What’s Wrong is Wright

In light of the snowballing interest in Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s minister and mentor, I am re-posting this essay from May 2007, when Hillary was the presumed nominee, and Obama just a charismatic wannabe.

Many are wondering whether the media is just cherry-picking a few outrageous sermons. My take? Nope, what you see is what you get — and what Obama’s been hearing — and following — for 20 years.

 
Courtesy of the Drudge Report, I was drawn to read a New York Times article (login required) on Barack Obama,, his faith and conversion, and his pastor, Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.

The article presented some interesting background on Mr. Obama and his church — a topic with which I had been previously unfamiliar. But what I found of greater interest was the broader perspective highlighted by the Times article regarding the role of religious beliefs in public figures, particularly politicians, and how secular political movements in the postmodern age use religion.

Not surprisingly, the New York Times — along with virtually all major media outlets — come across as pleasantly confused about the nature of religious conversion, particularly as it applies to Christianity. The focus of this article is on the theology and controversial teachings of his spiritual mentor Reverend Wright, who pastors Trinity United Church of Christ, and addresses its potential impact on Mr. Obama’s presidential candidacy.

My eye was drawn to the description of Reverend Wright, who is identified as:

… a dynamic pastor who preached Afrocentric theology, dabbled the radical politics and delivered music and profanity-spiked sermons.

Antennas pop up when someone alludes to Christian pastors with “Afrocentric” (or any other “-centric”) theology. Additional research quickly disclosed that Reverend Wright is indeed, shall we say, “controversial.” It appears that the good Reverend espouses a form of Christianity, so-called, which depicts America as deeply — and intractably — racist; which believes America to be a far greater threat to the world than murderous tyrants who slaughter millions; who believes there are two types of white Christians — those “who lynch people in the name of Jesus” and those “who ain’t got time to lynch people”; who, rather famously, after a fiery sermon about all the injustices which white America has promulgated on blacks, the poor, third world countries, women and children, and the usual litany of complaints about lack of healthcare, the homeless, etc. is quoted as saying, “God is tired of this shit!”

One wonders if God is also tired of ministers with potty mouths. Or tired of pastors who view their white Christian “brothers” as lynchers-in-waiting.

In short, Reverend Wright and his theology fall squarely on the radical left, racial-hating-and-baiting side of the political and religious spectrum.

As Seinfeld might say, “… not that there’s anything wrong with that!”

Oh, wait — maybe there is something wrong with that.
Continue reading “What’s Wrong is Wright”

Law and Restraint


In yesterday’s post, I took to task a comment made by Jon Henke, from the always-excellent QandO blog, regarding his support for legalization of prostitution, which came up because of the Eliot Spitzer imbroglio. His comment was in essence a springboard for what I believe to be a flawed position held by many libertarians.

Jon was gracious enough to leave a comment on the post — which of course, has elicited a few more thoughts on my part. Jon stated:

I think you \'ve completely misapprehended me. At no point did I suggest there should be no social rejection or approbation for his conduct. In fact, I think that \'s precisely what should occur. The libertarian position is not that private behavior is beyond reproach, but that private behavior that does not hurt others (as in, “violate the rights of others”, not “make them feel bad”) should not be illegal.

I \'m quite sure his adultery hurt his family emotionally, but we don \'t imprison people for adultery. The fact that he paid for it, however, was not harmful. But that is what we have criminalized.

This idea that, because we don \'t want something criminalized, we must not think it is bad is a frustrating misperception of libertarians. It \'s doubly frustrating, because it \'s not a difficult distinction to make.

Well, it is certainly easy to misunderstand a writer’s beliefs based on a brief reference to one of its tenets. And libertarianism itself would appear to be rather a loose and nebulous confederation of beliefs and policies, embodied in individuals ranging from solid centrists like Glenn Reynolds, to bright conservatives such as Jon, to fringe elements waiting for black UN helicopters gazing skyward in their camo fatigues. I have the utmost respect for Jon, and his blog is a daily visit for me because of its depth and breadth. Nevertheless, I do not believe I have misapprehended the libertarian position, as he stated it, on the subject of legalization versus mere social rejection or approbation. I’m well aware that many libertarians believe that certain behaviors which are in fact socially objectionable, perhaps even dangerous, but nevertheless should be legal, based on the principle of individual rights and minimalization of government intrusion.

Having said that, I believe Jon is also misapprehended my point — which is not that prostitution should be illegal because individuals were hurt rather than rights violated, but that the nature of prostitution is such that society is entirely justified in outlawing its practice as a defensive measure to protect the well-being of its citizens and its core foundational institutions such as marriage.

Society has many means, and many degrees of granularity, in determining what behavior is acceptable or dangerous to its collective well-being. Obviously, the force of law is a major component of this, carrying the weight of enforcement and even violence if required. But much regulation of social behavior starts at a far finer granularity: at the level of individuals, families, communities, and consequently is powerfully embodied when such conviction is widespread in a wider social consensus.

To encourage and enforce moral behavior — by which I mean both that dictated by transcendent moral absolutes, as well as that collectively determined to be undesirable for the good of society — restraint starts at the level of the individual, whose inner conscience and moral standards serve to constrain behavior which is judged to be wrong or harmful. This moral compass — as is understood by Judaism and Christianity — is an innate component of the nature of man. Those more secular might instead infer that, if such a code exists, it would be genetic or inherited, or inculcated from the experience and social mores of the parents during childhood for the benefit of the species. Morality at this individual level is a powerful determinant of human behavior — and no amount of civil law can substitute for such inner conscience or direction.

At a somewhat broader level, family and local community may collectively determine which behavior is desirable or to be censured, another powerful constraint working primarily through ostracization and exclusion from the community of those who fail to meet its standards. Once again, this may well occur outside of the framework of law, although it is often reflected in local community standards and regulation. The next level, encoded in community, state, and federal law, expands this restraint with the addition of ever more onerous penalties for aberrant behavior, throwing the full force of government behind its restraining intent.

My point in this somewhat extended musing is that constraint of behavior destructive to individuals and society is not purely limited to law, but occurs at many levels, and begins, and is rooted in, the individual moral conscience and the family and local community. And this, I infer, is what Jon and other libertarians hope to rely on when removing the admittedly heavy-handed arm to illegality.

When there is a widespread consensus in the larger community that certain behavior is unacceptable, and when a substantial majority of citizens concur with that consensus, then onerous or restrictive laws become far less important, as individual and community restraint function to inhibit socially and morally destructive behavior. In a perfect moral world, law would be unnecessary: it is required due to the inevitable human failure to meet even their own high standards, not to mention for those who will violate them regardless of, or due to lack of any such standards.
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The problem arises when a culture, such as ours, begins to erode and corrode the foundational moral and ethical principles of the individual, the family, and local community, increasingly relying on larger institutions such as government to mitigate the inevitable adverse consequences of such abrogation. Hence a culture which no longer has a moral consensus that extramarital sexual activity is harmful, for example, but instead views it as benign, tolerable, or even desirable behavior, will inevitably reap certain consequences (not the least of which is more of the undesirable behavior) — which will in turn bring about efforts to seek to control the resulting consequences through law and punishment. As we cease respecting rules at the individual level, we invariably multiply rules at the civic and governmental levels: the Law of Rules. As William Penn once said, “Men must be governed by God or they will be ruled by tyrants.”

In the case of prostitution, there is a growing segment of our society which, consistent with their general outlook on sexual activity, no longer views such activity outside of marriage as inherently wrong, and in fact considers it quite normal, perhaps even highly desirable. Such a viewpoint often rationalizes or minimizes any adverse consequences such behavior might incur, while simultaneously looking to society or government to mitigate the inevitable side effects thereof. Hence we tolerate and glorify sexual permissiveness while agitating ever more loudly for greater federal spending on AIDS research and STD prevention.

Jon’s conflation of prostitution and adultery tends to confuse two quite different entities. While certainly all sex with prostitutes for a married man constitutes adultery, most certainly not all cases of adultery involve prostitution. It is almost certainly true (without being able to cite specifics) that adultery, in fact, has been, or may still be outlawed in parts of the country. Nevertheless, few would maintain that such a law is a good idea — although they likely are instituted because of the perceived threat of adultery to the socially-important institution of marriage. Such a law, while well-intentioned, is clearly unenforceable — and unenforceable laws breed contempt for authority, as they are honored only in the breach. Much adultery is, by nature, between two consenting adults. This is not to minimize its potentially devastating impact on marriage — but simply to point out that both the man and the woman presumably enter into it volitionally and freely — there is no business contract involved. Such a relationship may well be devastating to the immediate relationships of each partner, and destructive to one or more marriages, but its effects, relatively speaking, are finite.

Prostitution, on the other hand is industrialized adultery. It is, pure and simple, a business transaction, whose sole purpose is the sexual gratification of the male. The relationship of the john and his whore — if you can call it a relationship — is inherently and essentially demeaning to the woman: she is nothing more than an attractive repository for the man’s (often aberrant) sexual desires. She is dehumanized, victimized, often brutalized, or murdered, as the nature of the act is not mutually respectful but inherently about dominance/submission: you pay your money, she does what you want — or else.

It is interesting to note that those in favor of legalized prostitution are invariably men — in what must surely be a vast and inherent conflict of interest. Women do not enter prostitution because they love sleeping with thousands of men; they do so out of extreme duress, due to severe financial hardship or drug addiction. Through legalization we are exploiting, at the societal level, those most vulnerable, saying their welfare matters nothing, their lives are expendable, their humanity is irrelevant to our “rights” and “freedom” to fulfill our basest desires. Where are the legions of women demonstrating and demanding the legalization of prostitution? Their absence — in our rights-obsessed culture — speaks volumes.

Say what you will about disdaining the action while embracing its legality in the name of “freedom” — legalizing prostitution effectively endorses slavery not freedom, and makes a powerful statement as a society, sacrificing the value, dignity, and well-being of the women entrapped in this hell of hedonism on the altar of our individual rights — of the individual rights of men and men alone. Prostitution serves as well an enormous pool of public health risk, transmitting countless instances of diseases which in many cases are incurable, which may have devastating effects on innocent third parties, such as AIDS, or HPV-related cervical cancer. There are abundant reasons to make prostitution illegal — but only one for its legalization: glorifying men’s right to exploit, abuse and often destroy women for their own selfish and destructive amusement.

Legalization of prostitution would do nothing to change the fundamentally abusive nature of its core transaction. By legalization, we are not simply saying that it is permitted because “no one’s rights are violated” — a highly disputable stance — but we are instead encoding in law the normalization of an exploitive, and socially harmful business transaction. This is not at all about outlawing something which “makes people feel bad” — but rather about throwing the weight of law and its enforcement behind protecting and enabling a profession which is highly destructive both to the women involved, the families of their patrons, public health, and perception of women on a cultural and social scale.

The stance of using the “violate the rights of others” justification for legalization of prostitution (or any like behavior) seems to me to rely on quite a fungible standard. Are the rights of a wife violated when her husband visits a prostitute? Even if the civil level, the marriage contract implies, if not explicitly states, that the marriage is intended for mutual love, manifested tangibly through the restriction and commitment of man’s natural libidinous tendency toward promiscuity into a monogamous sexual relationship for the welfare of his wife, their children, and implicitly society as a whole. This core value is reflected in the law, making adultery is a slam-dunk legal basis for divorce — an aspect encoded into its statutes long before our current insane permissiveness which allows any and all justifications for divorce.

Furthermore –as is abundantly evident in our contemporary society — the idea of “rights” is eminently malleable — as we see in the ever-expanding victimhood mindset, where the homeless have a “right” to a home; the jobless have the “right” to a job; a student has a “right” to admission to a school or a potential employee a right to being hired based purely on his ethnicity rather than any skill, talent, or preparation for a particular position. Furthermore, many human rights are not clearly spelled out in civil law: the right of a wife to expect her husband to be faithful; the right of children to have parents who care and nurture for them; right of employers to have their employees work honestly and productively for their pay; the right of all men and women to be treated with dignity. These rights arise not from civil law, but from moral law, from the inherent value placed on humans by their very nature and being. This is, it should be noted, predominantly a Western cultural notion, derived and its core from Judeo-Christian understandings of the nature of man and his value and worth as a creation of God. One need only look at cultures which do not cherish this understanding to see its invariable consequences: suicide bombers are glorified; gays are beheaded; entire classes are relegated to extraordinary poverty and deprivation because of their inferior birth status; people slaughtered simply because of the tribe of their birth or some thousand-year-old offense. Such cultures arise in large part because of their core view of human nature and their core understanding of God, which results in degrading the value of human life and the individual.

I guess this is a rather long winded way of saying that it is entirely within the society’s rights, in my opinion, to restrict private behavior on the basis greater than personal freedom and personal rights alone. I remain to be convinced that libertarianism’s passion for removing such legal restraints would not, in fact, be far more destructive to individuals and society than could be offset by any small advantage in individual liberty. We should be careful what we wish for, lest our pursuit of freedom devoid of respect for the exalted nature of the individual lead us to a place where there is no freedom to be found.

Hold Harmless

Today’s big viral buzz whipping around the web is, of course, the white-hot story about Elliott Spitzer. This story’s got it all: power, politics, arrogance, big money, sex. Now, Spitzer is not one of those fellows much on my radar screen — just another power-hungry prosecutor who hacked his way through people’s lives in his climb to the top: think Mike Nifong, only luckier — at least up until now. Can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs, now, can you? Perhaps there is truly Karma in this life…

But this post is not about Elliott Spitzer and his political boner at all; it is rather about a comment made regarding his transgression by Jon Henke over at QandO blog, to wit:

Perhaps this would be a good time for people in both parties to reevaluate the counter-productive, anti-freedom laws surrounding prostitution. I’m not sure what Gov. Spitzer was doing, but I would bet he wasn’t hurting anybody else. The question of legality should be distinct from the question of propriety.

Now, this little editorial by Jon put a bee under my bonnet.

The folks over at QandO — an excellent blog, written by bright, well-informed folks — are strongly libertarian. I find the libertarian position appealing in many regards, as I have seen first-hand how destructive the meddling hand of government has been in health care, and how increasingly intrusive it has become in so many other areas of our lives. Nor am I here to pontificate about the evils of prostitution or the wages of sin. I know full well that we all make horrible mistakes in life — myself included — and thus hiring a hooker, while less than noble, strikes me as a common enough failing of men, whether great or small. And visiting a prostitute is certainly not without risks — but that is a story for another time.

No, here’s what really bugs me about the above statement: “I would bet he wasn’t hurting anybody else.”

Really?

The notion — so common in libertarian circles — that our private behavior should be beyond the reach of social and legal constraint, because “it doesn’t hurt anyone” — betrays an extraordinarily narrow and parochial view of the impact of individual human behavior on other people and society as a whole.

So Elliott Spitzer visits a hooker — what’s the big deal? Aside from himself, has anyone been hurt? If it were legalized, none of this would be happening, you know. Because no one got hurt.

Well, let’s see:

I wonder if his wife, who presumably trusted her husband, and believed his vows of faithfulness to her, has been hurt by this “private behavior”? I wonder if her reputation has been damaged in any way? She will, no doubt, be forced to grovel and speak platitudes about her love and commitment to her husband, just to save his political hide and sullied reputation. Her integrity and dignity, of course, will not be besmirched in any way by whoring herself for his political career.

I wonder if his wife, who could easily have contracted an incurable venereal disease — such as HPV, which can cause cervical cancer, or AIDS, because of her husband’s indiscretion, might be hurt in any way by his “private behavior”? The herpes she might pass on to her next child, were she still of child-bearing age, might leave their baby blind — but, hey, no big deal. Nobody gets hurt, remember?

I wonder if his children, now exposed to a highly public and humiliating disgrace of their father, will understand that “nobody gets hurt by his private behavior.” Doubtless they will sail through life completely unfazed when their parents’ marriage shatters on the rocks because of this little dalliance. I’m sure they will not have learned anything about having a trustworthy and honest father, nor about a marriage committed to sexual faithfulness and lifelong commitment, and one can be quite confident that none of this will have any impact whatsoever on their success and happiness in life. `cause it wasn’t about them, remember? Private matter.

The prostitute, of course, got paid handsomely for a few hours of work. The money she made no doubt will help feed her drug habit which she likely supports through her prostitution. Of course, for the libertarian, drugs are another harmless personal pursuit, so the personal destruction they inevitably bring about in her life is of course none of society’s business. Prostitution is far and away the most dangerous profession a women may engage in, with an extraordinarily high rate of violence, murder, drug overdose, and HIV. Odd — since “no one gets hurt” in this “victimless” crime. Consenting adults and all that, don’t ya know.

She funneled a good chunk of that money to her pimps in the prostitution ring, who will no doubt use it for social good, by entrapping more desperate women in the white slave trade, paying bribes to police and public officials to keep their business thriving, and perhaps reinvesting their substantial profits into other criminal activities, drug running, tax evasion, and many of those other harmless private activities they no doubt pursue. I’m sure if prostitution were legalized they would donate the cash to a local charity, and hang out at the Rotary club.

This sort of tunnel vision permeates much of libertarian thought. What harm is done by smoking a little weed in the privacy of your home, or snorting a little coke at home before work? The fact that many drugs remain in your system for prolonged periods — even weeks in the case of THC — with the potential of impairing reflex times, attention span, and the decision-making process, makes your private recreational activity completely harmless when you climb into the driver’s seat of a school bus the next morning, doesn’t it?

It is well within society’s purview and government’s responsibility to place restraints, legal and otherwise, on private behavior which adversely affects others. The notion that removal of all such restraints will increase freedom and reduce vice is illusory. It would surely increase license, as those currently inhibited by the adverse legal and societal consequences of such behavior would be far more prone to indulge in it. The libertarian’s assumption is that the bulk of adverse consequences arises from the enforcement and prosecution of such crimes — far more than by the actual crime itself. This is a highly arguable proposition, and vastly underestimates the subtle but highly destructive nature such behavior permeates through a culture.

There can be little doubt, for example, that an intact, heterosexual marriage provides the best environment for raising emotionally healthy, responsible, and productive children in society. Kids from such environments do better in school; have far lower incidence of criminal and disciplinary problems; are more likely to avoid early-onset sexual activity, teen pregnancy, promiscuity, and unwed motherhood; are more likely to do well economically; and more likely to enter stable, enduring marriages themselves. All such advantages are highly beneficial to society as a whole. Would legalized prostitution, with resulting increased utilization, risk endangering the marriages which provide such substantial societal benefits? Perhaps not for many, but most certainly for some — and the ripple effect over several generations is incalculably large, evident daily in the extant cultural erosion of marriage already long underway in Western society, through liberalized divorce laws, normalization of unwed motherhood, and tolerance and promotion of sexual license and promiscuity. The sins of the fathers truly are carried down to the third and fourth generation — and beyond.

Likewise with legalizing drugs: there is no doubt that the illegality of street drugs creates and sustains a vast, violent, multi-billion dollar international crime network, and our current war on drugs, though enormously expensive, has little to show for these billions spent in restraining the abuse or the crime network which feeds it. It is tempting to put an end to this waste through legalization of street drugs — but again the perceived benefits — financially starving the drug cartels and dealers — seems illusory at best. Will a black market in drugs simply disappear when they are legalized? What will the societal impact of increased use of newly-legalized street drugs have on the behavior of individuals, employment history, domestic violence, marriage stability, child neglect and abuse? The downward spiral so characteristic of addiction will not simply go away because the substances they abuse are now legal — nor will the social and behavioral destruction their use so often engenders.

What we are witnessing here — that which the libertarian finds (somewhat justifiably) so onerous — is an excellent example of the Law of Rules: as inner moral restraint deteriorates (through erosion of religious influences; fewer stable marriages and families to teach children moral standards; the perpetual onslaught against social and moral restraint by an aggressively secular, materialistic and hedonistic society; etc. etc.), there must be a multiplication of rules, laws and enforcement to mitigate the destructive consequences of increasingly narcissistic individualism. The outcome must ultimately be either anarchy or tyranny, for without inner self-control, the only alternatives for continued societal stability and function are the forces of external control — the nanny state, slouching ever forward toward totalitarianism and the police state. The alternative is bleaker still: chaos and societal collapse.

When we do away with laws — even those increasingly encroaching on our freedom — without reestablishing, sustaining, and nurturing our inner moral compasses, the results will invariably be not more freedom, but far less.

The Advent

40 years — a biblical number.

For 40 years, Moses was in exile, before returning to Egypt to free his people. For 40 years, the Israelites wandered in the desert before entering the promised land.

Our own advent has lasted 40 years as well.

Our preparation for this moment began 40 years ago, in 1968. Vietnam, the Democratic convention, political assassinations, riots in the streets.

“Off the pigs!” “Do your own thing!” “Don’t trust anyone over 30!” “Power to the people!” “Tune in, turn on, drop out!”

It was a time of enormous change. And it was just the beginning of enormous change.

The social tumult of the late 60s was indeed a revolution. Yes, the slogans now appear silly and self-important, but the changes they represented burrowed deeply into the soul of a country. Looking back at its superficial manifestations — tie-dyed T-shirts, bell-bottoms, long hair, communes, free love, getting stoned, rock ‘n roll — these things now seem profoundly foolish, the insanity of youth taken greatly to excess. But the changes of the late 60s and 70s were infectious and intoxicating, and were imbibed deeply by an entire nation.

In these 40 years, we have learned many things. We have learned that slogans about change are the same as change. We have learned that “do your own thing” is a principal worth inculcating into the very fabric of our lives. We have learned that how we feel is more important than what we do. We have learned that ideas do not have consequences — but are themselves consequences.

We have learned that our government is not to be trusted, that our country is not to be loved. We have learned that what our country can do for us is more important than what we can do for our country. We have learned that the government always lies; that the media is always truthful; that corporations are evil; that unrestricted license is good.

We have learned to be green, and to relish the obscene. We have learned that religion is patriarchal and oppressive; that social mores and morality are to be challenged and rejected; that “freedom of speech” means burning the flag, smearing Madonna with feces; immersing the crucifix in urine; being obnoxious, abusive, and vicious while never entertaining criticism or rebuttal.

We have learned not to think, but to feel; not to reason but to react; not to dialogue but to detest; not to take responsibility but to accuse. We have learned to bolster our self-esteem, and worship our self-gratification. We have learned that someone else should always pay; that we are entitled to whatever we want; that wealth and happiness are our birthright. We have learned that god is within; that our existence is a cosmic coincidence; that our purpose is self-aggrandizement and acquisition of money and power. We have learned that only the material is true; that spiritual principles and practice are but opinions; that there is no truth anyway, only narrative.

There is much we have not learned during our long advent.

We have not learned history — at least not any history worth learning. We have not learned reason, or logic, or deduction. We have learned nothing of human nature, of its inherent draw toward evil rather than good, of the necessity of moral restraint and regeneration before such mortal and moral gravity can be overcome. We have not learned the limitation of government nor the risks of its encroaching strangulation of our freedom. We have not learned patience, nor endurance, nor self-control, nor deferred gratification. We have not learned that there are things worth dying for, and therefore there might be something worth living for.

Our 40-year advent now draws to a close. The prime-time prophets proclaim the Messiah, who will save us from our spiraling descent with stirring words and mighty miracles. We stand poised to nominate, and perhaps elect, a charismatic individual who is the embodiment of all our heartfelt desires. He alone can end all wars; he alone can destroy tyranny with mere words; he alone can smite the haters, the greedy, the culturally insensitive, the religious zealots. He preaches hope, to those who know not why they are hopeless; he preaches change, to those who have no compass by which to judge its direction.

Imagine such a candidate, such a public figure, running for the presidency a mere 40 years ago. Imagine a presidential candidate with no experience, no portfolio, no principles beyond rhetorical flourish and false hope. Imagine a country which finds such a man not only eligible but epitomizing its very ideals.

You cannot imagine any such thing in any culture which cherishes the responsibility and robustness of its own leaders. Our postmodern evolution is complete; we have grown from a country of adults to a nation of infants. The fruit of our regression is upon us; we are no longer a nation, but a nursery.

“Power to the people,” indeed.

May God help us.

How Do You Like Them Cookies?

Been mind-numbingly busy the past few weeks, so I’ve gotten quite behind on posting.

But here’s a little tidbit you may enjoy: It’s a little game called, “Let’s poke the bear!”

Now, this sort of satire is not really my style, but I must say: ridicule is one of the best weapons we have against the tyranny of Islamofascism.

Bring it on! Another cookie, please!

Lancet Speared

Remember the Lancet study? You know, the one which came out days before the 2006 election, reporting that the Iraq war had caused about 655,000 excess civilian deaths — a number about 20 times larger than most other estimates? It was widely reported in the mainstream media, echoed by politicians and pundits who were quick to use it to further damage the Bush administration politically and heighten opposition to an already unpopular war. It was also widely cited in Europe and the Middle East as evidence of American brutality and callousness in the execution of the war. Because it was published in a prestigious medical journal, those who were skeptical of its findings were left arguing about arcane epidemiological and statistical flaws which virtually guaranteed that no one would listen. The idea that a medical journal would publish a document almost purely political in nature was, of course, pooh-poohed by all the right people.

The National Journal has been quietly investigating this study, looking not only at its methodology, but its authors, participants, and the financial backing for its research, and has published its findings in a detailed review. It is must-reading for anyone who wishes to see how deeply the “scientific” literature can be co-opted and corrupted by politics and bias.

Just a few of the NJ’s findings:

The authors of the Lancet study followed a model that ensured that even minor components of the data, when extrapolated over the whole population, would yield huge differences in the death toll.

The Iraqi scientist recruited to oversee the researchers conducting field surveys in Iraq, Riyadh Lafta, had been a child-health official in Saddam Hussein’s ministry of Health when the ministry was trying to end the international sanctions against Iraq by asserting that many Iraqis were dying from hunger, disease, or cancer caused by spent U.S. depleted-uranium shells remaining from the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Lafta was quoted as saying, “God has picked these clusters [sample groups]. If God wants me, he will take me.” Roberts, one of the study principals, who recruited Lafta, also quoted him as saying, “I know no one [who] perceives themselves so humbly to be a tool of God’s destiny…. He sees his science as synonymous with service to God.”

The study’s authors have repeatedly refused to provide the surveyors’ reports and original data which supported their findings.

Virtually everyone connected with the study has been an outspoken opponent of U.S. actions in Iraq.

A substantial portion (about half) of the funding for the study came from the Open Society Institute created by George Soros.

The Lancet editor who agreed to rush the study into print before the 2006 election, with an expedited peer-review process and without seeing the surveyors’ original data, also makes no secret of his leftist politics. At a September 2006 rally in Manchester, England, he declared, “This axis of Anglo-American imperialism extends its influence through war and conflict, gathering power and wealth as it goes, so millions of people are left to die in poverty and disease.”

This, and much, much more can be found in the National Journal’s article. Take the time to read it, and think about it the next time some “unbiased” medical or scientific article is cited for political purposes.

This is, by the way, the Lancet‘s equivalent of TNR‘s Beauchamps meltdown. And don’t expect to hear about this on CNN later this week. (HT: Brutally Honest)

Update:
The WSJ has picked up on this as well: The Lancet’s Political Hit.

Bad Advice, Goddess

Amy Alkon, the Advice Goddess takes on the unenviable task of defending Ann Coulter in her latest ill-spoken diatribe on Christians and Jews:

Now, if you’re a Christian, chances are, it’s because your parents were Christians, and they took you to church and told you you were one, too. Typically works the same way for Muslims, Jews, and the rest. Few people actually make a conscious decision to worship a certain religion, let alone consider whether any belief, sans evidence, in god, makes sense…yet people of each religion tell themselves, essentially, “We’re cool and everybody else sucks!” (Neener, neener, neener!)

Now the Goddess is one smart cookie, who’s more than capable of defending a contrarian position. And although Coulter’s raving critics ain’t exactly throwin’ heat on this topic, the Goddess nevertheless wiffs big-time on this one — and in fact makes the exact same mistake that Coulter’s interviewer made, along with many of her critics. Sorry to say, it’s back to the dugout for the Goddess.

Not that I want to step up to the plate to defend Ann Coulter — she’s a major contributor to the rabid attack school of political discourse, barely a hair’s breadth above the Michael Savages and Michael Moores of the world; all heat, no light, genuinely obnoxious. If I were king, duct tape would be firmly applied — with super glue — to all such flapping orifices. I know, freedom of speech and all, yada, yada, but a guy can dream, can’t he?

But back to the Goddess — her core rebuttal, if I read her correctly, is that all religions believe they have the truth, and so of course they believe the next guy’s religion doesn’t — or at least is less enlightened or “complete” than they are. So why be offended, after all? I prefer chocolate ice cream, you prefer vanilla, so chocolate is “better” than vanilla, no? True enough, as far as it goes — which really isn’t nearly far enough when talking about matters of faith and religion.

The assumption which the Goddess makes is exactly the assumption Coulter’s interviewer, and his kindred spirits in media and the secular intelligentsia make, to wit: religion is nothing more than a personal or cultural preference. You get raised a Catholic, you grow up Catholic, or Jewish, or Muslim, or whatever. The idea that one might be able to measure such things against an absolute standard of truth is anathema to this way of thinking. The default logic is, all religions claim to have the truth, about things which are unprovable, so let’s just dismiss them all as fantasies and move on, shall we? The Goddess tips her hand to this line of thinking when she says:

Obviously, if Coulter didn’t prefer Christianity to Judaism and other religions (or didn’t think it would sell books — like all the rest of her shock-jockery)…she wouldn’t be a Christian. I mean, is this really so hard to grasp? Is it offensive? Or is it just…her opinion? Just as it’s my opinion that this country and the world would be much better off if the silliness that is belief without evidence in god was wiped out tomorrow, and people started living rationally.

Ahh, the old “faith is belief without evidence” line — where have I heard that one before? Sigh. It’s sad to see bright people fall face-down into this kind of intellectual porridge (not too hot, not too cold), this mental miasma whose sweet aroma is seductive but deadly to true philosophical integrity. A nice, easy comfortable generalization, this — salving the spirit while deadening the soul.

Now, don’t get me wrong: there’s lots of religions out there on pretty thin ice when it comes to providing solid evidence that their beliefs are at least reasonable. If you’re a Mormon, for example, you need to get past Joseph Smith’s scams and skills as a con-man, well-documented by a (former) Mormon historian, as well as the absolute dearth of archaeological evidence for the battles and civilizations depicted in the Book of Mormon. If you’re a Scientologist or New Ager, well, abandon all hope of finding objective evidence supporting belief in these religions which revolve in the far outer orbits of reality. In fact, when you get to the heart of most religions, there is a large central core of belief which cannot be objectively substantiated, whether it be reincarnation, or ancestor worship, or animism, or pantheism, or the fevered prophetic mutterings of Mohammad.

Then you come to Christianity.

And that sucking sound you hear is your comfortable smugness being swallowed up by evidential quicksand.

You find — if you are willing to look — a real man in history, acknowledged by even his pagan detractors as someone worshiped by his followers as God and reported to have been raised from the dead. You find an enormous body of ancient literature, preserved with uncanny accuracy unmatched by any other ancient texts, written by eyewitnesses whose accounts depict extraordinary events, while displaying their first-person storytellers in a harsh light utterly inconsistent with mythical generation. You find an abundance of archaeological evidence confirming many of its story characters and otherwise-obscure ancient places and customs.

And you find an empty tomb with no good explanation save that proffered by those who then saw him in the flesh: that his His claims could not be ignored, and that we would no longer have the luxury of dismissing Him and His followers as just another “belief without evidence.”

Of course, the Goddess is free to believe as she chooses, as we all are. But to dismiss such evidence out of hand, and posit in its stead a world where we can by denying it “start living rationally,” is, well, irrational, and does not demonstrate true intellectual integrity.

A common shorthand used by physicians when documenting a physical exam finding or lab result is “WNL”, meaning “Within normal limits.” We had a standing joke in my medical residency for those would document things they had never actually examined — “WNL” meant “We never looked.” And it likewise describes perfectly our modern skeptics who dismiss all religion as foolish, irrational fantasy. Some of it surely is — but being half-right means you’re all wrong. There is a price to pay for examining the evidence for Christ and the claims of Christianity, a price many are unwilling to pay: if you tackle this pursuit honestly and objectively, it will likely cost you your life.

But then, someone famous once said, “He who loses his life for My sake, will gain it.”

In my experience, it’s the best deal I’ve ever gotten. And that’s my advice to Amy.

Mea Culpa

I’ve decided to pull a post from earlier today. It was an attempt to use humor to point out the insanity of secular multiculturalism, using this story as a jump-off point.

The humor used was too edgy, and too offensive. I was called on this by a brother in Christ, and initially reacted defensively, but he is right: I was over the line, and exercised poor judgment in posting it.

The strength of blogging is the ability to respond quickly to the world around us. The weakness of blogging is the ability to respond too quickly to the world around us, impulsively and without wisdom or restraint.

My central point was simply this, poorly expressed: that secular multiculturalism is a poor and harmful substitute for true multiculturalism, as expressed in Scripture: “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” [Col 3:11]. The one divides and separates; the other unites in love and true transcendence of human differences.

My apologies to any who may have been offended, and my thanks to my brother Zagreus who opened my eyes.