Saturday, September 30, 2006

How, when you've done something you really wish you hadn't, to make the bad situation MUCH worse

Some time ago I celebrated a great Molly Ivins apology and castigated Michelle Malkin for her ungracious reception thereof. That post began as follows:

I am so proud of Molly Ivins I could burst. This, people, is how you apologize when you're wrong.

You don't say that you're sorry that other people have misinterpreted your remarks. You don't say that, if (by chance, and miscommunication, and the highly regrettable hypersensitivity of other people) you have offended someone, then you regret the fact that they took offense.

You say, "I was wrong," and, in Molly's exact words, "I am so sorry."
Looking back, I can't believe I originally forgot the "I was just joking" ploy, one of the all-time favorite ways for macho redneck guys to try to get out of having to be so unmanly as to admit (gasp!) that they had actually done something wrong. But fortunately Gawker reminded me of it by providing a practically untoppable of the tactic. ("Yes, of course it's fake! You idiots!") Ironically, Michelle Malkin is in the mix again, this time as the target of Gawker's and Wonkette's tactically foolish malice and Gawker's even more tactically foolish (given Michelle's willingness to behave ungraciously if you'll just give her a chance) attempt to play the "I was just joking" card. Don't these people realize that nobody buys that and you just make yourself look even stupider and lamer when you try it?

I'm interested neither in Gawker (whom I have never read before today) nor Michelle (whom I stopped reading long ago), but in the dynamics of apology and the folly of trying to deal with having been wrong by trying to find a way to pretend you weren't. The history of this particular episode...well, Michelle has an acid tongue and makes no pretense of charity when it comes to "moonbats," which naturally engenders a certain amount of hard feeling amongst her targets. Also, like most people with acid tongues, Michelle has a thin skin and gets the vapors when other people attack her with the same vituperation she so freely wields herself. "Good-natured" is not, I suspect, a response that pops up often when psychologists throw "Michelle Malkin" into a word-association test; and naturally her targets would be delighted by any chance to get some of their own back and smugly enjoy the spectacle of the inevitable head explosion.

Unfortunately, the frame of mind in which one would be delighted by a chance to stick pins in the Malkin voodoo doll, is not a frame of mind that conduces to high mental efficiency. And so, when an enterprising and malicious but not at all competent photoshopper sent to Wonkette a particularly badly done faux image of "Michelle" doing a tame version of a flasher (she raises her T-shirt and -- horrors! reveals the bikini top she is wearing beneath it, the slut!), Gawker and Wonkette fell for it hook, line and sinker -- and proceeded to blog about what a hypocrite Michelle is to have criticized Charlotte Church's morals when she lets people see her in a bikini, by God!

Look, even if Gawker had been joking, she's got to have the mere double-digit IQ that's necessary to realize that nobody other than her mom is going to believe it, and therefore she (or he, I suppose) has to phrase it very carefully. Something along these lines: "You know, I was trying to be funny, but looking back at what I posted I screwed up and came off as totally serious. I apologize very seriously and hope Michelle will forgive my clumsiness and poor judgment." Instead what Gawker says is basically, "All you people who took me seriously are such morons, plus Michelle's really stupid too" -- that is, hey, if anybody's offended, they're the ones who screwed up, not me.

And if you play it that way you never win. Here, let's look at the possible situations and how Gawker could have played it.

1. Gawker was taken in, she meant it as a serious attack on Michelle, and she's totally busted -- and she responds by saying on her blog, "I made a fool of myself. I was taken in by an obvious photoshop, and the reason is that I don't like Michelle and was too eager to jump on an excuse to attack her. Whether Michelle was right or wrong to write that column is irrelevant; I have the responsibility to make sure I have my facts straight before I attack somebody's character, and in this case I absolutely did not. I apologize to Michelle without qualification. I was foolish and wrong." By this apology she earns respect from reasonable people from all parts of the political spectrum, and either she totally silences Michelle, or else the next time Michelle says anything snarky about the whole incident, it's Michelle who looks like an ungracious bitch. The high ground is totally seized by Gawker and the only thing Michelle can do is try to join her on the high ground by accepting her apology graciously. (What do you think the odds are that Michelle would respond that way? Yeah, me too. Golden opportunity totally missed by Gawker there, I have to believe.)

2. Gawker really was serious, but doesn't want to have to confess to it. So, being dishonest but shrewd, she pretends that she was joking, but she offers a hypocritically humble apology for presenting her "joke" so incompetently. She doesn't defend herself; she just says, "I'm so sorry that I presented that material that I meant to be humorous, so clumsily that it came across as totally serious and was taken seriously by other people. That was terrible and careless writing and I very deeply regret the bad effect it has had on Ms. Malkin..." yadda yadda yadda. By this tactic she would cut the ground out from under Michelle and her defenders (assuming she could write the apology convincingly), and thus stop the bleeding, as it were, without having to admit that she actually was taken in herself and piled gleeful malice on top of moronic stupidity.

3. Gawker really meant the whole thing as a parody and just did a really incompetent job of it, resulting in a post that nobody short of a mind-reader would recognize as parody. She handles this exactly the same way as #2. The results are the same as #2, but in this case she doesn't incur the guilt of dishonesty and hypocrisy.

4. Gawker was taken in totally -- or she was doing a clumsy parody -- either way, it doesn't matter...but she decides to play it by saying, "Hey, I was obviously joking, and anybody who thinks I was serious must be a total moron. Plus Michelle's really stupid." Ta-da! We have a loser. Because nobody's going to buy it; people will still think she was stupid enough to fall for the lousy fake and malicious enough to try to use it to attack Michelle, and now they'll add to Gawker's list of flaws the "fact" that she's not grown-up enough to apologize and not smart enough to come up with something better than the lame ol' "can't-you-take-a-joke" routine.

Guess which way Gawker chose to play it? [sigh]

Note: this post is a slight rewrite of comments I made in updating the original post.

Couldn't have put it better myself

Mark Steyn, responding to an e-mail complaining that it was foolish for his local school district to require all students to take some non-French classes (math, science, etc.) in French even if they didn't speak French:

"Actually, with some schools, being taught in a language the kid doesn’t understand may be the least worst option."

Hear, hear.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

"Overheard at the Confessional" Dept

And if you didn't get the secondary joke implicit in the post title, then you didn't grow up Catholic.

At any rate, my buddy Julius passes on the following snippet of confessional dialogue:

PENITENT: Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I have had impure thoughts.
PRIEST: I see, my son. But did you entertain those thoughts?
PENITENT: No, Father, they entertained me...

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Must-read story of the day

Harold and Olive, and how they touched the lives of Slava and Lera and young Marina.

Don't miss this one.

HT: TMQ's ever-so-much-more-than-mere-football column, which in this particular case also features a long and fascinating treatment of the supernova that has just gotten through killing any and all life that might have existed in its own galaxy or any of several other galaxies nearby. Wonder what the SETI people think of that one?

An amusing Kazakhstan anecdote culled from my very first serious conversation with Alexandra von Maltzan

This seems like a good story; so I thought I'd retell it. It came up long ago when Alexandra and I, who had only just met, were discussing the question of whether or not a man should hold open the door for a lady...


Here's you another example [I said to Alexandra], from Kazakhstan and my recent adoption saga. (It's a bonus anecdote since it didn't make it onto my blog with the rest of the adoption stories.) As a young Southerner, I was taught that gentlemen in crowded public transit (on the rare occasions when public transit is available) yield their seats to others when there aren't enough seats to go around. Standard order of priority, as I was taught in childhood, is:

1. Old people, the handicapped, and pregnant women.

2. Ladies who are trying to keep up with small children.

3. Other ladies, including young women who are, so to speak, old enough to be "out" -- not that we have debutantes anymore, but still you can tell the difference between a girl and a young woman.

4. Adult men.

5. If there are still seats left, the well-mannered teenaged boy may sit down. (Which is a joke since "well-mannered teenaged boy" is very close to a contradiction in terms, but we parents do our best.)

At any rate, such a concept seems absolutely unheard of in the C.I.S. (former Soviet Union, that is), or at least in Kazakhstan. But, in harmony with your suggestion of being civilized for my own satisfaction even if it bemuses those around me, when in Kaz I still yield my seat on the ubiquitous buses as I was trained to do back in the South of my childhood. My two newly adopted daughters (18 and 13) think this is very strange and fascinating, but they get a kick out of seeing me stand up and offer my seat to a stranger, and watching the expression on the stranger's face.

But the anecdote I want to tell is specifically for your sake, because you'll enjoy it more than most people. On one hour-and-a-half bus ride to a remote little village, the bus filled up, and then a woman flagged down the bus. I got up and offered her my seat, drawing as always plenty of stares, and then as the bus jounced along I stood there in the aisle bracing myself with one hand and holding with the other hand a parcel I happened to have with me. And then a different lady who was sitting a row behind where I was standing leaned forward and tapped me on the arm to get my attention (which is also not done), smiled -- and offered to hold my parcel for me.

So I think you're right that thoughtfulness can elicit thoughtfulness in return, even where a local code of manners fails to encourage it.

Is it possible that this idea's time might eventually come?

Section 1. The power of judicial review claimed by the Supreme Court in Marbury v. Madison is explicitly ratified, but is held to be subject to the limits and conditions of this Amendment.

Section 2. The term of office of Justices of the Supreme Court shall be ten years. At the end of any Justice's first term of office, a second ten-year term may be granted, should the President renominate said Justice and should the Senate consent to the nomination.

Section 3. No Justice shall serve more than two terms on the Supreme Court.

Section 4. All questions of law, policy and justice not addressed by the People in their ratification of the Constitution and its Amendments, nor assigned to the judicial branch by the Constitituion and its Amendments or by legislative statute, shall be determined solely by the elected representatives of the People acting through the legislative and executive branches of the government, the judicial branch being absolutely enjoined from the making of public policy by judicial fiat outside of the democratic process.

Section 5. The authority of the Constitution and its Amendments is held to derive solely from the authority of the People in its ratification and in their intent to bind themselves and their posterity to the conditions expressed therein; therefore no interpretation of any provision of the Constitution shall be valid if it is unreasonable to believe that those who originally ratified the relevant provision would have withheld their consent from the interpretation in question; nor shall any interpretation of any provision of the Constitution be held valid that is not reasonably derived from the intent of the People in its ratification.

Section 6. All decisions of the Supreme Court shall be subject to review by the legislative and executive branches; and any such decision shall be rendered null and void upon reversal within ten years by a three-fifths majority of either House of Congress, with the concurrence either of the President or of a three-fifths majority of the other House, or upon reversal after ten years by a two-thirds majority of either House of Congress, with the concurrence either of the President or of a three-fifths majority of the other house; but this power of reversal shall extend only to the disqualification of the judgment passed, the removal of its authority as precedent, and resubmission of the case to a new consideration by the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court being absolutely enjoined from making recourse to such arguments as were rejected by the non-judicial branches; nor shall this power of reversal extend to the finding of an independent judgment in the case, nor to the establishment of new positive precedent.

Section 7. The willful or frequent refusal by any Justice to respect the restrictions of Sections 4 and 5 of this Amendment, shall be cause for his removal from office, upon impeachment by the House of Representatives and conviction by a two-thirds majority of the Senate; but judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.

You can tell I'm not trained in the writing of amendments to the Constitution, but there, with all its flaws, is the rough outline of what I have long believed to be the one amendment that our Constitution most desperately needs.

I have felt literally for years that incontravertible evidence that the review powers claimed by the Supreme Court are in themselves a usurpation of power, can be seen in the fact that Constitution provides no checks and balances upon the Supreme Court to offset their ability to interfere with, and defy, the will of the people as expressed in the two elective branches of government. To me it simply defies everything we know of the thought processes of the men who constructed the Constitution, to think that this kind of power would be deliberately vested by the Framers in (essentially) five men who were neither elected by nor answerable to the People, who had lifetime appointments that rendered them immune to any desire to do a good enough job to be invited back for another round, and most damningly were under no oversight by the other branches and could not be overruled even by both elective branches in concert, not even by a supermajority thereof. Justice Marshall perpetrated the single most effective non-Constitutional power grab in the history of our republic (that is, the most effective bid to seize for one of the three branches a power that is not rightfully its own and that sets that branch free from the scheme of checks and balances), in comparison to which the alleged attempts by Bush to appropriate excess power for the Presidency are notable only for their childish lack of scope and ambition. For more than a century the judicial branch reigned itself in by using this assumed authority only sparingly. But all such restraint has long since been thrown to the winds by the liberal activist majorities of the last half-century. And when self-impressed fools throw off all self-restraint, restraint must be imposed upon them by others.

So for nearly two decades now I have thought that a Constitutional amendment to impose checks and balances upon the Supreme Court's self-aggrandized review power, was (as I sit here typing) just about two hundred years overdue and fifty years into the "critical urgency" stage. But so far as I knew nobody else on the planet thought the same thing.

I mention this because today I ran across somebody else who is actually banging this drum. Perhaps lots of people have been on the topic for years and I just don't get around enough, but for most of my adult life I have felt rather like the one-eyed man in the Kingdom of the Blind -- that something that seemed obvious to me was utterly invisible to the rest of the world and I couldn't imagine why. But the inimitable Ace of Spades not only shows up today (actually, several days ago but I've been offline for three weeks) making points I didn't know had ever occurred to other opinion-makers, but he links to yet more people who are making them, and are doing so persuasively, and are doing so with what seems to be far more authority and credibility than could hope to be wielded by any redneck amateur whose only qualifications are a decent amount of natural intelligence, a certain independence of mind, an ability and willingness to read, and a decades-long-standing interest in the topic.

Here's the Ace, whose comments I reproduce at some length (as is not my wont, preferring as I do for my readers -- both of them -- to follow the links), in order that they may easily be compared with a comment I left, just a few hours before seeing Ace's post, over at Concurring Opinions.

Do go read Ace's whole post, though. Unless you're my kids, in which case I remind you sternly that you are absolutely forbidden to visit that man's site until you are old enough to be a sailor, a consultant, or their equivalent -- that is, an Episcopalian priest.

Very well. Note the themes Ace sets out in the following passage:

Talking with Rob, we got into a sort of theoretical discussion about Supreme Court power. I brought up the fact that there was a radical asymmetry in what was needed for the Supreme Court to create law of its own volition; they merely needed five unelected judges to create law. On the other hand, to overturn a Supreme Court decision, a much more difficult hurdle had to be jumped: a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress and a 3/5ths majority of all states, acting through their legislatures.

Compare this with the Presidential veto/Congressional override scheme. Congress may pass a bill with one half (plus one) of each house. The President may veto the bill-- but a two-thirds vote by both houses of Congress overrides the veto. Now, a two-thrids vote in both houses of Congress is a hard row to hoe, but it is doable, at least in cases of the most unpolular Presidential vetoes.

There isn't a radical asymmetry between what is needed to block legislation and what is needed to overcome that blockage. An asymmetry, yes, but not a wildly disproportionate one.

In the case of the Supreme Court, anything that five unelected, appointed for life judges decide is the law is the law, and remains so in perpetuity, for all practical purposes. The Amendment process is very difficult (by the Framers' design), but the Supreme Court has arrogated to itself the power to amend the Constitution by a fairly easy mechanism. Five votes.

Why is there nothing in the Constitution similar to Congress' power to override the President's veto? Why is it not spelled out that Congress may override the Supreme Court with, say, a three-fifths (or two-thirds) vote in both houses?

Because, as Rob mentioned, the power of the Supreme Court to overrule the decisions of the political branches of government is nowhere in the Constitution at all. It was asserted by John Marshall in Marbury v. Madison, he himself deciding that, if the nation were ruled by a charter, and the courts were especially competent to interpret that charter, well then, by implication, the Court had the power to overturn legislation and executive actions which the Court believed were in violation of that charter.

But this is assumed authority by the Court. One the nation has acquiesced in, but assumed authority nevertheless.

As the Framers did not seem to ever contemplate the Court having such an enormous power -- a five-man veto over the any law passed in the United States, whether by the US Congress or any state legislature -- it's hardly surprising they didn't build into the Constitution a reciprocal, symmetrical override power to veto the veto. Having not planned on the Court having such power in the first place, they never contemplated the political power to check the Court's power.

You don't invent an umbrella if you never imagined the possibility of rain.

Now, this is all very theoretical and perhaps silly -- given that this is such a big step that no one at all is discussing -- but perhaps it's time for the Constitution to catch up with the Court's self-granted power of reviewing all legislative and executive action by amending the Constitution to provide for a 3/5ths congressional override of any Supreme Court decision. If we have a system of checks and balances -- or rather checks and counter-checks, as the veto/override pairing provides an example of -- where, precisely, is the counter-check on the Supreme Court? The Supreme Court has a check on the political branches, but where, precisely, is the political branches' counter-check?

If the Supreme Court can nullify any congressional or presidential action, doesn't the symmetry of check and counter-check suggest that Congress should have the power to in turn nullfy a Supreme Court decision?

You're making great sense, there, Ace. Now we turn to my visit to Concurring Opinions. Daniel Solove states, in passing:

Posner argues for judicial restraint because "when in doubt about the actual or likely consequences of a measure, the pragmatic, empiricist judge will be inclined to give the other branches of government their head." (p. 27). Why? It is not self-evident at all that the executive branch has made the most wise decisions on national security throughout history. More importantly, it is not clear why the executive branch is better at balancing civil liberties and national security. If anything, it seems to me that the executive branch might weigh national security too much.
Here is my response -- and note how much in accord with Ace it is. Ah, how refreshing it is not to feel alone in the wilderness...

But it is self-evident that the judicial branch is the branch of government that is least subject to checks and balances, and in particular is least answerable to the public for malpractice in its behavior or folly in its policies. A President who, in the opinion of the People, gets the balance wrong, is subject to the consequences of their displeasure as expressed in the ballot box, as is his party. A Supreme Court Justice who flagrantly imposes his own personal political agenda upon the entire nation by judicial fiat, is subject to...absolutely no negative consequence at all other than having people whose opinion he despises, think badly of him.

That's just one reason to value judicial restraint and judicial deference, generally speaking, to the directly representative branches of government.

I have no idea whether you have spent a lot of time on your blog arguing about the importance of "checks and balances" and complaining that the President is too free to behave as he chooses without being controlled by other branches of government. But nobody who supports Supreme-Court level judicial activism -- that is, nobody who objects to the principle Posner lays out in the passage you quote -- can really pretend, in the presence of intelligent people and the obvious absence of legislative and executive control over the abuse of the Supreme Court's powers, to believe in the importance of checks and balances per se. Whenever a supporter of judicial activism starts talking about checks and balances, the rest of us know perfectly well that he means "checks and balances on the behavior of people to whose political agendas I personally object." Therefore I hope, since you here seem to be objecting to the idea that judges should defer in general to the two branches that are directly accountable to the voting citizens, that you have not complained in the past about inadequate checks and balances on the President's behavior.

And a second, and even more important, reason:

When the Republican or Democratic party (in either the legislative or executive branches) makes what a majority of Americans considers to be an egregious error, it takes one election cycle to reverse the policy. But let a 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court, over bitter dissent from the one-vote minority, announce, "Thus saith the Constitution," and henceforth even if 65% of the American people -- an overwhelmingly majority -- are absolutely convinced that the five activists have misinterpreted the Constitution, it will be practically impossible for the mistake to be corrected, and utterly impossible for it to be corrected quickly. If it is corrected, it will be either by amendment to the Constitution -- for which you will require, in effect, a supermajority of Americans or else a majority of Americans very evenly distributed throughout the country -- or else by the dying off of the irresponsible five and their replacement with other judges more in tune with the People. And the latter process implies that, if the People wish the ruling changed, then they will have to set aside whatever other policy concerns they might have in order to keep electing Presidents with an eye to how they will replace any Supremes who might choose to retire during their term. This is exacerbated even further by the fact that an extremist Supreme has the timing of his own retirement entirely under his own control (barring his being smitten down by God) and therefore can deliberately postpone or hasten his retirement in order to maximize the likelihood that the President in charge of selecting his replacement will be a President who shares the retiring Supreme's agenda -- and who will therefore nominate a "suitable" replacement.

On difficult or obscure questions, the genius of the American system is that many different solutions may be tried in different states and jurisdictions, or at different times as different parties gain and lose control of the elective branches, and in this process of experimentation the American people are able to work out a practical and creative solution. But this whole give-and-take process -- the very essense of American democracy -- is short-circuited the moment the Supreme Court decides to jump in and decree that The Constitution Has Spoken -- whether it actually has or not.

Furthermore, decades of activism by Democrat-dominated Supreme Courts have now made it clear to everybody in politics that the single most important branch of government, the one that must be controlled by one's own party because it absolutely is not controlled by the American people, is SCOTUS. Have you not noticed that suddenly the nominees for Supreme Court are no longer men and women who are near the end of long and distinguished careers, but are instead relatively young bright lights who, if confirmed, can then be counted on (at least so the nominating President always hopes) to defend his agenda literally for decades to come? John Roberts will, barring major health problems, be Chief Justice of SCOTUS for probably the next twenty or thirty years, during all of which time neither of the other branches of government will have the slightest ability to reign in whatever flights of dubious sophistry he might choose to engage in. And that is precisely why Bush wanted him: Bush fully intends that five Presidential terms from now "his" Justices will still be carrying on the Bush "legacy." Thus judicial activism not only greatly increases the chances that the Constitution will be misrepresented in ways the voting public would never willingly countenance, and not only allows practically irreversible national policy decisions to be made by persons entirely unimpeded by checks and balances and accountability to a voting public, but it even taints and ultimately perverts the very process of nomination and confirmation that determines the long-term character of SCOTUS itself.

Supreme Court justices are so manifestly free from accountability, and their mistakes (as defined by the will and judgment of the People) are so manifestly difficult to reverse (especially in comparison to mistakes made by the other two branches) that it is very difficult to imagine a rational person arguing against the principle of extreme judicial restraint unless two things are true about the supporter of judicial activism:

1. He himself supports a political agenda that is not popular among the people as a whole and therefore that is unlikely ever to be put into practice by either of the two branches that have to answer directly to voters. A person who supports the extreme pro-abortion position of Roe, and a person who supports an equally extreme anti-abortion position, would each be tempted to find judges willing to say that the Constitution demands the imposition of his extreme agenda, because the American people if left to its own desires would almost certainly settle on a compromise position similar to those which prevail in Europe, which position would be unsatisfactory to those who (such as Justice Blackmun) support extreme positions on either side.

2. He is confident that the judicial branch, on the whole, is dominated by people who share his agenda and will rule the "right" way -- that is, in favor of the policies that he supports but that the majority of Americans do not. Thus Democrats who were perfectly happy to see sweeping innovations by the Courts of, for example, Brown v. Board of Education vintage, have suddenly had a religious conversion to the divine inviolability of stare decisis at the mere thought that the Supreme Court might someday have a majority of Republican judges who were willing to impose Republican political agendas. This dramatic change in attitude, which amounts to a demand that Republicans not be activists should they gain control of SCOTUS from people who have spent decades celebrating judicial activism, is entirely due to a dramatic drop in Democrats' confidence that they will always control the Supreme Court and will therefore always be able to perpetrate, rather than be targeted by, SCOTUS activism.

Solove at CO has not seen fit to respond to me, by the way, but I don't blame him in the slightest, seeing as how no man should ever be expected to respond to a comment on his own blog that's longer than the original post -- much less to a comment so long that the commenter has to resort to two full comments adequately to vent his choler.

Finally, as long as this post is, it still falls very short of being anything like a full exposition of my views on the proper role of the Supreme Court and on the disastrous effects of judicial activism upon the Supreme Court itself as an institution. If you are insane enough to want my full philosophy on SCOTUS and on Constitutional interpretation, then the best I can do is...well, first, to recommend that you have yourself committed. But failing that, you can see my extensive comments on an old post over at Alexandra's remarkable All Things Beautiful blog.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The whole difficulty with moderate Islam

Well, not the whole difficulty, I suppose. But here's the basic deal: the majority of the Muslims I know are very nice and generous and peaceful people, who detest the Islamofascists and don't want to be like them. But if you're going to see "moderate Islam" have any real influence in the Arab Middle East, then you have to overcome two huge problems.

1. If a moderate Muslim speaks out in most places in the Arab world, he stands a decent chance of being promptly killed, because his enemies the Islamofascists like killing people. If an Islamofascists speaks out, he can do so with impunity, because moderate Muslims don't like killing people -- if they liked killing people, they'd be Islamofascists. That last part is true because of the second problem, which I can't state more pithily than does Brian Micklethwait (HT: Isty, I think, but I don't remember for sure), in response to Lord Carey's question of "why Islam today ha[s] become associated with violence." This is, of course, a stupid question with a false implied premise, namely that there has ever been a time at which Islam was not associated with violence; and Micklethwait does not mince words in stating Problem #2:

2. "Simple, I'd say. The founder of Islam believed strongly in violence, was himself very good at it, and recommended it enthusiastically to his followers. They have obliged, century after century after century."

And the reason this is a problem with moderate Islam is simply that a moderate Muslim who wishes to argue that religiously motivated, deadly violence is incompatible with Islam -- that Islam is, in any remotely meaningful sense, a "religion of peace" -- puts himself in the highly awkward position of trying to explain why what was good for the Prophet then, is bad for Muslims now.

If you try to reconcile the Crusades and the Inquisition with the example and teachings of Jesus, you find yourself facing a formidable challenge. The burden of apparent proof lies very heavily upon the person who would justify the use of the sword in the service of the Church; indeed it lies heavily upon someone who simply wants to say that the Church should enlist the State's power of violence in any capacity whatsoever intended to advance Her particular ends. But with Islam all the weight of the apparent evidence runs the other way. If you do nothing but follow the example of Jesus, then even should absolute political power be offered to you upon a platter you will spurn it. If you do nothing but follow the example of Mohammed, then even should others rise up to deny you absolute political power, you will demand that power and attempt to butcher those who stand in your way.

Now it doesn't at all follow that moderate Muslims are wrong and that murderous, infidel-butchering Islamofascism is "the true Islam." Context really does make a tremendous difference in matters moral, and the obvious answer in human affairs very often turns out to be the wrong answer. Christianity itself is, if it comes to that, a very non-obvious and unexpected culmination of the revelation of God to the Jews; but we don't think it is therefore false, anymore than the fact that the conclusions of relativity make an extremely surprising denouement to the path on which Newton's Three Laws set modern physics, makes us insist that Einstein must have been deluded. Truth and reality are often very surprising things. Therefore I see no particular reason to say that moderate Muslims are wrong to say that what they believe is the True Islam and that Islamofascism is a perversion.

But let us grant that Islam is true, that Mohammed was indeed the last and greatest of God's prophets, that the violence in which he engaged was divinely authorized, and yet that all apparently similar violence is now morally and religiously out of bounds. Let us, in other words, grant the truth of what Westerners like to think of as "moderate Islam." Is it not clear that this truth must be very far from obvious both to infidels (who don't think Mohammed was speaking for God in the first place) and also to ordinary uneducated Muslims (who are naturally likely to conclude that what was good enough for Mohammed should be good enough for everybody and who are unlikely to have the patience or intellectual training to follow a complex and delicate chain of reasoning leading to a counter-intuitive conclusion)?

Furthermore, every society has people in it who like killing others, and in the especially seething and violent and dysfunctional Arab world, the percentage of young men who are attracted to violence, while still definitely a minority, is yet greater that it is in most other societies (though not greater than it is in grossly dysfunctional societies such as the American black inner city or le Zone). And if you come to Islam already wanting an excuse to kill people -- well, try naming me the founder of any major religion whose example lends itself better to the rationalization of bloodthirstiness than does the career of the Prophet. Christ? Absurd. The Buddha? Ridiculous. Moses and Joshua and David? Equally convenient, perhaps, but hardly more so. Mary Baker Eddy? Zoroaster? Louis Farrakhan?....hey, ding ding ding ding ding, I think we may actually have a winner. Still, I think the basic point is clear: the Qu'ran and the career of Mohammed lend themselves to the rationalization of violence in a way that is highly inconvenient for the evangelists of moderate Islam, and the Arab Middle East (as distinct from, say, the Kazakh Muslim community) has a disproportionate number of bloodthirsty young bastards eager to have their murderous urges rationalized -- and bloodthirsty old imams eager to provide the rhetoric.

I myself have very severe difficulty imagining how moderate Islam can ever hope to gain ascendancy in the Muslim world as a whole and the Arab portion of the Muslim world in particular, given these two very serious problems, unless the non-Muslim world first obliterates the power of Islamofascism. As long as throughout wide swaths of the Middle East the Muslims of Blood can kill the Muslims of Peace whenever the Muslims of Peace dare speak, it must be primarily the message of blood that will dominate open public discourse in the cesspool that is the Middle East; and as long as the average Muslim is not a philosophically minded rationalist with an emotional bent towards cooperation and cooexistence, the message of blood against infidels must always be more obviously consonant with the example and precepts of the Prophet and the sacred texts than can appear the message of peace.

Thus I do not have much hope that the Arab Muslim world can be persuaded. I fear it will have to be devastatingly defeated. Only after Western arms has crushed and broken Islamofascism, is there likely to be any space in the Arab Middle East within which moderate Islam can both safely and effectively make itself heard.

Such is my fear. If anyone can offer me solid evidence that my fears are ungrounded, I will hear it willingly. Otherwise, I will continue to believe that we must proceed on the assumption that moderate Islam cannot save the West, and indeed that moderate Islam may well have difficulty surviving unless the West saves moderate Islam.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

"Qui veut être un millionnaire?" -- "Ce n'est pas moi..." Dept.

And you Brits thought the contestants on the American edition were stupid. (I know you did because, having gotten addicted to Millionaire in London, I couldn't believe how dumbed down it was for the States -- and I'm an American myself.)

For those of you who don't speak French (you can probably tell from the headline that I no longer speak it very well, of course), here's the plot, summed up:

Q. What is it that goes around the earth?
A. The moon.
B. The sun.
C. Mars.
D. Venus.

The contestant asks the audience, and then goes with the majority answer...

The attentive listener, by the way, will note that the host twice emphasizes that members of the audience should answer the question only "si vous savez" -- "if you know the answer."

And then there's the host's remark to the guy's young daughter (or maybe girlfriend): "Sophie, you don't seem happy." Nah, ya think? I wonder why that would be? Could it be because this particular man of significance in her life just informed a national audience that he thinks the sun goes around the earth? Pourquoi elle n'est pas content? Can't imagine...

John McCain proves it's not just silly liberals

The stereotype among conservatives is that liberals habitually compound stupidity with self-righteousness, but John McCain should be a constant reminder to Republicans that the affliction that causes one to think that disagreement is the result of others' moral errors rather than of one's own intellectual errors, can be found among all political and religious affiliations. Hardly a week goes by without McCain proving once again that he considers that when he disagrees with other Republicans, that shows that he is morally superior to them, when most of the time it's actually just that they are mentally superior to him. Not that that's particularly difficult, of course. (If you're a Democrat, this is a good place to insert a crack about how not only is it not difficult to be mentally superior to John McCain, but it is even less difficult to be morally superior to most Republicans.)

And in case you think Republicans are intrinsically smarter than Democrats, just remember that McCain is a favorite to win the Republican nomination for President.

Narcissism, folly and their inevitable offspring moronic self-righteousness are as dangerous a combination as are shrewdness, ambition and unscrupulousness. If McCain isn't the very incarnation of the former combination, then some public relations expert needs to tell him to stop acting like it.

Meanwhile, if you're a Democrat then I think you have to pulling for McCain with all the gusto you can muster. I think you would have a much better chance of beating McCain in a general election than you would have running against either Romney or Guliani. Not that I'm an expert, of course, but if I were the Democrats I'd be talking up McCain for all I was worth right up until he wins the nomination, and then just turn on him and blow him out of the water.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Just one more day...

...until Dessie and Anya get back from Kazakhstan. Their plane leaves Almaty in six hours.

Blog posts will recommence shortly thereafter.