Commentary Magazine


Topic: researcher

Balmy with the Likelihood of Mass Death

Global-warming prophets have stepped up their predictive skills. Calling the next hundred years of weather was kids’ stuff. They can now tell you how many people are going to die annually from the temperature rises they see in man’s future (hint: it’s a big, fat, round number) and what it’s going to cost the survivors. “By 2030, climate change will indirectly cause nearly one million deaths a year and inflict 157 billion dollars in damage in terms of today’s economy, according to estimates presented at UN talks on Friday,” the AFP reports. Here’s the “peer-reviewed” meteorological mumbo-jumbo that makes it all perfectly clear:

“No amount of (greenhouse-gas) mitigation will prevent at least another 0.7 degree (Celsius, 1.26 degrees Fahrenheit) of temperature rise over the next two decades,”  he [a researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development] said.

“In the last century we have already seen a 0.7 degree (1.26 F) rise. So we are headed for 1.4 (2.5 F) almost certainly.

“If emissions carry on their current pathway then we may in the longer term be headed for three or four degrees (5.4-7.2 F), which is practically impossible for everybody to adapt to.”

Sorry if I’m not shaken to my depths by the grim reapers of greenhouse gas, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that the talks began as follows:

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, invoked the ancient jaguar goddess Ixchel in her opening statement to delegates gathered in Cancun, Mexico, noting that Ixchel was not only goddess of the moon, but also “the goddess of reason, creativity and weaving. May she inspire you — because today, you are gathered in Cancun to weave together the elements of a solid response to climate change, using both reason and creativity as your tools.”

She called for “a balanced outcome” which would marry financial and emissions commitments from industrialized countries aimed at combating climate change with “the understanding of fairness that will guide long-term mitigation efforts.”

“Excellencies, the goddess Ixchel would probably tell you that a tapestry is the result of the skilful interlacing of many threads,” said Figueres, who hails from Costa Rica and started her greetings in Spanish before switching to English. “I am convinced that 20 years from now, we will admire the policy tapestry that you have woven together and think back fondly to Cancun and the inspiration of Ixchel.”

And to think some people doubt global warming.

Global-warming prophets have stepped up their predictive skills. Calling the next hundred years of weather was kids’ stuff. They can now tell you how many people are going to die annually from the temperature rises they see in man’s future (hint: it’s a big, fat, round number) and what it’s going to cost the survivors. “By 2030, climate change will indirectly cause nearly one million deaths a year and inflict 157 billion dollars in damage in terms of today’s economy, according to estimates presented at UN talks on Friday,” the AFP reports. Here’s the “peer-reviewed” meteorological mumbo-jumbo that makes it all perfectly clear:

“No amount of (greenhouse-gas) mitigation will prevent at least another 0.7 degree (Celsius, 1.26 degrees Fahrenheit) of temperature rise over the next two decades,”  he [a researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development] said.

“In the last century we have already seen a 0.7 degree (1.26 F) rise. So we are headed for 1.4 (2.5 F) almost certainly.

“If emissions carry on their current pathway then we may in the longer term be headed for three or four degrees (5.4-7.2 F), which is practically impossible for everybody to adapt to.”

Sorry if I’m not shaken to my depths by the grim reapers of greenhouse gas, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that the talks began as follows:

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, invoked the ancient jaguar goddess Ixchel in her opening statement to delegates gathered in Cancun, Mexico, noting that Ixchel was not only goddess of the moon, but also “the goddess of reason, creativity and weaving. May she inspire you — because today, you are gathered in Cancun to weave together the elements of a solid response to climate change, using both reason and creativity as your tools.”

She called for “a balanced outcome” which would marry financial and emissions commitments from industrialized countries aimed at combating climate change with “the understanding of fairness that will guide long-term mitigation efforts.”

“Excellencies, the goddess Ixchel would probably tell you that a tapestry is the result of the skilful interlacing of many threads,” said Figueres, who hails from Costa Rica and started her greetings in Spanish before switching to English. “I am convinced that 20 years from now, we will admire the policy tapestry that you have woven together and think back fondly to Cancun and the inspiration of Ixchel.”

And to think some people doubt global warming.

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How the World’s Obsession With Israel Hurts Palestinians

Mudar Zahran, a Palestinian Jordanian researcher at Britain’s University of Bedfordshire, has a must-read piece in today’s Jerusalem Post on the price Palestinians pay for the world’s obsession with Israel: namely, the fact that many Palestinians in Arab countries suffer far worse conditions than those in the West Bank and Gaza, but remain faceless and voiceless, with nobody to lobby for improvements in their situation.

For instance, he notes, Israeli officials fear traveling to many European countries lest they be arrested for “war crimes” like the Gaza blockade (which is actually perfectly legal under customary international law). Yet that blockade, for all the outrage it produces, never reduced anyone to starvation; Israel always let in “food items and medications.”

In contrast, Nabih Berri commanded a Shiite militia, Amal, during Lebanon’s civil war, which “enforced a multi-year siege on Palestinian [refugee] camps, cutting water access and food supplies to them” and reportedly reducing residents to “consuming rats and dogs to survive.” But today, as speaker of Lebanon’s parliament, Berri travels to Europe frequently, without fear. Being Lebanese rather than Israeli, the far more brutal blockade he imposed elicits no outrage whatsoever.

Moreover, Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps “are not allowed access to basics such as buying cement to enlarge or repair homes for their growing families. Furthermore, it is difficult for them to work legally, and [they] are even restricted from going out of their camps at certain hours.” Incredibly, this has been true for “almost 30 years.”

By contrast, Israel’s ban on cement imports to Gaza is only five years old, and stemmed from a real military threat: Hamas’s daily rocket launches at southern Israel. But somehow, the same people who are outraged about Palestinians in Gaza who can’t repair their homes couldn’t care less about Palestinians in Lebanon being unable to do the same for 30 years.

“Many other Arab countries are no different than Lebanon in their ill-treatment and discrimination against the Palestinians,” Zahran continued. “Why do the media choose to ignore those and focus only on Israel? While the security wall being built by Israel has become a symbol of ‘apartheid’ in the global media, they almost never address the actual walls and separation barriers that have been isolating Palestinian refugee camps in Arab countries for decades.”
In an earlier piece, for instance, Zahran wrote that Palestinians in Jordan have suffered “decades of systematic exclusion in all aspects of life expanding into their disenfranchisement in education, employment, housing, state benefits and even business potential, all developing into an existing apartheid no different than that formerly adopted in South Africa, except for the official acknowledgement of it.” Jordan has even begun stripping thousands of Jordanian Palestinians of their citizenship.

But Lebanese and Jordanian Palestinians “do not have someone to speak for them in the global media,” because the media is too busy obsessing over Israel.

That’s clearly good for the Arab states committing this abuse; they get a free pass. But it isn’t so good for the Palestinians who suffer it.

Unfortunately, it seems as though the world doesn’t actually care about Palestinians. What it cares about is demonizing Israel.

Mudar Zahran, a Palestinian Jordanian researcher at Britain’s University of Bedfordshire, has a must-read piece in today’s Jerusalem Post on the price Palestinians pay for the world’s obsession with Israel: namely, the fact that many Palestinians in Arab countries suffer far worse conditions than those in the West Bank and Gaza, but remain faceless and voiceless, with nobody to lobby for improvements in their situation.

For instance, he notes, Israeli officials fear traveling to many European countries lest they be arrested for “war crimes” like the Gaza blockade (which is actually perfectly legal under customary international law). Yet that blockade, for all the outrage it produces, never reduced anyone to starvation; Israel always let in “food items and medications.”

In contrast, Nabih Berri commanded a Shiite militia, Amal, during Lebanon’s civil war, which “enforced a multi-year siege on Palestinian [refugee] camps, cutting water access and food supplies to them” and reportedly reducing residents to “consuming rats and dogs to survive.” But today, as speaker of Lebanon’s parliament, Berri travels to Europe frequently, without fear. Being Lebanese rather than Israeli, the far more brutal blockade he imposed elicits no outrage whatsoever.

Moreover, Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps “are not allowed access to basics such as buying cement to enlarge or repair homes for their growing families. Furthermore, it is difficult for them to work legally, and [they] are even restricted from going out of their camps at certain hours.” Incredibly, this has been true for “almost 30 years.”

By contrast, Israel’s ban on cement imports to Gaza is only five years old, and stemmed from a real military threat: Hamas’s daily rocket launches at southern Israel. But somehow, the same people who are outraged about Palestinians in Gaza who can’t repair their homes couldn’t care less about Palestinians in Lebanon being unable to do the same for 30 years.

“Many other Arab countries are no different than Lebanon in their ill-treatment and discrimination against the Palestinians,” Zahran continued. “Why do the media choose to ignore those and focus only on Israel? While the security wall being built by Israel has become a symbol of ‘apartheid’ in the global media, they almost never address the actual walls and separation barriers that have been isolating Palestinian refugee camps in Arab countries for decades.”
In an earlier piece, for instance, Zahran wrote that Palestinians in Jordan have suffered “decades of systematic exclusion in all aspects of life expanding into their disenfranchisement in education, employment, housing, state benefits and even business potential, all developing into an existing apartheid no different than that formerly adopted in South Africa, except for the official acknowledgement of it.” Jordan has even begun stripping thousands of Jordanian Palestinians of their citizenship.

But Lebanese and Jordanian Palestinians “do not have someone to speak for them in the global media,” because the media is too busy obsessing over Israel.

That’s clearly good for the Arab states committing this abuse; they get a free pass. But it isn’t so good for the Palestinians who suffer it.

Unfortunately, it seems as though the world doesn’t actually care about Palestinians. What it cares about is demonizing Israel.

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The IPCC and Climate-Change Spin

It appears that the Climategate scandal has had little effect on the insular attitude of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. New York Times blogger Andrew C. Revkin writes a rundown of the IPCC’s neurotic approach to the media.

Apparently, the IPCC chair, Rajendra K. Pachauri, sent a letter to researchers who are helping prepare the next climate-change report. It read, in part:

I would also like to emphasize that enhanced media interest in the work of the IPCC would probably subject you to queries about your work and the IPCC. My sincere advice would be that you keep a distance from the media and should any questions be asked about the Working Group with which you are associated, please direct such media questions to the Co-chairs of your Working Group and for any questions regarding the IPCC to the secretariat of the IPCC.

Edward R. Carr, an associate professor of geography at the University of South Carolina, is one such researcher. As Revkin notes, Carr accurately blogs that this is a “’bunker mentality’ [that] will do nothing for the public image of the IPCC.”

However, Pachauri’s clarification of the letter is less reassuring. In a nutshell, Pachauri said that the letter was intended to advise IPCC report participants not to speak out on behalf of the IPCC itself:

My advice to the authors on responding to the media is only in respect of queries regarding the I.P.C.C. Some of them are new to the I.P.C.C., and we would not want them to provide uninformed responses or opinions. We now have in place a structure and a system in the I.P.C.C. for outreach and communications with the outside world. The I.P.C.C. authors are not employed by the I.P.C.C., and hence they are free to deal with the media on their own avocations and the organizations they are employed by. But they should desist at this stage on speaking on behalf of the I.P.C.C. …

[Researchers] can certainly speak… but it would be inappropriate and premature for them to offer an opinion on what would go into a working group report or what the I.P.C.C. plans to do. In such cases they must direct the query to the appropriate authority as I have advised them to do.

We are only trying to bring some order into the system precisely because we would like to be more transparent and systematic in responding to the media’s growing interest in climate change — which we welcome greatly.

So the question is: were Pachauri and the IPCC further attempting to control the flow of information to the media and, in turn, the public? Or was the letter merely poor word choice from PR “experts”? Either way, there’s cause for concern.

According to its own website, “The IPCC embodies a unique opportunity to provide rigorous and balanced scientific information to decision makers.” It doesn’t take a climate-change skeptic to suggest that if the IPCC really does want to micromanage media coverage of its reports, then this mission may suffer.

Such compulsive message control suggests that the IPCC’s focus is not to provide balanced, factual, diverse scientific research regarding climate change. Instead of aggregating research and facts, the IPCC is adopting PR tactics characteristic of organizations with a predetermined line to sell to the media and the public — the tactics of opinion and advocacy groups, not unbiased panels. People around the world deserve frank, unguarded answers to their questions — especially because the reports are “policy-relevant.” If the intent of Pachauri’s letter was really censorious, then it could harm the public by instilling a bias among policymakers.

But if Pachauri’s letter is just badly phrased PR advice, it harms the credibility of the IPCC — an organization whose credibility has already suffered serious blows throughout the past year. The instinct to approach the media with further caution is understandable after all the bad publicity wrought by Climategate, but the IPCC can only repair its reputation by establishing itself as a truthful agent of public scientific discussion.

In both instances, the international climate-science debate suffers.

It appears that the Climategate scandal has had little effect on the insular attitude of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. New York Times blogger Andrew C. Revkin writes a rundown of the IPCC’s neurotic approach to the media.

Apparently, the IPCC chair, Rajendra K. Pachauri, sent a letter to researchers who are helping prepare the next climate-change report. It read, in part:

I would also like to emphasize that enhanced media interest in the work of the IPCC would probably subject you to queries about your work and the IPCC. My sincere advice would be that you keep a distance from the media and should any questions be asked about the Working Group with which you are associated, please direct such media questions to the Co-chairs of your Working Group and for any questions regarding the IPCC to the secretariat of the IPCC.

Edward R. Carr, an associate professor of geography at the University of South Carolina, is one such researcher. As Revkin notes, Carr accurately blogs that this is a “’bunker mentality’ [that] will do nothing for the public image of the IPCC.”

However, Pachauri’s clarification of the letter is less reassuring. In a nutshell, Pachauri said that the letter was intended to advise IPCC report participants not to speak out on behalf of the IPCC itself:

My advice to the authors on responding to the media is only in respect of queries regarding the I.P.C.C. Some of them are new to the I.P.C.C., and we would not want them to provide uninformed responses or opinions. We now have in place a structure and a system in the I.P.C.C. for outreach and communications with the outside world. The I.P.C.C. authors are not employed by the I.P.C.C., and hence they are free to deal with the media on their own avocations and the organizations they are employed by. But they should desist at this stage on speaking on behalf of the I.P.C.C. …

[Researchers] can certainly speak… but it would be inappropriate and premature for them to offer an opinion on what would go into a working group report or what the I.P.C.C. plans to do. In such cases they must direct the query to the appropriate authority as I have advised them to do.

We are only trying to bring some order into the system precisely because we would like to be more transparent and systematic in responding to the media’s growing interest in climate change — which we welcome greatly.

So the question is: were Pachauri and the IPCC further attempting to control the flow of information to the media and, in turn, the public? Or was the letter merely poor word choice from PR “experts”? Either way, there’s cause for concern.

According to its own website, “The IPCC embodies a unique opportunity to provide rigorous and balanced scientific information to decision makers.” It doesn’t take a climate-change skeptic to suggest that if the IPCC really does want to micromanage media coverage of its reports, then this mission may suffer.

Such compulsive message control suggests that the IPCC’s focus is not to provide balanced, factual, diverse scientific research regarding climate change. Instead of aggregating research and facts, the IPCC is adopting PR tactics characteristic of organizations with a predetermined line to sell to the media and the public — the tactics of opinion and advocacy groups, not unbiased panels. People around the world deserve frank, unguarded answers to their questions — especially because the reports are “policy-relevant.” If the intent of Pachauri’s letter was really censorious, then it could harm the public by instilling a bias among policymakers.

But if Pachauri’s letter is just badly phrased PR advice, it harms the credibility of the IPCC — an organization whose credibility has already suffered serious blows throughout the past year. The instinct to approach the media with further caution is understandable after all the bad publicity wrought by Climategate, but the IPCC can only repair its reputation by establishing itself as a truthful agent of public scientific discussion.

In both instances, the international climate-science debate suffers.

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Breaking Israel’s Academic Stranglehold

This week’s recognition of Ariel College as a “university center” — a step toward full-fledged university status — outraged Israel’s academic establishment.

For some, the objection is political: the institution is located in Ariel, a West Bank settlement, so hard-core leftists want it dismantled, not upgraded — though all Israeli governments have sought to retain Ariel under any peace agreement.

But for most, the objection is ostensibly professional: academically, they claim, Ariel is no better than other colleges that haven’t been upgraded; the Council for Higher Education, an independent professional body that oversees Israeli academia, opposes the upgrade; and the final approval was ordered by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, constituting blatant political interference in higher education.

The actual facts are these: because Israel never annexed the West Bank, formal legal authority there lies with the army — specifically, the GOC Central Command — rather than civilian bodies. Thus Ariel isn’t formally subject to the CHE. But since the army clearly can’t oversee universities, a CHE clone, the Council for Higher Education-Judea and Samaria, was created to do the job.

In 2006, a CHE-JS subcommittee recommended the upgrade, and in 2007 the full CHE-JS adopted this recommendation. All six subcommittee members admittedly lean politically right; most leftists wouldn’t serve on the CHE-JS. But as one member of the regular CHE acknowledged, all were also “people of the first rank in research” — including Nobel Prize laureate Robert Aumann, Israel Prize laureate Yuval Ne’eman (the father of Israel’s space program), and Israel Prize laureate Daniel Sperber.

Despite this, the GOC Central Command refused for three years to confirm the decision. Hence, when Barak finally ordered him to do so, he was not overruling the professionals’ decision but upholding it.

As for the CHE’s opposition, that had nothing to do with Ariel’s qualifications: it opposed the upgrade because it saw “no academic need for another university.”

In truth, as researcher Dan Ben-David has documented, Israel desperately needs another university. From 1973 to 2005, Israel’s population doubled, yet the number of senior faculty per capita plunged 50 percent. At its two flagship universities, Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University, the number of researchers fell 14 percent and 21 percent, respectively, while the Technion, Israel’s MIT, added exactly one position. The result is a huge brain drain: fully 25 percent of Israeli academics work overseas, compared to less than 4 percent of European academics.

So what’s the real objection? Money. Israel’s universities are almost wholly state-funded. And while many colleges also receive state funds, universities get much more. Hence a new university would mean a smaller share of the pie for existing ones. And since existing universities control the CHE, they are determined to block newcomers.

But for a country with no natural resources, dependent entirely on its brainpower, a system that prevents new institutions from flourishing is bad news. It is therefore vital to end the CHE’s stranglehold, and in parallel to encourage existing universities to develop nongovernmental funding sources. A school shouldn’t have to be located in the West Bank to obtain recognition as an Israeli university.

This week’s recognition of Ariel College as a “university center” — a step toward full-fledged university status — outraged Israel’s academic establishment.

For some, the objection is political: the institution is located in Ariel, a West Bank settlement, so hard-core leftists want it dismantled, not upgraded — though all Israeli governments have sought to retain Ariel under any peace agreement.

But for most, the objection is ostensibly professional: academically, they claim, Ariel is no better than other colleges that haven’t been upgraded; the Council for Higher Education, an independent professional body that oversees Israeli academia, opposes the upgrade; and the final approval was ordered by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, constituting blatant political interference in higher education.

The actual facts are these: because Israel never annexed the West Bank, formal legal authority there lies with the army — specifically, the GOC Central Command — rather than civilian bodies. Thus Ariel isn’t formally subject to the CHE. But since the army clearly can’t oversee universities, a CHE clone, the Council for Higher Education-Judea and Samaria, was created to do the job.

In 2006, a CHE-JS subcommittee recommended the upgrade, and in 2007 the full CHE-JS adopted this recommendation. All six subcommittee members admittedly lean politically right; most leftists wouldn’t serve on the CHE-JS. But as one member of the regular CHE acknowledged, all were also “people of the first rank in research” — including Nobel Prize laureate Robert Aumann, Israel Prize laureate Yuval Ne’eman (the father of Israel’s space program), and Israel Prize laureate Daniel Sperber.

Despite this, the GOC Central Command refused for three years to confirm the decision. Hence, when Barak finally ordered him to do so, he was not overruling the professionals’ decision but upholding it.

As for the CHE’s opposition, that had nothing to do with Ariel’s qualifications: it opposed the upgrade because it saw “no academic need for another university.”

In truth, as researcher Dan Ben-David has documented, Israel desperately needs another university. From 1973 to 2005, Israel’s population doubled, yet the number of senior faculty per capita plunged 50 percent. At its two flagship universities, Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University, the number of researchers fell 14 percent and 21 percent, respectively, while the Technion, Israel’s MIT, added exactly one position. The result is a huge brain drain: fully 25 percent of Israeli academics work overseas, compared to less than 4 percent of European academics.

So what’s the real objection? Money. Israel’s universities are almost wholly state-funded. And while many colleges also receive state funds, universities get much more. Hence a new university would mean a smaller share of the pie for existing ones. And since existing universities control the CHE, they are determined to block newcomers.

But for a country with no natural resources, dependent entirely on its brainpower, a system that prevents new institutions from flourishing is bad news. It is therefore vital to end the CHE’s stranglehold, and in parallel to encourage existing universities to develop nongovernmental funding sources. A school shouldn’t have to be located in the West Bank to obtain recognition as an Israeli university.

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Troth Blighted in Old Blighty

In a story out of Great Britain today we read that the proportion of Britons getting married is now the lowest since records began in 1862, with the number of weddings held in 2006 the smallest since 1895, when the population was little more than half its present level.

The figures, from the Office for National Statistics, show that fewer than ten in every 1,000 single adults in England and Wales got married in 2006. Among men the rate was 22.8 in every 1,000, while among women the rate was 20.5 in every 1,000. When marriage-rates were first calculated in 1862, the level was 58.7 in every 1,000 for men and 50 in every 1,000 for women. Even during World War II, the article says, marriage rates for women never dropped below 40 in 1,000 (they fell below 30 for the first time in 1995). The general decline of marriage has been under way since 1972 when marriage rates were more than 78 in 1,000 for men and 60 in 1,000 for women. Also of note: today religious marriages in Great Britain number fewer than 80,000, compared to 157,490 civil weddings.

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In a story out of Great Britain today we read that the proportion of Britons getting married is now the lowest since records began in 1862, with the number of weddings held in 2006 the smallest since 1895, when the population was little more than half its present level.

The figures, from the Office for National Statistics, show that fewer than ten in every 1,000 single adults in England and Wales got married in 2006. Among men the rate was 22.8 in every 1,000, while among women the rate was 20.5 in every 1,000. When marriage-rates were first calculated in 1862, the level was 58.7 in every 1,000 for men and 50 in every 1,000 for women. Even during World War II, the article says, marriage rates for women never dropped below 40 in 1,000 (they fell below 30 for the first time in 1995). The general decline of marriage has been under way since 1972 when marriage rates were more than 78 in 1,000 for men and 60 in 1,000 for women. Also of note: today religious marriages in Great Britain number fewer than 80,000, compared to 157,490 civil weddings.

There is, as one might imagine, a political and policy component to this story. According to the article,

[t]he evidence that marriage is withering away at an increasing pace was met with a furious response from critics of Labour’s benefits system, which disregards the status of husbands and wives and pays parents extra to stay single. Shadow Home Secretary David Davis claimed the Government had “fuelled family breakdown” and researcher Patricia Morgan, who coined the phrase “marriage lite” to describe cohabitation, said Labour had succeeded in “eradicating” marriage. “This is what they have tried to achieve and they should be congratulating themselves,” she added. “But it is a disaster for children, families and society.”

. . . [T]he tax and benefit system came under most fervent attack. Advantages for married couples have gradually been withdrawn, joint taxation-ended in the 1980s and Gordon Brown withdrew the last tax break for couples, the Married Couples Allowance, shortly after Labour came to power in 1997 . . .

. . . Labour family policy has for a decade maintained that all kinds of families are equally valuable and ministers have campaigned for all references to marriage to be removed from state documents. The Tories promised they would provide incentives for couples to get and stay together. David Davis said: “This is a sad indictment of the Government’s policies which have penalised families and fuelled family breakdown. Stable families are the best formula for bringing up children and preventing delinquency, anti-social behaviour and crime. So a failed family policy is itself a major cause of crime.” He added: “Conservative policies will support the family by shifting the tax burden away from families and giving 1.8million families an extra £2,000 a year.” Researcher and author Mrs Morgan said: “I have been reading the Children’s Plan put out by Children’s Secretary Ed Balls last year. It does not mention marriage once. This Government has removed the idea of marriage from research and public documents and from the tax and benefit system.”

These developments are part of a broad, on-going trend. In his book on marriage The Broken Hearth: Reversing the Collapse of the American Family (2001)*, Bill Bennett reminds us that in 2000, Daniel Patrick Moynihan was asked to identify the biggest change he has seen in his forty-year political career. He answered, “The biggest change, in my judgment, is that the family structure has come apart all over the North Atlantic world.” He said that this transformation had occurred in “an historical instant. Something that was not imaginable forty years ago has happened.” The distinguished historian Lawrence Stone wrote, “The scale of marital breakdown in the West since 1960 has no historical precedent and seems unique.” And the demographer Kingsley Davis added, “At no time in history, with the possible exception of Imperial Rome, has the institution of marriage been more problematic than it is today.” Scholars now speak of a trend toward a “post-marriage” society.

The causes of the collapse of marriage range from the rise in the Western world of a highly individualistic ethic, to a profound shift in moral and religious attitudes, to the sexual revolution, to the widespread use of abortion and the pill, to changes in law, among other things. The precise damage that the collapse in marriage is having on different societies is hard to measure – but we know it cannot be good. Marriage remains the best arrangement ever devised when it comes to sexual and emotional intimacy, raising children, and finding fulfillment and completeness between two people, not to mention things like financial security, better health, and longer lives. It is, as Bennett wrote, “the keystone in the arch of civilization.” It is also, for those of us who are people of faith, an honorable estate, instituted by God.

Revivifying marriage will not be an easy task, and it will depend on much more than government policies. But laws matter a great deal, as we have learned any number of times on any number of issues (among them welfare and crime) – and they surely matter when it comes to marriage. Laws, after all, reflect a society’s attitudes – the things we deem to be worthy of our support and disapprobation.

Great Britain is now experiencing the consequences of having devalued marriage in law, and the Tories are right to advocate steps to fortify traditional marriage. There are few institutions more in need of repair and few issues that are more worthy of our attention.

* Full disclosure: I assisted Bill Bennett in writing the book.

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Dream Small

On Sunday night, 60 Minutes ran a segment about why Denmark “consistently beats the rest of the world in the happiness stakes.” Here’s University of Southern Denmark researcher Kaare Christiansen in an exchange with Morley Safer:

CHRISTIANSEN: What we basically figured out that, although the Danes were very happy with their life, when we looked at their expectations, they were pretty modest.

SAFER: So, by having low expectations, you’re rarely disappointed.

CHRISTIANSEN: Exactly.

And in starving you’ll find little reason to complain about the food. The piece was an undisguised refutation of American ideals and pursuits. Try this Safer tidbit:

SAFER: History may also play a role in [Denmark’s] culture of low expectations. If you go to the government’s own web site, it proudly proclaims: ‘The present configuration of the country is the result of 400 years of forced relinquishments of land, surrenders, and lost battles.’ Could it be that the true secret of happiness is a swift kick in the pants or a large dose of humiliation? Do you think there’s some kind of inverse relationship between the more powerful you are, the more unhappy you are, and the weaker you are, the happier you are?

If the answer is “yes,” the Danes should be beaming right now. The happiest country in the world is in the throes of its seventh night of Muslim riots over the reprinting of the infamous Muhammed cartoons. Which you wouldn’t be able to glean from this:

SAFER: [Danish newspaper columnist Sebastian Dorset] says that contentment may stem from the fact that Denmark is almost totally homogenous, there’s no large disparities of wealth, and has had very little national turmoil for more than a half century.

After confirming that Harvard happiness expert Tal Ben-Shahar condemns the American way of life, Safer goes on to praise the Denmark cradle-to-grave benefits system that anticipates and satisfies its citizens’ every conceivable need, and then disparages Americans as carriers of the “bacterium” of “wanting it all.” For any viewer who missed the point, the piece closes with this:

SAFER: What would you advise Americans to do?

DANISH STUDENT: I have an advice. Don’t… don’t depend too much on the American dream. Yeah, I think you might get disappointed.

And I too have “an advice,” for Denmark. There are things more valuable than averaged happiness: freedom, industry, imagination, and self-determination for starters. Don’t venture too far without them. I think you might get disappointed.

On Sunday night, 60 Minutes ran a segment about why Denmark “consistently beats the rest of the world in the happiness stakes.” Here’s University of Southern Denmark researcher Kaare Christiansen in an exchange with Morley Safer:

CHRISTIANSEN: What we basically figured out that, although the Danes were very happy with their life, when we looked at their expectations, they were pretty modest.

SAFER: So, by having low expectations, you’re rarely disappointed.

CHRISTIANSEN: Exactly.

And in starving you’ll find little reason to complain about the food. The piece was an undisguised refutation of American ideals and pursuits. Try this Safer tidbit:

SAFER: History may also play a role in [Denmark’s] culture of low expectations. If you go to the government’s own web site, it proudly proclaims: ‘The present configuration of the country is the result of 400 years of forced relinquishments of land, surrenders, and lost battles.’ Could it be that the true secret of happiness is a swift kick in the pants or a large dose of humiliation? Do you think there’s some kind of inverse relationship between the more powerful you are, the more unhappy you are, and the weaker you are, the happier you are?

If the answer is “yes,” the Danes should be beaming right now. The happiest country in the world is in the throes of its seventh night of Muslim riots over the reprinting of the infamous Muhammed cartoons. Which you wouldn’t be able to glean from this:

SAFER: [Danish newspaper columnist Sebastian Dorset] says that contentment may stem from the fact that Denmark is almost totally homogenous, there’s no large disparities of wealth, and has had very little national turmoil for more than a half century.

After confirming that Harvard happiness expert Tal Ben-Shahar condemns the American way of life, Safer goes on to praise the Denmark cradle-to-grave benefits system that anticipates and satisfies its citizens’ every conceivable need, and then disparages Americans as carriers of the “bacterium” of “wanting it all.” For any viewer who missed the point, the piece closes with this:

SAFER: What would you advise Americans to do?

DANISH STUDENT: I have an advice. Don’t… don’t depend too much on the American dream. Yeah, I think you might get disappointed.

And I too have “an advice,” for Denmark. There are things more valuable than averaged happiness: freedom, industry, imagination, and self-determination for starters. Don’t venture too far without them. I think you might get disappointed.

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The Future of Afghanistan

Trying to gauge the state of the conflict in Afghanistan from thousands of miles away is extraordinarily difficult and I hesitate to draw any firm conclusions from recent press reports. But even discounting for the “bad news” bias in most articles, their general tenor is cause for concern.

This article notes that hundreds of Taliban fighters are massing near Kandahar, the largest city in southern Afghanistan, for the first time since 2001.

This article notes that the warlords who once made up the Northern Alliance are hording their weapons and not complying with promises to disarm militias.

This article notes that the drug trade in Afghanistan is booming, with “a 17 percent rise in poppy cultivation from 2006 to 2007, and a 34 percent rise in opium production.”

• And this article notes that more foreign jihadists are infiltrating Afghanistan, and they are even more bloodthirsty and savage than the native Taliban. “Foreign fighters,” writes David Rohde of the New York Times, “are coming from Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, various Arab countries, and perhaps also Turkey and western China.”

Admittedly, there is a positive aspect to this story—the foreigners are needed to fill Taliban ranks because of the losses they have suffered in fighting with coalition forces. But the fact that replacements are able to infiltrate so easily is a major problem, insofar as one of the major factors determining the success or failure of an insurgency is whether or not the counterinsurgents are able to seal the border to prevent the rebels from gaining reinforcements and supplies.

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Trying to gauge the state of the conflict in Afghanistan from thousands of miles away is extraordinarily difficult and I hesitate to draw any firm conclusions from recent press reports. But even discounting for the “bad news” bias in most articles, their general tenor is cause for concern.

This article notes that hundreds of Taliban fighters are massing near Kandahar, the largest city in southern Afghanistan, for the first time since 2001.

This article notes that the warlords who once made up the Northern Alliance are hording their weapons and not complying with promises to disarm militias.

This article notes that the drug trade in Afghanistan is booming, with “a 17 percent rise in poppy cultivation from 2006 to 2007, and a 34 percent rise in opium production.”

• And this article notes that more foreign jihadists are infiltrating Afghanistan, and they are even more bloodthirsty and savage than the native Taliban. “Foreign fighters,” writes David Rohde of the New York Times, “are coming from Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, various Arab countries, and perhaps also Turkey and western China.”

Admittedly, there is a positive aspect to this story—the foreigners are needed to fill Taliban ranks because of the losses they have suffered in fighting with coalition forces. But the fact that replacements are able to infiltrate so easily is a major problem, insofar as one of the major factors determining the success or failure of an insurgency is whether or not the counterinsurgents are able to seal the border to prevent the rebels from gaining reinforcements and supplies.

So far attempts to seal the borders between Afghanistan and Iran and Pakistan have not borne much fruit. This is to be expected because of the difficult terrain involved, and because the same tribesmen are to be found on both sides of the frontier, which has always been more of a theoretical construct than an on-the-ground reality. It doesn’t help that both Iran and Pakistan appear to be involved actively in aiding the Taliban.

The case of Pakistan is particularly vexing because, unlike Iran, it is nominally an American ally, yet its armed forces have been either unwilling or unable to take strong action against the Taliban and their supporters, who have come to dominate the border areas.

This article raises questions about whether the Pakistani military is making good use of some $11 billion in assistance received from the United States since 2001. Much of the assistance has gone for high-ticket items like F-16’s that aren’t very useful for fighting shadowy insurgents; Pakistan wants them primarily for reasons of prestige and for saber-rattling with India. But the primary problem is summed up by a scholar:

“U.S. equipment is not being used ‘in a sustained way,'” said Seth Jones, a Rand Corp. researcher who recently visited the region. “The army is not very effective, and there have been elements of the government that have worked with the Taliban in the tribal areas in the past,” making them ambivalent about the current fight against those forces, he said.

This really comes down to an issue of Pakistani politics. Pervez Musharraf, the military chief and dictator, repeatedly has promised to crack down on the Taliban and other extremist Islamic groups, but he has not delivered enough results. Benazir Bhutto, the opposition leader who has returned recently from exile, is talking a tougher game. As this New York Times article notes:

Using the news media unabashedly, Ms. Bhutto has been outspoken in particular against terrorism, saying things that few local politicians dare to against the religious and jihadi groups. She is the only politician in Pakistan saying loudly and clearly that suicide bombing is against the teaching of Islam. She has also attacked conservatives in the government, including officials close to the President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, accusing them of aiding and abetting extremists, and supporting the bombers who attacked her.

This kind of talk is brave and encouraging. The question is whether Bhutto (assuming she gets that far) would be able effectively to carry out an anti-terrorist agenda in office, given that she would be reliant on the very same armed forces that have so often collaborated with the Taliban in the past and that have repeatedly undermined civilian leaders, including Bhutto herself. American leverage is limited here; we’ll have to let the Pakistanis sort out their own problems.

But we should continue to make clear our commitment to a restoration of democracy and our willingness, à la Barack Obama, to act unilaterally, if necessary, to hit terrorist targets in Pakistan. If we can’t do a better job of stopping the terrorists in Pakistan, Afghanistan’s future will not be terribly promising.

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Churchill’s Ghost(writer)

One can react in various ways to the unearthing by a Cambridge University researcher of a never-published 1937 article by Winston Churchill. This article, entitled “How The Jews Can Combat Persecution,” may actually have been, we are told, the work of a pro-fascist ghostwriter named Adam Marshall Diston.

One can, for instance, be disappointed to find out that Churchill used ghostwriters. Et tu, Winston?

One can accept Churchill’s use of ghostwriters but still wonder: a fascist ghostwriter? In 1937? And even if for some inexplicable reason Churchill saw nothing wrong with this, why on earth would he have asked such a person to write about the Jews?

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One can react in various ways to the unearthing by a Cambridge University researcher of a never-published 1937 article by Winston Churchill. This article, entitled “How The Jews Can Combat Persecution,” may actually have been, we are told, the work of a pro-fascist ghostwriter named Adam Marshall Diston.

One can, for instance, be disappointed to find out that Churchill used ghostwriters. Et tu, Winston?

One can accept Churchill’s use of ghostwriters but still wonder: a fascist ghostwriter? In 1937? And even if for some inexplicable reason Churchill saw nothing wrong with this, why on earth would he have asked such a person to write about the Jews?

One can reflect that if Diston really wrote the article, he made a genuine effort—knowing what Churchill’s views were—to appear even-handed. True, he attacked Jewish sweatshop owners. True, he wrote that, by being “different,” the Jews “have been partly responsible for the antagonism from which they suffer.” But he also condemned Nazi policies toward the Jews and called them “as cruel, as relentless, and as vindictive as any in [the Jews’] long history.”

One can even entertain the possibility that Diston was faithfully reflecting Churchill’s opinions. We know by now that decent men before and even after the Holocaust were capable of thinking things that we would consider anti-Semitic today. When Harry Truman, whose immediate recognition of the state of Israel in 1948 was heroic from a Jewish point of view, wrote in his diary in 1947 that Jews were “very, very selfish” and that “neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the underdog,” he was simply reflecting prejudices that many Americans of his generation took for granted—prejudices that they would have been startled to be told were prejudices.

But there is yet another way of reacting to the judgment expressed in Churchill’s article that the “separateness of the Jew[s]” is one of the causes of anti-Semitism. Perhaps the article was simply saying something self-evidently true.

After all, Jewish looks aside—and many religiously observant Jews do make a point of looking different—who would deny that Jews often do “think differently,” have “a different tradition and background,” and “refuse to be absorbed?” Aren’t these all things that not only religious Jews, but proud secular Jews too, like to think about themselves? Aren’t these the qualities to which they attribute their survival? And if so, why should it be anti-Semitic for them to be pointed out by non-Jews?

To be continued in my next post.

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