Monday, September 26, 2005

I have a sneaking affection for this Lee Harris post at Tech Central, because it's so much less dogmatic than it could be.

The way the waitresses saw it, McGovern's plan was not perceived as a fair and equitable redistribution of our society's collective wealth. Instead it was seen as an attempt to rob their children of the fortune that each of them might just somehow provide for their kids, despite the overwhelming odds that any of them could ever be in a position to acquire a fortune of sufficient size to have it confiscated by the McGovern plan.

The waitresses accepted the inequality of wealth in the United States; they did not mind that some people could leave their kids millions of dollars, so long as they had a chance to do the same thing -- no matter how infinitesimal this chance might be. To them, the fact that some people had lots more money than others did not annoy them, nor did it call forth a desire to take from the rich and give to the poor. They accepted the chanciness of human existence, like gamblers placing their bets on the spin of a roulette wheel.

At the time, being a liberal Democrat myself, I pondered deeply over the position taken by the waitresses. Ought I mock it, or was there something there worthy of my respect and even admiration?

Eventually I came to see more to admire than to mock -- but that was only after I had begun to understand the role that the human imagination plays in the construction of our social order.

The waitresses at Woolworth's disliked McGovern's welfare state politics because it was threatening to take away one of life's most important imaginary pleasures -- that of imagining yourself rich. Everyone who is not rich can instantly understand the world of pleasure that the impoverished hero of The Fiddler on the Roof gets from singing the song: "If I were a rich man…." What bliss it is to pretend you are wealthy! -- far far more fun, I would imagine, than actually being it."

There is a cost to being able to imagine yourself striking it rich, and that is for others to actually strike it rich. In a world where all was brought down to the same level, from which no one could ever escape, even the dream of being a rich man would eventually die out, and along with it, the motive power that has produced the enormous wealth of the West: the fervent belief of the poor that they can become rich -- not by stealing from the rich, but from making a pile for themselves. What else, do you think, has released all the energy of capitalism, except the overheated imagination of men who had to make their own fortune in order to have any at all?

At first I thought we would be lectured about how the waitresses were libertarians who realized the economy would do better if billionaires could give money to their children - otherwise the investors would lose their motivation to back worthy ventures and go to the beach. But no, this is a rather touching and possibly accurate portrait. There's a touch of moralizing further on, but I think you should click through and read it anway.

I just finished reading The Interrogators: Inside the Secret War Against Al Qaeda. It's written by an Army Sergeant who was an interrogator and who later supervised interrogators in Afghanistan.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

This hasn't appeared anywhere else but my local paper Newsday, according to my recent search.

A strong case is made that we are allowing ex-communists with a grudge against those they fought in Afghanistan to tell us implausible stories about them.

In his hearing, Ali Shah noted that, after graduating from medical school in the late 1990s, he was unable to get a job as a doctor and, like many Afghan refugees in Tehran, took low-paying jobs, tailoring and driving a taxi, to survive. Especially given the difficulties of refugee life, he said, if he had been a Taliban supporter, he might have been expected to return to Afghanistan under their rule and take some position in the bureaucracy.

"You know that during the Taliban regime no Shiite had the right to express their opinion, while during the [post-Taliban] democracy Shiites had candidates in the presidential election," Ali Shah told the Marine colonel who presided at his hearing. "With which motivation do you think I would oppose the democratic government and associate with the Taliban and their like-minded people?"

The transcript shows that U.S. officers did not respond. Last month, Lt. Cmdr. Flex Plexico, a Pentagon spokesman, also declined to address any specific question about Ali Shah, declaring simply that "no mistake" was made in his detention or that of others being investigated by Newsday.

On March 22, Ali Shah has said, his military judges ruled that he is an "enemy combatant" of the United States, meaning he should be held indefinitely. In August, the State Department announced that it would hand about 100 Afghans at Guantanamo to the custody of the Afghan government, perhaps beginning within six months. None of the prisoners was named, leaving it unclear whether Ali Shah will be among them.

It could still be that there is classified information which makes the decision reasonable - but in the article that claim is not made. If not, we need a crash program in the language and culture of the area we are trying to rebuild. It would be easier to tell if more details were included about this:

Afghans familiar with Ali Shah's case say they think he has been accused by former communists whom Ali Shah fought during the Soviet occupation of this country in the 1980s. U.S. officials often use ex-communist military and police officers as informants in southeast Afghanistan, and a number of cases of mistaken imprisonment have been blamed on them.

Been blamed by who, investigated how, Afghans with what relationship to the accused?

There are many Red State citizens who consider those who find George W. Bush's religious beliefs scary to be anti-religious. In a way this is understandable - I don't merely respectfully disagree with some of his beliefs, but find them frightening. I would like to help Evangelical Christians in particular to understand how someone who respects them mught nevertheless feel this way.

I suspect Rusty Lopez of New Covenant would not agree with me about George W. Bush in particular, after reading his posts on Intelligent Design and several other subjects. He does show the dangers in the abstract of insisting you are guided from above in spite of the fact that many people who have earned more respect from other believers in God and many people who understand the issue better disagree with you on certain things.

Not the Word of God, mind you, but a word from God – a still small voice, the leading of the Spirit or, quite frankly, what God was telling him to do. You see, with regards to his approach to ministry he acknowledged that he and I had differing viewpoints. Yet he justified the direction he was going as valid because, according to him, it was the direction God was telling him to go.

When you stop and think about it, though, that really is a good tactic. I mean, who can argue with him? If he really is getting direct messages from God, then anyone who disagrees with him is, in effect, disagreeing with God.

Game. Set. Match.

Never mind that I was using the Word of God as the basis for my arguments. Never mind that God has already spoken to me, and to him, and to all Christians, through the Word of God. No, never mind all of that because, in those circles, a word from God seems to always trump the Word of God.

A few words of caution*, though, for those who so casually invoke the reception of a word from God:

Is your "word from God" infallible? If the following syllogism is true: "God cannot err. The Bible is God’s Word. Therefore, the Bible cannot err."; then it goes to follow: "God cannot err. I’ve received a Word from God. Therefore, the Word I’ve received cannot err."
In the past, those who claimed to speak for God staked their lives upon the claim. Do you truly understand the seriousness of what you are advocating?
Those who claim to hear from God cannot claim to have honed or, to be honing, their ability to hear from God without implying that God is trying to speak to them. God cannot try, for trying implies the possibility of failing, and God cannot fail at something He intends to do. The conclusion is that you cannot try to hear what God is telling you – for if God isn’t telling you anything, you won’t hear it; and if God is telling you something, you can’t help but hear it.
God certainly has the power to speak extra-biblically through prophets in the past, present, and future, but we know that He has spoken objectively through His Word. Therefore, while it is possible for someone to receive a word from God, the burden of proof rests on that person to demonstrate that it is, in fact, a word from God.

[The formatting works better if you click through to read the rest of the post]

Even people who agree with George W. Bush on most issues should understand that those of us who feel almost as if we were lead by a man who claims to do whatever the voices in his head tell him do not all sneer at Christianity or Evangelicalism.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

This is a great story about a great man - the most recent winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor.

His father died in Buchenwald. His ten-year-old sister Elonja was sent to the gas chambers at Auschwitz, and his mother Rosa, who was slated for forced labor, chose instead to face death with her daughter. Mauthausen was liberated by the U.S. 11th Armored Division on May 5, 1945. With nothing left for him in Hungary Ted emigrated to the United States. He promised himself that he would show his appreciation to the country that gave him his freedom, and saved his life.

Ted joined the Army in February 1950, and five months later landed in Korea with the 3rd battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, one of the first American units sent to help repel North Korean invasion forces. Ted was soon involved in the fighting withdrawal to the Pusan perimeter. In one engagement near Chirye, Ted's company was redeploying from one hill to another, and he volunteered to stay behind to keep the enemy guessing until the movement was completed. As Corporal Leonard Hamm relates, "the North Koreans, thinking the hill was still occupied by a whole company, made an all out offensive with all their available troops. PFC Tibor Rubin had stocked each foxhole with grenades, and during the attack the following morning made his way running from foxhole to foxhole, lobbing, one after the other, grenades down upon the enemy, he became almost hysterical in his actions but he held the hill."

I found it through Jason's COUNTERCOLUMN. Predictably, he ends with a sarcastic remark about the fact that the New York Times didn't cover the story. I wish they had. I don't know why they didn't. How about a comparison with some other news outlets? I thought I saw Fox news repeat an AP story, but I can't seem to find it now. Not even a word about Natioanl Review Online, which both Jason and I link to. Of course there are bad things as well as good to be said about that magazine. How about the Washington Times? Is quoting an AP story on a subject really the difference between good reporting and bad? Someone should check out the Wall Street Journal as well - I think it's subscription only.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

My wife and I donated a hundred to the red cross disaster relief fund at I think we can do more after we see which organization is doing what in the long slog ahead.