Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 3, 2011

Does the Army’s ‘No-Beard’ Rule Discriminate Against Jews?

A rabbi from Brooklyn is challenging the Army’s “no-beard” policy after his application to become a chaplain was rejected because of military rules against facial hair. The rabbi says the service is discriminating against religious Jews because it has waived the rule for other religions:

Menachem M. Stern’s lawsuit argues the Army is discriminating against him because it has waived the “no-beard” rule for several Sikhs and a Muslim, but not for him. Advocates hope the case, if successful, will pave the way for more bearded rabbis to become chaplains and minister to historically underserved Jewish soldiers.

“While they’re stalling me, they’re taking in other religions, for instance, Sikhs and Muslims with beards and turbans at the same time,” Stern said. “At that point, my question became, ‘Who says yes and who says no?’ It shows how in a great institution such as the Army, the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.”

I can understand a general military rule against beards, but it’s surprising that the rules don’t carry an exception for chaplains, as Stern’s attorney points out:

“Even if the military thinks regular servicemen should be clean-shaven, clearly chaplains who are teaching religion are in a different category,” said Stern’s Washington attorney, Nathan Lewin. “If a rabbi wears a beard and a beard is after all traditionally associated with the Jewish faith, nobody’s going to take it as being some violation of military discipline. It just means the rabbi, like he puts a yarmulke on his head, is wearing a beard because that’s what’s religiously required of him.”

According to the article, there is only one Jewish chaplain with a beard in the Army. His beard was approved before 1986, so it’s apparently not subject to the current rules. The Army has also waived the no-beard rule at least four times over the past two years, for two Sikh officers, a Muslim intern at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and a Sikh enlisted soldier.

I suppose the Army might have had an urgent need to fill these four positions and granted facial-hair exceptions under those circumstances. And perhaps there isn’t a similar need for Jewish chaplains. Unless the Army is committing a blatant act of religious discrimination, those seem to be the most likely explanations.

A rabbi from Brooklyn is challenging the Army’s “no-beard” policy after his application to become a chaplain was rejected because of military rules against facial hair. The rabbi says the service is discriminating against religious Jews because it has waived the rule for other religions:

Menachem M. Stern’s lawsuit argues the Army is discriminating against him because it has waived the “no-beard” rule for several Sikhs and a Muslim, but not for him. Advocates hope the case, if successful, will pave the way for more bearded rabbis to become chaplains and minister to historically underserved Jewish soldiers.

“While they’re stalling me, they’re taking in other religions, for instance, Sikhs and Muslims with beards and turbans at the same time,” Stern said. “At that point, my question became, ‘Who says yes and who says no?’ It shows how in a great institution such as the Army, the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.”

I can understand a general military rule against beards, but it’s surprising that the rules don’t carry an exception for chaplains, as Stern’s attorney points out:

“Even if the military thinks regular servicemen should be clean-shaven, clearly chaplains who are teaching religion are in a different category,” said Stern’s Washington attorney, Nathan Lewin. “If a rabbi wears a beard and a beard is after all traditionally associated with the Jewish faith, nobody’s going to take it as being some violation of military discipline. It just means the rabbi, like he puts a yarmulke on his head, is wearing a beard because that’s what’s religiously required of him.”

According to the article, there is only one Jewish chaplain with a beard in the Army. His beard was approved before 1986, so it’s apparently not subject to the current rules. The Army has also waived the no-beard rule at least four times over the past two years, for two Sikh officers, a Muslim intern at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and a Sikh enlisted soldier.

I suppose the Army might have had an urgent need to fill these four positions and granted facial-hair exceptions under those circumstances. And perhaps there isn’t a similar need for Jewish chaplains. Unless the Army is committing a blatant act of religious discrimination, those seem to be the most likely explanations.

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We Get It — They’re Just Like Us

Why do apologists for authoritarian regimes always cite the diversity of the impacted people as evidence of the regime’s moderate governance and of the reader’s ignorance?   “[I]n China as a whole, discrete zones of freedom exist alongside governmental repression, and the view of a homogenized, blinkered populace is highly misleading,” writes Iain Mills  in World Politics Review. “Rather, Chinese society is diverse and dynamic, and so is the distribution of freedom and repression within it.” To whom is Mills ascribing this view of China’s people as a “blinkered populace”? Those of us who want to see Beijing release its Nobel Prize–winning thinkers from jail? Those of us who believe the Chinese should have unfettered Internet access and a right to redress their leaders without fear of punishment?

To Mills, somehow pointing out government oppression is synonymous with assuming the existence of a zombie public. As inexplicable as this intellectual shell game is, it is not uncommon. This is exactly what we heard from Tehran apologists in 2009, during the run-up to the fraudulent June 12 presidential election and the deadly crackdown that followed it. “Iranians are property-buying, car-mad, entrepreneurial consumers with a taste for the latest brands,” wrote the New York Times’s Roger Cohen in February of that year. “Forget about nukes. Think Nikes,” he urged, before closing on this recommendation: “America, think again about Iran.” I hope the Iranians had their Nikes on four months later when they had to run from Revolutionary Guard clubs and bullets.

It is precisely because Americans do not assume the people in authoritarian countries to be thoughtless automatons that we recognize the tragedy of their lot. The fact of individualism and the recognition that people in other countries harbor the same hopes and dreams of all human beings are the most elemental aspects of support for political freedoms. A defense of a country’s population is not a defense of its authoritarian leaders; it is an indictment of them.

Why do apologists for authoritarian regimes always cite the diversity of the impacted people as evidence of the regime’s moderate governance and of the reader’s ignorance?   “[I]n China as a whole, discrete zones of freedom exist alongside governmental repression, and the view of a homogenized, blinkered populace is highly misleading,” writes Iain Mills  in World Politics Review. “Rather, Chinese society is diverse and dynamic, and so is the distribution of freedom and repression within it.” To whom is Mills ascribing this view of China’s people as a “blinkered populace”? Those of us who want to see Beijing release its Nobel Prize–winning thinkers from jail? Those of us who believe the Chinese should have unfettered Internet access and a right to redress their leaders without fear of punishment?

To Mills, somehow pointing out government oppression is synonymous with assuming the existence of a zombie public. As inexplicable as this intellectual shell game is, it is not uncommon. This is exactly what we heard from Tehran apologists in 2009, during the run-up to the fraudulent June 12 presidential election and the deadly crackdown that followed it. “Iranians are property-buying, car-mad, entrepreneurial consumers with a taste for the latest brands,” wrote the New York Times’s Roger Cohen in February of that year. “Forget about nukes. Think Nikes,” he urged, before closing on this recommendation: “America, think again about Iran.” I hope the Iranians had their Nikes on four months later when they had to run from Revolutionary Guard clubs and bullets.

It is precisely because Americans do not assume the people in authoritarian countries to be thoughtless automatons that we recognize the tragedy of their lot. The fact of individualism and the recognition that people in other countries harbor the same hopes and dreams of all human beings are the most elemental aspects of support for political freedoms. A defense of a country’s population is not a defense of its authoritarian leaders; it is an indictment of them.

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Students Launch Public Relations Campaign for North Korea

Concerned that North Korea is getting a bad rap, some Brown University alumni have actually started a travel program to give students an eyewitness experience inside the totalitarian state. The project apparently started as a short trip for students, but it has now been expanded into a semester-long study abroad program:

The Pyongyang Project was the brainchild of Matthew Reichel and Nick Young, who were inspired to counteract what they describe as the “one-sided” coverage of North Korea in the international media.

“The US and North Korea don’t have established relations, and talks are indirect at best. And what we believe is that there is a need for a grassroots level of engagement that we haven’t seen yet between citizens,” says Mr Reichel, a 23-year-old Brown University graduate. “We feel that education is the best ice-breaker.”

The pair scheduled meetings with North Korean government officials at consulates in the US and China – and got the go ahead to run a scheme which takes university students and professors from the US, UK, Canada and other nations inside North Korea in a bid to reach out to the nation behind the headlines.

This program has the potential to be a useful educational tool if it actually exposes students to the deplorable conditions that most North Koreans live under. But like most “tourists” of North Korea, the participants of this trip visited only areas of the country handpicked by government propagandists.

The naivety of these students — enrolled at one of the top American universities — is simply astounding. One participant was amazed that he was allowed to wonder freely around a beach and interact with North Koreans — apparently unaware that the visit was probably about as orchestrated as a Hollywood movie set:

“They took us to the beach, we got our swimming trunks on and they basically said, ‘Go have a good time, you can talk to people’,” said Dave Fields, 27, a participant from the US state of Wisconsin.

Another participant gushed over a gymnastics competition she watched, but added that she noticed some “red flags” during her visit. “It definitely felt like there were props around the university. You get the feeling that it is sort of like a time capsule society — hair styles even that are kind of stuck in the 1960s,” she told the BBC.

I’m not sure if the founders of the Pyongyang Project planned to make this a pure propaganda campaign for the North Korean government, or if they’re simply clueless. But there’s no doubt that Pyongyang officials are probably thrilled by the results, judging from the comically fawning “participant reflections” posted on the project’s website. Read More

Concerned that North Korea is getting a bad rap, some Brown University alumni have actually started a travel program to give students an eyewitness experience inside the totalitarian state. The project apparently started as a short trip for students, but it has now been expanded into a semester-long study abroad program:

The Pyongyang Project was the brainchild of Matthew Reichel and Nick Young, who were inspired to counteract what they describe as the “one-sided” coverage of North Korea in the international media.

“The US and North Korea don’t have established relations, and talks are indirect at best. And what we believe is that there is a need for a grassroots level of engagement that we haven’t seen yet between citizens,” says Mr Reichel, a 23-year-old Brown University graduate. “We feel that education is the best ice-breaker.”

The pair scheduled meetings with North Korean government officials at consulates in the US and China – and got the go ahead to run a scheme which takes university students and professors from the US, UK, Canada and other nations inside North Korea in a bid to reach out to the nation behind the headlines.

This program has the potential to be a useful educational tool if it actually exposes students to the deplorable conditions that most North Koreans live under. But like most “tourists” of North Korea, the participants of this trip visited only areas of the country handpicked by government propagandists.

The naivety of these students — enrolled at one of the top American universities — is simply astounding. One participant was amazed that he was allowed to wonder freely around a beach and interact with North Koreans — apparently unaware that the visit was probably about as orchestrated as a Hollywood movie set:

“They took us to the beach, we got our swimming trunks on and they basically said, ‘Go have a good time, you can talk to people’,” said Dave Fields, 27, a participant from the US state of Wisconsin.

Another participant gushed over a gymnastics competition she watched, but added that she noticed some “red flags” during her visit. “It definitely felt like there were props around the university. You get the feeling that it is sort of like a time capsule society — hair styles even that are kind of stuck in the 1960s,” she told the BBC.

I’m not sure if the founders of the Pyongyang Project planned to make this a pure propaganda campaign for the North Korean government, or if they’re simply clueless. But there’s no doubt that Pyongyang officials are probably thrilled by the results, judging from the comically fawning “participant reflections” posted on the project’s website.

“The DMZ was my favorite. Mass Games, local restaurants were wonderful, Mt Myohyang was beautiful, USS Pueblo, Korean War Museum, Metro. All of it was fantastic. I commend the two of you for putting together such an action-packed, well-rounded program,” wrote Amy C., a 2009 Fulbright scholar.

Another participant was apparently honored to have been given a museum tour by the same woman who guided President Kim Il-Sung. “[W]e went to an agricultural museum where both leaders had been to several times, and were guided by the same lady that guided President Kim II Sung; on the very same night when we were back to our hotel, we turned on the TV and the TV was showing President Kim II Sung visiting the exact same museum guided by the lady we just saw in in afternoon. What de ja vu!” wrote Ji G.

And in a ringing endorsement, Neil E., a Bowling Green State University professor, wrote that the “highlights” of his trip were “the kids playing in the street in front of the Children’s Palace, followed by the glitzy, absolutely perfect performance inside, the crowd streaming out of the Kaesong rally interrupted by a fight, the audiences clapping in unison. I would definitely recommend the experience to others — in fact, I already have.”

Well, I suppose we can at least we can be thankful that the unpleasant sight of emaciated North Koreans didn’t get in the way of their thrilling vacation.

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Peter Berkowitz’s Essay

Over the weekend, based on the recommendations of Peter Wehner and Paul Mirengoff, I read Peter Berkowitz’s essay “Obama and the State of Progressivism, 2011.” Paul called it “excellent,” and Peter called it “impressive and persuasive.” I would add “comprehensive,” because it starts with the widely noted fact that Obama presented two different faces in his campaign and then explains that phenomenon by describing the evolution of 20th-century progressivism.

In other words, Berkowitz first describes how:

By running for president as both the candidate of hope and change and the candidate of sobriety and good judgment, somehow simultaneously a progressive and a moderate, a man of big ideas and a pragmatist concerned with real-world consequences, an unabashedly partisan left-liberal Democrat and a proudly post-partisan leader, Obama cultivated ambiguity about his principles and his policies.

He then connects that cultivated ambiguity to the requirements of the “new progressivism,” which speaks in the name of the people but pushes policies the people do not necessarily want, on grounds the people are sometimes not smart enough to know they want them:

The new progressivism … doubts the ability of the people to recognize their true interests while exuding confidence in the ability of highly trained elites to impartially administer federal programs on the people’s behalf. But in contrast to the original progressivism, the new progressivism seeks to obscure its awkward combination of egalitarianism and elitism.

… The old progressivism openly argued that the people’s interest could be better served by reducing the limitations under which government labored. … [T]he new progressivism … conceals its devotion to top-down government in bottom-up rhetoric. It seeks to reduce dependence on the people by redefining democracy as the reforms undertaken by elites in the people’s name.

The essay is a fascinating explanation of how Obama achieved the holy grail of progressivism — federally mandated health care for the people — amid assurances from people such as Bill Clinton that the people would love it a year later, only to get a shellacking a year later when the people got a chance to speak for themselves.

Over the weekend, based on the recommendations of Peter Wehner and Paul Mirengoff, I read Peter Berkowitz’s essay “Obama and the State of Progressivism, 2011.” Paul called it “excellent,” and Peter called it “impressive and persuasive.” I would add “comprehensive,” because it starts with the widely noted fact that Obama presented two different faces in his campaign and then explains that phenomenon by describing the evolution of 20th-century progressivism.

In other words, Berkowitz first describes how:

By running for president as both the candidate of hope and change and the candidate of sobriety and good judgment, somehow simultaneously a progressive and a moderate, a man of big ideas and a pragmatist concerned with real-world consequences, an unabashedly partisan left-liberal Democrat and a proudly post-partisan leader, Obama cultivated ambiguity about his principles and his policies.

He then connects that cultivated ambiguity to the requirements of the “new progressivism,” which speaks in the name of the people but pushes policies the people do not necessarily want, on grounds the people are sometimes not smart enough to know they want them:

The new progressivism … doubts the ability of the people to recognize their true interests while exuding confidence in the ability of highly trained elites to impartially administer federal programs on the people’s behalf. But in contrast to the original progressivism, the new progressivism seeks to obscure its awkward combination of egalitarianism and elitism.

… The old progressivism openly argued that the people’s interest could be better served by reducing the limitations under which government labored. … [T]he new progressivism … conceals its devotion to top-down government in bottom-up rhetoric. It seeks to reduce dependence on the people by redefining democracy as the reforms undertaken by elites in the people’s name.

The essay is a fascinating explanation of how Obama achieved the holy grail of progressivism — federally mandated health care for the people — amid assurances from people such as Bill Clinton that the people would love it a year later, only to get a shellacking a year later when the people got a chance to speak for themselves.

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ObamaCare and Political Insanity

According to the New York Times:

Soon after the 112th Congress convenes Wednesday, Republicans in the House plan to make good on a campaign promise that helped vault many new members to victory: voting to repeal President Obama’s health care overhaul.

The vote, which Republican leaders pledged would occur before the president’s State of the Union address later this month, is intended both to appeal to the Tea-Party-influenced factions of the House Republican base and to emphasize the muscle of the new party in power. But it could also produce an unintended consequence: a chance for Democrats once again to try their case in support of the health care overhaul before the American public.

Democrats, who in many cases looked on the law as a rabid beast best avoided in the fall elections, are reversing course, gearing up for a coordinated all-out effort to preserve and defend it. Under the law, they say, consumers are already receiving tangible benefits that Republicans would snatch away.

The story goes on to report this:

Representative Robert E. Andrews, Democrat of New Jersey, challenged the Republicans to bring it on. “We will respond by pointing out the impact of repeal on people’s lives,” Mr. Andrews said. “On women with cancer who could be denied insurance because of a pre-existing condition. On senior citizens who would lose the help they are receiving to pay for prescriptions.”

Democrats argue that repeal would increase the number of uninsured; put insurers back in control of health insurance, allowing them to increase premiums at will; and lead to explosive growth in the federal budget deficit.

It’s hard to know if Democrats are serious about pursuing this course. If so, they are heading down a perilous political path. Here’s why: the more the public learns about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the more they dislike it — and they dislike it plenty right now.

In addition, the thinking that continues to animate many Democrats — namely, that the only reason Obama’s health-care overhaul isn’t wildly popular is because of a “communications problem” by the White House and congressional Democrats — is wholly in error.

The problem is that ObamaCare is a monstrous, incoherent piece of legislation that is/will (among other things) increase premiums, force millions of people off their existing coverage (which many of them are happy with), and increase, not decrease, the federal-budget deficit. It will harm, not improve, our health-care system. In almost every respect, it compounds rather than ameliorates our problems.

If Democrats want to relitigate ObamaCare, they will find a Republican Party plenty eager to join them.

It’s been said that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. With that definition in mind, it is fair to say that on health care at least, the Democratic Party’s strategy is bordering on insanity. If Mr. Obama and his party want the political debate of 2011 to center on health care, they will pay a huge political price for it.

According to the New York Times:

Soon after the 112th Congress convenes Wednesday, Republicans in the House plan to make good on a campaign promise that helped vault many new members to victory: voting to repeal President Obama’s health care overhaul.

The vote, which Republican leaders pledged would occur before the president’s State of the Union address later this month, is intended both to appeal to the Tea-Party-influenced factions of the House Republican base and to emphasize the muscle of the new party in power. But it could also produce an unintended consequence: a chance for Democrats once again to try their case in support of the health care overhaul before the American public.

Democrats, who in many cases looked on the law as a rabid beast best avoided in the fall elections, are reversing course, gearing up for a coordinated all-out effort to preserve and defend it. Under the law, they say, consumers are already receiving tangible benefits that Republicans would snatch away.

The story goes on to report this:

Representative Robert E. Andrews, Democrat of New Jersey, challenged the Republicans to bring it on. “We will respond by pointing out the impact of repeal on people’s lives,” Mr. Andrews said. “On women with cancer who could be denied insurance because of a pre-existing condition. On senior citizens who would lose the help they are receiving to pay for prescriptions.”

Democrats argue that repeal would increase the number of uninsured; put insurers back in control of health insurance, allowing them to increase premiums at will; and lead to explosive growth in the federal budget deficit.

It’s hard to know if Democrats are serious about pursuing this course. If so, they are heading down a perilous political path. Here’s why: the more the public learns about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the more they dislike it — and they dislike it plenty right now.

In addition, the thinking that continues to animate many Democrats — namely, that the only reason Obama’s health-care overhaul isn’t wildly popular is because of a “communications problem” by the White House and congressional Democrats — is wholly in error.

The problem is that ObamaCare is a monstrous, incoherent piece of legislation that is/will (among other things) increase premiums, force millions of people off their existing coverage (which many of them are happy with), and increase, not decrease, the federal-budget deficit. It will harm, not improve, our health-care system. In almost every respect, it compounds rather than ameliorates our problems.

If Democrats want to relitigate ObamaCare, they will find a Republican Party plenty eager to join them.

It’s been said that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. With that definition in mind, it is fair to say that on health care at least, the Democratic Party’s strategy is bordering on insanity. If Mr. Obama and his party want the political debate of 2011 to center on health care, they will pay a huge political price for it.

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India’s New Position on UNSC Seen as Test for Permanent Membership

Of the five new countries just joining the UN Security Council as non-permanent members, India will definitely be the one to keep an eye on for the next two years:

After a gap of 19 years, India today formally took its place in the UN Security Council as a new non-permanent member for a two-year term, a position from which it is expected to push its agenda for UN reform.

Along with India, Germany, South Africa, Columbia and Portugal too took their places at the powerful 15-member body of the United Nations.

President Obama recently came out in support of India’s bid for permanent membership on the council, and U.S. officials are sure to be watching closely to see how the country handles itself during the next two years.

“It has new meaning now that President Obama has signaled his support for India’s candidacy as a permanent member of the council,” Lisa Curtis, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told me. “It’s kind of a test case. A lot of U.S. officials will be watching closely. That makes it a bit more notable than it was in the past.”

One of the tests will be how closely India’s votes hew to U.S. security interests. “Traditionally, India has not voted with the U.S. on the UN,” said Curtis. “The next two years will be significant in indicating how India will likely act as a permanent member of the UN.”

India has taken some hawkish stances recently, tightening its economic sanctions on Iran and indicating that it will focus on terrorism issues during its two-year stint on the UNSC. The country is also in the running to head up one of the two terrorism committees. With this new influence, Curtis said that India is expected to lobby for restrictions on Pakistani terror groups and work to continue sanctions against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

But even with Obama’s support, India’s bid for permanent membership still looks like a long shot. There are obviously risks to increasing the number of permanent members on the council, said Curtis, and new additions could dilute the U.S.’s agenda and vote against our initiatives.

India will certainly have to prove itself before there is any serious discussion about giving it a permanent position, but there’s no doubt that it would be an enormous benefit to have a reliable ally in the region on the council.

Of the five new countries just joining the UN Security Council as non-permanent members, India will definitely be the one to keep an eye on for the next two years:

After a gap of 19 years, India today formally took its place in the UN Security Council as a new non-permanent member for a two-year term, a position from which it is expected to push its agenda for UN reform.

Along with India, Germany, South Africa, Columbia and Portugal too took their places at the powerful 15-member body of the United Nations.

President Obama recently came out in support of India’s bid for permanent membership on the council, and U.S. officials are sure to be watching closely to see how the country handles itself during the next two years.

“It has new meaning now that President Obama has signaled his support for India’s candidacy as a permanent member of the council,” Lisa Curtis, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told me. “It’s kind of a test case. A lot of U.S. officials will be watching closely. That makes it a bit more notable than it was in the past.”

One of the tests will be how closely India’s votes hew to U.S. security interests. “Traditionally, India has not voted with the U.S. on the UN,” said Curtis. “The next two years will be significant in indicating how India will likely act as a permanent member of the UN.”

India has taken some hawkish stances recently, tightening its economic sanctions on Iran and indicating that it will focus on terrorism issues during its two-year stint on the UNSC. The country is also in the running to head up one of the two terrorism committees. With this new influence, Curtis said that India is expected to lobby for restrictions on Pakistani terror groups and work to continue sanctions against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

But even with Obama’s support, India’s bid for permanent membership still looks like a long shot. There are obviously risks to increasing the number of permanent members on the council, said Curtis, and new additions could dilute the U.S.’s agenda and vote against our initiatives.

India will certainly have to prove itself before there is any serious discussion about giving it a permanent position, but there’s no doubt that it would be an enormous benefit to have a reliable ally in the region on the council.

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Not Everything Is Cool at the End of the Day

According to the Associated Press, Arizona State junior quarterback Samson Szakacsy is “unusually introspective” and “a deeply spiritual person.” He counts among his heroes Jesus, Gandhi, and Buddha. An athlete, musician, and religious-studies major, Szakacsy is, we’re told in a glowing profile,

a philosopher who says the true way to convey wisdom is to bring all of yourself into every situation and to see yourself in everyone. Mr. Szakacsy is, as the title of his new CD suggests, someone who has spent his life “chasing truth.”

“I’m just really interested in everything,” he said. “You can find God in everything, truth in everything, so everything is cool at the end of the day. I try to just really see myself in everything. It’s all connected in some way.”

I don’t want to be overly harsh toward a junior in college, but since his arguments were made publicly, perhaps it’s worth publicly responding to them as well. So let’s begin with the basics.

Some of us don’t really think that the “true way to convey wisdom” is to see ourselves in everyone — because, you see, “everyone” includes (for starters) Saddam Hussein and Pol Pot, Jeffrey Dahmer and Charles Manson.

And some of us don’t actually find God and truth in “everything” — because, you see, “everything” includes mass genocide and gas chambers, child abuse and infanticide, flying airplanes into the World Trade Center, bombing pizzerias in downtown Jerusalem and Christian churches in Egypt, and cutting off the ears and noses of women in Afghanistan. And so not everything is cool at the end of the day. Some things, in fact, are evil rather than cool. Some actions clash rather than connect. And to pretend they aren’t and to pretend they don’t — to embrace a trendy, shallow, easygoing relativism — is at best unserious and at worst self-destructive.

That isn’t to say that good can’t ever emerge from an evil act. But that isn’t what our Arizona State philosopher is saying. He is arguing that truth is like a Chinese menu, where you take equal samples from column A and column B and sit back and enjoy the meal.

It doesn’t quite work like that in real life, though.

The modern/postmodern sensibility is forever attracted to, and even making CDs about, “chasing truth.” But eventually one has to give up the chase and actually settle on some basic truths, such as honesty is better than lying, compassion is preferable to savagery, fidelity is better than betrayal, liberty is superior to tyranny, and courage is preferable to cowardice. A fulfilled and noble life is impossible without making moral judgments — meaning, judging some things to be right and others to be wrong. “The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid” is how G.K. Chesterton put it. One day soon, we can hope, Samson Szakacsy (and the Associated Press) will discover that wisdom as well.

According to the Associated Press, Arizona State junior quarterback Samson Szakacsy is “unusually introspective” and “a deeply spiritual person.” He counts among his heroes Jesus, Gandhi, and Buddha. An athlete, musician, and religious-studies major, Szakacsy is, we’re told in a glowing profile,

a philosopher who says the true way to convey wisdom is to bring all of yourself into every situation and to see yourself in everyone. Mr. Szakacsy is, as the title of his new CD suggests, someone who has spent his life “chasing truth.”

“I’m just really interested in everything,” he said. “You can find God in everything, truth in everything, so everything is cool at the end of the day. I try to just really see myself in everything. It’s all connected in some way.”

I don’t want to be overly harsh toward a junior in college, but since his arguments were made publicly, perhaps it’s worth publicly responding to them as well. So let’s begin with the basics.

Some of us don’t really think that the “true way to convey wisdom” is to see ourselves in everyone — because, you see, “everyone” includes (for starters) Saddam Hussein and Pol Pot, Jeffrey Dahmer and Charles Manson.

And some of us don’t actually find God and truth in “everything” — because, you see, “everything” includes mass genocide and gas chambers, child abuse and infanticide, flying airplanes into the World Trade Center, bombing pizzerias in downtown Jerusalem and Christian churches in Egypt, and cutting off the ears and noses of women in Afghanistan. And so not everything is cool at the end of the day. Some things, in fact, are evil rather than cool. Some actions clash rather than connect. And to pretend they aren’t and to pretend they don’t — to embrace a trendy, shallow, easygoing relativism — is at best unserious and at worst self-destructive.

That isn’t to say that good can’t ever emerge from an evil act. But that isn’t what our Arizona State philosopher is saying. He is arguing that truth is like a Chinese menu, where you take equal samples from column A and column B and sit back and enjoy the meal.

It doesn’t quite work like that in real life, though.

The modern/postmodern sensibility is forever attracted to, and even making CDs about, “chasing truth.” But eventually one has to give up the chase and actually settle on some basic truths, such as honesty is better than lying, compassion is preferable to savagery, fidelity is better than betrayal, liberty is superior to tyranny, and courage is preferable to cowardice. A fulfilled and noble life is impossible without making moral judgments — meaning, judging some things to be right and others to be wrong. “The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid” is how G.K. Chesterton put it. One day soon, we can hope, Samson Szakacsy (and the Associated Press) will discover that wisdom as well.

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A Case Study in the Goldstone Report’s Fundamental Dishonesty

As Omri Ceren noted last week, the Goldstone Report on Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza has already prompted numerous detailed rebuttals. But with the report hitting the Israeli headlines again this month in honor of the war’s second anniversary, one cannot help being struck anew by its fundamental dishonesty.

A lengthy Haaretz piece published this weekend offers a salient example. Ironically, reporter Shay Fogelman tried hard to back Goldstone’s accusations. Thus, in an 8,000-word dissection of Israel’s attack on Palestinian police stations on December 27, 2008, the war’s opening day, he somehow didn’t find space to mention Hamas’s own recent admission that most of these policemen belonged to terrorist organizations, just as Israel had claimed all along. But he had plenty of space to quote such unbiased sources as an Al Jazeera reporter (“it was a massacre”).

Where it all falls apart, however, is when he comes to a detailed study submitted to the Goldstone panel that identified 286 of the 345 policemen killed — fully 83 percent — as members of terrorist organizations, based solely on public sources like Palestinian newspapers, the Palestinian Interior Ministry’s website, and the websites of Hamas and other terrorist organizations, where the policemen’s affiliation with various terror groups had been reported. Fogelman then writes:

The Goldstone Report also took note of this phenomenon, and suggested that in some instances militant organizations retrospectively recorded on their rosters the names of children or civilians who clearly had no connection to warfare or security work. The panel adds that bereaved families did not oppose this phenomenon; among other things, the “adoption” of a casualty by a militant organization entitled the family to economic assistance.

Now, as anyone familiar with the Goldstone Report knows, many of its alleged Israeli war crimes involved incidents like the attack on the Al-Maqadmah Mosque, in which Israel claims to have fired at armed combatants just outside the mosque even though the Palestinians claim no combatants were in the area. In all those cases, Goldstone chose to believe the Palestinians’ claim.

When you contrast that with the panel’s handling of the attack on the policemen, the methodology becomes clear: when Palestinians claim someone is a civilian, they are believed. But when Palestinians claim someone is a combatant, they are disbelieved. In short, Palestinians are always innocent victims, no matter what. It’s hard to imagine a more dishonest methodology than that.

This same axiom led Goldstone to conclude that fewer than 300 of the Palestinians killed were combatants, even though Hamas’s own interior minister recently admitted that Israel’s figure, of about 700 combatants, was in fact accurate. After all, the corollary to the assumption that Palestinians are always innocent victims is that Israel must be lying if it claims the opposite.

Unfortunately, there are a great many people out there who share Goldstone’s fundamental assumption of Palestinian innocence and Israeli guilt. And with people like that, no amount of evidence will ever suffice to change their minds.

As Omri Ceren noted last week, the Goldstone Report on Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza has already prompted numerous detailed rebuttals. But with the report hitting the Israeli headlines again this month in honor of the war’s second anniversary, one cannot help being struck anew by its fundamental dishonesty.

A lengthy Haaretz piece published this weekend offers a salient example. Ironically, reporter Shay Fogelman tried hard to back Goldstone’s accusations. Thus, in an 8,000-word dissection of Israel’s attack on Palestinian police stations on December 27, 2008, the war’s opening day, he somehow didn’t find space to mention Hamas’s own recent admission that most of these policemen belonged to terrorist organizations, just as Israel had claimed all along. But he had plenty of space to quote such unbiased sources as an Al Jazeera reporter (“it was a massacre”).

Where it all falls apart, however, is when he comes to a detailed study submitted to the Goldstone panel that identified 286 of the 345 policemen killed — fully 83 percent — as members of terrorist organizations, based solely on public sources like Palestinian newspapers, the Palestinian Interior Ministry’s website, and the websites of Hamas and other terrorist organizations, where the policemen’s affiliation with various terror groups had been reported. Fogelman then writes:

The Goldstone Report also took note of this phenomenon, and suggested that in some instances militant organizations retrospectively recorded on their rosters the names of children or civilians who clearly had no connection to warfare or security work. The panel adds that bereaved families did not oppose this phenomenon; among other things, the “adoption” of a casualty by a militant organization entitled the family to economic assistance.

Now, as anyone familiar with the Goldstone Report knows, many of its alleged Israeli war crimes involved incidents like the attack on the Al-Maqadmah Mosque, in which Israel claims to have fired at armed combatants just outside the mosque even though the Palestinians claim no combatants were in the area. In all those cases, Goldstone chose to believe the Palestinians’ claim.

When you contrast that with the panel’s handling of the attack on the policemen, the methodology becomes clear: when Palestinians claim someone is a civilian, they are believed. But when Palestinians claim someone is a combatant, they are disbelieved. In short, Palestinians are always innocent victims, no matter what. It’s hard to imagine a more dishonest methodology than that.

This same axiom led Goldstone to conclude that fewer than 300 of the Palestinians killed were combatants, even though Hamas’s own interior minister recently admitted that Israel’s figure, of about 700 combatants, was in fact accurate. After all, the corollary to the assumption that Palestinians are always innocent victims is that Israel must be lying if it claims the opposite.

Unfortunately, there are a great many people out there who share Goldstone’s fundamental assumption of Palestinian innocence and Israeli guilt. And with people like that, no amount of evidence will ever suffice to change their minds.

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Morning Commentary

So how’s that “reset” with Russia going? Turns out the U.S.’s light criticism of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s six-year prison sentence last week did little to faze the Kremlin. Russian police arrested 130 protesters during a New Year’s Eve demonstration against the Khodorkovsky verdict and the country’s prohibition of free assembly.

Greece and the state of California have two things in common — spiraling debt and an unwillingness to take responsibility for it. According to Victor Davis Hanson, it’s no coincidence that both populations can’t stop railing against “them” — the others who apparently created the financial messes Greece and California now face. Writes Hanson: “Oz is over with and the Greeks are furious at ‘them.’ Furious in the sense that everyone must be blamed except themselves. So they protest and demonstrate that they do not wish to stop borrowing money to sustain a lifestyle that they have not earned—but do not wish to cut ties either with their EU beneficiaries and go it alone as in the 1970s. So they rage against reality.”

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Jamie Kirchick calls out Julian Assange for leaking information that has served only to weaken our democracy-supporting allies, such as Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai: “Which leads us back to WikiLeaks and Mr. Assange, who lacks any appreciation for the subtleties of international statecraft, many of which are not at all devious. If Mr. Assange were genuinely committed to democracy, as he claims, he would reveal the minutes of Mr. Mugabe’s war cabinet, or the private musings of the Chinese Politburo that has sustained the Zimbabwean dictator for over three decades.”

Is Obama now cribbing speech tips from the National Review? Bill Kristol has the scoop on the president’s sudden appreciation for American exceptionalism.

With a new year comes a whole host of brand new state laws you may have already unwittingly broken. If you’re from California, check out Mark Hemingway’s post at the Washington Examiner — he has saved you the time of going through the Golden State’s 725 new laws by highlighting the ones that will probably irk you the most.

The incoming Republican chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, told Ed Henry on CNN yesterday that he won’t investigate whether President Obama offered Joe Sestak a position in the administration in exchange for dropping out of the Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania last year: “That’s — it was wrong if it was done in the Bush administration. It’s wrong in the Obama administration. But remember, the focus of our committee has always been, and you look at all the work I’ve done over the past four years on the oversight committee; it has been consistently about looking for waste, fraud and abuse. That’s the vast majority of what we do,” Issa told Henry. Issa had previously called the Sestak incident “Obama’s Watergate” and said that the Obama administration may have committed “up to three felonies” by making the deal.

So how’s that “reset” with Russia going? Turns out the U.S.’s light criticism of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s six-year prison sentence last week did little to faze the Kremlin. Russian police arrested 130 protesters during a New Year’s Eve demonstration against the Khodorkovsky verdict and the country’s prohibition of free assembly.

Greece and the state of California have two things in common — spiraling debt and an unwillingness to take responsibility for it. According to Victor Davis Hanson, it’s no coincidence that both populations can’t stop railing against “them” — the others who apparently created the financial messes Greece and California now face. Writes Hanson: “Oz is over with and the Greeks are furious at ‘them.’ Furious in the sense that everyone must be blamed except themselves. So they protest and demonstrate that they do not wish to stop borrowing money to sustain a lifestyle that they have not earned—but do not wish to cut ties either with their EU beneficiaries and go it alone as in the 1970s. So they rage against reality.”

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Jamie Kirchick calls out Julian Assange for leaking information that has served only to weaken our democracy-supporting allies, such as Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai: “Which leads us back to WikiLeaks and Mr. Assange, who lacks any appreciation for the subtleties of international statecraft, many of which are not at all devious. If Mr. Assange were genuinely committed to democracy, as he claims, he would reveal the minutes of Mr. Mugabe’s war cabinet, or the private musings of the Chinese Politburo that has sustained the Zimbabwean dictator for over three decades.”

Is Obama now cribbing speech tips from the National Review? Bill Kristol has the scoop on the president’s sudden appreciation for American exceptionalism.

With a new year comes a whole host of brand new state laws you may have already unwittingly broken. If you’re from California, check out Mark Hemingway’s post at the Washington Examiner — he has saved you the time of going through the Golden State’s 725 new laws by highlighting the ones that will probably irk you the most.

The incoming Republican chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, told Ed Henry on CNN yesterday that he won’t investigate whether President Obama offered Joe Sestak a position in the administration in exchange for dropping out of the Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania last year: “That’s — it was wrong if it was done in the Bush administration. It’s wrong in the Obama administration. But remember, the focus of our committee has always been, and you look at all the work I’ve done over the past four years on the oversight committee; it has been consistently about looking for waste, fraud and abuse. That’s the vast majority of what we do,” Issa told Henry. Issa had previously called the Sestak incident “Obama’s Watergate” and said that the Obama administration may have committed “up to three felonies” by making the deal.

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The Merits of Measured, Judicious, and Precise Language

In an interview with CNN, Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), the incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, was asked about his pre-election comments that President Obama was among the “most corrupt presidents” in modern times. Here’s what he said:

I corrected what I meant to say. … In saying that this is one of the most corrupt administrations, which is what I meant to say there, when you hand out $1 trillion in TARP just before this president came in, most of it unspent, $1 trillion nearly in stimulus that this president asked for, plus this huge expansion in health care and government, it has a corrupting effect. When I look at waste, fraud and abuse in the bureaucracy and in the government, this is like steroids to pump up the muscles of waste.

Criticisms of the president and his policies are certainly warranted. Still, Mr. Issa needs to be careful not to toss around the term “corruption” in a promiscuous manner. Corruption is commonly understood to mean extremely immoral, dishonest, or depraved; susceptible to bribery; crooked, and the like. What Richard Nixon did in Watergate and what Bill Clinton did to cover up his affair with Monica Lewinski was corrupt.

The Obama administration, whatever its errors, has not approached the level of corruption or criminality of either the Nixon or Clinton administration. And citing TARP as key evidence to prove the corruption of the Obama administration is discrediting. (For a good account of the merits of TARP, see this Washington Post editorial.)

If lawmakers hope to increase public confidence in Congress, they need to speak in measured, judicious, and precise ways. They need to resist resorting to incendiary charges. And they can’t let their rhetoric get ahead of the evidence. That was true when George W. Bush was president, and it should be true when Barack Obama is president.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to go after Mr. Obama and his administration. Charging them with being the most liberal administration in our history, or even as among the more pernicious in our lifetime, is, I think, fair. But charging them with being among the most corrupt isn’t.

In an interview with CNN, Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), the incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, was asked about his pre-election comments that President Obama was among the “most corrupt presidents” in modern times. Here’s what he said:

I corrected what I meant to say. … In saying that this is one of the most corrupt administrations, which is what I meant to say there, when you hand out $1 trillion in TARP just before this president came in, most of it unspent, $1 trillion nearly in stimulus that this president asked for, plus this huge expansion in health care and government, it has a corrupting effect. When I look at waste, fraud and abuse in the bureaucracy and in the government, this is like steroids to pump up the muscles of waste.

Criticisms of the president and his policies are certainly warranted. Still, Mr. Issa needs to be careful not to toss around the term “corruption” in a promiscuous manner. Corruption is commonly understood to mean extremely immoral, dishonest, or depraved; susceptible to bribery; crooked, and the like. What Richard Nixon did in Watergate and what Bill Clinton did to cover up his affair with Monica Lewinski was corrupt.

The Obama administration, whatever its errors, has not approached the level of corruption or criminality of either the Nixon or Clinton administration. And citing TARP as key evidence to prove the corruption of the Obama administration is discrediting. (For a good account of the merits of TARP, see this Washington Post editorial.)

If lawmakers hope to increase public confidence in Congress, they need to speak in measured, judicious, and precise ways. They need to resist resorting to incendiary charges. And they can’t let their rhetoric get ahead of the evidence. That was true when George W. Bush was president, and it should be true when Barack Obama is president.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to go after Mr. Obama and his administration. Charging them with being the most liberal administration in our history, or even as among the more pernicious in our lifetime, is, I think, fair. But charging them with being among the most corrupt isn’t.

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Margaret Thatcher and Defensible Borders

Among the documents released last week by the British National Archives is a February 14, 1980, memorandum to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher from the Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, entitled “Arab/Israel” — and another document showing her handwritten reaction to it. The documents should be read in connection with Harry Kanigel’s excellent article on defensible borders for Israel in yesterday’s American Thinker.

Lord Hailsham’s memorandum responded to a plan that the British foreign secretary, Lord Peter Carrington, wanted Thatcher to approve. Carrington argued that the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan provided a “unique opportunity” for the West to form an alliance with Islamic countries but that the “main obstacle” was those countries’ dissatisfaction with U.S. policy in the Arab/Israel conflict. He wanted to “build a bridge between the US and the Arabs” with a UN resolution endorsing a Palestinian “right of self-determination” and “the right of Palestinian refugees … to return to their homes,” while assuring Israel of its security “within its 1967 frontiers.”

The Lord Chancellor wrote to Thatcher that he did not share Carrington’s optimism on the prospects of his proposed initiative — “unless, of course, we are prepared to sacrifice things which are too important morally, and too valuable to our interest to sacrifice.”

Were [Israel] to be destroyed by an aggressive war the devastating effects on the rule of law throughout the world could hardly be exaggerated. … Prior to 1967 the physical boundaries of Israel were virtually untenable militarily. South of the Jezreel valley, the geography of Israel is starkly simple, consisting virtually of three parallel straight lines running North and South, the sea, the Judean hills and the Jordan valley. Whoever commands the hills commands the rest. Prior to 1967 the waist-line of Israel was only 10 miles broad, and its main centers of population [were] exposed to artillery fire as well as the prospect of devastating air raids. After 1967 Israel has enjoyed reasonably viable military frontiers consisting of the Judean hills (and the no less important frontier heights on the Syrian border). Jerusalem is built on the Judean hills. [emphasis added]

He also noted that Jewish opinion was “fanatically involved in the fate of Israel” and that Manchester, Leeds, and the whole of North London would be “profoundly affected” by Jewish hostility on this issue. Then he concluded as follows:

If there be a reasonable chance of success without losing our honor yet again over the Balfour declaration; go ahead. But have we not enough on our plate just now not to consider leaving this hot potato alone?

On reading the Hailsham memorandum, perhaps Thatcher recalled the confrontation with Menachem Begin eight months before, when Begin told her that without settlements, Israel could be “at the mercy of a Palestinian state astride the commanding heights of Judea and Samaria.” Perhaps she was impressed by Lord Hailsham’s immense stature as Lord Chancellor and his reference to British honor. Perhaps she took his point about Jewish opinion.

In any event, the files contain a note apparently written to her by her cabinet secretary that appeared to side with Carrington, asserting that “losing our honor” was not involved and suggesting that Jewish hostility was “a different kind of problem.” On the note, Thatcher wrote a single-sentence rebuttal: “I agree with the Lord Chancellor.”

Among the documents released last week by the British National Archives is a February 14, 1980, memorandum to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher from the Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, entitled “Arab/Israel” — and another document showing her handwritten reaction to it. The documents should be read in connection with Harry Kanigel’s excellent article on defensible borders for Israel in yesterday’s American Thinker.

Lord Hailsham’s memorandum responded to a plan that the British foreign secretary, Lord Peter Carrington, wanted Thatcher to approve. Carrington argued that the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan provided a “unique opportunity” for the West to form an alliance with Islamic countries but that the “main obstacle” was those countries’ dissatisfaction with U.S. policy in the Arab/Israel conflict. He wanted to “build a bridge between the US and the Arabs” with a UN resolution endorsing a Palestinian “right of self-determination” and “the right of Palestinian refugees … to return to their homes,” while assuring Israel of its security “within its 1967 frontiers.”

The Lord Chancellor wrote to Thatcher that he did not share Carrington’s optimism on the prospects of his proposed initiative — “unless, of course, we are prepared to sacrifice things which are too important morally, and too valuable to our interest to sacrifice.”

Were [Israel] to be destroyed by an aggressive war the devastating effects on the rule of law throughout the world could hardly be exaggerated. … Prior to 1967 the physical boundaries of Israel were virtually untenable militarily. South of the Jezreel valley, the geography of Israel is starkly simple, consisting virtually of three parallel straight lines running North and South, the sea, the Judean hills and the Jordan valley. Whoever commands the hills commands the rest. Prior to 1967 the waist-line of Israel was only 10 miles broad, and its main centers of population [were] exposed to artillery fire as well as the prospect of devastating air raids. After 1967 Israel has enjoyed reasonably viable military frontiers consisting of the Judean hills (and the no less important frontier heights on the Syrian border). Jerusalem is built on the Judean hills. [emphasis added]

He also noted that Jewish opinion was “fanatically involved in the fate of Israel” and that Manchester, Leeds, and the whole of North London would be “profoundly affected” by Jewish hostility on this issue. Then he concluded as follows:

If there be a reasonable chance of success without losing our honor yet again over the Balfour declaration; go ahead. But have we not enough on our plate just now not to consider leaving this hot potato alone?

On reading the Hailsham memorandum, perhaps Thatcher recalled the confrontation with Menachem Begin eight months before, when Begin told her that without settlements, Israel could be “at the mercy of a Palestinian state astride the commanding heights of Judea and Samaria.” Perhaps she was impressed by Lord Hailsham’s immense stature as Lord Chancellor and his reference to British honor. Perhaps she took his point about Jewish opinion.

In any event, the files contain a note apparently written to her by her cabinet secretary that appeared to side with Carrington, asserting that “losing our honor” was not involved and suggesting that Jewish hostility was “a different kind of problem.” On the note, Thatcher wrote a single-sentence rebuttal: “I agree with the Lord Chancellor.”

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