December 2006, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Did You See The Trick?  If you read Drudge, you probably saw his link to an article on a British poll, which found:
More people in Britain think religion causes harm than believe it does good, according to a Guardian/ICM poll published today.  It shows that an overwhelming majority see religion as a cause of division and tension — greatly outnumbering the smaller majority who also believe that it can be a force for good.
But the poll question is a trick question.

To see this, consider two rather different religions.  First, the Thugs.  Some historians call them a secret society, some call them a cult, and a few doubt that they really existed, at least as the British authorities claimed they did.  If we accept the traditional accounts, then I would say they are both a secret society and a cult, with some rather unpleasant beliefs.
The Thugs were a well-organized confederacy of professional assassins who travelled in various guises through India in gangs of 10 to 200, worming themselves into the confidence of wayfarers of the wealthier class.  When a favorable opportunity arose, the Thug strangled his victim by throwing a yellow scarf or Rumaal (symbolic of Kali mata) around the neck, and then plundered and buried him.  All this was done according to certain ancient and rigidly prescribed forms, and after the performance of special religious rites, in which the consecration of the pickaxe and the sacrifice of sugar formed a prominent part.  The pickaxe was a necessary tool to dig graves.  Due to the fact that they used strangulation as the method of murder they were also frequently called "Phansigars", or "noose-operators."

According to 19th century writings about thuggee, the will of the goddess by whose command and in whose honor they followed their calling was revealed to them through a very complicated system of omens.   The colonial writings further state that in obedience to these, they often travelled hundreds of miles in company with, or in the wake of, their intended victims before a safe opportunity presented itself for executing their design.  When the deed was done, rites were performed in the deity's honor, and a significant portion of the spoils was set apart for Her.

They believed each murder prevented Kali's (their goddess's) arrival for 1000 years.  The fraternity also possessed a jargon of their own (the cant Ramasi), as well as certain signs by which its members recognized each other in the most remote parts of India.  Even those who from age or infirmities could no longer take an active part in the ritual murder continued to aid the cause as watchers, spies, or dressers of food.  Because of their thorough organization, the secrecy and security of their operation, and the religious pretext in which they shrouded their murders, they were recognized as a regular tax-paying profession and continued for centuries to practice their craft, free of inquiry from Hindu rulers.
Those who think that we should not interfere with other cultures will be unhappy that the British authorities in India wiped out this cult.  Others, myself included, will think that the British were right, and that this particular religion was evil.

In contrast, consider the Mennonites.  Few agree with all of their beliefs, but almost all will admire their good works.
Mennonites have an international distinction among Christian denominations in disaster relief and place a strong theological emphasis on voluntary service.  Mennonite Disaster Service,[1] based in North America, provides both immediate and long-term responses to hurricanes, floods, and other disasters.  Mennonite Central Committee provides disaster relief around the world alongside their long-term international development programs.  Other programs offer a variety of relief efforts and services throughout the world.
Now, let's imagine that the Guardian had asked more specific questions.  Suppose they had asked whether the Thugs were a force for good, and whether the Mennonites were a force for good.  Morals in Britain may have declined in recent years, but I think that almost all would have said no to the first question and yes to the second question.

And it seems certain to me that the Guardian would have gotten a different response if it had asked whether the Church of England — which is, after all, still the state church — was a force for good.  And a still different response if they had asked whether Islam was a force for good.

So why didn't the Guardian ask those questions, instead of their general question?  Two reasons, I think.  First, they wanted to argue that Britain is a mostly secular society, as they do explicitly in this editorial.  (And they may be right in that argument.)  Second, they wanted to group all religions together so that they could blame all religions for the sins of some religions, or to be more explicit, to blame Christians for the sins of radical Islamists.

It's a clever trick rhetorically, grouping all religions together, so that you can blame all of them for the sins of a few religions, but it is as idiotic as grouping all politicians together so that you can blame all politicians for the evil that a few politicians do.  Or, to go back to my examples, as idiotic as grouping the Mennonites and Thugs together so that you can blame the Mennonites for what the Thugs did.

(Oddly enough, you often see that rhetorical trick used by those pride themselves on their clear thinking.

Amusingly, the Guardian has a Christmas appeal.   So they are, in the same issue, saying that Britain is a mostly secular society, and appealing to religious beliefs.)
- 7:51 AM, 24 December 2006   [link]

Have You Heard Of Bryan Budd?  Probably not, unless you live in Britain.

But you should know about him, because he was a great hero.
Bryan James Budd VC, (16 July 1977 — 20 August 2006) was a Corporal in the 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment (3 PARA) of the British Army.  He was killed while on active service during Operation Herrick in Afghanistan.

Budd died of injuries sustained during a fire fight with Taliban forces in Sangin, Helmand Province.  The incident occurred whilst he was on a routine patrol close to the District Centre.  He was the 20th UK serviceman to die in Afghanistan since the start of operations in November 2001.

On 14 December 2006 it was announced by the Ministry of Defence that Budd is to be posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, [1] only the 13th award of the medal since World War II.
(Some Americans may need to know that Britain's Victoria Cross is their highest military honor, roughly equivalent to our Congressional Medal of Honor.)

When I searched Google News for "Bryan + Budd", I got 61 hits.  Nine of them were false positives.  Four of the remaining fifty-two hits came from newspapers outside Britain.  There was one news story on Bryan Budd in Australia, one in Bahrain, one in Ireland, and one in Poland.

There was not one hit on any news organization in the United States.  Not one.  And some American editors must have seen the Victoria Cross story, since it was carried by the BBC, though the BBC did not give the story the attention it deserves.

My thanks go to our British allies for Budd's heroism.  And for our "mainstream" media, which is unwilling to give him even a smidgeon of posthumous credit, I have only contempt.
- 8:23 AM, 23 December 2006   [link]

Al Qaeda To Democrats — We Won, Not You:  This Al Qaeda document is drawing a lot of attention from conservatives for this passage:
The third thing I wish to talk about is a message to the Democrats in America.

I tell them: you must realize two facts.

The first is that you aren't the ones who won the midterm elections, nor are the Republicans the ones who lost: rather, the Mujahideen — the Muslim Ummah’s vanguard in Afghanistan and Iraq — are the ones who won, and the American forces and their Crusader allies are the ones who lost.

The second fact is that the Mujahideen are still — by the grace of Allah — in the field, their weapons with which they fell the Democrats are still ready and aimed, and the Mujahideen won't stop inflicting losses on you until you leave our lands, stop plundering our treasures, and stop backing the corrupt rulers in our countries.

And if you don't refrain from the foolish American policy of backing Israel, occupying the lands of Islam, and stealing the treasures of the Muslims, then await the same fate.
That seems clear enough.  The Al Qaeda terrorists are saying that they gave the Democrats their win in last November's election and that they expect, in return, an American surrender.  And who can say that they are entirely wrong in their analysis?  Certainly the continuing attacks by Al Qaeda contributed to the Democratic victories — and probably were intended, in part, to help the Democrats, especially Democrats who share the defeatist views of John Murtha and Nancy Pelosi.

It will be interesting to see how Democrats and defeatist allies in the "mainstream" media react to this claim, and to this threat.

(You can read more reactions from John Hinderaker, the Jawa Report, Dan Riehl, Allahpundit, and Ace.

By the way, the entire document is worth reading for the insight it gives into our enemies.  I found two things especially interesting, even though I have seen them both before:  Al Qaeda often uses leftwing criticisms of the West in their own propaganda.  And they recognize no statute of limitations on their grievances.)
- 7:35 AM, 23 December 2006   [link]

More Problems With Christmas:  This time in China.
Ten doctorate students from China's elite universities are calling for a boycott of Christmas and urging people to revert to Chinese traditions.

In a statement carried by many Chinese Internet websites, they lamented the loss of Chinese traditions and morals, amid what they said was the widening invasion of western popular culture.

"We notice that many Chinese who do not believe or do not know anything about Christianity... would join in Christmas partying without much thought," said the students, all from elite universities.
Meanwhile, millions of Chinese who are not Christians will go ahead and celebrate the holiday anyway, something I mentioned here.  For what it is worth, the commercial Christmas celebrations in China may be more overtly religious than those in the United States.

(How many Christians are there in China?  No one seems to know, though my 2003 Britannica Almanac says that Christians are 7.1 percent of China's population.  If that is right, which is unlikely, there are about 85 million Christians in China.  I am skeptical about the statistics because Christians were persecuted so fiercely and so long in China.  That implies that we can't trust the official numbers.  And there do not seem to be any good unofficial numbers.)
- 5:54 AM, 22 December 2006   [link]

We Know More about how Sandy Berger stole those classified documents.
A former national security adviser to President Clinton, Samuel Berger, stashed highly classified documents under a trailer in downtown Washington in order to evade detection by National Archives personnel, a government report released yesterday said.
We know something about what the stolen documents said.
All five documents Mr. Berger removed were versions of an after-action report about the foiled "millennium plot" to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport and other sites.  The internal review, by a top counterterrorism official, Richard Clarke, reportedly found that luck was the major factor in disrupting the plot and that more attacks were likely.
But we still don't know for certain why Berger stole them.  If our "mainstream" reporters were even normally curious about Democratic misdeeds, they'd be asking Berger questions about his motives.

According to news reports, the stolen documents were copies, which raises a big objection to the most obvious explanation of Berger's motive — that Berger was trying to destroy documents that hurt the Clintons.  But those news accounts may be incorrect.  And it is possible that Berger did not realize he was stealing copies.   That would explain why he destroyed some copies, and returned others.  He destroyed those with damaging marginal comments, and returned the others.

What we do know for certain is that Berger should never have been national security advisor.   That Bill Clinton gave his old friend and political ally that sensitive position shows, again, how unserious Clinton was about national security.
- 7:36 AM, 21 December 2006
Similar thoughts:  The Investor's Business Daily wonders why Scooter Libby, but not Sandy Berger, may go to jail.  Jay Nordlinger asks us to imagine another former national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, stealing classified documents.   He can't imagine that — and neither can I.  Both the Investor's Business Daily and Nordlinger share my suspicion that Berger may have destroyed some original documents.
- 6:16 AM, 22 December 2006   [link]

Iraq's Economy Is Booming:  (No pun intended.)  Who says so?   That organ of the vast right wing conspiracy, Newsweek.
Civil war or not, Iraq has an economy, and—mother of all surprises—it's doing remarkably well.  Real estate is booming.  Construction, retail and wholesale trade sectors are healthy, too, according to a report by Global Insight in London.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports 34,000 registered companies in Iraq, up from 8,000 three years ago.  Sales of secondhand cars, televisions and mobile phones have all risen sharply.  Estimates vary, but one from Global Insight puts GDP growth at 17 percent last year and projects 13 percent for 2006.
. . .
Consider some less formal indicators.  Perhaps the most pervasive is the horrendous Iraqi traffic jams.  Roadside bombs account for fewer backups than the sheer number of secondhand cars that have crowded onto the nation's roads—five times as many in Baghdad as before the war.  Cheap Chinese goods overflow from shop shelves, and store owners report quick turnover.  Real-estate prices have risen several hundred percent, suggesting that Iraqis are more optimistic about the future than most Americans are.
But what could the Iraqis know?  After all, most Iraqis don't read the New York Times, don't watch CBS, and don't listen to NPR.  They just live there.

Silvia Spring finds this all surprising, but I don't.  In fact, I have written about it before, for example, here.

(If Spring knew even a little about the American Civil War, she would understand that a nation can have a civil war and a boom at the same time.

For more perspectives that you won't get from the "mainstream" media, see this Victor David Hanson essay comparing Iraq and California, or this article on a Miami suburb that is more violent than Iraq.)
- 1:24 PM, 19 December 2006   [link]

Another Polonium Puzzle:  British detectives are wondering about the amount that killed Litvinenko.
British investigators believe that Alexander Litvinenko's killers used more than $10 million of polonium-210 to poison him.  Preliminary findings from the post mortem examination on the former KGB spy suggest that he was given more than ten times the lethal dose.

Police do not know why the assassins used so much of the polonium-210, and are investigating whether the poison was part of a consignment to be sold on the black market.
And the stuff is expensive.  Using the kind of calculation police like to use when they seize illegal drugs, the dose was worth 10 million dollars.  (If you could buy it in that quantity, it would cost much less, perhaps a few million dollars.)

Either those behind this plot really wanted it to be detected, or they are really, really inept.   The first alternative seems more likely, but we can't reject the second.

Why did they want it detected (if they did)?  Most likely to frighten others who oppose Putin.
- 6:29 AM, 19 December 2006   [link]

Hillary Didn't Think she deserved royal treatment.
Ségolène Royal, the French Socialist presidential candidate, postponed a "triumphant" US tour planned for this week after Hillary Clinton declined to meet her, it was claimed yesterday.

Miss Royal, the first Frenchwoman with a realistic chance of becoming president in elections in April, officially put off her tour until late January or February due to fatigue after visits to the Middle East and Portugal.

But in reality the decision appears to have been influenced by her failure to secure what would have been a symbolic meeting with Mrs Clinton, the Democrat senator whose ambition is to become America's first female president.
Royal's stumbles on her visit to the Middle East made her an unwelcome guest for someone who wishes to pose as a moderate.

(Hilariously, the Telegraph goes on to say:
The Democrats also have little in common with French Socialism, which supports massive state intervention, a huge civil service, and regularly lambasts "US world hegemony".
Depends on the Democrat, of course, but it isn't hard to find many who take all those positions.

The Sydney Morning Herald picked up the story, and put this headline on it: "Queen of the Democrats snubs France's Royal visit".  I suspect that Hillary Clinton would like that headline.)
- 1:50 PM, 18 December 2006   [link]

Remember The Mark Foley Story?  Debra Saunders does, and what she has to say — now — is not filled with compliments for the "mainstream" media.
If ever a news story bolstered Rush Limbaugh's low opinion of the "drive-by media," it is the tawdry saga of former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla.  When the story about Foley's e-mails to former House pages first broke, cable news was All Foley/All the Time. The chattering classes -- this columnist included -- were outraged at the GOP leadership's inexcusable failure to protect vulnerable House pages from Foley.  Many pundits didn't need proof, so happy were they to embrace U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi's charge that there had been a "coverup of Mark Foley's outrageous behavior."

When the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct report came out this month finding no violations by GOP leadership of House rules or standards, the once-big story devolved into news briefs and tepid editorials.  No big scandal, no big story.

No apologies, despite what the media got wrong.
Nor does she have many compliments for the Democratic officials who knew about the "scandal" early.
Here's a new twist, though.  GOP leaders complained that the Foley story was the work of partisans who were cynically using the page story to win the House for Democrats -- and they turned out to be right.  Staffers of the House Democratic Caucus had the e-mails since the fall of 2005.  They were not so concerned for the welfare of pages that they ran to law enforcement -- as some partisans suggested the GOP should have done.  They were too busy leaking the e-mails to the news media.  The former page was their pawn.
But they would not have succeeded if they had not had the help of so many in the media, including some who must have guessed that there was: "No big scandal, no big story."  (Which is what I thought from the very beginning.)

Kudos to Saunders for her admission of error.  But her admission only reminds us of the many, many "mainstream" journalists who have not bothered to admit their errors on this story.  It is this kind of coverage that has convinced me that, with some exceptions, most "mainstream" journalists will not admit errors, unless they are forced to.  And most are especially unwilling to admit errors if their admission would help Republicans or conservatives.
- 5:12 AM, 18 December 2006   [link]

Just For the Record:  The storm that just hit this area followed a big Democratic victory in November.  The last similar storm was on Bill Clinton's first inauguration day — after another big Democratic victory.

I am sure there is no connection between these events, but not everyone may agree with me on that.   And so I would like to say — just for the record — that I did not vote for the Democrats in 1992, or this year.
- 5:27 PM, 17 December 2006   [link]