Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Consensus on Un-serious Europe

Left, Right and Center agree, European leaders are a bunch of unserious wannabes:

MARA LIASSON: [T]he U.S. wants the European and other NATO countries to pony up more. That's, I think, been a perennial problem. You and I have covered a lot of summits where the Europeans talk big, they want to be a counterweight to the United States, but as you heard Nick Burns just say, they're not willing to spend the proportion of their GDP on defense the way we do.

MORT KONDRACKE: The United States spends about 3.8 percent of GDP on defense, the whole rest of NATO spends 1.9 percent. . . . And our friends, the French, you know, have specifically refused to get involved in Afghanistan. They've got 20,000 men that they have on standby duty for use someplace, and when they were asked specifically to join up and go help out in Afghanistan, they said, "No, we're going to hold these back in case they're needed in Kosovo." You know, typically French.

BARNES: [T]he Germans, the Italians and the Spanish, even when they come, they have a rule. No combat. They don't want to fight. So it's left to the Americans, the Canadians, and the Dutch, actually, are pretty good. And then the Australians, who aren't even members of NATO are the ones who are actually doing the fighting. And the Canadians have lost 34 soldiers in recent months, so they've really done a good job.

Look, the Europeans have been free-riders now for 60 years. It's going to are hard to get them off the dole, it really is. And it'll almost be small amounts of money, percentage-wise. [bold from NRO]

OK, I know I'm immediately endangering any credibility I may have with many because this comes from FOX (evil evil evil) via NRO (evil evil evil), but frankly, I don't care. So what if these observations were made on FOX, the comments all ring true to me and it's not like it's the first time similar points have been made (here, here, here). However, the wonderful succinctness of the above is that we have someone from Left (Liasson), Middle (Kondracke) and Right (Barnes) all agreeing that "Europe"--that generalized group of nations that is comprised mostly of the Cold War "west"--talks big and carries a twig.
Not all of them, to be sure, but too many of them.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Dershowitz Takes President Carter to Task

In "The World According to Carter," Alan Dershowitz (via ALD) finds much wrong with President Jimmy Carter's "ahistorical" retelling of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that runs through the former President's new book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.

Sometimes you really can tell a book by its cover. President Jimmy Carter's decision to title his new anti-Israel screed "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid" (Simon & Schuster, 288 pages, $27) tells it all. His use of the loaded word "apartheid," suggesting an analogy to the hated policies of South Africa, is especially outrageous, considering his acknowledgment buried near the end of his shallow and superficial book that what is going on in Israel today "is unlike that in South Africa—not racism, but the acquisition of land." Nor does he explain that Israel's motivation for holding on to land it captured in a defensive war is the prevention of terrorism. Israel has tried, on several occasions, to exchange land for peace, and what it got instead was terrorism, rockets, and kidnappings launched from the returned land.

In fact, Palestinian-Arab terrorism is virtually missing from Mr. Carter's entire historical account, which blames nearly everything on Israel and almost nothing on the Palestinians...There is no mention of the long history of Palestinian terrorism before the occupation, or of the Munich massacre and others inspired byYasser Arafat. There is not even a reference to the Karine A, the boatful of terrorist weapons ordered by Arafat in January 2002.

Mr. Carter's book is so filled with simple mistakes of fact and deliberate omissions that were it a brief filed in a court of law, it would be struck and its author sanctioned for misleading the court. Mr. Carter too is guilty of misleading the court of public opinion. A mere listing of all of Mr. Carter's mistakes and omissions would fill a volume the size of his book.
After listing a few of the "mistakes and omissions," Dershowitz continues:

And it's not just the facts; it's the tone as well. It's obvious that Mr. Carter just doesn't like Israel or Israelis. He lectured Golda Meir on Israeli's "secular" nature, warning her that "Israel was punished whenever its leaders turned away from devout worship of God." He admits that he did not like Menachem Begin. He has little good to say about any Israelis — except those few who agree with him. But he apparently got along swimmingly with the very secular Syrian mass-murderer Hafez al-Assad. Mr. Carter and his wife Rosalynn also had a fine time with the equally secular Arafat — a man who has the blood of hundreds of Americans and Israelis on his hands:

Rosalynn and I met with Yasir Arafat in Gaza City, where he was staying with his wife, Suha, and their little daughter. The baby, dressed in a beautiful pink suit, came readily to sit on my lap, where I practiced the same wiles that had been successful with our children and grandchildren. A lot of photographs were taken, and then the photographers asked that Arafat hold his daughter for a while. When he took her, the child screamed loudly and reached out her hands to me, bringing jovial admonitions to the presidential candidate to stay at home enough to become acquainted with is own child.

There is something quite disturbing about these pictures.

"Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid" is so biased that it inevitably raises the question of what would motivate a decent man like Jimmy Carter to write such an indecent book. Whatever Mr. Carter's motives may be, his authorship of this ahistorical, one-sided, and simplistic brief against Israel forever disqualifies him from playing any positive role in fairly resolving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. That is a tragedy because the Carter Center, which has done much good in the world, could have been a force for peace if Jimmy Carter were as generous in spirit to the Israelis as he is to the Palestinians.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Conservatives Back Ideology with Cash

Ralph Luker points to a new book by Syracuse University professor Arthur C. Brooks called Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism. According to this story:
When it comes to helping the needy, Brooks writes: "For too long, liberals have been claiming they are the most virtuous members of American society. Although they usually give less to charity, they have nevertheless lambasted conservatives for their callousness in the face of social injustice."

...The book's basic findings are that conservatives who practice religion, live in traditional nuclear families and reject the notion that the government should engage in income redistribution are the most generous Americans, by any measure.

Conversely, secular liberals who believe fervently in government entitlement programs give far less to charity. They want everyone's tax dollars to support charitable causes and are reluctant to write checks to those causes, even when governments don't provide them with enough money...

"These are not the sort of conclusions I ever thought I would reach when I started looking at charitable giving in graduate school, 10 years ago," he writes in the introduction. "I have to admit I probably would have hated what I have to say in this book."

Still, he says it forcefully, pointing out that liberals give less than conservatives in every way imaginable, including volunteer hours and donated blood.

...Harvey Mansfield, professor of government at Harvard University and 2004 recipient of the National Humanities Medal, does not know Brooks personally but has read the book.

"His main finding is quite startling, that the people who talk the most about caring actually fork over the least," he said. "But beyond this finding I thought his analysis was extremely good, especially for an economist. He thinks very well about the reason for this and reflects about politics and morals in a way most economists do their best to avoid."
Brooks seems very reluctant to embrace his findings. I would bet it's because he isn't too keen on the idea of the political hammer it could become for social (religious) conservatives. I also think he'll get his wish of having other academics putting his findings through rigorous analysis! Finally, Ralph poses a good question: "do people on the left actually say: 'I gave at the IRS.'?"

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Religion and the Founders: Going Beyond the "Top Six"

In 2001, Michael Novak wrote in Faith and the American Founding: Illustrating Religion's Influence:

For a hundred years scholars have stressed the principles that come from the Enlightenment and from John Locke in particular. But there are also first principles that come to us from Judaism and Christianity, especially from Judaism. Indeed, it is important to recognize that most of what our Founders talked about (when they talked politically) came from the Jewish Testament, not the Christian. The Protestant Christians who led the way in establishing the principles of this country were uncommonly attached to the Jewish Testament.

Scholars often mistakenly refer to the god of the Founders as a deist god. But the Founders talked about God in terms that are radically Jewish: Creator, Lawgiver, Governor, Judge, and Providence. These were the names they most commonly used for Him, notably in the Declaration of Independence. For the most part, these are not names that could have come from the Greeks or Romans, but only from the Jewish Testament. Perhaps the Founders avoided Christian language because they didn’t want to divide one another, since different colonies were founded under different Christian inspirations. In any case, all found common language in the language of the Jewish Testament. It is important for citizens today whose main inspiration is the Enlightenment and Reason to grasp the religious elements in the founding, which have been understated for a hundred years.

More recently, Novak has written about how the focus has been on the supposed irreligiosity of the "big six" founders (Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Adams, Hamilton, and Washington). He's willing to admit that Jefferson, Franklin and Monroe were the least religious of the top 100 Founders, but also makes an argument against the assumptions for the other three. He also mentions that Gordon Wood has been making much the same case. According to Novak:
[Wood] has not found a single atheist during the Founding period (not even Tom Paine), and certainly not among the Founders. Second, he finds even the least religious of the Founders considerably more religious than the average professor at American universities today. Ours is a far, far more secular age, our leaders and our people are far more ignorant of religious ideas. Third, he finds that Jefferson—the Founder most attended to today—was an outlier among the Founders.

Wood has also argued that George Washington, while not being by any means an enthusiast or an evangelical in the modern sense, was probably one of the more religious of the Founders...
I don't offer all of this up to support some "Christian Nation" argument. But I do think things have a gone a bit too far in proclaiming that the Founders weren't really, you know, that religious and, by extension, they'd be somehow against referring to God in public. Historians have learned to contemporize their subjects in so many other areas of historical research. Yet, it seems to me that there is a deficit of contemporization with regards to how important religion was in both the daily life and the philosophy of the Founders.

Whether for political or ideological reasons, some scholars have improperly equated "religious" with "evangelical" (or "Christianist") . One can be religious, recognize its importance in setting up moral guideposts (especially in a Republic), but not seek to Establish an official religion. Some seem to think that any mention of God or reference to religion within the close proximity of the Public Square is just the first misstep down the slippery slope to a theocracy.

To wrap this up, I think Novak's call for more study of the religious aspects of the Founders philosophy (all of 'em, not just the big names) is a kick in the pants for young historians looking to make a mark.
We urgently need good studies of all of them, if we wish to have a fairer idea of “the faith of the Founders.” Let us suggest, for starters, studies about the depth of the Christian faith of Roger Sherman; Samuel Huntington; William Williams; the Carroll cousins Charles, Daniel, and John; Hugh Williamson; Robert Treat Paine; William Paca; John Dickinson; Rufus King; William Livingston; John Hancock; Benjamin Rush; Patrick Henry; James Wilson; and George Mason.
There's gotta be a thesis, dissertation (or three) in there somewhere....

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Friday, November 10, 2006

"The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down...

...of the big lake they called 'Gitche Gumee.'" Today is the 31st anniversary of the sinking of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald, which was immortalized by Gordon Lightfoot.

It is also the birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Clifford Geertz

Anthropologist Clifford Geertz has passed away.
Dr. Geertz's landmark contributions to social and cultural theory have been influential not only among anthropologists, but also among geographers, ecologists, political scientists, humanists, and historians. He worked on religion, especially Islam; on bazaar trade; on economic development; on traditional political structures; and on village and family life. A prolific author since the 1950s, Dr. Geertz's many books include The Religion of Java (1960); Islam Observed: Religious Development in Morocco and Indonesia (1968); The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (1973, 2000); Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth Century Bali (1980); and The Politics of Culture, Asian Identities in a Splintered World (2002). At the time of his death, Dr. Geertz was working on the general question of ethnic diversity and its implications in the modern world...

Dr. Geertz's deeply reflective and eloquent writings often provided profound and cogent insights on the scope of culture, the nature of anthropology and on the understanding of the social sciences in general. Noting that human beings are "symbolizing, conceptualizing, meaning-seeking animals," Geertz acknowledged and explored the innate desire of humanity to "make sense out of experience, to give it form and order." In Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author (1988), Geertz stated, "The next necessary thing...is neither the construction of a universal Esperanto-like culture...nor the invention of some vast technology of human management. It is to enlarge the possibility of intelligible discourse between people quite different from one another in interest, outlook, wealth, and power, and yet contained in a world where tumbled as they are into endless connection, it is increasingly difficult to get out of each other's way."
I was first exposed to Geertz's work through my studies of Bernard Bailyn's work on the ideological underpinnings of the American Revolution. Geertz's attempt to understand how humans "make sense out of experience, to give it form and order" went a long way towards explaining how ideology can be an important historical force.