Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Age Of Big Brother Dawns In America

Top News Stories
Tell It to the Marines
Latin America's Little Caesar Gets Smaller
Irrational Middle Ground on Immigration
The Age Of Big Brother Dawns In America
Chicago Loots Wal-Mart Stores
The Tamed Beast
Departments
Human Achievements: The Atomic Bomb
Things of Beauty: Mossy Woodland

1. Tell It to the Marines To my great surprise, the New York Times decided to commemorate Memorial Day by actually listening to what the troops fighting in Iraq think about the war, as expressed in the excellent pro-war op-ed linked to below. I particularly like the point about the need to maintain "our ability to react to future threats with a fist instead of five fingers."

Unfortunately, that is precisely how we have not reacted, so far, to the threat from Iran—with five or twenty different diplomatic fingers pointing in every different direction, and no fist in sight. On this issue, the New York Times isn't helping, wishfully reporting on an alleged "debate" within the administration about whether to fall for Iran's gambit of throwing out the existing EU-3 negotiations and starting a new round of fruitless one-on-one talks with Iran.

Yet according to the Times's own story, "Administration officials said President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld have opposed direct talks"—and so does Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. That's some "debate"!

Meanwhile, the Iranian regime proves that the longer we let it go unswatted, the more trouble it will cause for us—most recently, by arming Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon in an attempt to provoke a conflict between Israel and Lebanon.

"The Troops Have Moved On," Owen West, New York Times, May 29 We are at the outset of a long war, and not just in Iraq. Yet it is being led politically by the short-sighted, from both sides of the aisle. The deterioration of American support for the mission in Iraq is indicative not so much of our military conduct there, where real gains are coming slowly but steadily, but of chaotic leadership.

Somehow Operation Iraqi Freedom, not a large war by America's historical standards, has blossomed into a crisis of expectations that threatens our ability to react to future threats with a fist instead of five fingers. Instead of rallying we are squabbling, even as the slow fuse burns.
One party is overly sanguine, unwilling to acknowledge its errors. The other is overly maudlin, unable to forgive the same. The Bush administration seeks to insulate the public from the reality of war, placing its burden on the few. The press has tried to fill that gap by exposing the raw brutality of the insurgency; but it has often done so without context, leaving a clear implication that we can never win….

No one was more surprised that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction than the soldiers who rolled into Iraq in full chemical protective gear. But it is time for the rest of the country to do what the military was forced to: get over it….

Soldiers are sick of apologizing for a sliver of malcontents who are not at all representative of the new breed. But they are also sick of being pitied. Our warriors are the hunters, not the hunted, and we should celebrate them as we did in the past, for while our tastes have changed, warfare—and the need to cultivate national guardians—has not.

2. Latin America's Little Caesar Gets Smaller Would-be Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, fueled by a windfall of oil money, has been trying to resurrect Communism in Latin America, but it looks like his effort is failing. His ally in Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez-Obrador, has been faltering in the polls, as has Peru's Ollanta Humala. Meanwhile, Colombia's pro-American President Alvaro Uribe has just been resoundingly re-elected.

That leaves Chavez with only one success in South America: the tiny, impoverished, landlocked, and strategically insignificant nation of Bolivia. Thanks to TIA Daily reader Gary Ware for recommending this link.

"Defeat Looms for Chavez's Allies," Sally Bowen, Times of London, May 28 "The revolutionary dreams of Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, are facing a setback in two Latin American elections where voters are poised to reject the candidates who have embraced the anti-American nationalism espoused by the strongman of Caracas.

President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia is coasting to re-election today despite criticism by Chavez of his co-operation with the United States in fighting drug trafficking and paramilitary groups.
In Peru, Chavez’s outspoken support for Ollanta Humala, an ultra-nationalist former army officer, appears to have backfired. Humala’s moderate leftist opponent Alan Garcia, the former president, has capitalised on irritation with Chavez’s “interference” to move 12 points ahead in the latest opinion poll before next Sunday’s presidential vote….

Chavez may in any case be obliged to concentrate on problems at home. Despite bumper revenues from high oil prices, Venezuela’s central bank said last week that it had lost $142m (£76m) in the first four months of this year, largely because Chavez’s administration had overspent.

3. Irrational Middle Ground on Immigration House Republicans have gone from being "berserk" in their opposition to immigration (the state of mind Texas Representative John Culberson projected onto his constituents) to being on the verge of panic—according to John Fund in the article below—over losing elections to immigration "restrictionists" (the new, polite term for nativists).

Unfortunately, this is causing Mike Pence to propose a compromise between the House and Senate immigration bills. President Bush has called for a "rational middle ground" on immigration. Well, this counts as an irrational middle ground, combining draconian border enforcement with a totally unworkable "guest worker" program that would ask millions of existing immigrants to "report to deport."

"Is Cannon Fodder?," John Fund, Wall Street Journal, May 30 Timing is everything in politics. Late next month, just as the conference committee that will decide the fate of an immigration bill gets down to business, a GOP primary for a Utah House seat in the country's most conservative congressional district may set the boundaries for any legislation that has a chance of passing both the House and Senate.

Illegal immigration is the key issue in the race, and should five-term incumbent Rep. Chris Cannon of Provo lose to a restrictionist challenger, look for House Republicans to dig in their heels and block any bill that creates a path to citizenship for illegal aliens.

"House Republicans are already spooked about immigration, and should one of our own lose on the issue, you will see panic break out," one GOP congressman told me. At the same time, several GOP pollsters, led by Whit Ayres, say their surveys show it is vital that Republicans pass some immigration bill this year to prove they can govern.

That's why it's good news that the glimmer of a workable compromise surfaced this week, courtesy of Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, head of the Republican Study Committee, a group of 115 conservative House Republicans. Mr. Pence, proud grandson of an Irish immigrant, says the only bill that can pass in this year's hothouse environment may have to be one that couples stiffer border enforcement with a no-amnesty guest-worker program.

His proposal…would have the US government contract with gold-standard private employment agencies such as Kelly Services to establish offices called Ellis Island Centers in countries that supply the most illegal alien labor today. The centers would provide an incentive for illegals to leave the country and apply for guest-worker visas in the US that would be granted within a week by matching workers with jobs employers can't fill with American workers. They would also make criminal and other background checks. Guest workers would be able to apply for citizenship, but they would have to follow current rules with no favoritism over those now waiting legally in line.

"It would encourage illegal aliens to self-deport and come back legally as guest workers," says Mr. Pence.

4. The Age Of Big Brother Dawns In America. I've been arguing for a long time that the efforts of so-called "small-government conservatives" won't amount to much until they can look beyond the tiny quantity of "pork-barrel" spending and roll back the programs that make up by far the largest portion of the federal budget: the "middle-class entitlements" of Social Security and Medicare. That is precisely the implication of this USA Today article.

If the liabilities of these programs are the biggest fiscal crisis facing the nation—dwarfing the federal budget deficit and the sum total of all private debt—how come this is not the most urgent domestic political debate right now? How come it is a political debate that was dropped last year and has been ignored—by both parties—ever since?

"Retiree Benefits Grow into 'Monster'," Dennis Cauchon, USA Today, May 24 Taxpayers owe more than a half-million dollars per household for financial promises made by government, mostly to cover the cost of retirement benefits for baby boomers, a USA TODAY analysis shows.

Federal, state and local governments have added nearly $10 trillion to taxpayer liabilities in the past two years, bringing the total of government's unfunded obligations to an unprecedented $57.8 trillion.

That is the equivalent of a $510,678 credit card debt for every American household. Payments on this delinquent tax bill must start soon if financial promises to the elderly are to be kept….

Americans' government obligations are five times what people owe for mortgages, car loans, credit cards, and other personal debt. The $57.8 trillion liability is the amount that government needs now, stashed away and earning interest, to generate enough cash to pay future obligations. The obligations are valued in today's dollars and come due as early as in a few days, when Treasury bills mature, to as long as 75 years for Social Security and Medicare….

"These numbers show our long-term financial problems are even greater than our short-term ones," says Ed Lorenzen, policy director at the Concord Coalition, which promotes fiscal responsibility.

5. Chicago Loots Wal-Mart Stores It was in Atlas Shrugged that Ayn Rand identified the pattern of the left's relationship to the productive enterprises that move the world: they want to destroy the wealth-creators, while still benefiting from the wealth they create. That is the relationship most large cities have with the nation's largest retailer, Wal-Mart: when they're not trying to prevent Wal-Mart from building stores, they're looting those stores.

Hence, Chicago has passed a new law, aimed directly at Wal-Mart and a few other big retailers, creating a higher minimum wage and mandated benefits just for those employers—as a special punishment reserved for the most successful businesses.

"In Chicago, New Pay Law Is Considered for Big Stores," Gretchen Ruethling, New York Times, May 28 Chicago may become the first city in the nation to require "big box" retailers like Wal-Mart or Home Depot to pay employees a "living wage" of at least $10 an hour plus $3 an hour in benefits.

So far, 33 of 50 City Council members have signed on to the proposed ordinance—more than enough to pass it, perhaps as soon as next month.

The bill would affect only stores that have at least 75,000 square feet and are operated by companies with at least $1 billion in annual sales, allowing smaller retailers to continue with the state minimum wage of $6.50 an hour.

"This is an effort to try to preserve the middle class," said Joe Moore, an alderman from the North Side who sponsored the measure. Mr. Moore called the notion that it would drive retailers out of the city "hogwash."

But others say the measure will scare off employers.

"Don't let me be the experiment," said Emma Mitts, the alderwoman in the poor and mainly African-American neighborhood of Austin on the West Side, where the city's first Wal-Mart is scheduled to open this year. "Not at a time when my community needs these jobs so badly."

6. The Tamed Beast I have described religious fanaticism in the West as a "tamed beast." Here's an example: Judge Roy Moore, the Bible-thumping former judge famous for defying a higher court's order to remove a Ten Commandments monument at his courthouse, can't even get elected in Mississippi—deep in the heart of the Bible Belt. If you can't promote even a watered-down theocracy in Mississippi, where can you do it?

(I say a "watered-down theocracy" because Moore seems to invoke God and the Bible for practically all of his political positions, yet he still can't help but to keep quoting Thomas Jefferson—a tireless opponent of established religion and a man of such highly unorthodox, Deistic religious beliefs that his contemporary political opponents derided him as "the infidel Mr. Jefferson.")

Similarly, the New York Times carried an interesting little overview on the role of God in the movies. Echoing my recent observations on The Da Vinci Code, the Times concludes: "Institutional religion is often villainous here, while genuine matters of faith are given the familiar Hollywood bromide treatment." In short, religion in America, for good and ill, is for most people a stale bromide.

It's for ill because, like all bromides, religious doctrines have been exempted from independent criticism and rational evaluation. It's for good because religious dogmas in the West are a stale, lifeless bromide, incapable of rousing most people to violent action.

For a contrast, observe the actions of a religion that still has a strong, violent, fanatical wing—and no, I'm not talking about Islam this time. It turns out that there is a "Hindu fundamentalist" movement that is protesting against secular government in Nepal and violently attacking Christians in India.

"'So Help Me God'," Kyle Wingfield, Wall Street Journal, May 27 Most politicians would kill for—or spend millions of dollars to acquire—the name recognition Roy Moore has in Alabama. Not necessarily the kind of name recognition, mind you. Just the level.

That's because here, and across the country, he's known not just as Roy Moore, but as "Roy Moore, Ten Commandments Judge"…. It's a moniker that wins him automatic support in some quarters, and deafens ears before he even opens his mouth in others. And as he runs for the Republican nomination for governor in his native state, that notoriety is both a blessing and a curse….

"Every function of government is related" to the acknowledgment of God, he says. "For example, an understanding of God leads to an understanding of the fallen nature of man, which leads to the separation of powers, checks and balances…."

In some ways, his platform could belong to just about any small-government conservative. But if you're starting to wonder what all this has to do with God, and whether Mr. Moore has lost support because he's strayed from his religious message, consider how he addresses these topics.

His arguments for limited government portray this political philosophy as the only one for those who believe in God. He quotes Jefferson: " 'Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.'…"

7. Human Achievements
The Atomic Bomb
"Every Memorial Day and Veterans Day, I am especially grateful for one human achievement in particular: the Atomic Bomb.

"The Manhattan Project, led by J. Robert Oppenheimer, included some of the best minds that the field of physics has ever seen. Oppenheimer, Einstein, Fermi and others on the project knew their enemy and knew what was at stake. Years of effort finally bore fruit when 'On Monday, July 16, 1945, at 5:29:45 a.m., the first atomic device detonated at the Trinity Test Site.'

"A little over two weeks after the success at the Trinity bomb site in New Mexico, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki were destroyed by atomic bombs. On August 14, 1945, Japan surrendered and World War II was over.

"It was estimated that anywhere between 500,000 and one million allied soldiers would have died if Japan had been invaded. And if Okinawa was any guide, the number of Japanese deaths would have been almost twenty times greater.

"In 1945, a 23-year-old F6F fighter pilot who was attached to the (second) aircraft carrier Lexington was training for the invasion of Japan. But thanks to 'Little Boy' and 'Fat Man,' he lived to have two children and a successful career as a structural engineer.
"That fighter pilot was my father."
Ah, maybe it's the northern girl in me that just can't quite handle the blaring heat of a southern summer, but I can't seem to pass up a great photograph of a cooling woodland path. Unless it is as hot and humid as a tropical jungle, any woodland path has a cooling effect. The smells of a forest—mosses and damp earth—are so much more cooling than the dusty aromas of a parched landscape or city. Then add to that the cooling effect of the shade and the sound of trickling or rushing water and you're well on your way to a cooling effect. To top it all off, every breeze is amplified by the rustling leaves so that even the slightest bit of air movement is brought to your full attention.

But while enjoying the cooling effects of a woodland path are easy, taking a good photograph in the woods is not always as simple. This photographer accomplishes his task by making the waterfall the focal point of his photograph. As far as we can tell, it might start up in the sky, but it falls and cuts across the frame of the image from upper right to lower left. In the foreground, our eyes are drawn to the rushing water as it splits and rushes between the many mossy rocks.
But to top it off, this photographer has also captured the effect of standing in the woods. We see dappled sunlight highlighting the foreground mossy rocks while the rocks along the left side of the image remain shrouded in shade. And throughout the forest we see many lush greens. But our eyes are drawn to the backlit, bright yellowish-green leaves along the upper part of this photograph. These little leaves glow in the dappled sunshine, tempering a dazzling day of summer sunshine into a delightfully dappled afternoon.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Memorial Day In Oceania

Another document stolen from the Ministry of Truth by Outer Party Member Winston Smith:
Memorial Day is always a solemn occasion, but especially so this year, because we have so recently experienced this day's meaning first-hand. We have seen it in two different ways: we have seen the courage of our troops on the battlefields of Afghanistan—and we have realized, in the days following September 11, how much depends on that courage.

For most of my friends and acquaintances, normal life and normal work came to a sudden halt on September 11—and stayed on hold for a solid month. Projects we had begun beforehand, long-term goals that were still relevant and important, were dropped. Everyone I know had the same reaction: what we were doing before September 11 seemed trivial, unimportant, meaningless. How can you go about your normal business, when thousands of other Americans just like you, going about their normal business, have just been murdered without reason or warning?

Then there came a day, in early to mid-October, when I noticed a change almost equally abrupt. I was greeted one morning by a small flood of phone calls and e-mails from authors and business associates following up on the projects that had been forgotten a month before. I noticed, with some surprise, that this was the same day I had already planned to call them. We didn't talk about it at the time, but it was clear we all felt the same way. It was as if a weight had been lifted, we now knew it was safe to live again, and we were ready to get back to work.

I was struck by the fact that so many of my friends and colleagues seemed to feel the same way at exactly the same time. But then I realized what caused it: a few days earlier, President Bush had announced the first air strikes against Afghanistan.

This underscored for me, unforgettably, how much we owe to our soldiers, sailors, and airmen. We cannot do our work unless we know they are doing theirs. We do not have the freedom to live our lives, unless they are there risking their lives to protect that freedom.

In the sloppy terminology so typical of today, it is common to attribute the courage of our soldiers to "self-sacrifice." But this misses the enormous difference between our soldiers and the malevolent fanatics on the other side, who declare that they want to die because they "love death." American soldiers do not go into battle because they love death. They go into battle because they love freedom. They love the liberties we enjoy and the prosperous and benevolent society that these liberties make possible. And they realize that someone has to fight to defend all of this.

Our soldiers do not want to die, and they do not expect to die; they know they are far better trained and better armed than their adversaries. But they know that some of them will die, and they believe that freedom is worth that risk. Here is how the family of Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts, the first American soldier to die in Operation Anaconda, expressed it: "He made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that everyone who calls himself or herself an American truly has all the privileges of living in the greatest country in the world."

The more personal motives of American soldiers can be seen in the kinship they feel with the firefighters and policeman who died at the World Trade Center—as seen in the helicopter pilots in Afghanistan who pasted the insignia of the New York police and fire departments onto the sides of their ships. I have observed that soldiers, police, and firemen all share a fierce kind of pride in the knowledge that when disaster strikes, they do not have to hope that someone else will come to the rescue—because they are the ones who have the skills, the training, and the courage to deal with any threat. Shortly before his death, anticipating the risks he was about to face, Neil Roberts wrote to his wife: "I loved being a SEAL. If I died doing something for the Teams, then I died doing what made me happy. Very few people have the luxury of that."

And very few nations have the privilege of having soldiers like this to defend them. Let's take the time this Memorial Day to express our gratitude to the soldiers who have died—and to those who are still fighting to protect our freedom.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Leading News Stories in Oceania on May 28, 2006

Stolen from the Ministry Of Truth by Outer Party Member Winston Smith:

Can the House and Senate Meet on Bush's "Rational Middle Ground?"

The Kelo Paradox
The Multilateralism Paradox
The Media's Vietnam Flashback
The Dog That Isn't Biting
"Victors, Not Victims"
1. Can the House and Senate Meet on Bush's "Rational Middle Ground" The senate has passed President Bush's "rational middle ground" immigration bill, as reported in the main link below. The battle now shifts to the congressional "conference committee," which will try to reconcile the irreconcilable House and Senate immigration bills. (The New York Times provides a detailed comparison of the two bills.)

The White House is saying that it expects the House to yield and move toward the Senate bill. But at least one prominent congressman in the House is saying otherwise. I prefer the (somewhat muddled) Senate bill to the "berserk" anti-immigration House bill, but I won't dare to predict its political chances.

On a more positive note, the New York Post reports that the Senate immigration bill includes an amendment that would re-open to the public the top of the Statue of Liberty, which is not only an important symbolic gesture about the meaning of immigration but also an important sign that America is confident enough to stop cowering in the face of terrorism.

"Senate, in Bipartisan Act, Passes an Immigration Bill," Rachel L. Swarns, New York Times, May 26 The Senate easily passed legislation on Thursday that would give most illegal immigrants a chance to become American citizens. But the vote did little to soften opposition to the measure among House conservatives, and Republican leaders acknowledged that delivering a final bill to President Bush's desk would be enormously difficult.

The Senate legislation, which also creates a guest worker program and seeks to tighten control of the border, passed 62 to 36. Twenty-three Republicans and one independent joined 38 Democrats to win approval of the bill in one of the few displays of bipartisanship on a major piece of legislation in years….

Mr. Bush issued a statement praising the Senate for its vote and the House for passing an earlier immigration bill that he said "began a national dialogue." He urged both chambers to work together to pass a bill that he could sign into law….

Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House majority leader, said on Thursday that he was hopeful that the Senate and House could reach a compromise. But when asked whether that compromise might include a guest worker program, he said he did not know….

Conservatives in the House denounced the bill for legalizing illegal immigrants and creating a guest worker program that would admit 200,000 foreign workers each year. Representative J.D. Hayworth, Republican of Arizona, called it an amnesty for lawbreakers and "a nonstarter."
But some Republicans in the House said that the ground seemed to be shifting, if only slightly.

2. The Kelo Paradox The Supreme Court's instantly infamous Kelo v. New London decision gave local governments unlimited leeway to seize property under the power of eminent domain, in a case where the city's purpose was to displace smaller businesses and make room for a large new enterprise that would boost local employment and increase tax revenues.

So naturally, the power of eminent domain is now being used to block a large new enterprise that would displace smaller businesses, boost local employment, and increase tax revenues. In this case, it has been used by the town of Hercules, California, to block the construction of a Wal-Mart, for the alleged purpose of maintaining the city's "small-town flavor."

Why has eminent domain been used for such seemingly contradictory purposes? Because both are consistent with eminent domain's deeper, underlying purpose: to give local governments the power to force on helpless property owners their statist social engineering—whatever form it takes. Thanks to TIA Daily readers Gary Ware and Murphy Neil, who both alerted me to this article.

"Hercules Uses Eminent Domain to Keep Out Wal-Mart," Justin M. Norton, AP via San Francisco Chronicle, May 23 A San Francisco suburb voted Tuesday night to use the power of eminent domain to keep Wal-Mart Stores Inc. off a piece of city land after hearing from dozens of residents who accused the big-box retailer of engaging in scare tactics to force its way into the bedroom community.

The overflow crowd that packed into the tiny Hercules City Hall cheered after the five-person City Council voted unanimously to use the unusual tactic to seize the 17 acres where Wal-Mart intended to build a shopping complex.

"The citizens have spoken. No to Wal-Mart," said Kofi Mensah, who has lived in Hercules for more than two decades and said he values the city's authentic feel. Attorneys from Wal-Mart told the council that the retailer had spent close to $1 million to redesign the property to the community's liking. They said the council couldn't claim it was legally necessary to take the land and that the decision set a bad precedent.

"Today it may be Wal-Mart but the question is where does it end," Wal-Mart attorney Edward G. Burg said.

City officials countered that buying the land was acceptable to ensure it was developed to the community's liking and fit in with overall plans for the city.

Opponents worried that Wal-Mart would drive local retailers out of business, tie up traffic and wreck the small-town flavor of this city of 24,000.

3. The Multilateralism Paradox Speaking of apparent contradictions, I mentioned recently the irony that the same liberals who urged America to be more "multilateral" in the run-up to war with Iraq are now demanding that the US drop its European partners and unilaterally engage in direct negotiations with Iran.

The demand for direct negotiations is a crude and obvious Iranian tactic to stall for time—so of course mainstream liberals have fallen for it, as David Ignatius does in today's Washington Post. Fortunately, the Post's Charles Krauthammer exposes the Iranian gambit, below, along with the contradictions of the multilateralists.

But the pose of these erstwhile multilateralists is only an apparent contradiction, explained by their real, underlying loyalty to anything that slows America down and blunts its assertiveness in international affairs.

"Say No to Tehran's Gambit," Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, May 26 Just yesterday the world was excoriating the Bush administration for its unilateralism—on Kyoto, the ABM Treaty and, most especially, Iraq—and demanding that Washington act in concert with the "international community." Just yesterday the Democratic nominee for president attacked President Bush's foreign policy precisely for refusing to consult with, listen to and work with "the allies."

Another day, another principle. Bush is now being pressured to abandon multilateralism and go it alone with Iran. Remember: in September 2003, after Iran was discovered cheating on its nuclear program, the United States wanted immediate UN action. The allies argued for a softer approach. Britain, France, and Germany wanted to negotiate with Tehran and offer diplomatic and economic carrots in return for Iran's giving up its nuclear weapons program….

The full understanding we had with our allies was that if the EU Three process failed, we would go to the Security Council together and get sanctions imposed on Iran….

Which is why the mullahs launched this recent initiative. They know, and fear, that if the West persists on its present and agreed course, they face sanctions so serious that their rule, already unpopular, might be in jeopardy. The very fact that Iran is desperately trying to change the subject, change the venue, and shift the burden onto the United States shows how close the mullahs believe we are to achieving major international pressure on them.

Pushing Washington to abandon the multilateral process and enter negotiations alone is more than rank hypocrisy. It is a pernicious folly…. It would undo the allied consensus, produce endless new delays, and give Iran more time to reach the point of no return, after which its nuclear status would be a fait accompli.

4. The Media's Vietnam Flashback An editorial cartoon published in the first few weeks of the invasion of Iraq showed Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as a harried father at the wheel of the family car, with the press as a gaggle of unruly children in the back seat screaming "Is it Vietnam yet? Is it Vietnam yet?" Well, the media decided two years ago that Iraq is Vietnam, and they keep trying to induce a national Vietnam flashback.

Get ready for the latest stage, an attempt to gin up an Iraq War equivalent to Vietnam's My Lai massacre, in which US troops wiped out a village full of civilians. Just in time for Memorial Day, this story will be exploited to smear all of our troops as murderers—and the American press will have generated even more propaganda for Muslim terrorists.

"Military to Report Marines Killed Iraqi Civilians," Thom Shanker, Eric Schmitt, and Richard A. Oppel, Jr. , New York Times, May 26 A military investigation into the deaths of two dozen Iraqis last November is expected to find that a small number of marines in western Iraq carried out extensive, unprovoked killings of civilians, Congressional, military and Pentagon officials said Thursday….

Officials briefed on preliminary results of the inquiry said the civilians killed at Haditha, a lawless, insurgent-plagued city deep in Sunni-dominated Anbar Province, did not die from a makeshift bomb, as the military first reported, or in cross-fire between marines and attackers, as was later announced. A separate inquiry has begun to find whether the events were deliberately covered up.

Evidence indicates that the civilians were killed during a sustained sweep by a small group of marines that lasted three to five hours and included shootings of five men standing near a taxi at a checkpoint, and killings inside at least two homes that included women and children, officials said.

That evidence, described by Congressional, Pentagon and military officials briefed on the inquiry, suggested to one Congressional official that the killings were "methodical in nature."…
Officials briefed on the inquiry said that most of the bullets that killed the civilians were now thought to have been "fired by a couple of rifles," as one of them put it….

The first official report from the military, issued on Nov. 20, said that "a US marine and 15 Iraqi civilians were killed yesterday from the blast of a roadside bomb" and that "immediately following the bombing, gunmen attacked the convoy with small-arms fire."

Military investigators have since uncovered a far different set of facts from what was first reported, partly aided by marines who are cooperating with the inquiry and partly guided by reports filed by a separate unit that arrived to gather intelligence and document the attack; those reports contradicted the original version of the marines, Pentagon officials said.

5. The Dog That Isn't Biting The media and the American left can feel free to act as if American troops are the chief villain in the world only because of America's success in preventing terrorists from attacking us on our own soil. It is a success the mainstream media takes for granted and doesn't report on, because it is about "the dog that didn't bark." Well, this dog may not be barking—or biting—for the moment, but it's still snarling and vicious.

The Daily Telegraph reports on the arrest of a group of British Muslim who were (like a group of jihadis recently arrested in America) training at home in order to strike against the West in Iraq. Alas, not all British Muslim fanatics are so impractical; a new arrest has rounded up a group that was working on a chilling plan to blow up a London nightclub.

Meanwhile, as a timely little reminder, an American jury has just convicted a Pakistani immigrant—inflamed by press coverage of the Abu Ghraib scandal—who planned to explode a bomb on a New York City subway platform. Let the New York Times reporters and editors tasked with covering the alleged Haditha massacre consider this fact while on their commute to work.

"Guilty Verdict in Plot to Bomb Subway Station," William K. Rashbaum, New York Times, May 25 A federal jury in Brooklyn convicted a Pakistani immigrant yesterday in the plot to blow up the Herald Square subway station in 2004. The jurors rejected his defense that a paid police informer had entrapped him by stoking his rage with images of Muslims abused at the hands of Americans.

The man, Shahawar Matin Siraj, who will turn 24 tomorrow, appeared pallid and downcast as the jury forewoman delivered the verdict. He tilted his head forward slightly and closed his eyes for a moment as she repeated the word guilty four times, once for each of the bombing conspiracy counts against him. The jurors had deliberated for 10 hours over two days after a four-week trial in United States District Court in Brooklyn….

While the case was a victory for federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, it was also one for the New York Police Department, which has retooled since the Sept. 11 attacks, with the aim of preventing new ones. The trial was the first time that a federal terrorism investigation was largely conducted by the department's Intelligence Division, rather than the FBI. The testimony provided a glimpse of how the police have used informers and deep undercover officers within the city's Muslim communities since 2001….

Mr. Siraj, and another man, James Elshafay, who later pleaded guilty and testified against him, were arrested several days before the 2004 Republican National Convention on charges they plotted to blow up the Herald Square subway station, the third busiest hub in the city's transit system, serving 110,000 riders a day

6. "Victors, Not Victims" In preparation for the Memorial Day weekend, here is a good editorial from the Wall Street Journal highlighting—without realizing it—a symptom of the evil of the morality of altruism. One of the chief arguments for the idea that self-sacrifice is the essence of morality is to cite examples of truly heroic actions, such as those of policemen, firefighters, and soldiers, which appear to be self-sacrificial.

But the American fighting man (or woman) does not believe that he is better off living in a world ruled by terrorists and dictators. He grasps that it is in his interests to live in a free society, and that he can't just depend on others to protect that freedom. In short, fighting for liberty is an act of self-assertiveness and self-reliance. It is an example of the morality of rational self-interest.

And perhaps more to the point, the modern American soldier does not go into battle as cannon fodder. He can reasonable expect that he will not have to give his life for his country—that he will, as General Patton so eloquently put it, "make the other poor, dumb bastard die for his country." As this editorial puts it, the American soldier is a victor, not a victim—and deserves to be celebrated as such.

"Victors, Not Victims," Wall Street Journal, May 26 Here's a Memorial Day quiz:

1. Who is Jessica Lynch?
Correct. She's the Army private captured, and later rescued, in the early days of the war.
2. Who is Leigh Ann Hester?

Come on. The Kentucky National Guard vehicle commander was awarded a Silver Star last year for fighting off an insurgent attack on a convoy in Iraq. The first woman to receive a Silver Star since World War II, and the first woman ever to receive one for close combat.

If you don't recognize Sergeant Hester's name, that's not surprising. While Private Lynch's ordeal appears in some 12,992 newspaper and broadcast reports on the Factiva news service, Sergeant Hester and her decoration for extraordinary valor show up in only 162.

One difference: Sergeant Hester is a victor, while Private Lynch can be seen as a victim. And when it comes to media reports about the military these days, victimology is all the rage. For every story about someone who served out of conviction and resolutely went on with his civilian life, there are many more articles about a soldier's failure or a veteran's floundering.

It's a sign of some progress that the men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are not spit upon and shunned as Vietnam vets were. Yet there may be something more pernicious about mouthing "Support Our Troops" while also asserting that many of them are poor, uneducated dupes who were cannon fodder overseas and have come home as basket cases, plagued by a range of mental, emotional, and financial problems….

This Memorial Day, most of us will remember the Americans who have served their country since the Revolutionary War not with pity but with admiration.

7. The War Department
United 93, Part 2

How Government Undermined a Civilian Counter-Terrorist Force
Like Paul Greengrass’s United 93, the Transportation Security Administration can claim some admirable accomplishments. They have made substantial improvements in the passive security measures that provide the greatest single barrier to suicide hijackers: screening luggage, passengers, and ground crews. Their no-fly lists, nitrate detectors, and legions of low-wage policemen doing pat-down searches have clogged up our airport terminals. Their partial effectiveness is the subject of nation-wide derision. But failing to stop a quarter of the fully assembled guns and over half of the unassembled explosive devices in security tests is no reason to give up on screening. Who would get on an airplane if there weren't any serious attempt to find weapons?

When it comes to active security measures, the TSA replaced the purely ceremonial deployment of National Guard troops in airports with a real security force. There are approximately 4,000 Federal Air Marshals trained in SWAT-team-style gun fighting, deployed in two- and three-man teams. It is no small accomplishment that the TSA has become effective at replacing air marshals who quit and keeping those who haven't quit current in their training and readiness for what has got to be one of the world's most tedious jobs. (In 2004, the TSA battled a "blue flu" of several hundred fed-up agents who were assigned to fly during the Thanksgiving and Christmas Holidays.)

In the face of foreign opposition, mostly from "Old Europe," the Bush administration has established agreements and the TSA has made arrangements with many governments to allow armed US marshals through airports on foreign soil so that they can protect America's international flights, too. There are enough air marshals to put teams on only about 4% to 5% of the passenger jetliners operating in American airspace. However, the TSA multiplies the effectiveness of this partial coverage by placing marshals on flights based on risk. For example, it is rumored that essentially all passenger jets at Dulles and Reagan National, the two large airports in the Washington, DC, area, are covered.

But when it came to the creation of a force of armed civilian pilots who could defend their own flight decks, the leadership of the TSA, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Homeland Security offered nothing but dogmatic opposition.

Up until the 1960s, passenger pilots were allowed to carry guns in the cockpit without a permit. Pilots on US postal flights were required to do so. Commercial pilots probably started it, but the idea that guns in the cockpit were the most direct answer to the threat of suicide hijackers immediately circulated among the press and among the American people after September 11. In a nation in which every third person owns a gun and civilians licensed to carry concealed handguns outnumber law enforcement officers four to one, the idea that American civilians should be equipped to shoot terrorists came naturally.

In July 2002, the House of Representatives passed a measure to arm pilots by a vote of 310 to 113. In September, in an 87 to 6 vote, the Senate agreed. These veto-proof votes accurately represented a groundswell of popular support for the measure.

Then TSA head John McGaw, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge all argued against the program out of an aversion to private gun possession in any form. As a congressman from California, Mineta had dogmatically voted for nearly every gun control measure that moved through the House of Representatives. As head of the BATF under Bill Clinton, McGaw's regulatory activism against gun dealers and importers equaled or exceeded the wishes of his president.

The Bush administration didn't question McGaw's rationality. They did, however, question his competency, and they replaced him with former Coast Guard Commandant James Loy. Under Loy, the TSA initiated a campaign of bureaucratic delay and complication. Arming all of the nation's 85,000 pilots might cost $900 million to start and $250 million a year thereafter, but only $25 million was appropriated from the program. Despite the obvious implication that the legislature would back their overwhelming support for the program with any appropriations the TSA requested, Loy claimed that he couldn't proceed because the mandate "raises the question of who will bear the cost of this potentially expensive program."

Congress required the TSA to begin the program by February 2003. The TSA pretended to comply by announcing on the day of the deadline that licensing slots would be available to a test group of 48 pilots and asking who would volunteer? The test group would be screened, trained, and would fly armed for several weeks. Then, based on that experience, the TSA would promulgate regulations for internal comment and then, finally, issue them for the guidance of the full-scale program. The delays worked. By the autumn of 2003, two years after the quadruple suicide hijackings, there were no more than 300 pilots flying armed.

The TSA could have set up a far quicker, cheaper, simpler program patterned after the concealed carry license programs used to screen and monitor tens (or hundreds) of thousands of ordinary citizens in each of the 43 states that handle concealed carry applicants in large numbers. The state programs require a criminal background check (which pilots already maintain current for their flight certificates) and, typically, about 8 hours of basic pistol instruction that can be arranged at a local gun range (which the licensee pays for). Instead, Loy created an elaborate law-enforcement-style program that chews up enough resources and implicitly threatens sanctions sufficient to deter most pilots from volunteering and many congressmen from funding it.

The program requires a criminal background check and a written psychological test that are totally redundant with the requirements for the pilots' flight certificates. That is followed by an interview by a psychiatrist, a one-week-long training program at a remote location, and a follow-up interview with another psychiatrist. Training is performed at an FBI range at Artesia, New Mexico, a three-hour-drive from El Paso, the nearest regional airport. The pilots are given the training free of charge and the government issues them a .40-caliber semi-automatic pistol, but they have to pay for their accommodations and have to schedule a week of vacation time to do it. The triple psychological screening carries with it the obvious implication that a pilot who wants to carry a gun in the cockpit must be crazy, unless he can prove otherwise.

Where a little time and a little money might deter a minority of pilots, the potential risk to their flight certificates posed by the psychological screening deters most. If a pilot were judged to be too unbalanced to carry a gun, can he be trusted with the lives of 150 or 200 or 350 passengers? As a natural extension of their authority over security issues, the TSA has the power to suspend the flight certificate of a pilot they judge to be a threat.

These barriers took their intended toll. Pilots' union surveys indicated that more than 60,000 commercial pilots were interested in carrying a gun, but today—three years into the program—only 5,000 actually do.

As a result of the Bush administration's decision to make a law enforcement program out of what could have been a simple gun carry certificate, pilots are deputized as "Federal Flight Deck Officers" whose power to carry a gun exists only inside the cockpit. Outside the cockpit, the federal government requires its "off-duty" deputies to carry their weapons in locked boxes concealed in their personal luggage at all times. Once they have deplaned, pilots are not allowed to use their government-issued pistols for self-defense or any otherwise lawful purpose. Why? According to TSA spokesman, the reason is "to reduce as much as possible any liability issues that may arise."

The liability issue is not merely an excuse for another restriction. It actually tells the story of why the president, vice-president, and the entire upper echelon of the Bush administration—many of whom favor widespread gun ownership and gun carrying among American citizens—did not object to the TSA's layers of delay and obstruction.

The liability issue came from the executives of America's major airlines. They complained that their stockholders shouldn't have to assume the risk of the wrongful discharge of a gun by an employee who carried it as a part of his civilian job. To placate this constituency, the Bush administration came up with the idea of deputizing airline pilots as federal agents. But federal agents must be vetted and trained. And since the majority of pilots would not be willing to carry guns under such a complicated program, the identities of the few pilots who are armed must be kept confidential to prevent potential hijackers from tracking them. And thus training should take place at a remote location that is easy to patrol.

The attempt to placate airline management created every convoluted feature, every barrier, and every deterrent to an effective program to arm pilots.

As a result of the Bush administration's attempt to accommodate the gun control prejudices of airline management, the TSA created a dysfunctional program with multiple barriers and deterrents to participation. A program that could have defended more than 90 percent of America's domestic passenger flights on a purely voluntary basis, covers less than 10 percent of them today.

And that is why we need a film that prepares passengers and flight crews for an unarmed resistance against suicide hijackers. —Jack Wakeland

8. Human Achievements
Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Recently, I came across a list of "The Greatest Britons" and was surprised to see an unfamiliar name at the number two spot following Winston Churchill. After some quick research, I discovered that the honor was well earned by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, an engineer. He was a seminal figure in the industrialization of Britain--instrumental in building the first railroad network in the world, as well as in the development of trans-Atlantic shipping using steam-powered boats.

For an exceptional short biography of Brunel visit here.

You can click on the links titled "Early life & education, Thames Tunnel, Bristol, Great Western Railway & the broad gauge, Railways, bridges & atmospherics, Great ships and Family & final years" at the bottom of the page to read through the biography.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel is one of the most ambitious designers and energetic practitioners in civil engineering history. Along with Robert Stephenson and Joseph Locke, Brunel was instrumental in the development of Britain's railway network—the first in the world.

His approach to this transport revolution was comprehensive: where his Great Western Railway ended, he designed ships to take goods and passengers across the seas in greater numbers than ever before and at speeds never previously sustained. His work was thus central to the massive economic and social changes of Victorian Britain.

His great strength lay in the range of his interests. From railways and bridges to ships, docks and buildings, he cross-fertilized methods of construction, uses of materials and systems of propulsion with an almost audacious belief in the possibility of improvement.
—Shrikant Rangnekar

9. Things of Beauty

This photograph is taken by the same photographer as yesterday's orange and green sunset. The two together are showing us perhaps the beginning of a trend in this photographer's style, where color and the color of light becomes the focal point of the image.

The pale winter's sky is blushed with pink and blue. The distant mountains are a purplish-blue hue, with the snow taking on a pale icy blue hue. A line of dark blue marks the distant shoreline. The water, turned into a softly focused haze by a long exposure, reflects the pink and blue hues of the sky. And at the near shoreline, the water becomes as pale and icy as the distant mountain snow. In the foreground we see a grouping of rocks and boulders, each in the same, though more muted, hues as the sky, mountains, and water—pinks, blues, and purples with touches of bluish-white speckles.

Though the shapes of the foreground boulders mimic the shapes of the distant mountain range, it is the tight range of color that becomes the focus of this image. And it is this tight range of colors that creates a very quiet and serene view across this body of water.

10. Where Are You Going?
The Da Vinci Code and Art School Confidential Show Us Where Our Culture Is Not Going

I haven't been reviewing movies in TIA Daily nearly as often as I would like—and as I had originally planned to—for two reasons. The first is that the demands TIA Daily puts on my schedule have made it harder for me to make the time to see new movies. And when I do have time, I have been loathe to risk wasting one of my few spare evenings on what could be—and all too often, is—a spiritual draining experience rather than a spiritually rewarding one. I suspect that I am not alone, and that this is one of the causes for declining ticket sales in recent years.
And that brings me to the second reason I haven't done more movie reviews: there have been few films that excited my interest. But I can't stay away, because I love the medium. Film is the newest art form, only a little more than a hundred years old. It is arguably the most powerful art form, with the potential to combine the power of painting, music, and literature in one all-absorbing experience. I sometimes can't stand what Hollywood puts out, precisely because I know that so much more and better is possible. But good and even great films are still made today, so I have to keep looking.

Unfortunately, I don't have any great films to report on today. This week, I saw two films, the widely distributed blockbuster book adaptation The Da Vinci Code and the more obscure, limited-release Art School Confidential. Neither is great, but both might be worth seeing—and interestingly, these two very different films both reveal the same thing about where our culture is, or isn't, going.

The Da Vinci Code has, of course, gained notoriety because of its supposedly anti-Christian message. It is a thriller in which the protagonists have to interpret a series of coded messages (with a rather loose connection to Leonardo da Vinci), in order to reveal a murderous plot by a cabal within the Catholic Church to cover up a historical truth that would undermine the foundations of the faith. The surprise for me is that, despite its generally negative reviews, this was a relatively solid thriller. The action and the details of the plot were enough to engage my interest and keep the filming moving forward.

But it was just a solid, run-of-the-mill thriller—and it did not live up to the billing given to it by the Catholic Church.

The film's premise is potentially anti-Christian. The secret the Church is covering up—and I don't think I am giving away anything that has not already been widely discussed in the press—is that Christ was just human and not divine, and specifically that he was married to Mary Magdalene and had a child whose descendants are alive to this day.

But this and a few references to the bloody history of the church are the only anti-Christian elements of the film. The elements that make up the minute-by-minute substance of the film—the characters, their motivations, the actions they take to solve the mystery, etc.—are not unusual or in any way unconventional. The two protagonists, in particular, are rather ordinary, even bland people.

To convey a theme that would defy the traditional moral and philosophical outlook of Christianity, one would have to present characters whose ideas, values, and actions defy traditional morality. One would have to dramatize, say, the need to discover and expose the facts, no matter whose religious dogmas they contradict (a theme that would be particularly relevant in light of the recent "cartoon jihad"). Or, similarly, several villains (one religious, the other secular) justify their actions by citing the need to sacrifice a few individuals for the greater good—which could have given the filmmakers an opportunity to challenge the Christian morality of sacrifice. But that would have directly contradicted, not just the dogmas of the Church, but the obvious message of Christ's own life.

Hence there is no evidence of either theme or of any broader theme, particularly in the film's anti-climactic, inconclusive conclusion.

A good contrast is one of my favorite films, the 1999 thriller The Thomas Crown Affair (not to be confused with the trashy 1968 original film on which it was loosely based). The hero of this thriller is a spectacularly successful businessman turned art thief, and the plot revolves around his unconventional romance with the woman who is trying to catch him for the crime. It is about two self-assertive individuals whose whole characters consist of the defiance of social norms. They are a whole lot more radical than anything we are shown in The Da Vinci Code.

In short, The Da Vinci Code's plot premise was potentially revolutionary, but all of the means by which its plot is carried out are safely conventional. Behind the theological hoopla surrounding it, it is just an ordinary thriller—entertaining, so long as you go in without any more grandiose expectations.

Art School Confidential is a very different film, with a target on the seemingly opposite end of the cultural spectrum. Its target is not the Church, but the most rarefied realm of secular, subjectivist Modernism: the contemporary art world. This satire follows a hapless young man whose talent for drawing leads him to attend a big-city art school. There, he encounters a total lack of objective standards, as his competent, realistic renderings are ignored, week after week, in favor of childlike scribbling, incompetent smears on canvas, and another fellow student's offering: a piece of cardboard adorned with a glob of silly string, accompanied by a stream of art-world jargon that leaves everyone nodding pretentiously in appreciation. Our protagonist then embarks on his own experimentation with every crazy art fad of the past 50 years, in an attempt to curry favor with his teachers and win the attention of a beautiful art model.

As far as it goes, this film offers some very amusing and badly needed satire of Modern art, with its substitution of meaningless smears and academic in-jokes, in place of representational art that conveys a meaningful theme. It also nicely captures the way in which words—the art world's esoteric jargon—substitute for the art itself as the means by which students and professors decide who is a "great artist."

This film was clearly inspired by the ideas in Tom Wolfe's classic 1975 essay The Painted Word, a journalistic satire that presented the world of Modern art as the gigantic scam that it is.
But this film's weakness is the same as that of Wolfe's book: it is only a satire. It lampoons what it is wrong with the world—but offers no positive vision. Our protagonist, while a skilled illustrator, is hapless and unassertive; his own style is mostly realist, but with Modernist touches; and he is presented as a clich├ęd high-school geek motivated, not by any serious, independent artistic vision, but simply by his desperation to attract the attention of a beautiful girl. And while every fad in 20th-century art is ridiculed, pre-20th-century art works—the paintings of the great masters, from Michelangelo and Leonardo on down—might as well not exist. They are totally absent from the film.

This is partly the limitation of satire, which is effective at exposing what is worthless, but powerless to show us a positive vision. In the greatest works (see, for example, Ayn Rand's satire on Modern architecture and literature in The Fountainhead) satire serves only a secondary role, as a foil for the presentation of the hero. On its own, satire is ultimately unsatisfying. It shows us how not to live—but provides us with no guidance about what is possible and desirable in human life. And if there is any realm in which today's culture needs that kind of positive vision, it is the realm of art. For that purpose, Art School Confidential is of no value.

Taken together, these two films show us where our culture is not headed. For two centuries, since the intellectuals' counter-revolution against the Enlightenment, we have been offered a false alternative: old-fashioned religious dogma—or "modern" social subjectivism. The Da Vinci Code superficially rejects one half of that alternative, while Art School Confidential satirizes the other half. But neither one offers us a vision of the real alternative: a secular philosophy of reason.

Hence the title of this article, a literary (and religious) reference that I couldn't resist: quo vadis, "where are you going?" Where is our culture going? The cultural momentum of subjectivist Modernism is a spent force, as reflected in the fact that the once-revered institutions of Modern art can be presented as an uncontroversial subject of ridicule (even among the University of Virginia art-school crowd that was clearly in the theater when I saw Art School Confidential). But our culture is not prepared to revert back to Medieval religious dogmatism, as indicated by the popularity of the book and film versions of The Da Vinci Code.

But if those two cultural forces are spent—is there any cultural momentum in the only remaining direction, back toward an Enlightenment culture of reason? Judging from these two films, and their reception, not yet.

In my view, we are headed toward a period of aimless muddling through. The good news is that we are headed neither toward a secular socialist dictatorship nor toward a theocracy. The bad news is that we are not headed anywhere else. Our culture does not know where it is going—unless we redouble our efforts to show it the way.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Leading News Stories From The Ministry of Truth

Top News Stories

September 10 Epistemology

"Open Borders" vs. Open Borders

The ACLU's Gag Order

The Palestinians' "Democratic" Contradictions

Iranian Regime Fights Against Freedom

Freedom Fighters Against the Iranian Regime

1. September 10 Epistemology I wrote on Monday about how the nation is beginning to slide fully back into a September 10 mindset, in which gasoline prices are the most important political issue—shades of the Clinton era. I also mentioned how comfortably former political operative Dick Morris seemed to be settling back into that era. Morris gets even more comfortable in his latest column, linked to below.

It isn't just that Morris applauds President Bush for embracing an immigration compromise (that compromise is, as far as I can tell, relatively good). What is notable here is the epistemology, the method of thinking involved. Morris is one of those commentators who awoke to the dangers of Islamic terrorism on September 11—but now that the national consensus is forgetting about terrorism, he's going along.

He can't help it, because he has the epistemology of a pragmatist, which is in full display in this column. Principles, in this view, are necessarily detached from facts and reality, as a kind of irrelevant impediment. But reality, for the man who rejects principles, is not a very demanding, black-and-white, fact-filled place. So in selecting among solutions to an important national crisis, he says, "what the heck—let's try them all."

Hence his slide back into the Clinton technique of "triangulation," in which a politician panders to the public by borrowing the most popular elements of both parties' platforms, without regard for principles or consistency. It's a good way to run things—so long as you think that no issue is really all that important or will lead to life-and-death consequences a year or five years or ten years into the future.

In a phrase, this is September 10 epistemology.

"On Immigration, For Once, Bush Understands What the Public Wants," Dick Morris, Jewish World Review, May 25 It is odd how there are so many issues on which the two political-party establishments in the United States sharply differ but on which the public is relatively united. As the debate rages in Congress on whether to be tough on the border or generous in granting citizenship and guest-worker status to illegal immigrants, the Fox News poll of May 9 echoes the public's point of view: Do it all!...

The American people see illegal immigration as a serious problem and tend to favor anything that will solve it….

It's virtually the same situation on gas prices. People want solutions whether they are ideologically acceptable to their parties or not. The left sees no reason why we should not drill for more oil and the right strongly supports alternative fuels. While it is possible to ask the polling questions in such a way as to show disagreement where there really isn't any, it is striking how voters essentially favor whatever works to solve the key problems.

When he was the US ambassador to France, Felix Rohatyn reputedly said that the difference between the French and the American people was that the "French value ideas over facts while Americans value facts over ideas."

2. "Open Borders" vs. Open Borders When I said recently that I favor "open borders," I got this question from TIA Daily reader Dale Netherton:

I wonder how that can be implemented without trouncing on private property…. I'm sure you would not advocate open property lines, but this is exactly what open borders amounts to. Certainly immigration is a positive as far as a welcome addition to talent and labor, but if the first act of entering a country that protects private property is to violate this principle, what does this show for the respect for private property rights exhibited by those who choose to "jump the fence"?

But the situation Mr. Netherton describes—and which is described in the link below—is not a result of "open borders." It is precisely a result of closed borders. Illegal immigrants trample on the private land of ranchers and homeowners near the border with Mexico precisely because they are barred from orderly, legal entry at public border crossings.

Similarly, another reader challenges me to affirm that I favor controls to screen out criminals and terrorists. No need: I have said so already. But such screening can only be done if the vast majority of immigrants are coming through legal border crossings, where they can be monitored by US agents.

Immigration prohibition has achieved the same result as alcohol prohibition. Since it bans an activity that is not harmful (indeed, one that is far more beneficial than the consumption of alcohol), it merely encourages organized crime and individual lawlessness to circumvent the government's arbitrary restrictions.

Make immigration legal and who would bother sneaking across ranchers' mountain trails in the middle of the night? Immigration would happen legally, in the open, without the anarchy we see today.

"Cries from the Border," Leo W. Banks, Wall Street Journal, May 25 Ms. Maharis is a filmmaker, and she incorporated images from that night into a documentary called "Cochise County USA, Cries From the Border," an account of how the ongoing invasion from Mexico has impacted life in one border county.

Ms. Maharis wanted residents to speak for themselves in describing home break-ins, vandalism, horrible traffic accidents, and more….

But the film is no blind screed. It shows everyone's pain, including pictures of illegals lying dead in the desert. They resemble battlefield images—think of Matthew Brady's Civil War photography….

"This is uncivilized, and something has to change dramatically," Ms. Maharis says. "This is like a pot on the stove that's going to boil over, and pretty soon. I had to use my skills to make a difference or my conscience wouldn't let me rest."

3. The ACLU's Gag Order I struggled with whether to cover, in this news item, a story critical of the left or another interesting article that is critical of the right. Inspired by Dick Morris, I decided to have it both ways, beginning with a quick link to an article on the religious right's abuse of the FDA's political power to block approval of the "Plan B" contraceptive—before I move on to lambaste the left.

One of the reasons I despise the left is the sheer brazenness of its hypocrisy. The left loudly declares its dedication to "freedom"—while defending the world's worst tyrants. Similarly, as the usually shrill religious-right propagandist Ann Coulter shows in her column today, leftist student protesters crow about their "courage" while safely parroting the academy's conventional wisdom.

But the best story is below: the ACLU imposing a gag rule to suppress criticism from its own board of directors. Can you top that? Of course, a private organization has the right to impose these conditions on its officers, who are free to quit if they don't like it. Private organizations are not able to use force, so the concept of "censorship" does not apply to them; it only applies to actions by government.

But the ACLU has taken the lead in muddling that distinction, routinely suing private organizations for violating people's "civil rights" by engaging in voluntary transactions with employees and customers. On the other hand, as this article inadvertently points out, the ACLU has been contradicting its alleged dedication to free speech for years—so it has gotten quite comfortable with self-contradiction.

"ACLU May Block Criticism by Its Board," Stephanie Strom, New York Times, May 24 The American Civil Liberties Union is weighing new standards that would discourage its board members from publicly criticizing the organization's policies and internal administration.

"Where an individual director disagrees with a board position on matters of civil liberties policy, the director should refrain from publicly highlighting the fact of such disagreement," the committee that compiled the standards wrote in its proposals.

"Directors should remember that there is always a material prospect that public airing of the disagreement will affect the ACLU adversely in terms of public support and fund-raising," the proposals state.

Given the organization's longtime commitment to defending free speech, some former board members were shocked by the proposals.

Nat Hentoff, a writer and former ACLU board member, was incredulous. "You sure that didn't come out of Dick Cheney's office?" he asked. "For the national board to consider promulgating a gag order on its members—I can't think of anything more contrary to the reason the ACLU exists."…

Mr. Romero said it was not unusual for the ACLU to grapple with conflicting issues involving civil liberties. "Take hate speech," he said. "While believing in free speech, we do not believe in or condone speech that attacks minorities."

4. The Palestinians' "Democratic" Contradictions Speaking of contradictions, the Palestinian territories are currently being torn apart by one. Every Palestinian faction wants to destroy Israel—but they want to prevent the Israelis from fighting back. This has led to a political split between Fatah, which wants to (temporarily) recognize Israel's existence in order to get international aid, and Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel, but which is then losing aid money.

Having just put these issues to a vote and lost, Fatah is trying to put them to a re-vote to force the new Hamas-led government to (nominally) recognize Israel, allowing the flow of international aid to resume. But that won't change either faction's murderous agenda, nor will it resolve the contradiction of the Middle East. In the meantime, Fatah will be rolling the dice and risking a collapse into total political anarchy.

"Abbas Threatens Hamas with Referendum over Blueprint," Jenny Booth, Times of London, May 25 The Palestinian President threatened to call a national referendum on the parameters of a future Palestinian state if no agreement on a political way forward for Hamas is reached within 10 days.

Hamas's refusal to moderate its views—it calls for the destruction of the state of Israel—has impelled the Palestinian state into crippling international isolation. Aid money has been cut off leaving civil servants unpaid, banking facilities stopped, and international borders are frequently shut, cutting off trade….

The poll would ask Palestinians to either accept or reject a document drafted this month by senior Palestinian militants from both Hamas and Fatah, who are currently jailed in Israel.
The five-page compromise document calls for a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, the areas Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War. It envisages co-existence with the state of Israel.

The blueprint proposes that [terrorist] activities be "confined to the territories occupied in 1967"—which could signal an end to attacks inside Israel—and suggests the creation of a national unity government.

Mr Abbas's decision to set a deadline represents a great political gamble, that could either help to resolve the Palestinians' internal deadlock or lead them into a deeper crisis.

5. Iranian Regime Fights Against Freedom In the article linked to below, Michael Ledeen not only dissects the Washington Post's continued sympathetic coverage of Tehran's despots, but also points out the folly of further negotiations with the Iranian regime, which is so thoroughly evil that we have nothing to demand from it—except its destruction. (Too bad Ledeen still won't admit that military force will probably have to be used to achieve that result.)

Here are a few other updates on the evils of the Iranian regime. While the story about Iran requiring Jews to wear a yellow star—in emulation of Nazi policies—remains disputed, Human Rights Watch provides an overview of Iran's legal discrimination against non-Muslims, including the fact that the murder of a non-Muslim by a Muslim is not technically a crime in Iranian law.
Meanwhile, an Iranian "reformist" website—which tends to represent the views of "moderate," pragmatist theocrats—discusses how the most unreformed, "hard-line" theocrats are plotting to take control of the committee that will choose the successor to current "Supreme Leader" Ayatollah Khamenei, who is reportedly dying of cancer.

"Vick Sticks with His Story," Michael Ledeen, National Review Online, May 25 If you want to know what the mullahs want you to think, just read the "reporting" by the Washington Post's own Karl Vick, who Wednesday shared a byline with Dafna Linzer from Tehran to announce nothing less than "a profound change in Iran's political orthodoxy." You may have thought that Iranian clerical fascism was not subject to such dramatic transformation, but Vick, the consensus candidate for the Walter Duranty Prize awarded to apologists for tyrants, believes otherwise. And what is the evidence? The Iranians are calling for direct talks with the United States on the mullahs' project to go nuclear.

Vick and Linzer would have you believe that this proposal "(erases) a taboo against contact with Washington that has both defined and confined Tehran's public foreign policy for more than a quarter-century...."

Profound change? Pfui.

The announcement, via the Post, is a fairly transparent tactical maneuver, and Post readers would recognize it as such if Vick and Linzer bothered to report the news from Iran, which is that there are demonstrations all over the country, and that the regime continues its cruel iron-fisted policy toward the Iranian people….

It was most welcome, therefore, that Tony Snow announced that there would be no such negotiations with the mullahs. Would that the proposed talks with Iran about Iraq were similarly scrubbed.

Indeed, we have nothing to negotiate with them. For they relentlessly wage war against us, whatever they may whisper in Karl Vick's gullible ear.

6. Freedom Fighters Against the Iranian Regime As Ledeen points out, the real news from Iran is a new wave of protests by secular dissidents against the theocratic dictatorship. Regime Change Iran has posted photos of student protesters holding signs that read, among other things, "This is not a seminary, it is a university."

MEMRI is also reporting on the protests, including declarations by the students that "We Don't Want Nuclear Energy"—a clear contradiction of the oft-repeated claim that Iranians are so "nationalistic" that even dissidents will back the regime in a standoff over Iran's nuclear program.

Finally, the New York Sun, the only newspaper that, despite its small size and meager resources, has repeatedly devoted coverage to Iranian dissidents, has a good round-up covering the whole range of anti-regime protests, which I link to below.

" Determined Foes Mount Challenge to Iran's Mullahs," Eli Lake, New York Sun, May 25 In Tehran, university students staged a second day of strikes over the firing of eight professors and the new policies enacted by Tehran University's president.

In Tabriz, the regime tried to quell riots earlier this week over a cartoon depicting members of the Azeri minority as cockroaches.

In Qom, the theocracy was absorbing the aftershocks of a candid interview from Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, who told an Iraqi news agency that the current Islamic Republic has failed to deliver the democracy it promised in the 1979 revolution.

The stirrings inside Iran are the most serious challenge to befall the mullahs since the protests that accompanied the 2003 commemorations of the July 9, 1999, Tehran University student rebellions. They also suggest the regime that America and Europe are now hoping to cajole into suspending its nuclear program may be more fragile than intelligence agencies recognize.

One of the steering committee members of Iran's largest student organization chapter at Tehran Polytechnic University, Abbas Hakim Zadeh said in an interview from Tehran Tuesday that his organization was now 90% in favor of rejecting slow reform in favor of nonviolent resistance….

Yesterday, Mr. Zadeh said the country's largest student organization, Takhim Vahdat, rejected any direct talks between America and Iran if the negotiations centered around security guarantees in exchange for promises on nuclear enrichment.

"If there is any dialogue and conversations or negotiations between the Islamic Republic and the international community, whether the United States or other countries individually or collectively, if it is around the nucleus of human rights, democracy and the openness in Iran, it is something worthwhile to consider," he said….

A colleague of Mr. Zadeh at Tehran Polytechnic University, Bijan Pouryousefi, said yesterday that Iran's student movement was reaching out to form a more unified front with labor unions and women's groups.

7. The War Department
United 93, Part 1 The Attacks of 9/11 Forced American Air Travelers to Become Unarmed Combatants

United 93 is not a movie. It's a historical document. It is the second historical film written and directed by English director Paul Greengrass. The film has the same kind of relentless minute-by-minute detail, the same kind of rapid pace, and a same kind of cast—a group of surprised and confused real-life professionals, bystanders, and victims caught up in an historic tragedy—as his movie Bloody Sunday. Unlike the confusion of military and police command that led to the massacre of 13 unarmed Irish separatist protesters in Derry in 1972, United 93 is a historical tragedy worth documenting for future contemplation.

The artistic eye in the film can be found in its naturalistic selection of concretes: the airline agent calling out row numbers for boarding, the pilot sipping coffee after going through his pre-flight checklist, passengers stuffing carry-on luggage into overhead bins, the co-pilot doing the walkaround under the plane, the ground crew man's meter counting off the volume of aviation fuel going into the wing tanks, the first class passengers ordering drinks, the tower controllers giving clearance for takeoff, the regional air traffic controllers talking the jetliner onto its transcontinental flight path, the stewardesses talking in the galley, and four Muslim men who don't belong.

According to the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt:

To keep things as accurate as possible, Greengrass reportedly interviewed more than 100 family members and friends of those who perished. He hired flight attendants and commercial airline pilots to play those roles; hired several civilian and military controllers on duty on Sept. 11, including the FAA's Ben Sliney, to play themselves; culled facts from the 9/11 Commission Report; and rehearsed and shot his actors in an old Boeing 757 at England's Pinewood Studios.
The first 81 minutes of the movie are very effective. The attention to the details of the routine daily concretes of air travel—all that goes on within America's giant high-speed industrial transportation system and all that every one working in that system did during a succession of three hijackings—brings the events of September 11 back to life. Watching it, a particular constellation of emotions rises slowly and steadily. The feelings are real and they're feelings we know well even though they're called upon very rarely in our civilized existence. They're the emotions of one who is about to fight.

To make the necessity of fighting even more clear, Paul Greengrass uses passenger Christian Adams, a German wine promoter, as a dramatic foil. (One hopes the mostly fictional projection of Mr. Adams's actions aren't defamatory.) Adams advises neighboring passengers that if they don't do anything, the hijackers won't hurt them. After learning that two other hijacked airplanes have been flown into the World Trade Center, groups of passengers plot to make an attack on the Muslims. Mr. Adams is horrified, but in the excited conversation he can only get the word "No!" in edgewise. When the men line up to make their charge, the German gentleman tries to "save" all from disaster by rushing forward to warn the hijackers, but the American passengers immediately subdue him.

Greenglass's message is that the passengers of United Flight 93 "were the first people to inhabit the post-9/11 world." In a world populated with suicidal Muslim terrorists, one has no choice but to fight, regardless of the odds against survival.

The value of movies is the value of art. They give man a concrete vision of a philosophical ideal. The vision can make real the broadest abstract ideas. The vision inspires a new level of understanding of one's abstract values, and a renewed courage to act for them. In this, the broadest sense of what a movie can be, United 93 fails.

What this movie does do is to depict the resistance organized by passengers on United Flight 93. Their actions—as much as all of the other actions of a nation of 290 million combined—deterred the use of passenger jetliners as incendiary missiles against modern cities for four and a half years. By telling this simple story in the simplest possible way United 93 produces an inspiration in the minds of the viewers. It provides the concrete visualization of the suspicious gestures the terrorists made in the minutes before the attack. It provides the concrete visualization of how to organize and launch an unarmed combat mission against terrorists who have taken over an airplane. It provides the concrete visualization of the necessity of fighting them before they can take over at the controls.

Across America, millions of men and women who have seen this film will board airplanes. All of them will be able to instantly visualize what it is they need to do in the event of an attempted hijacking. United 93 is a mission briefing for American air travelers and flight crews.

The movie comes out just in the nick of time—at a time when many Americans' interest in the war with Islam is flagging. Mentally preparing millions of Americans to fight terrorists with their bare hands at 35,000 feet is the movie's accomplishment. It's an admirable accomplishment.

I have written about the colors of countless different images of sunsets, but I have never written about a green sunset. Well, okay, the sunset isn't exactly green, but the light on the water sure is. The sky and the distant mountains are all in shades of a hazy orange. But the shadow sides of the mountains and the color of the light dancing off the surface of the water have a very unique greenish cast to it.

Under this light, the ripples on the water alternately reflect hues of bluish gray, soft orange, and a yellowish-green. Let your eyes slowly follow each streak of color on the water, first looking for the lines of blue, then orange, and finally the green streaks. And then look again at the full image and see how much more you notice the shimmering bands of unexpected color you see on the water.

9. How Not to Achieve Political Results Why a Google Boycott—Like Most Boycotts—Is a Waste of Time
I get requests from friends and political fellow travelers to boycott this company and that all the time. I get it all the time at my shooting club—it's a constant with gun rights advocates. Every call for a million-man gun owners' boycott has been totally ineffective (All except one, that is.)
Even though every single one of the literally hundreds of other boycotts I have been told to join had no effect, I continue to hear requests to join more. Just yesterday I received an apparently well-reasoned argument for joining a boycott by a "large group of internet list users (mailing list participants, bloggers, etc.) whose boycott would have an impact." Among reasons given for the boycott:

The management of Google is very liberal. Al Gore is a major stockholder, Google employees gave over $200,000 to political campaigns and 98% went to the Democrats, and Google has become the single largest private corporate underwriter of MoveOn.org…. I advocate getting at Google through their advertisers.

The size of this "large group?"
779.
The knee-jerk resort to boycotts shows a lack of political imagination and a lack of interest in results. Nearly all boycott advocates fail to ask the question: Is this an effective way to protest? Is this a meaningful action?

For years, a very good friend insisted on not buying Chinese goods and told me I should do the same. And for all those years I agreed with him about the evils of the Chinese system while ridiculing him for his self-punishing attempt at one-man foreign policy. I wasn't ashamed of buying the best product, at the best value. I suspect he still boycotts China, but my friend doesn't mention it any longer. He's as tired of my taunts as I am of being told what I shouldn't buy.

From time to time I've had people recommend alternatives to Google as a search engine, but, I haven't seen any that are better. Google is so big that everything is in it. I'm particularly fond of Google Maps and Google Earth.

I won't switch away from Google. Google is my eyes to the world. I love Google.

If Google is screening out "controversial" or "obscene" websites, that's a problem with the product. If they do enough of that to materially affect their service, I'll lose interest in their search engine and look for a better one. That's not a boycott. That's choosing a better product.
For example, I don't shop at eBay because the only used goods I'm in the habit of buying are used guns, and, following an evil political agenda, eBay won't carry them. Likewise, I'd never consider using AOL's homepages and browsers because they screen out the very "controversial" and "obscene" websites I go to when I want to look up news stories to learn about what is happening in the world.

Today's world crisis is not about the barring of conservative voices from the media (conservative voices are rapidly taking over), and it's not about the inexorable advance of socialism (MoveOn.org is a desperate group of holdouts for a losing cause, offering conspiracy theories where influential new ideas should be).

Today's world crisis is about Islam. Are we to get at the Islamists in OPEC by boycotting oil?
No car trips, no plane trips, no products shipped to your house. Nothing made of plastic, nothing grown with fertilizer, nothing made of parts shipped to assembly plants? How many people would join a boycott of petroleum products and who would be injured by the boycott? The few who drop out of industrial civilization, or the many who make terms with evil and stay in civilization?

Boycotts are a meaningful and effective form of political protest only in narrow circumstances. They have to target a specific kind of business that has a particularly high concentration of customers who agree with your point of view and who have a strong practical interest in fighting for it.

Do you want to protest racial segregation? Find a company that gets more than three quarters of its fares from black people and can't stay in business without their patronage—and then refuse to buy their services until you're allowed to sit at the front of their buses, as riders in Montgomery, Alabama, did in 1955.

The Smith & Wesson boycott in 2000 was a very effective way to shut down the company's new owner and new CEO, who had signed a gun control "agreement" with a cabal of state attorneys general. In this singular case, the target was a company whose entire customer base is gun owners. And in this case, no calls for a boycott were even necessary. The guilty act had made the brand name so repulsive, it was obvious what to do. Gun buyers reacted spontaneously. Smith & Wesson's civilian handgun sales (which account for over 90% of the units sold and over 99% of the profit) fell into the equivalent of the Great Depression.

And the spontaneous action went beyond a boycott. The entire company was shunned. Some dealers returned unsold stock for a refund and several top distributors stopped stocking the handguns. To avoid verbal abuse, factory reps stopped wearing their company logo—the world's eighth most widely recognized brand name. The CEO lived in seclusion to avoid disparaging comments and death threats.

Within two years, the company was re-sold at a loss (during a period when American corporate stock valuations had doubled) and the new owners withdrew from the "agreement." It took several more years to restore the company's good name—a name that had been synonymous with the American idea of self-defense.

This, however, is the only meaningful and effective boycott that I can recall in my lifetime.
I do keep track of which group of business owners is doing evil—political evil—in the world. But, in general, those actions play no role—and should play no role—in my buying decisions. I buy the best product.

I'd advise you to not clutter your mind with impotent ankle-biting boycotts. Only a few dozen of the tens of thousands of boycotts in American history were well-aimed at their targets. (Only a half dozen or so hit their mark and succeeded.) The rest have been platonic exercises that served only to puff up the organizers' delusions of power and removed the enjoyment of excellent products and services from the lives of those with whom one is in political agreement.
Don't boycott Google. Use Google to find arguments against Google policies.

In the on-line exchange about boycotting Google, one person made a very sharp observation:
I was dead-set on boycotting Google after they complained to the DOJ about Microsoft, but I'm having second thoughts. I mean, their main competitors do equally immoral things (Yahoo, MSN) and their small competitors like Ask probably would if given the chance considering the general cultural climate. So it feels like cutting weeds instead of pulling their roots out.
It is for being more craven in allowing Chinese censorship than other internet services that Google has earned so much attention in the press. It's because Google is so big and everyone notices everything they do.

If you want to do something about censorship in China, write a letter to your congressman; write a letter to the president. If you want to do something about Google's cave-in to our Islamist enemies, write a letter to your newspaper.

A good protest openly breaks a bad law, a bad rule, or a bad relationship for explicitly stated philosophical reasons. If you can think of a real protest on this topic—an act that would show what you believe and might possibly draw attention to what you believe—tell me. Tell us. We all could use a good idea.