Commentary Magazine


Topic: Kyoto

Obama’s Multilateral Infatuation

As aptly described by George Will, the upside of the Copenhagen “agreement” is that it is no agreement at all. It’s yet another example of the utter unworkability of “multilateralism” as an operating principle in international affairs — and the silliness that Obama displays in attempting to pretend otherwise. As Will observes:

The 1992 Rio climate summit begat Kyoto. It, like Copenhagen, which Kyoto begat, was “saved,” as Copenhagen was, by a last-minute American intervention (Vice President Al Gore’s) that midwifed an agreement that most signatories evaded for 12 years. The Clinton-Gore administration never submitted Kyoto’s accomplishment for ratification, the Senate having denounced its terms 95 to 0.

Copenhagen will beget Mexico City next November. Before then, Congress will give “the international community” other reasons to pout. Congress will refuse to burden the economy with cap-and-trade carbon-reduction requirements and will spurn calls for sending billions in “climate reparations” to China and other countries. Representatives of those nations, when they did not have their hands out in Copenhagen grasping for America’s wealth, clapped their hands in ovations for Hugo Chávez and other kleptocrats who denounced capitalism while clamoring for its fruits.

Obama’s motives for perpetuating this charade are unclear. He didn’t want to be humiliated in Copenhagen a second time, of course, so it was essential to mask the entire affair’s uselessness and Obama’s inability to bend others to his will. But that, I think, is not all that’s going on here. It was also essential for him to preserve some sense that this sort of confab is credible and important.

Obama seems actually to believe the we-are-the-world hooey, which assumes common values and goals among nations that share neither. And even the supposedly “better Obama” at Oslo evinced an ongoing aversion to unilateral action by the U.S. and a preference for acting in concert — or avoiding acting in concert — with the “international community.” (“America’s commitment to global security will never waver. But in a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex, America cannot act alone. America alone cannot secure the peace.”) So it wouldn’t do to have Copenhagen collapse spectacularly, thus demonstrating once again that getting China, India, and Zimbabwe on the same page with the U.S. is no easy feat.

But Obama clearly had another motive in Copenhagen — to use an international agreement to bludgeon Congress into doing what it had already indicated it was unwilling to do. Even Democrats spotted what he was up to and at least temporarily remembered their constitutional roles. James Webb wrote to Obama in early December:

I would like to express my concern regarding reports that the Administration may believe it has the unilateral power to commit the government of the United States to certain standards that may be agreed upon at the upcoming [conference]. … Although details have not been made available, recent statements by Special Envoy on Climate Change Todd Stern indicate that negotiators may be intending to commit the United States to a nationwide emission reduction program. … you well know from your time in the Senate, only specific legislation agreed upon in the Congress, or a treaty ratified by the Senate, could actually create such a commitment on behalf of our country.

And had China, India, and all the rest been just a bit more amenable, that is what, one suspects, Obama was more than willing to do — box in the Congress with a unilateral commitment.

While we might breathe a sigh of relief that Copenhagen ended as it did, it is yet another unpleasant reminder that Obama’s reverence for the “international community” is virtually without limit. The constant failure of the “international community” to produce any agreement of consequence (whether it’s enforceable sanctions on rogue wannabe-nuclear states or anything else) and its unseemly habit of money-grubbing from developed nations have, at least so far, not cooled Obama’s ardor for multilateral confabs. But stay tuned: it’s less than a year before the next three-ring circus in Mexico City.

As aptly described by George Will, the upside of the Copenhagen “agreement” is that it is no agreement at all. It’s yet another example of the utter unworkability of “multilateralism” as an operating principle in international affairs — and the silliness that Obama displays in attempting to pretend otherwise. As Will observes:

The 1992 Rio climate summit begat Kyoto. It, like Copenhagen, which Kyoto begat, was “saved,” as Copenhagen was, by a last-minute American intervention (Vice President Al Gore’s) that midwifed an agreement that most signatories evaded for 12 years. The Clinton-Gore administration never submitted Kyoto’s accomplishment for ratification, the Senate having denounced its terms 95 to 0.

Copenhagen will beget Mexico City next November. Before then, Congress will give “the international community” other reasons to pout. Congress will refuse to burden the economy with cap-and-trade carbon-reduction requirements and will spurn calls for sending billions in “climate reparations” to China and other countries. Representatives of those nations, when they did not have their hands out in Copenhagen grasping for America’s wealth, clapped their hands in ovations for Hugo Chávez and other kleptocrats who denounced capitalism while clamoring for its fruits.

Obama’s motives for perpetuating this charade are unclear. He didn’t want to be humiliated in Copenhagen a second time, of course, so it was essential to mask the entire affair’s uselessness and Obama’s inability to bend others to his will. But that, I think, is not all that’s going on here. It was also essential for him to preserve some sense that this sort of confab is credible and important.

Obama seems actually to believe the we-are-the-world hooey, which assumes common values and goals among nations that share neither. And even the supposedly “better Obama” at Oslo evinced an ongoing aversion to unilateral action by the U.S. and a preference for acting in concert — or avoiding acting in concert — with the “international community.” (“America’s commitment to global security will never waver. But in a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex, America cannot act alone. America alone cannot secure the peace.”) So it wouldn’t do to have Copenhagen collapse spectacularly, thus demonstrating once again that getting China, India, and Zimbabwe on the same page with the U.S. is no easy feat.

But Obama clearly had another motive in Copenhagen — to use an international agreement to bludgeon Congress into doing what it had already indicated it was unwilling to do. Even Democrats spotted what he was up to and at least temporarily remembered their constitutional roles. James Webb wrote to Obama in early December:

I would like to express my concern regarding reports that the Administration may believe it has the unilateral power to commit the government of the United States to certain standards that may be agreed upon at the upcoming [conference]. … Although details have not been made available, recent statements by Special Envoy on Climate Change Todd Stern indicate that negotiators may be intending to commit the United States to a nationwide emission reduction program. … you well know from your time in the Senate, only specific legislation agreed upon in the Congress, or a treaty ratified by the Senate, could actually create such a commitment on behalf of our country.

And had China, India, and all the rest been just a bit more amenable, that is what, one suspects, Obama was more than willing to do — box in the Congress with a unilateral commitment.

While we might breathe a sigh of relief that Copenhagen ended as it did, it is yet another unpleasant reminder that Obama’s reverence for the “international community” is virtually without limit. The constant failure of the “international community” to produce any agreement of consequence (whether it’s enforceable sanctions on rogue wannabe-nuclear states or anything else) and its unseemly habit of money-grubbing from developed nations have, at least so far, not cooled Obama’s ardor for multilateral confabs. But stay tuned: it’s less than a year before the next three-ring circus in Mexico City.

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Abu Ghraib America vs. 9/11 America

Lee Smith has a terrific piece today that asks: If and when Obama talks to our enemies, what will he say to them? Lee thinks the answer, in keeping with the theme of dignity promotion, will be: “We’re sorry.”

What’s unique about Obama, we now recognize, is that the notion of “talking to your enemies” is not just a diplomatic cliché. He will indeed hear out the obscurantist regimes that plot against U.S. citizens, allies, and interests, just as he sat still while his obscurantist preacher fulminated against “white America.” Will he manage to persuade his interlocutors in Tehran and Damascus to modify their behavior in Iraq, Lebanon, the Persian Gulf, Israel, and the Palestinian territories? Of course not . . .

The candidate appeals to many Americans who agree that the United States deserves to be taken down a peg or two, not just because of Iraq, or Guantanamo, or for failing to sign the Kyoto protocols, but because of historical grievances, like slavery — what Senator Obama called this secular republic’s “original sin.” America is too powerful, too arrogant, and needs to be humbled, and Obama is the man to do it, for the sake of the rest of the world.

It has always struck me that in terms of foreign policy, Obama appeals most profoundly to people who view the current age primarily through the lens of Abu Ghraib, in which American arrogance and cruelty has caused a great deal of suffering in the world — suffering that has engendered resentment and grievances that must be addressed at the highest levels of government. Perhaps the subtext of the presidential race, assuming an Obama-McCain matchup, will be the cultural clash of the Abu Ghraib Americans versus the 9/11 Americans.

Lee Smith has a terrific piece today that asks: If and when Obama talks to our enemies, what will he say to them? Lee thinks the answer, in keeping with the theme of dignity promotion, will be: “We’re sorry.”

What’s unique about Obama, we now recognize, is that the notion of “talking to your enemies” is not just a diplomatic cliché. He will indeed hear out the obscurantist regimes that plot against U.S. citizens, allies, and interests, just as he sat still while his obscurantist preacher fulminated against “white America.” Will he manage to persuade his interlocutors in Tehran and Damascus to modify their behavior in Iraq, Lebanon, the Persian Gulf, Israel, and the Palestinian territories? Of course not . . .

The candidate appeals to many Americans who agree that the United States deserves to be taken down a peg or two, not just because of Iraq, or Guantanamo, or for failing to sign the Kyoto protocols, but because of historical grievances, like slavery — what Senator Obama called this secular republic’s “original sin.” America is too powerful, too arrogant, and needs to be humbled, and Obama is the man to do it, for the sake of the rest of the world.

It has always struck me that in terms of foreign policy, Obama appeals most profoundly to people who view the current age primarily through the lens of Abu Ghraib, in which American arrogance and cruelty has caused a great deal of suffering in the world — suffering that has engendered resentment and grievances that must be addressed at the highest levels of government. Perhaps the subtext of the presidential race, assuming an Obama-McCain matchup, will be the cultural clash of the Abu Ghraib Americans versus the 9/11 Americans.

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Japan’s Hidden Gems

Japan may no longer be the next great superpower, but its traditional culture remains one of the world’s great treasures. Next time you’re in Tokyo with a few days to kill, get off the beaten path and head off to some of the spots most foreign tourists miss:

1. Izumo Taisha: The second main Shinto shrine in Japan, located in Izumo City, Shimane Prefecture on the less-developed Japan Sea side of the main island of Honshu. The shrine of Okuninushi no Mikoto, the nephew of the Sun Goddess, it is perhaps the perfect Japanese expression of architecture’s communion with nature. It is also where Japan’s 8 million gods gather during the tenth month of the lunar calendar (roughly October or early November). Unlike Ise Shrine, dedicated to the Sun Goddess herself, Izumo is still steeped in the raw power of the western clans that ultimately subordinated themselves to the emerging Japanese imperial family in the 3rd-4th centuries C.E..

2. Kinosaki: The place where Japanese go for hot springs, especially in the winter. Located on the Japan Sea, Kinosaki is a charming city of traditional inns, many with their own hot springs, bisected by a picturesque canal. Be sure to go when it’s snowing, and to plod through the streets in traditional wooden clogs, wearing just a thin kimono while hopping from hot spring to hot spring. Afterwards, you can indulge in a huge feast back in your inn (don’t stay in a modern hotel). A short drive takes you to the Japan Sea, where you can stand on cliffs and gaze out towards the continent that has been entwined with Japanese history for millennia.

3. Mt. Takachiho: Kyushu, the southernmost island in Japan, is where the Sun Goddess sent her grandson to begin conquering the divine land, according to the Japanese myths. He descended to earth at Mt. Takachiho, located roughly on the border between Kagoshima and Miyazaki prefectures in the south of the island. You can climb it in about two to three hours taking one of two paths, and at the summit will reach the Shinto shrine marking his arrival. The views are stunning, including a crater lake in the extinct volcano you climb on the way up, and not far away are some of Japan’s best hot springs (look for one called “Tengoku” or Heaven—though I haven’t visited for years and can’t tell you where it is).

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Japan may no longer be the next great superpower, but its traditional culture remains one of the world’s great treasures. Next time you’re in Tokyo with a few days to kill, get off the beaten path and head off to some of the spots most foreign tourists miss:

1. Izumo Taisha: The second main Shinto shrine in Japan, located in Izumo City, Shimane Prefecture on the less-developed Japan Sea side of the main island of Honshu. The shrine of Okuninushi no Mikoto, the nephew of the Sun Goddess, it is perhaps the perfect Japanese expression of architecture’s communion with nature. It is also where Japan’s 8 million gods gather during the tenth month of the lunar calendar (roughly October or early November). Unlike Ise Shrine, dedicated to the Sun Goddess herself, Izumo is still steeped in the raw power of the western clans that ultimately subordinated themselves to the emerging Japanese imperial family in the 3rd-4th centuries C.E..

2. Kinosaki: The place where Japanese go for hot springs, especially in the winter. Located on the Japan Sea, Kinosaki is a charming city of traditional inns, many with their own hot springs, bisected by a picturesque canal. Be sure to go when it’s snowing, and to plod through the streets in traditional wooden clogs, wearing just a thin kimono while hopping from hot spring to hot spring. Afterwards, you can indulge in a huge feast back in your inn (don’t stay in a modern hotel). A short drive takes you to the Japan Sea, where you can stand on cliffs and gaze out towards the continent that has been entwined with Japanese history for millennia.

3. Mt. Takachiho: Kyushu, the southernmost island in Japan, is where the Sun Goddess sent her grandson to begin conquering the divine land, according to the Japanese myths. He descended to earth at Mt. Takachiho, located roughly on the border between Kagoshima and Miyazaki prefectures in the south of the island. You can climb it in about two to three hours taking one of two paths, and at the summit will reach the Shinto shrine marking his arrival. The views are stunning, including a crater lake in the extinct volcano you climb on the way up, and not far away are some of Japan’s best hot springs (look for one called “Tengoku” or Heaven—though I haven’t visited for years and can’t tell you where it is).

4. The Asuka Region: An hour train ride south of Kyoto lies the cradle of Japanese civilization. In this small valley lived the nascent imperial family and the great clans who, within the space of two and a half centuries, from C.E. 550 to 800, created the classical Japanese state. Here was introduced Buddhism, and Japan’s oldest Buddhist temple, Asuka-dera, still exists; the first palaces also were built here, and the earliest tomb mounds still dot the landscape. Rent a bicycle and pedal leisurely through the countryside. Excellent museums abound, including the Kashihara Archeological Institute Museum, filled with ancient pottery, ornaments, and weapons.

5. Mt. Mitake: For those who want to stay closer to Tokyo, a 90-minute train ride west from Shinjuku will take you to one of the famous pilgrimage mountains from the Edo period (17th-19th centuries). A cable car takes you near the top of the mountain and an easy walk past small teahouses precariously perched on the pilgrimage path leads to the shrine at the top. But don’t end there: stay overnight at Shukubo Komadori-sanso, an inn dating back to 1776, which also offers special rates for foreigners. Try to go in autumn, when they serve a special seasonal meal that was the best dinner I’ve ever had in Japan. When nighttime comes, the absolute stillness of the mountain is awe-inspiring.

For inns at or near any of these locations, check out the Japanese Inn Group; general travel information is available at the Japan National Tourist Organization website. A Japan Rail Pass is the best way to travel, and the most economical (available only through JNTO offices abroad).

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The U.S. Stands Strong on Climate Change

This is from today’s New York Times editorial entitled “Disappointments on Climate,” about the recent UN climate conference in Bali.

Despite pleas from their European allies, the Americans flatly rejected the idea of setting even provisional targets for reductions in greenhouse gases. And they refused to give what the rest of the world wanted most: an unambiguous commitment to reducing America’s own emissions. Without that, there is little hope that other large emitters, including China, will change their ways.

The more one examines the data on climate change and emissions, the more one might be likely to call the piece: “Good News on Climate.” Commitments to reduce emissions serve the sole purpose of appeasing an hysterical world community. The fact is, countries that signed the Kyoto treaty on emissions went on to be worse emissions offenders than countries that didn’t. An article in the American Thinker reports:

If we look at that data and compare 2004 (latest year for which data is available) to 1997 (last year before the Kyoto treaty was signed), we find the following:

* Emissions worldwide increased 18 percent.

* Emissions from countries that signed the treaty increased 21 percent.

* Emissions from non-signers increased 10 percent.

* Emissions from the U.S. increased 6.6 percent.

More importantly, there is still nothing resembling conclusive data suggesting mankind has a significant effect on the Earth’s climate. This is from an open letter signed by “over 100 prominent international scientists” and sent to the UN Secretary General in Bali: “It is not possible to stop climate change, a natural phenomenon that has affected humanity through the ages.”

And: “Attempts to prevent global climate change from occurring are ultimately futile, and constitute a tragic misallocation of resources that would be better spent on humanity’s real and pressing problems.”

The letter, an antidote to climate change hysteria, is worth reading in its entirety.

This is from today’s New York Times editorial entitled “Disappointments on Climate,” about the recent UN climate conference in Bali.

Despite pleas from their European allies, the Americans flatly rejected the idea of setting even provisional targets for reductions in greenhouse gases. And they refused to give what the rest of the world wanted most: an unambiguous commitment to reducing America’s own emissions. Without that, there is little hope that other large emitters, including China, will change their ways.

The more one examines the data on climate change and emissions, the more one might be likely to call the piece: “Good News on Climate.” Commitments to reduce emissions serve the sole purpose of appeasing an hysterical world community. The fact is, countries that signed the Kyoto treaty on emissions went on to be worse emissions offenders than countries that didn’t. An article in the American Thinker reports:

If we look at that data and compare 2004 (latest year for which data is available) to 1997 (last year before the Kyoto treaty was signed), we find the following:

* Emissions worldwide increased 18 percent.

* Emissions from countries that signed the treaty increased 21 percent.

* Emissions from non-signers increased 10 percent.

* Emissions from the U.S. increased 6.6 percent.

More importantly, there is still nothing resembling conclusive data suggesting mankind has a significant effect on the Earth’s climate. This is from an open letter signed by “over 100 prominent international scientists” and sent to the UN Secretary General in Bali: “It is not possible to stop climate change, a natural phenomenon that has affected humanity through the ages.”

And: “Attempts to prevent global climate change from occurring are ultimately futile, and constitute a tragic misallocation of resources that would be better spent on humanity’s real and pressing problems.”

The letter, an antidote to climate change hysteria, is worth reading in its entirety.

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Sally Quinn: Gee, There’s This Thing Called Religion!

Newsweek and the Washington Post are celebrating the first anniversary of their joint website, “On Faith,” which is billed as “A Conversation on Religion with Jon Meacham and Sally Quinn.” And therein hangs a tale.

Meacham is the managing editor of Newsweek and perhaps the only serious student of religion among the top editors in the mainstream media. Quinn is another story. She became famous first for a disastrous stint as the co-host of a morning news show in the 1970s and then as the star snark writer of profiles during the heyday of the Washington Post’s Style section in the late 1970s and early 1980s. After that she wrote several trashy bestsellers about D.C. life.

I tell you all this because Sally Quinn has written a post on the website on the occasion of its first anniversary that is one of the most dumbfounding documents I have ever read. It is like Augustine’s Confessions, if Augustine’s Confessions had been written by a combination of Helen Gurley Brown and Britney Spears.

You really have to read the whole thing to get the full flavor, but I will here provide you with some choice excerpts:

When we started this I knew practically nothing about religion or the internet. I was not a believer (Jon Meacham is an Episcopalian, a practicing Christian) so I felt secure that I had his experience and knowledge to give us the grounding we needed. Even so it was such an unlikely subject for me to get involved with that even my husband was in shock. My friends still report people sidling up to them at cocktail parties and saying, “What’s with Sally and this religion thing?”

When you really think about it though, it’s not all that surprising. I’m a journalist. I always want to know everything about everything. Curiosity is a driving force with me. In fact I remember when I was eleven, meeting this really cute guy whose mother brought him over to our house one day. I began asking him questions about himself and he finally turned to me and said, “Gee, you’re nosy. ”I was devastated. I had been genuinely interested and wanted to know more about him….

Ultimately each of us is searching for some kind of meaning. Whether we are Christians or Jews or Hindus or Muslims or Buddhists or Wiccans or Atheists or whatever, we are all looking for a way to understand why we are here and to find our own happiness and contentment.

When I announced to Jon several years ago that I was an atheist he challenged me. He said I should not define myself negatively, for one thing, and that if I was really serious about not believing in God that I should at least have some knowledge about what it was I didn’t believe in. At that point I was completely illiterate on the subject, having been disdainful and contemptuous of religion all of my life. But I took what he said to heart and began to read some of the books he suggested. Once again my curiosity got the best of me.

All I can say is that I was shocked and embarrassed at how little I knew, and ultimately ashamed of myself for proclaiming myself an atheist when I really didn’t know what I was talking about.

I also began to realize that so many people in this world who call themselves religious were just like me. They not only knew nothing or little about their own faith but were just as close minded and hostile to other religions as I was to all religion.

The more I read the more I wanted to read and the more obsessed I became with the subject.

Finally in March I took a trip around the world to study the Great Faiths. It was a private tour and we started in Rome. From there we went to Jerusalem in Israel and Bethlehem in Palestine, Kyoto, Japan; Chengdu, China; Lhasa, Tibet; Varanasi, New Delhi and Amritsar in India; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Cairo, Egypt; Armenia; and Istanbul, Turkey. When I told my friend, “On Faith” panelist and religion scholar Elaine Pagels, about the trip she asked how long I had spent. “Three weeks ‘”I replied. “But,” she said in astonishment, “you can’t do that trip in less than three years!.” She was right, actually….

What for me, was the most enlightening thing about my trip was how similar the basic tenets of all religions are. There are some scholars who might argue that point but I felt that ultimately, if you take away all of the evil that has been done in the name of religion (and that’s what I had concentrated on most of my life) you will find that exhortation by Confucius, “What you do not wish for youself, do not do to others,” is really the basis of most world religions. It is the practices and interpretations of that where the faiths diverge.

The trip bolstered my belief in what Jon and I were doing. I felt even more strongly that it was vitally important for people of all faiths and no faiths to understand each other and that we must do everything we could do to foster that understanding….

This country was founded on the concept of separation of church and state. There is a huge difference between understanding and respecting the faiths of others and trying to impose your faith on others. The more we understand about other faiths, I believe, the less likely we will be to try to coerce others into believing as we do.

That is our goal.

Remember: This is the woman who is the co-editor of a religion website co-managed by one of the nation’s two most important newspapers and one of the nation’s two most important magazines. Neither organization, it’s safe to say, would allow a person as gleefully ignorant and simultaneously archly portentous as Quinn to co-host a site about, oh, sports with the level of knowledge and interest she possessed before taking on “On Faith.” And who, after a year’s thin study, feels herself competent to speak with surpassingly confident banality about the differences and commonalities of the world’s major religions.

Newsweek and the Washington Post are celebrating the first anniversary of their joint website, “On Faith,” which is billed as “A Conversation on Religion with Jon Meacham and Sally Quinn.” And therein hangs a tale.

Meacham is the managing editor of Newsweek and perhaps the only serious student of religion among the top editors in the mainstream media. Quinn is another story. She became famous first for a disastrous stint as the co-host of a morning news show in the 1970s and then as the star snark writer of profiles during the heyday of the Washington Post’s Style section in the late 1970s and early 1980s. After that she wrote several trashy bestsellers about D.C. life.

I tell you all this because Sally Quinn has written a post on the website on the occasion of its first anniversary that is one of the most dumbfounding documents I have ever read. It is like Augustine’s Confessions, if Augustine’s Confessions had been written by a combination of Helen Gurley Brown and Britney Spears.

You really have to read the whole thing to get the full flavor, but I will here provide you with some choice excerpts:

When we started this I knew practically nothing about religion or the internet. I was not a believer (Jon Meacham is an Episcopalian, a practicing Christian) so I felt secure that I had his experience and knowledge to give us the grounding we needed. Even so it was such an unlikely subject for me to get involved with that even my husband was in shock. My friends still report people sidling up to them at cocktail parties and saying, “What’s with Sally and this religion thing?”

When you really think about it though, it’s not all that surprising. I’m a journalist. I always want to know everything about everything. Curiosity is a driving force with me. In fact I remember when I was eleven, meeting this really cute guy whose mother brought him over to our house one day. I began asking him questions about himself and he finally turned to me and said, “Gee, you’re nosy. ”I was devastated. I had been genuinely interested and wanted to know more about him….

Ultimately each of us is searching for some kind of meaning. Whether we are Christians or Jews or Hindus or Muslims or Buddhists or Wiccans or Atheists or whatever, we are all looking for a way to understand why we are here and to find our own happiness and contentment.

When I announced to Jon several years ago that I was an atheist he challenged me. He said I should not define myself negatively, for one thing, and that if I was really serious about not believing in God that I should at least have some knowledge about what it was I didn’t believe in. At that point I was completely illiterate on the subject, having been disdainful and contemptuous of religion all of my life. But I took what he said to heart and began to read some of the books he suggested. Once again my curiosity got the best of me.

All I can say is that I was shocked and embarrassed at how little I knew, and ultimately ashamed of myself for proclaiming myself an atheist when I really didn’t know what I was talking about.

I also began to realize that so many people in this world who call themselves religious were just like me. They not only knew nothing or little about their own faith but were just as close minded and hostile to other religions as I was to all religion.

The more I read the more I wanted to read and the more obsessed I became with the subject.

Finally in March I took a trip around the world to study the Great Faiths. It was a private tour and we started in Rome. From there we went to Jerusalem in Israel and Bethlehem in Palestine, Kyoto, Japan; Chengdu, China; Lhasa, Tibet; Varanasi, New Delhi and Amritsar in India; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Cairo, Egypt; Armenia; and Istanbul, Turkey. When I told my friend, “On Faith” panelist and religion scholar Elaine Pagels, about the trip she asked how long I had spent. “Three weeks ‘”I replied. “But,” she said in astonishment, “you can’t do that trip in less than three years!.” She was right, actually….

What for me, was the most enlightening thing about my trip was how similar the basic tenets of all religions are. There are some scholars who might argue that point but I felt that ultimately, if you take away all of the evil that has been done in the name of religion (and that’s what I had concentrated on most of my life) you will find that exhortation by Confucius, “What you do not wish for youself, do not do to others,” is really the basis of most world religions. It is the practices and interpretations of that where the faiths diverge.

The trip bolstered my belief in what Jon and I were doing. I felt even more strongly that it was vitally important for people of all faiths and no faiths to understand each other and that we must do everything we could do to foster that understanding….

This country was founded on the concept of separation of church and state. There is a huge difference between understanding and respecting the faiths of others and trying to impose your faith on others. The more we understand about other faiths, I believe, the less likely we will be to try to coerce others into believing as we do.

That is our goal.

Remember: This is the woman who is the co-editor of a religion website co-managed by one of the nation’s two most important newspapers and one of the nation’s two most important magazines. Neither organization, it’s safe to say, would allow a person as gleefully ignorant and simultaneously archly portentous as Quinn to co-host a site about, oh, sports with the level of knowledge and interest she possessed before taking on “On Faith.” And who, after a year’s thin study, feels herself competent to speak with surpassingly confident banality about the differences and commonalities of the world’s major religions.

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Rising Star

The leftwing blogosphere has found its next star. He is an articulate champion of a modern leftist sensibility:

• He says that the war in Iraq has failed to produce democracy and has only created “civil war” that is “getting out of [Bush’s] control.”

• He calls the war in Iraq “unjust” and says it was launched based “on deception and blatant lies.”

• He says that the war has made a mockery of our “slogans of justice, liberty, equality, and humanitarianism”—instead replacing them with “fear, destruction, killing, hunger, and illness.” He goes on to say that “more than 650,000 of the people of Iraq” have died “as a result of the war and its repercussions.”

• He says that the “vast majority” of the American public wants the war to stop and “elected the Democratic Party for this purpose, but the Democrats haven’t made a move worth mentioning,” leading to the “vast majority” of the American electorate “being afflicted with disappointment.”

• Why haven’t the Democrats done what they were supposed to? He has an explanation: “they are the same reasons that led to the failure of former President Kennedy to stop the Vietnam War. Those with real power and influence are those with the most capital. And since the democratic system permits major corporations to back candidates, be they presidential or congressional, there shouldn’t be any cause for astonishment—and there isn’t any—in the Democrats’ failure to stop the war.”

• He bemoans that the White House is focused on Iraq rather than on the real dangers facing all mankind, such as “global warming resulting to a large degree from the emissions of the factories of the major corporations,” “the burden of interest-related debts, insane taxes, and real estate mortgages,” and of course “the abject poverty and tragic hunger in Africa.”

• He is particularly peeved that President Bush “insists on not observing the Kyoto accord.”

• He decries the entire process of “globalization,” which he sees as nothing more than the attempts of “the capitalist system . . . to turn the entire world into a fiefdom of the major corporations.”

• He cites the growing consensus of thinkers who “have declared the approach of the collapse of the American Empire.”

• And he recommends that anyone who wants to know what’s really going on in the world read the works of MIT professor Noam Chomsky and former CIA official Michael Scheuer.

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The leftwing blogosphere has found its next star. He is an articulate champion of a modern leftist sensibility:

• He says that the war in Iraq has failed to produce democracy and has only created “civil war” that is “getting out of [Bush’s] control.”

• He calls the war in Iraq “unjust” and says it was launched based “on deception and blatant lies.”

• He says that the war has made a mockery of our “slogans of justice, liberty, equality, and humanitarianism”—instead replacing them with “fear, destruction, killing, hunger, and illness.” He goes on to say that “more than 650,000 of the people of Iraq” have died “as a result of the war and its repercussions.”

• He says that the “vast majority” of the American public wants the war to stop and “elected the Democratic Party for this purpose, but the Democrats haven’t made a move worth mentioning,” leading to the “vast majority” of the American electorate “being afflicted with disappointment.”

• Why haven’t the Democrats done what they were supposed to? He has an explanation: “they are the same reasons that led to the failure of former President Kennedy to stop the Vietnam War. Those with real power and influence are those with the most capital. And since the democratic system permits major corporations to back candidates, be they presidential or congressional, there shouldn’t be any cause for astonishment—and there isn’t any—in the Democrats’ failure to stop the war.”

• He bemoans that the White House is focused on Iraq rather than on the real dangers facing all mankind, such as “global warming resulting to a large degree from the emissions of the factories of the major corporations,” “the burden of interest-related debts, insane taxes, and real estate mortgages,” and of course “the abject poverty and tragic hunger in Africa.”

• He is particularly peeved that President Bush “insists on not observing the Kyoto accord.”

• He decries the entire process of “globalization,” which he sees as nothing more than the attempts of “the capitalist system . . . to turn the entire world into a fiefdom of the major corporations.”

• He cites the growing consensus of thinkers who “have declared the approach of the collapse of the American Empire.”

• And he recommends that anyone who wants to know what’s really going on in the world read the works of MIT professor Noam Chomsky and former CIA official Michael Scheuer.

The only area in which this bold thinker seems to differ from modern Western leftist orthodoxy is in his prescription for all these ills: “To conclude, I invite you to embrace Islam, for the greatest mistake one can make in this world and one which is uncorrectable is to die while not surrendering to Allah, the Most High, in all aspects of one’s life—i.e., to die outside of Islam.”

So perhaps Osama bin Laden won’t be blogging for DailyKos anytime soon. After all, hardcore leftists don’t look kindly on fundamentalist religion (though they tend to be more suspicious of Baptist preachers than of Muslim terrorist leaders). But the overlap between bin Laden’s world view (at least as it’s expressed in his most recent videotape) and that of many Western leftists is uncanny. This does not mean, I should stress, that leftists support al Qaeda. It does seem to mean, however, that bin Laden is trying to rally the “antiwar” crowd to his side in language they understand.

The Occam’s Razor explanation is that, like the North Vietnamese Communists during the 1960’s, he is attempting to manipulate public opinion among his enemies, and that he is good at doing so because his ideology is not that of traditional Islam, but rather a weird amalgam of Islamic teaching and modern totalitarian ideologies. That is, he probably believes the rants he spews out.

Of course, conspiracy theorists will posit that this all just a big ruse, and that precisely because bin Laden is posing as a man of the Left, this is a transparent attempt to discredit the Left and thereby to keep in power Bush, Cheney, et al., who are supposedly doing so much good for bin Laden’s cause. No doubt the works of bin Laden’s favorite American commentators will provide chapter and verse for this argument.

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The Global-Warming “Consensus”

I thought that Max Boot’s analogy between the conventional wisdom on climate change and the pre-war intelligence on Iraq’s WMD’s was an apt one. But I’m not sure why he concluded from this that conservatives should abandon their skepticism about efforts to “fight” climate change by curtailing CO2 emissions. It seems to me that one should logically draw the opposite conclusion—namely, that we ought to be wary of the “consensus” of “experts” on matters where the uncertainty is large, the stakes are high, and political pressures are at work.

In this respect, the latest IPCC Summary for Policymakers doesn’t really do much to change the picture. (These summaries have tended to offer a rather skewed representation of the actual reports they purport to summarize, as the Wall Street Journal reminds us.) The latest summary hardly even qualifies as news: it merely reiterates the “consensus” that human activity has contributed to an increase in the atmospheric levels of various greenhouse gases, and that such increases are correlated with climate change. Whereas previous IPCC reports told us that a causal relationship was simply likely, now we are told that it is almost certain. The question is, precisely what kind of causation is almost certain?

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I thought that Max Boot’s analogy between the conventional wisdom on climate change and the pre-war intelligence on Iraq’s WMD’s was an apt one. But I’m not sure why he concluded from this that conservatives should abandon their skepticism about efforts to “fight” climate change by curtailing CO2 emissions. It seems to me that one should logically draw the opposite conclusion—namely, that we ought to be wary of the “consensus” of “experts” on matters where the uncertainty is large, the stakes are high, and political pressures are at work.

In this respect, the latest IPCC Summary for Policymakers doesn’t really do much to change the picture. (These summaries have tended to offer a rather skewed representation of the actual reports they purport to summarize, as the Wall Street Journal reminds us.) The latest summary hardly even qualifies as news: it merely reiterates the “consensus” that human activity has contributed to an increase in the atmospheric levels of various greenhouse gases, and that such increases are correlated with climate change. Whereas previous IPCC reports told us that a causal relationship was simply likely, now we are told that it is almost certain. The question is, precisely what kind of causation is almost certain?

Some facts are not in serious dispute: the earth has certainly warmed over the past 120 years, by somewhat less than one degree Centigrade; atmospheric levels of CO2 have increased from about 270 parts per million by volume (ppmv) in pre-industrial times to about 385 ppmv today; and all else being equal, increased CO2 should contribute to warming. But it is warming’s potential corollaries, such as droughts, rising sea levels, and increased storm activity, that worry people—and which are far less certain to occur than simple warming, as the IPCC Summary acknowledges.

Trying to estimate the human contribution to these various trends merely compounds the unknowns. But let’s suppose, for argument’s sake, that everything that Al Gore has said about climate change, its anthropogenic origins, and our need to respond immediately to it is true. Does it follow from this assumption that the best solution is to impose Kyoto-style caps on industrial emissions, or some sort of carbon tax? Not so fast. There’s another question we should be asking first: where’s the CO2 coming from?

Much of it does come from the burning of fossil fuels for transportation and industry, as we all know by now. But up to a third of the CO2 added to the atmosphere by human beings comes from the combustion of biomass in places like sub-Saharan Africa. Burning biomass isn’t exactly a clean process—it directly releases various pollutants, including aerosols (which contribute to climate change in ways that are still unclear), nitrogen oxides (major contributors to smog), and methane (a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2).

I haven’t done the math, but it seems pretty obvious that trying to end biomass burning—for example, by boosting aid to Africa—would be a much more effective first step in combating climate change than the Kyoto Protocol, which, as even its backers acknowledge, will accomplish more or less nothing. It would probably be much cheaper, too. So why don’t we hear more about the biomass burning problem?

My hunch is that it’s for the same reason we don’t hear climate watchdogs aggressively promoting low-carbon energy sources like nuclear power: they are less interested in the problem than in solutions that involve more government, less industry, and a redistribution of wealth. If this is true, conservatives are right to remain highly skeptical. One doesn’t have to be scientifically literate to recognize the political attractiveness of the climate-change issue to the Al Gores of the world.

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