commentary of the NYT’s ombudsman. A newspaper explains why it passed on the chance to carry the story. Then we have the reactions of various observers and webloggers, some of them pretty upset — Captain Ed, Roger Simon, and soon and on, until one wonders: what did these people expect?

On Privacy, Part Two

In the area of privacy, our perception of what is just, appropriate and necessary has changed over the decades, and is now undergoing another seismic alteration. This is for the most part technology-driven. Because we have computers and cameras, our lives have become open books. Is that what we want?

Even though the constitution does not include the word “privacy,” some argue that it assumes privacy is fundamental and essential to many other protected activities. So perhaps we should amend the constitution, in order to clarify and solidify matters.

That is probably impractical. It is virtually impossible to compose a concise statement of where the public and private spheres of our personal lives must not overlap. Is a list of the films I have rented from the local video store my private property, and not available without my consent? Isn’t renting something public behavior, and not at all private? And wouldn’t it be unreasonable for the law to interfere with the records of a harmless business that rents videos? Too, why should anyone who steps outside his home object to being photographed? Isn’t he “out in public,” not “in private”?

These questions do have answers. One of the reasons those answers are not universally agreed upon is the existence of reports like one that appeared recently. Sample quote:

We don’t know what information is being collected about us, whom it’s being shared with, what it’s being used for, or where it’s being held. As companies and the government collect more and more data on us, some of it will inevitably be incorrect….

The reporter tried to spend a week in total anonymity. Her resulting article is interesting, but it portrays reality in high-contrast black and white. The fact that someone has a record of a small portion of our daily activities, and that for each of us there are many such someones, is presumed to pose a threat, though that is not stated explicitly in this article. The implication is that if we do not have near-perfect anonymity, we have no privacy at all. So? Well, some virtually omnipotent person or agency, presumably governmental, may consolidate all the information about us held by all those someones, and destroy our Liberty. The mere fact that much is known about us by a number of someones is dangerous.

Really? Do we detect a faint aroma of paranoia here?

Common sense should tell us reality is not so dangerous. Fortunately investigative reporting that reminds us of the many footprints we leave every day can also help us understand how we might resolve questions of whether there is, or should be, a right to privacy, and how we might secure the exercise of that right.

The search for answers begins with fundamentals. Our concept of privacy, it often turns out, is part customary anonymity, part assumption, and part ideology: you believe nobody knows you when you are in certain places or doing certain things; you expect not to be observed deliberately and with the intent to figure you out; and you believe that your activities should be shielded from scrutiny.

That tells us a bit about our views, but not about how philosophically solid they are. In search of certainty, some will ask, “Where, then, doany of our rights come from?” We cannot provide evidence that they are the gifts of heaven or some deity; the assertion that they are a defining quality of our humanity is also impossible to demonstrate. We must admit that if our rights cannot survive repression, we can never be justified in overthrowing tyrants in the name of justice.

Rather than attempt to trace a political policy back to metaphysical origins or create it out of nothing, perhaps we should consider the implications of the constitution we have ratified as the supreme law of the land. There are other legal precedents, as well, and we can safely assume that a wise people will look to precedent for at least some guidance as they deal with novel challenges.

That may seem like a practical approach, but ultimately it is evasive. We have merely dodged the question, and the dangers lurking in an appeal to the existing law are well known. So far, not so good.

Then there are historical and cultural developments to consider. Western civilization has, mixed in with its excruciating experiences with religion, a tradition of secular enquiry into the philosophy of politics, and has often resorted to reason as its way of discovering wisdom. This, coupled with some rather vague and silly but generally harmless metaphysical notions about the good for man, has resulted in the evolution of a value system that upholds the sovereignty of the individual. While most of the world rejects this approach to politics and jurisprudence, we consider it ethically and instrumentally superior. That is not imperialism, colonialism, or even cultural bias; in fact we honor the choice of hundreds of millions to live in sundry versions of theocratic dictatorship. Those who believe we plot to impose human rights on the world are simply mistaken. Many of these critics are confused or malicious opponents of the values we cherish.

There is, in other words, a basis for a right to privacy, and it is solid enough for us to stand on as we throw down despots who would abuse us. Without having to believe that Platonic rights exist in some divine realm, and without fantasizing about supernatural entities who have gifted us with our rights, we can confidently assert that our heritage has defined values that we shall uphold with our lives. The Sturm und Drang of our past has forged our understanding, and that grasp of reality includes rights that are admittedly abstractions, but still vital to us.

We have no reason to believe that unless we possess some imaginary, bizarrely ghost-like rights, we can not revolt against dictators. The justification for bloodshed in the overthrow of tyrants is simply that the tyrants exist, and that we shall do better without them. The violence with which they defend their perquisites issues their death warrants. Nothing more need be said.

We, unlike many, know we can choose. We know we can build societies that never stop experimenting, discovering and coping with both success and failure. In the sheer assertion that our culture is not eternal and may either decay or be swept away, we celebrate the success made possible, but not inevitable, by flexibility.

The contrast with those who kneel to false authority could not be more dramatic. Whether the revered figure be a sociopathic paedophile who pretends to be a prophet or a confused and failed academic, the author of the nightmare always seeks the destruction of the dignity of the individual. With the achievement of that horror, change is halted and only tyranny is possible. Islamists, communists and other Utopians hate and fear Liberty because they seek eternal stasis in perfection. They yearn for an end to history.

We seek to define and create a future that we hope will be better than our past. We require change, and welcome the risks it entails. That is the quintessence of Western Civilization.

Our fundamental mindset is unequivocal: we can and we shall define the rights we want, and we shall require our rulers to honor those rights.

To be continued…. Next: specific proposals for defining and codifying the individual’s privacy in a free and open society.