Monday, February 27, 2006

"The Arab takeover of major operations at six U.S. ports."

That's how this morning's NPR headline reader referred to the United Arab Emirates port controversy.

Is that terminology not remarkable? Can you imagine NPR referring to an Anglo-Saxon, or East Asian, or African takeover, in similar circumstances?

"Violence Subsides Across Iraq"

At least that's what the L.A. Times is reporting:

Throughout Iraq, passions aroused by Wednesday's bombing of an important Shiite Muslim shrine in Samarra and reprisals against Sunni Muslim clerics and houses of worship appeared to have subsided considerably. Curfews and a ban on vehicle traffic were lifted in several mixed Sunni-Shiite provinces but continued in the capital, where children took over empty streets to play soccer.

If the Times prints any good news at all from Iraq, one tends to think the news must be true.

Apparently four of the 10 suspects arrested are guards at the shrine. They're probably Shi'ite Muslims who had placed in a position of great trust, and were bribed or otherwise persuaded to assist with the bombing. If they are guilty of complicity in the outrage, I think they face an unpleasant future indeed.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Radical Islam's Jurisdiction

From Mark Steyn:

What, in the end, are all these supposedly unconnected matters from Danish cartoons to the murder of a Dutch filmmaker to gender-segregated swimming sessions in French municipal pools about? Answer: sovereignty. Islam claims universal jurisdiction and always has. The only difference is that they're now acting upon it. The signature act of the new age was the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran: Even hostile states generally respect the convention that diplomatic missions are the sovereign territory of their respective countries. Tehran then advanced to claiming jurisdiction over the citizens of sovereign states and killing them -- as it did to Salman Rushdie's translators and publishers. Now in the cartoon jihad and other episodes, the restraints of Islamic law are being extended piecemeal to the advanced world, by intimidation and violence but also by the usual cooing promotion of a spurious multicultural "respect" by Bill Clinton, the United Church of Canada, European foreign ministers, etc.

The I'd-like-to-teach-the-world-to-sing-in-perfect-harmonee crowd have always spoken favorably of one-worldism. From the op-ed pages of Jutland newspapers to les banlieues of Paris, the Pan-Islamists are getting on with it.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Quote of the Week

Actually, it's the best quote of the last two weeks, from Daniel Henninger in yesterday's Opinion Journal, entitled "Senator Yosemite Sam:"

What we have here is the dawn of the new Yosemite Sam school of national politics. Put any news event in front of our politicians now--Hurricane Katrina, Terri Schiavo, Dick Cheney's quail or this week the ports--and like Bugs Bunny's hair-triggered nemesis they'll start spraying the landscape with wild remarks and opinions decoupled from what is knowable about these events. Wait to learn the facts--as almost alone, Sen. John McCain, suggested? Why bother?

. . .

It has been a truism for a century that press stereotypes set the tone of many public events. We used to call this the conventional wisdom; now it's a "narrative." By and large it's a neutral phenomenon. But in our jacked-up media age, first impressions--false or true--becomes powerful and hard to alter. Surely this is one reason Vice President Cheney's office resisted "releasing" the shooting incident into the media ozone.

Our political elites, rather than recognize they are playing with a new kind of fire, instead have become pyromaniacs, lighting the fires. New Orleans even now can't get out from under the initial crazy statements the pols were hurling over Katrina. Our politicians seem to have arrived at the conclusion that they somehow no longer bear responsibility for what they say, or that there is no consequence to what they say. But they do and there is. Yosemite Sam was a cartoon. The ability of government to function in a dangerous world is not.

Indeed. Read the whole thing!

We Can Dream, Can't We?

From Cox and Forkum:

Friday, February 24, 2006

A Post from the Philippines About America

I happened to run across this post on a sports message board and received the author's permission to post it here.

I'm proud to be an American.

I'm currently staying in a Marriott hotel in the Philippines. I've been in this hotel since October. . . . There are a few different guests that have been here for multiple months. I've become friends with a man from Egypt and another from Pakistan. Both of these men are much older, approaching retirement. Talking to them about their views on life and their life experiences make me grateful of the stability of our country. We have dinner at least three times a week and they each have different friends from different cultures that join from time to time. This is been an eye opening experience for me.

For all the political problems we have, the good old USA is still the greatest run country on earth or at the very worst, top 3.

That's one thing.

The other thing that makes me proud to be an American right now is this:

I'm about 100 miles west of where the landslide took place last week. Death tolls are rising daily. Local news this morning estimate the total to be around 2,500 now. It was very depressing around here.

Well, the hotel here is now swarming with US Army and US Marines. I've had the chance to talk with several of them. They talk about how devastating it is to this community who experienced something similar a few years ago. They talked about an entire village is gone. They talk about how grateful these villagers are for the help and support that came so quickly from the US. These men and women were back in the US last week. When the slide happened the US quickly mobilized relief efforts back in the US and sent soldiers here to help. The sight of the military personnel has seemed to really boost the spirits of the locals.

Again, for all the shortcomings that we have, and all the wrong reasons some mention for having a strong military, I'm so glad that we have the ability to help others when in dire need. And the attitude of our military here. They walk with pride yet carry themselves with humility. It makes me proud to be represented by them.
It's nice to get first-hand news like this.

Pure Evil

The photo at left shows the the al-Askari shrine, in the central Iraqi city of Samarra, as it looks now. On the right is the way it was before it was bombed.

The shrine was 1200 years old and was sacred to Shiite Muslims. It's my understanding that bombing this shrine is tantamount to bombing the Church of The Holy Nativity in Bethlehem or St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome. How can anyone describe this act - the destruction of a beloved, ancient religious holy site for the purpose of stirring up sectarian violence-- as anything but pure evil?

Not freedom-fighting, not a noble nationalist insurgency, and decidedly not the fault of the United States or Israel. Simply the evil act of men who have become monsters.

The question now is whether this event will escalate and destroy the fledgling Iraqi democracy. This CBS news link to James Robbins' NRO piece argues that it will not. Everything I heard on the MSM this morning argued that it will. No one knows. We can only hope and pray.

UPDATE: Victor Davis Hanson just got back from Iraq. His piece in NRO is an absolute must-read. Excerpt:

Most would agree that the Americans now know exactly what they are doing.
They have a brilliant and savvy ambassador and a top diplomatic team. Their bases are expertly run and secured, where food, accommodations, and troop morale are excellent. Insufficient body armor and unarmored humvees are yesterday’s hysteria. Our generals — Casey, Chiarelli, Dempsey — are astute and understand the fine line between using too much force and not employing enough, and that the war cannot be won by force alone. American colonels are the best this county has produced, and they are proving it in Iraq under the most trying of conditions. Iraqi soldiers are treated with respect and given as much autonomy as their training allows.

Again, the question now is an existential one: Can the United States — or anyone — in the middle of a war against Islamic fascism, rebuild the most important country in the heart of the Middle East, after 30 years of utter oppression, three wars, and an Orwellian, totalitarian dictator warping of the minds of the populace? And can anyone navigate between a Zarqawi, a Sadr, and the Sunni rejectionists, much less the legions of Iranian agents, Saudi millionaires, and Syrian provocateurs who each day live to destroy what’s going on in Iraq?

Agree with him or not (and I do agree with him), Hanson's one of the most compelling foreign affairs writers living.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Ever Checked into MySpace? If You Have Children, You Should

If you're a parent, or work with youth, or simply care about kids, you will want to take a look at Be aware of what it is.

Then take a look at this L.A. Times article about how sexual predators use sites like MySpace. Thanks for this to Hugh Hewitt, who says:

This story should be read over the loudspeakers of every junior and senior high school in America. MySpace isn't going away, but kids should know who's reading their journals.
Absolutely right.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Hugh Hewitt, The Book of Mormon, and DNA Redux

Today between 5 and 6 p.m. Pacific time, Hugh Hewitt will have two DNA experts who are also members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the "Mormons") on his show to respond to an L.A Times article from last Thursday. For those who can't listen by radio, the show is available on-line too, at Hugh's site. Just find the button that says “listen online.”

As I've noted before many times, this is a political/cultural blog, not a religious one, but I think this story is significant in terms of the news media's coverage of religion. Viewed in that light, today's Hewitt show ought to be quite interesting. Hugh has a large listening audience and is influential in conservative political circles; I have found him to be exceedingly friendly and fair in discussions of faith-related issues. As noted below, last Thursday Hugh interviewed the L.A. Times reporter, William Lobdell, who wrote a front-page story about DNA and the Book of Mormon. I personally found both that interview and the article itself disappointing (my comments here), but Hugh got a great deal of feedback on the interview and decided to have two serious LDS DNA experts on his show to respond further to the Times article. I applaud Hugh's fairness and urge all those who are interested to listen in and spread the word.

UPDATE: The transcript of the interview with the DNA experts, Daniel Peterson and John Butler, is now on Radioblogger.

The United Arab Emirates Port Deal

The sharks are aroused.

Every now and then the Bush White House makes decisions that make its occupants seem politically tone-deaf. The nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court was one of those decisions. Even though I supported the Miers nomination, I am still wondering what the president was thinking on that one. At the same time, I still marvel at the ferocious reaction of so many conservatives to the Miers nomination. All reserve, all class, all civility went out the window.

Now we are seeing a repeat of that story in a different context. The White House is insisting on the proposed sale of the contract for port operations in several major U.S. cities to a firm owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates.

Conservatives have gone bonkers. (Laura Ingraham, for example, is already in her fully strident, grating, ridiculing mode that makes me want to switch my radio to NPR-- and it takes a lot to push me that far.)

Hillary Clinton and the Democrats are trying to use this deal to get to Bush's right on terrorism.

Bush says he'll veto any legislation that would stop the deal.

The battle lines are formed.

Again, I wonder: What's going on here? Why is this deal so important? Intuitively, it looks like terrible politics and questionable policy. Hugh Hewitt comments persuasively here. People like me, Bush supporters who also understand the concerns raised by other conservatives, are left in the same position we were in during the Harriet Miers fiasco: having to trust the White House. There must be something going on here that makes the president want to support this deal, even though it looks very questionable and has been rolled out with very little political preparation. The White House actually seems surprised by the negative reaction. (This is depressingly familiar.)

Most hard-right conservatives, however, do not trust this White House, and have no reservations about going after Bush with relentless fury. It will be interesting to see if the talk show circuit and NRO's Corner pursue Bush as viciously as they did during the Miers controversy. NRO is already in full attack mode. The blood is in the water; the sharks are aroused.

Stay tuned! If I were a betting man, I'd put all my money on this deal being killed. Just what the Bush Administration needs-- another embarrassing climb-down from a politically mishandled decision.

UPDATE: Big Lizards has the first even-handed analysis of this kerfluffle that I have seen in the conservative blogosphere. It's very much worth a read.

UPDATE 2: The always-colorful, always incisive George Berryman III at Alamo Nation has thoughts worth reading. They'll bring a smile to your face, too.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Pressure on Iraqis for Non-Sectarian Government

I think I am like a lot of Americans: I am no foreign policy expert and certainly not a Middle East expert, but I watch closely and care a lot about what is happening, especially in Iraq and other outposts in the global war on terror.

It also seems to me that many Americans are like me: I am conservative, Republican, a Bush voter and supporter. I supported the invasion of Iraq based on WMD concerns. When no WMDs were found, I was still comfortable with the invasion because (1) everyone thought Saddam had WMDs and (2) the prospect of replacing such a monstrous troublemaker with a democracy, right in the center of the undemocratic Middle East, justified the invasion as a sort of second prize.

So now everything seems to hang on the West's midwifery of democracy in Iraq. I suspect that millions of Americans share my anxiety about that-- we are cautiously optimistic, but worried, about the Iraq experiment. Will all that blood and treasure and trauma to the nation and world go to waste? Will Iraq fall from fledgling democracy to yet another strong-man autocracy-- or worse? Will President Bush be rewarded or punished for betting his presidency on this adventure?

Certainly those are questions being pondered in the White House, as this Washington Times story suggests. The U.S. Ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, is speaking bluntly to the Iraqis about their political future:

During a rare press conference, Mr. Khalilzad said division among the
country's sectarian and ethnic communities was "the fundamental problem in
Iraq," fueling the Sunni Arab-dominated insurgency and the wave of reprisal

"To overcome this, there is a need for a government of national unity,"
which "is the difference between what exists now and the next government," he
said. The outgoing government is dominated by Shi'ites and Kurds.

Mr. Khalilzad said Iraq's next Cabinet ministers, particularly those
heading the Interior and Defense ministries, "have to be people who are
nonsectarian, broadly acceptable and who are not tied to militias" controlled by
political parties.

Otherwise, he warned, "Iraq faces the risk of warlordism that Afghanistan
went through for a period." Mr. Khalilzad was born in Afghanistan and served as
U.S. envoy there.

To underscore his remarks, Mr. Khalilzad reminded the Iraqis that the
United States has spent billions to build up Iraq's police and army and said "we
are not going to invest the resources of the American people and build forces
that are run by people who are sectarian" and tied to the militias.
Read the whole thing. It will inform you but if you're like me it won't necessarily make you feel better.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

An Appropriate Remembrance of Duty, Honor, and Love

This evening I happened to be watching the first installment of Ken Burns' much-acclaimed Civil War series and heard again the Civil War letter sent by Sullivan Ballou of the Second Regiment, Rhode Island Volunteers, to his wife Sarah. You can read it here.

It strikes me that although we are hearing now of similar devotion by our soldiers in the war on terror, it's well to remember that this sort of thing has been going on in our republic for a long time now.

Say Again?

From Cox and Forkum.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Read Soxblog

I am a little embarrassed not to have mentioned Dean Barnett's Soxblog before. I must be working too much. (Gainful employement does tend to interfere with blogging, at least for me.) Anyway, Soxblog is a fine read, day in and day out. I am not as crazy about Andrew Jackson as Dean is. No matter; he is a Red Sox fan of the first order, but does not wear his fanhood on his sleeve, except at appropriate times. All true Sox fans know when such times occur.

Today's Soxblog post is sort of a weekly roundup, and a delight. Highly recommended!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Mormons, The News Media, and DNA

As I've stated here many times, this is not a religious blog, and I'm not about to make it one. Even so, I am a religious person and occasionally like to comment on the intersection of politics, culture, and religion.

I have been almost continuously occupied with work and family in the 24 hours or so since I saw the L.A. Times article on DNA and the Book of Mormon, but now I have a little time to comment. I wasn't originally going to say anything here about that article, but several friends have asked me to do so. More importantly, yesterday Hugh Hewitt actually interviewed the article's author, William Lobdell, and posted a transcript of the interview on Radioblogger.

I did not hear the interview, but at first was glad to hear that Hugh had jumped on Lobdell's article. Hugh's interview, however, was disappointing. For such a demanding critic as Hugh of the MSM generally and of the L.A. Times specifically, I think the questioning was a little soft. (Hugh did say that Lobdell is his friend; that may explain the lack of pressing and probing.)

So I present here the questions I wish Hugh had asked William Lobdell, along with my comments.

1. Why did this story merit front-page, above-the-fold placement in the Times?

The fact is, this is not news. The question of DNA evidence and the Book of Mormon arose as early as 2002, and this is not the first time Lobdell has written in the Times about this subject. Moreover, a number of scholarly articles have been published (beginning in 2003) responding to the very concerns about which Lobdell writes. So what has happened in the last 3-4 years that now makes this a front-page story?

2. Lobdell states, "on the Church website, the Church issued a press release saying that the basis of the story was wrong, and . . . so that's pretty good. I got a reaction from the Church . . . ." Why is that significant?

The answer to this question goes to the theme of Question 1 above. Does Lobdell's self-congratulation over getting "a reaction from the Church" explain why he resurrected this story? Was it his intention merely to stir up a good controversy? According to the Times web site, Lobdell's piece was the most e-mailed on-line article yesterday.

I think Hugh let Lobdell off too easy on the reporter's professed friendliness to the LDS Church. In the interview Lobdell protests, "[m]ore times than not, I've been accused of being a member of the Church, or a shill for the Church." Mr. Lobdell, methinks thou dost protest too much. I don't think any reasonable reader would consider the article cited above, or this article, to be examples of your shilling for the Church. The latter article about "Mormons who quit the church" and "find themselves ostracized by friends, co-workers and families" is a favorite on anti-Mormon web sites, and the link above is to just such a site. Do a Google search on William Lobdell + Mormon and see what you find. He doesn't look much like a shill to me.

3. The story's title is "Bedrock of a Faith Is Jolted." Do you think most Mormons would agree that the notion that modern Native Americans are descendants of ancient Israelite immigrants is the "bedrock" of their faith?

I not not want to debate religious beliefs here, but any active Mormon will tell you that such a proposition is just silly. Yes, we believe the Book of Mormon is the "keystone of our religion," and we have always thought, as a church, that the connection between the Book of Mormon peoples and pre-Columbian indigenous American peoples is very interesting and often faith-promoting. But that connection is certainly not the "bedrock" of our faith. Anyone who joined the Church solely because of a belief in that genetic connection connection would not last long as a member.

In that vein, this statement by Lobdell desperately needed a follow-up question from Hugh:

"Yeah, and I think what's important also to note is that the Mormons themselves used this as a huge conversion tool for the native people of . . . especially Central, South America, Polynesia. You know, you are the descendants. You are the part of the house of Israel. You are specially chosen people."

I was a missionary for 2 years in Guatemala, right in the heart of Book of Mormon territory, and saw many people become Mormons. I never saw anyone join the church because of the approach Lobdell describes. As missionaries, we might mention the Israelite connection in passing, but it was not the thrust of our message. Again, we Mormons see that connection as interesting, inspiring, and faith-promoting; but anyone who joins the Church because of it is on a weak foundation indeed. I have never seen a single person join for that reason alone, or even heavily weighting that reason.

4. Isn't it a little unfair to take a religion to task for a lack of scientific proof for its beliefs? There is no conclusive scientific proof, for example, that God created the earth, that Moses actually parted the Red Sea, or that Jesus had a virgin birth. Accepting the reality of those events is inherently a matter of religious faith. How is this question of a Native American-Israelite ancestral connection any different?

Need I say more?

5. Do you think it is fair to focus your story so much on the opinions of disaffected (and often excommunicated) Mormons?

It is easy to find people who are unhappy with any church. Lobdell seems especially good at finding unhappy Mormons, who often tend to network together and benefit from support from the more virulently anti-Mormon groups. I have found generally that if I want to get reliable information about a religion, I ask serious members of that faith, not its critics or former members. That's a good rule for everyone.

Generally, the L.A. Times does a terrible job of covering the news without a slant, and especially of covering religion. This article was no exception.

UPDATE: Hugh Hewitt reports that he will have two LDS DNA experts on his show next week, Tuesday or Wednesday. I assure everyone that to the extent there's any implied criticism of Hugh in the above post, I hereby disavow it. Hugh's just a thoroughly fair and decent guy, and I look forward to next week's interviews.

UPDATE 2: Right Side Redux has a more comprehensive deconstruction of Lobdell's article. Highly recommended!

UPDATE 3: My fellow Socal Blogger Alliance member John Schroeder at Blogotional has some additional thoughts on the intersection of science and faith. So do Laer at Cheat Seeking Missiles and John Gillmartin at The Sheep's Crib. I don't think they have their Mormonism completely right, but my grasp of Presbyterianism (and other "ism's") isn't so great either! Thanks for noticing me, guys.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Cartoon of the Day

By Eric Devericks in the Seattle Times.

Shotguns, Birdshot and Such

I have never hunted but I know a little about shotguns and birdshot. At least I have fired a shotgun and used birdshot in target practice, things I suspect David Gregory has never done. Anyway, I'm not paying too much attention to Vice President Cheney's recent hunting accident, but if you want a quick primer on what really happened and what kind of weaponry was involved, Mary Katherine Ham has a fine post on Hugh Hewitt's blog today.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Here's a Movie All Mujahideen Will Want to See!

By Ralph B. Kostant

Hedgehog readers are probably familiar with Billy Zane (center, photo at left), who played Kate Winslet’s rich and evil fiancé in Titanic. And who can forget Gary Busey’s (right) portrayal of Buddy Holly in The Buddy Holly Story? So what have those crazy boys been up to lately? Well, Turkish audiences are packing the theaters to see them in Valley of the Wolves: Iraq. Here is a quick plot synopsis drawn from a story about the film in The Jerusalem Post:

The Turkish film's arch villain is a rogue American officer, played by Billy Zane, who is a self-professed "peacekeeper sent by God." He and his men shoot up an Iraqi wedding party, killing the groom in the presence of the bride and a little boy in front of his mother. Gary Busey portrays a Jewish U.S. army doctor who cuts out the organs of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib and sells them to wealthy foreign clients. The Busey character, listed only as The Doctor, is far removed from the Jewish stereotype in both appearance and manner, but hardly a credit to his heritage. At one point, he scolds American soldiers for shooting up the wedding guests "because it ruins their organs." In another scene, a group of apparent organ buyers includes a man clearly dressed as an Orthodox Jew. Even worse is the depiction of Zane's character, Sam William Marshall, as a psychopathic Christian fundamentalist, who can be kind to an Iraqi one moment and then kill him instantly. In the end, a Turkish commando unit tracks down Zane and his soldiers, and with the help of Iraqi fighters, wipes out the Americans in a bloody battle.

The film’s producers are marketing them film at the Berlin International Film Festival. It is already set for release in at least a dozen Arab and European countries, and the producers hope to release it in the United States as well. Given the recent Moslem reaction to the Danish political cartoons portraying Mohammed, one can imagine their reaction to a film depicting American soldiers murdering innocent Iraqi civilians and an American Jewish U.S. Army doctor who takes their organs and sells them.

Gary Busey’s attorney, Vickie Roberts, defended her client’s role in the film on Constitutional grounds. According to the Jerusalem Post:

“There is something in this country called the First Amendment that protects
freedom of expression," she said, "I hope we are not returning to the McCarthy

Roberts added, "If Gary played a rapist in a movie, would anyone
believe him to be an actual rapist? He is an actor, not a politician."

When asked about the moral and ethical implications of portraying an
anti-Semitic stereotype in a foreign movie, Roberts declined to comment.”
Well, I am not surprised that an entertainment industry attorney was left speechless when asked about the moral and ethical implications of her client’s work. It is a sad, but inevitable fact that when American soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere lay down their lives to protect our freedom, they likewise protect the freedom of Billy Zane, Gary Busey and Vickie Roberts. Yet the United States is in a war against Islamic Fascism, and one wonders if there are any legal limits on the activities of American citizens who give aid and comfort to the enemy.

The Hedgehog adds: To call this behavior by Busey and Zane disappointing would be an understatement. Do they really think this is "just a job?" Is Vickie Roberts (Busey's attorney) seriously comparing criticism of her client's role in this film to McCarthyism?

Oh, please. As a lawyer, Ms. Roberts knows that taking on a client is a voluntary matter, except in exceedingly rare situations when a lawyer is court-appointed, and even then a lawyer may be excused from service. In my own legal career, I have refused to represent certain clients. Yes, it is true that lawyers are professionals and do not necessarily endorse their clients' views. But any lawyer who takes on a client recognizes that he or she will be associated with that client's case. Similarly, Zane and Busey are professionals, and they know they will be be associated with this film's message, to which they have devoted their talents and fame.

Maybe they thought no one in the West would notice. In today's world, that is a foolish hope. My own hope is that the careers of both Zane and Busey will be tarnished by their association with this movie.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

An Example of Frank, Unabashed Religious Discrimination Among Conservatives

I'll have more to say about this in upcoming posts, but for now I want to get this out into the blogosphere.

Today I happened to be listening to Dennis Prager's talk show. A female caller said she was a Mormon and a political conservative, and expressed puzzlement and frustration over the discrimination she often feels from certain other Christians. ("Mormon" is an externally-imposed nickname for a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.) What makes this painful, the caller observed, was that like the overwhelming majority of Mormons, she works hard for conservative causes, is politically and morally conservative, tries to be a good, loving neighbor and citizen, and participates eagerly in community service. And yet she has to put up with discrimination from some other Christian groups and must listen to many of her Christian acquaintances say that they could never vote for governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts because he is a Mormon.

Prager expressed surprise and stated that he had never heard of anyone saying such a thing. He also announced his plans to devote an hour of a future show to the subject, and invited anyone in the audience who was aware of such statements of discrimination against Mormons to pass them on to him.

Well, here's one. A few days ago I was reading my copy of the February 2006 edition of The American Spectator and ran across this letter to the editor:

Grover Norquist, in "The Best and the Brightest," notes that "many evangelical churches still circulate tracts attacking Mormonism... as a cult." May God -- the God of the Bible, that is -- bless them!

Mormonism certainly meets the definition of a cult: Mormons believe that theirs is the one true church and that all others are false; that their leader is a revelator and prophet who speaks in God's name; and that their primary holy book, The Book of Mormon, is equal to the Bible, if not holier.

Mormons believe that Jesus is the spirit brother of Lucifer and that faithful Mormons will become gods. The Book of Mormon says that dark skin is a punishment for sin (2 Nephi 5: 21 and Alma 3:6) -- a belief that, in recent years, has been "divinely revealed" to need correction, leading even some Mormons to wonder what else in their holy book may be wrong.

If the GOP wants to nominate Mitt Romney in 2008, I recommend that Republicans learn about Mormonism before they vote. There are many good books on the subject, from Hank Hanegraff's Kingdom of the Cults to (Bob) Larson's New Book of Cults.

I may vote for Roman Catholic politicians in many cases because, while their church also has strayed from biblical truth in many crucial ways, it at least acknowledges the Triune God, the divinity of Jesus, His virgin birth, and His bodily resurrection.

However, biblical Christianity and Mormonism have virtually nothing in common (Galatians 1:8­9 comes to mind). I may have to abstain from voting for the next president if the GOP makes me choose between Hillary and heresy.

Mary Alan Woodward
Louisville, Kentucky

I don't know about you, but I do not expect to find a religious smear in a leading political magazine like The Spectator. Stunned, I re-read the letter again and again, until it sank in that the writer was quite serious.

Here's a game for you: Imagine the same letter, appearing in that magazine, and attacking a religion, but for the word "Mormonism" substitute "Judaism" or "Methodism" or "Catholicism."

Can you imagine that? Didn't think so. Neither can I.


(By the way: (1) To label a long-established worldwide church, with over 12 million members, a "cult" is also nothing more than a smear. (2)Mormons do not believe the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, is holier than the Bible; or that "dark skin is a punishment for sin." And (3) anyone who wants to learn what Mormons really believe ought to consider asking a Mormon rather than reading a book by some of our faith's, well, detractors-- to use a mild term. Here's an excellent place to start. For the general official Church web site, go here. And if you want to know exactly what Mormons believe about Jesus Christ, go here.)

Monday, February 13, 2006

So Long for A While

I just got word that Blogger will be down all day today while the service's memory is upgraded. Well, a forced respite is probably not a bad thing. I'll be back!

Abortion Rights, Sea Monkeys, And The Middle Ground

A few years ago I was having lunch with a law partner of mine who is ardently in favor of abortion rights. She knew I was opposed to abortion generally and to the Roe v. Wade decision specifically. I commented that regardless of what happened at the Supreme Court level, there seemed to be a "middle ground" emerging on the abortion issue.

Her sharp reply: "What middle ground can there be? You either believe that a woman has an absolute right to choose or you don't." I decided to change the subject.

It's now quite obvious, I think, that the extreme view my partner expressed is held only by a minority. Last Friday, the L.A. Times published an op-ed piece by an author named Anne Lamott, expressing that same minority view. You can read that here. Today a reader responded with this interesting letter:

February 13, 2006

Re "The rights of the born," Opinion, Feb. 10

Abortion must remain legal, safe and available to all women. But with people like Anne Lamott calling fetuses "teeny weenie so-called babies" and comparing
them to sea monkeys, our side cannot possibly prevail.

There seems to be no room in this discussion for a woman like me, who holds two passionate beliefs: that abortion must always be legal, and that I could never have one myself.

Although these are two separate issues, as they should be — the government has no business teaching me morals — Lamott's tirade makes abortion-rights proponents look like spoiled, selfish women who consider having an abortion something that everyone does and who get through tough times by pigging out on M&Ms.

No wonder we are losing this battle.


Santa Monica

It will be interesting to see if such voices can find expression in the Democratic Party, or if they will remain heretical.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

An Interview with Former Terrorists

Here's an interesting interview from a cable station in New Jersey called CN8. Apparently CN8 is a Comcast channel; more about it here.

I am not quite sure what to make of this interview or the interviewees. The group includes three men who profess to be reformed terrorists: Walid Shoebat, Zak Anani, and Ibrahim Adbullah. I'm a little suspicious about the complete turnaround these three men claim to have undergone, because they now sound like perfect American neocons, right off the pages of Commentary. Even so, the perspectives expressed are interesting.

What adds to my reluctance to swallow everything these three have to say are the activities of the apparent leader of the group, Mr. Shoebat. He has his own Walid Shoebat Foundation, the web site for which reads, frankly, like a Center for Security Policy web page. Color me skeptical.

You can read more about these three gentlemen here, in a transcript of an O'Reilly Factor interview.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

An American Small Business Man Reminds Us How It's Done

In a throw-away society, how do you avoid becoming obsolete?

Ask Woodland Hills typewriter repairman John Wargnier.
So begins this L.A. Times story, which tells the story of a man who is one those American small business owners that seem to be more and more rare. Read this; it will raise your faith in people.

Worthwhile Photo Review

For weekend reading, I recommend this post from Power Line. One thing the Islamic protesters really know how to do is get their photos into the news media.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Weekend Reading Assignment: British Hedgehogs in Crisis

We have here more than a passing interest in hedgehogs. This Guardian article describes the little critters' current plight in the U.K. I really do hope this situation gets turned around.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Cartoon Wars: Two Opposing "Triangles"

If you don't read anything else today, or if you don't send any other op-ed piece to your friends and family this weekend, read and send this piece by Bernard-Henri Levi in Opinion Journal. (Via Hugh Hewitt.)

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Mohammed Cartoons: Who Are The Good Guys Here?

I'm in trial and will be close to invisible in the blogosphere for the next three days, so I will leave with just a few more thoughts on press freedom.

As the "cartoon war" develops and the facts clarify, I find myself asking, Whom should we support here? Or, more colloquially, who are the good guys and who are the bad guys in this drama?

  • How about the Danish cartoonists? Well, no. Instead of attacking the Islamofascists directly, they attacked them through their religion. Imagine a cartoonist attacking the IRA by depicting a hateful Jesus Christ in miltary gear, armed to the teeth. Should the press have the freedom to publish such material? Absolutely. But just because on can do something does not mean one should do that thing. Yes, I am on the cartoonists' side against the fanatics who now want them beheaded, but the cartoonists' behavior here was not exemplary.

  • The American mainstream media? No. They refuse to publish the cartoons because they fear the consequences to themselves. That is not necessarily a bad decision, but they are not admitting the reasons for their "restraint." Instead, they sanctimoniously claim they they seek only not to offend Muslims. Oh, please.

  • How about the Danish imams who took it up themselves to visit numerous Muslim leaders in various Arab countries and fan the flames of anger, as David Rennie reports in his interview with the lead agitator? I think this group may bear more responsibility than anyone, as little- publicized as their activities have been. Someone added those three additional photos, which were truly outrageous and were never published anywhere, to the mix and led many Muslims to believe those photos were also in the Danish newspapers.

  • The governments of Iran and Syria? No, not a good guy in sight there. They've cynically grabbed hold of this issue and used it to advance their own disgusting goals. Does anyone really think those embassy attacks in Damascus were in any way spontaneous?

  • The only "good guy" I can think of is the U.S. State Department, which I think actually showed some leadership in this matter and made a responsible statement supporting freedom of the press, criticizing lack of press restraint, and decrying the uncivilized, violent reaction to the exercise of press freedoms.

All in all, it's a pretty sorry picture. Thanks to Hugh Hewitt, I found this from Joe Carter, who I think has said what needs to be said:

The West is at war with terrorism, not with Islam. But is has become increasingly difficult determining which side of the Islam/Islamicists divide many Muslims are on. Perhaps its simply a matter of moderate Muslim voice being drowned out by the jihadists. If so, then I recommend that they speak louder.

When I joined the Marines I swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, including the rights to free speech and a free press. For fifteen years I stood ready to take up arms or, if necessary, to lay down my life in the defense of these foundations of liberty. I believe in protecting the freedom of speech, whether it comes from terrorist-wannabes like Ted Rall, know-nothing pundits like Joel Stein, or religious-bashing Danish cartoonists. I believe that, like religious liberty, this is a divinely permitted freedom that demands due vigilance.

But just once I’d like to be called upon to champion speech that is true, honorable, just, and pure. Just once I’d like to defend a freedom that wasn’t vulgar, degraded, and profane. Just once I’d like to defend freedom that aspired to the ideals of Thomas Jefferson rather than to the inclinations of Larry Flynt.


Monday, February 06, 2006

Just A Quick Thought on "Provocative" Cartoons

Given the now-abundant evidence, as noted by Austin Bay, that much of the violent "outrage" in Islamic countries is orchestrated by self-serving interests (read: Syrian government), perhaps it is time for commentators in the West (to use an excessively broad term) to re-think the way they want to attack Islamic fascism.

  • Maybe a cartoon satirizing bin Laden or Zarquawi, or attacking suicide bombing in general, would serve the purposes of freedom more than attacking a cherished religious symbol? Austin Bay is right in saying that in this case, "there is an ugly component that implicates the 'free speech' advocates — that of provocation contra faith. All too many western 'free speech extremists' lack any sense of reverence."

  • Maybe attacking the real, live people who are actually perpetrating atrocities world-wide, instead of attacking the belief system they use an excuse for those atrocities, would be better?

  • Maybe some thought could be given to the apparent fact that the so-called "provocative" cartoons actually handed those very perpetrators (for example, the Syrian government) a propaganda tool? As David Rennie reports, the Danish cartoons, which were little-noticed at first, enabled a group of Danish Muslims to undertake a multi-nation tour to incite Islamic outrage.

  • Maybe we in the West should focus attention on bloodthirsty creeps like Zarquawi more than demonstrations of Islamic outrage against Western blasphemy of Mohammed?

The Tim Rutten piece linked in Ralph Kostant's post just below has me thinking. Rutten makes several reasonable points, but he lost me when he said "The European media may have behaved in a provocative fashion this week, but it was provocation in a good cause. "

I'm not so sure. I agree with the cause, broadly speaking, but I wonder about provocation as a useful tool in these circumstances. I think shining the light on the real culprits is more important (and effective) than provoking an outcry over what so many people, rightly or wrongly, see as blasphemy.

For more thoughts along the same lines, see Hugh Hewitt's blog.

UPDATE: Welcome, Hugh's readers. Aside from this post, I think the posts Hugh wanted to refer you to are the four immediately below, but especially this one.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Ralph Kostant: Rare Applause for The L.A. Times

Although I hate to say something nice about the Los Angeles Times, I was impressed by Tim Rutten’s column on February 4, regarding the Danish Cartoon controversy. Rutten not only takes the long view—about 1000 years--in his historical analysis of Islam’s discomfort with the modern world; he also challenges the hypocrisy of the Moslem charges of religious bigotry, and questions why Western governments have given the Islamic world a free ride on their own intolerance for so long. Here are some excerpts:

All this would be slightly more edifying if it didn't reflect the destructive and dangerous double standard that the Western nations routinely observe when it comes to the government-controlled media in Islamic states. There the media is routinely rife with the vilest sort of hate directed at Jews and, less often, Christians. The "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" remain widely available in countries where nothing is published without government permission, and quotations from that infamous forgery are a staple of commentaries published across the Middle East. In recent years, government-owned television stations in Egypt and Syria have broadcast dramas that repeat the blood libel.

Where were the united and implacable Western demands for apologies?

The decent respect for the opinions of others that life in modern, pluralistic societies requires is not a form of relativism. It will not do, as Isaiah Berlin once put it, to say, "I believe in kindness and you believe in concentration camps" and let's leave it at that.

The proof of this is written in the facts on the ground. Across the United States, there are Saudi-funded mosques, teaching that nation's particularly intolerant brand of Islam. There are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia; they're against the law. In Iraq on Friday, the country's dwindling community of Chaldean Catholics prepared for more of the terrorist attacks that have become routine; there were no reported attacks on Muslims in any of the countries where the Danish caricatures were republished. Muslims in those places may have been affronted, but they are not in fear for their lives. No Western leader claims that Ferdinand and Isabella did not expel the Moors from Spain or that there were no massacres during the Crusades. If they did, they'd be howled off the podium and ridiculed into obscurity. The president of theocratic Iran claims that there was no Holocaust and people across the Islamic world applaud.

The European media may have behaved in a provocative fashion this week, but it was provocation in a good cause. The Western governments — ever mindful of their commercial interests — aren't required to endorse what their press has done, but they do nobody a favor when they apologize for it.

Ralph B. Kostant

Mark Steyn on "Sensitivity"

Mark Steyn, one of the most incisive commentators of our day, notes that "Sensitivity Can Have Brutal Consequences:"

The rule for "brave" "transgressive" "artists" is a simple one: If you're going to be provocative, it's best to do it with people who can't be provoked.

Thus, NBC is celebrating Easter this year with a special edition of the gay sitcom "Will & Grace," in which a Christian conservative cooking-show host, played by the popular singing slattern Britney Spears, offers seasonal recipes -- "Cruci-fixin's." On the other hand, the same network, in its coverage of the global riots over the Danish cartoons, has declined to show any of the offending artwork out of "respect" for the Muslim faith.

Which means out of respect for their ability to locate the executive vice president's home in the suburbs and firebomb his garage.
And more:

Very few societies are genuinely multicultural. Most are bicultural: On the one hand, there are folks who are black, white, gay, straight, pre-op transsexual, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, worshippers of global-warming doom-mongers, and they rub along as best they can. And on the other hand are folks who do not accept the give-and-take, the rough-and-tumble of a "diverse" "tolerant" society, and, when one gently raises the matter of their intolerance, they threaten to kill you, which makes the question somewhat moot.
Please read the whole thing. It's a fine description of where we are.

UPDATE: Wretchard at Belmont Club has the most interesting analysis of this scandal's impact that I have seen yet.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Mohammed Cartoons, Cont.

This cartoon makes a point that cannot be embellished.

On a related note, in my post below I stated my dislike of editorial cartoons (or any kind of cartoon) poking fun at religions, and I explained that my own faith has been the subject of such commentary, wihch I find hard to take. Here's an example of such material, cited by a blogger who notes the ironic difference in the Muslim response and the Mormon non-response. (HT: commenter Bonjo of Sons of the Republic.)

More on the Danish Muslim-Lampooning Cartoons

In addition to the links in my post below, I highly recommend this blog post by a MSM writer, David Rennie. It provides in-depth information from an interview that (a) is too long for the space limitations in the MSM, but (b) comes from Rennie's access, as a writer for the Telegraph, to key players in the matter. (The Telegraph is a British paper; the photo at right was taken at the Danish Embassy in London earlier today.)

Most of the post is devoted to an interview with one Amhed Akkari, a Danish Muslim activist who had a key role in focusing the attention of the Islamic world on the cartoons. That is one aspect of this story that seem under-reported to me: The cartoons first appeared last September, seemingly attracting little notice. Rennie's piece makes it clear that Akkari and others took it upon themselves to increase awareness of the cartoons in the Muslim world, even traveling to various Arab countries to show the cartoons to Islamic leaders and urge a response.

I find almost all of what Akkari says quite unpersuasive, and I question the wisdom of Akkari and his group in taking such extraordinary steps to fan the flames created by a bunch of crude and insensitive editorial cartoons. Even so, as Hugh Hewitt notes, information like this underscores the complexity of the world we now live in: "In a wired world, there aren't any inconsequential actions, and everything is grist for the propagandists among the jihadists. "

If, by the way, you want to know what the U.S. State Department thinks of the cartoon controversy, Rick Moran does an excellent job of making that clear. He also skewers the MSM, once again, over their horribly lazy and inaccurate reporting of State's position. (We're almost getting to the point where skewering the MSM is so easy that it seems unsporting, aren't we?)

I happen to think the State Department's position is exactly right:

Our response is to say that while we certainly don't agree with, support, or in some cases, we condemn the views that are aired in public that are published in media organizations around the world, we, at the same time, defend the right of those individuals to express their views. For us, freedom of expression is at the core of our democracy and it is something that we have shed blood and treasure around the world to defend and we will continue to do so. That said, there are other aspects to democracy, our democracy -- democracies around the world -- and that is to promote understanding, to promote respect for minority rights, to try to appreciate the differences that may exist among us.

We believe, for example in our country, that people from different religious
backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds, national backgrounds add to our strength as a country. And it is important to recognize and appreciate those differences. And it is also important to protect the rights of individuals and the media to express a point of view concerning various subjects. So while we share the offense that Muslims have taken at these images, we at the same time vigorously defend the right of individuals to express points of view. We may -- like I said, we may not agree with those points of view, we may condemn those points of view but we respect and emphasize the importance that those individuals have the right to express those points of view.

For example -- and on the particular cartoon that was published -- I know the Prime Minister of Denmark has talked about his, I know that the newspaper that originally printed it has apologized, so they have addressed this particular issue. So we would urge all parties to exercise the maximum degree of understanding, the maximum degree of tolerance when they talk about this issue. And we would urge dialogue, not violence. And that also those that might take offense at these images that have been published, when they see similar views or images that could be perceived as anti-Semitic or anti-Catholic, that they speak out with equal vigor against those images.


UPDATE: The Danish Embassy has been burned in Damascus. Gateway Pundit has a round-up. I disagree with Hugh. Glenn Reynolds (InstaPundit) has this right: "This really is a case of civilization against the barbarians."

MEANWHILE, Michelle Malkin has put together a 2-minute video about all this. Download it here. It's very much worth watching.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Should Illegal Aliens Be Required to Pay Non-Resident Tuition?

This story from yesterday, in Salt Lake City's Deseret Morning News, refers to Utah's HB7, which would repeal another Utah law, passed just last year, that allows students who have attended a Utah high school for three years and graduated from high school here to pay in-state tuition. HB7's aim seems to be to ensure that children of illegal aliens attending Utah's public universities must pay non-resident tuition, no matter how long they have lived in Utah.

I am fourth-generation Utahn who relocated to California years ago, but I am paying non-resident tuition for my son to attend the University of Utah, so I have a somewhat unusual perspective on HB7. From the standpoint of pure self-interest, I suppose I should be supportive of the bill, but I am not. HB7 seems like an empty gesture that will be politically popular but will make no real difference except in the lives of a mere 169 students who will now have to pay non-resident tuition like my son.

Tuition accounts for a very tiny portion of the higher education budget, so the debate appears to be about principle, not finances. Some appear to believe strongly that honoring principle is more important than the impact HB7 would have on those 169 students and their families. Many of those students were brought here by their parents and now really have no country-- they're too Americanized to live in Latin America (they probably speak very poor Spanish and can hardly read or write it at all) and they're not citizens here.

This story in today's Deseret News makes it clear that HB7 is headed for passage. Read the article and decide whether you at least have misgivings about the bill.

The key questions here seem to be: Is upholding principle and getting just a few additional tuition dollars worth all the bitterness that that will result from that effort? Should those 169 kids be the ones to pay for principle? Some may call me a bleeding heart liberal (which would be very amusing to regular readers of this blog), but I am not convinced that enacting HB7 is the right thing to do. In fact, it seems downright heartless.

Utahns are generous, fair-minded people. I have a hunch the majority of them agree with me.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Those Danish Muslim Cartoons

Apoplexy is busting out all over in some parts of the world, it seems, over some cartoons published in Denmark. If you're wondering what the fuss is all about, you can see the cartoons here, as well as a discussion of how the matter continues to cause heartburn.

I at one point had posted a sample cartoon here, but then decided they are not worth reproducing. I was dubious about even linking to them.

To us Americans (and to most Westerners) this all seems a little overwrought. We see this kind of thing in the newspapers every day about presidents, politicians and other public figures, and although such cartoons invariably draw outrage, no one ends up rioting or demanding that an entire nation apologize. Viewed with the most charitable eye possible, the difference here seems to be that the cartoons' target is a religion - Islam - and its great prophet Mohammed. I must say that I could not even tell from the cartoons I saw whether Mohammed is even depicted in them; they seem to show stock Arabic/Muslim terrorists and one imam. (I've later learned that the cartoons do depict Mohammed. That makes them even more stupid and offensive, in my view.)

I don't like editorial cartoons that poke fun at religions; my own faith has been the subject of such commentary and it's hard to take. (Here's an example, by a blogger who notes the ironic difference in the Muslim response and the Mormon non-response. HT: commenter Bonjo of Sons of the Republic.)

Even so, it is clear to me that to lampoon vicious, brutal extremists within a particular faith is not to lampoon the entire religion. That seems to be what is going on here. The folks who are complaining should just calm down.

UPDATE: Hugh Hewitt has a different take. I think the difference between Hugh's view and mine is that I'm just more thick-skinned than many people (a lifetime of putting up with folks making jokes about my own religion may have hardened me). The question is, what does one do about a stupid, tasteless cartoon? Express outrage, attack the cartoon? Yes. Start threatening violence and hostage taking? No.

UPDATE II: Power Line has more, including photos illustrating the overreaction to the cartoons.

UPDATE: See what Bruised Orange has to say. The comments there are good, too.

To me, the cartoons are trash, but they illustrate the same principle as flag-burning: Free speech makes it easier to spot the idiots. An American who burns an American flag is behaving like an idiot, but he has the right to do so. The Danish cartoonists behaved idiotically, and everyone should tell them so. But death and kidnapping threats? I don't support the cartoons, but I certainly don't support the refusal of so many Muslims to accept civilized norms of behavior. It's time to get out of the ninth century, folks.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A Friend of Israel

From Ralph Kostant:

President George W. Bush this evening made a strong declaration of support for Israel against the threat posed by Iran, declaring that the United States would come to Israel’s defense if Israel were attacked by Iran, as reported here in the Jerusalem Post. President Bush described Israel as “a solid ally of the United States.” No friend of Israel could ask for a more forthright declaration of support. Moreover, since this is George W. Bush speaking, one knows he means it.

Quote of The Day, from The State of The Union Speech

President Bush:

"Today, having come far in our own historical journey, we must decide: Will we turn back, or finish well?

"Before history is written down in books, it is written in courage. Like Americans before us, we will show that courage and we will finish well. We will lead freedom's advance. We will compete and excel in the global economy. We will renew the defining moral commitments of this land. And so we move forward -- optimistic about our country, faithful to its cause, and confident of the victories to come."