January 25, 2002

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Posted by B. Preston at 03:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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BENJAMIN KEPPLE'S recent rant on abortion sort of puts mine to shame. If you haven't read it, you should.
Posted by B. Preston at 03:18 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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USA TODAY BROADSIDESConnie Chung and her new employer CNN. Good lines:

What's going on in cable news these days "is a bidding war over mediocre TV personalities," says media critic Jon Katz. Executives "are convinced that the whole TV culture is based on personality, and it's not.


At a news conference Wednesday, Chung said she was "thrilled" to be joining CNN, saying she has been a fan since the early '80s. During her 33 years in TV news, Chung, 55, has worked at NBC, CBS, ABC and now CNN.

That's not altogether a plus, says news analyst Andrew Tyndall. "If you work for one network your whole career, it's a sign of loyalty. Think Katie. If you work for two, it's a sign that you're talented enough for someone to woo you. Think Barbara Walters or Diane Sawyer. But if you've been wooed away three times, it means that two networks didn't want to hold onto you. And when you get to four, I think of a person whose reputation exceeds their contributions."

Now, I have nothing against Connie Chung. Heck, I wish some network would woo me and offer a couple mill. But is CNN getting a hot property, or a has-been?

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JIM JEFFORDS: Benedict Arnold and Polyanna all rolled up into one.
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RANDOM JOTTINGS HAS A NICE post re Christopher Hitchens' taking a rhetorical Louisville Slugger to our President recently. After reading Hitchens' piece the other day, I thought about using similar tactics against him just to give him a taste of his own medicine. Hitchens says Bush is incurious and unqualified, so I'd say Hitchens is a fat, sweaty Marxist, that sort of thing. But that would be mean...
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January 24, 2002

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I'VE JUST GOTTEN AROUND TO DANIEL PIPES' column on our pc airline security system. All I can say is "Yup."
Posted by B. Preston at 11:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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BATTLE OF THE BOBS, ROUND 2: Robert Wright has fired his latest missive in his Dialogues battle with Robert Kaplan, with the debate (in Wright's mind) centering on the notion that information technology will empower terror groups and associated separatist movements around the world, leading to stronger terror groups and more anti-US terrorism. He has a point, but as usual takes too simplistic an approach to the problem. He likens info tech to the printing press' effects on the Protestant Reformation and nationalism within the Hapsburg empire, but the analogy breaks down when one considers a crucial fact: the printing press was the only game in town, it was the only way to mass produce texts--that it was in the hands of Germans made it critical to causing the Hapsburg's problems, and secondarily fueled the Reformation. Had an Italian invented the printing press, for instance, history would most likely have turned out very differently. Today's info tech is ubiquitous, and its effect on terror groups is therefore diluted. Additionally, though terror groups will undoubtedly get their hands on better info tech, we'll likely always stay a few steps ahead of whatever gear they possess--they get satellite phones, but we own most of the satellites and the means of tracking satellite calls. For the foreseeable future, our advances in info tech will outpace the terrorists' ability to aquire their own info tech, resulting in either a net gain for us or in the worst case a wash.

Wright also tries to legitimize ethnic separatist groups in Kashmir and western China, arguing that for us to oppose such groups may put us on the wrong side of history. What he leaves out is that to support such groups puts us at odds with the much stronger governments against which those groups are fighting, possibly leading to a round of clandestine government-sponsored terrorism against us to try and force our hand. Either way, terrorism is probably going to be directed against us for the foreseeable future. Now, in some cases (notably China) we probably could lend covert support to separatist groups in order to weaken the ChiCom government, but not if those groups use terrorism. We must demonstrate to the world that terrorism is wrong and ineffective whenever and wherever it is used. We can't pick and choose our terrorists, or the rest of the world will see us for the hypochrites we would be.

Wright also leaves out several key factors that may in the long term tip things our way. First, crushing Al Qaida and disowning the PLO will demonstrate to terror sponsors that such tactics will get nowhere with us. We will not cower, we will not condone--we will crush, both the terror groups and their sponsors. Governments such as the Iranian mullahcracy are already quaking at the thought, and are racheting up the pressure in Afghanistan and arming the PLO as a test of our resolve. We should move them up the target list and prepare to crush them--there's enough resentment against them inside Iran to make our job there easier. Intimidation, in the form of wiping out terror sponsors, will have an effect. Leaving free Muslim democracies in our wake will also have a profound effect.

We have in Turkey a staunch ally that is both Islamic and a bitter enemy of radical Islamic terrorism. Giving Turkey a prominent role in our terror war will mitigate thoughts of a "war against Islam." Strengthening our own relationship with India (home to 150 million Muslims) and highlighting India's relationship with Israel will have the same effect.

Bob Wright is ever the defeatist, seeing only the half empty glass when we have it in our power to not only see it half full but to fill it all the way up. We're in a moment of truth right now, as terror groups from Al Qaida to the IRA to the PLO are being exposed for what they are: brutal killers. This present clarity should allow us to make the hard but necessary choices to oppose terrorism wherever it exists, and to stop forever the practice of including terrorists in "peace" processes. By doing that, we can render terrorism ineffective and reduce its use around the world.
Posted by B. Preston at 11:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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THE MCJ offers a nice take-down of Terry Waite, formerly a hostage of Islamofascist nutbags and now a (shudder) root-causer. Sad that it was necessary to take him down, though. Very sad.
Posted by B. Preston at 10:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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RAMESH PONNURU'S critique of libertarian cloning advocates is pretty cogent and, in the end, fairly devastating for the simple reason that it does what cloning advocates have thus far failed to do: seriously engage the arguments of the opposition.

I noted in one of my earliest posts back in the halcyon days of 2001 that any skepticism of cloning’s potential benefits is met with hysterical cries of religious persecution (that is, persecution by religious people), of scientific backwardness and a fear of knowledge. Will Wilkinson of The Fly Bottle acknowledged that state, but as a cloning advocate offered no counter to it. To date I haven’t seen a serious engagement of arguments against cloning by any of those who favor it. Cloning proponents will claim that their opponents are pining for the Inquisition, or are informed by a primitive irrational belief system, or something else along those lines, but won’t take the issue head-on, which is: does cloning create and destroy a human being in the process?

That simple question is also at the heart of the abortion debate. When does a person become a person, and when is that person entitled to the right to life? Pro-choice advocates have no coherent answer to that question, and the result is that the standard for personhood is an ever-moving goalpost. In some states, abortion is legal through the first trimester of pregnancy, in some the second, and in some states abortion is legal nearly up to the time of birth. Some methods of abortion actually bring a live child halfway into the world beyond the womb, only to dismember and discard it. When I brought this up in an earlier post, Will Wilkinson wanted me to define personhood, a typical tactic of the pro-choice side—force your opponent to answer the difficult questions that you can’t (or won’t), and put the pro-lifer on the defensive so that you don’t actually have to advocate anything. You can just knock down the pro-life answers and win by default. My reply was that the pro-choice side had taken the task of defining personhood upon themselves in advocating that some lives are worth preserving while others aren’t, and the reply was silence.

I’m not picking on Will here as much as I am sorting through the logic of pro-choice and pro-cloning positions, and Will happens to have been the most recent person I’ve discussed the subject with. The incoherence of the pro-choice position on abortion has always baffled me—I’ve actually had at least one pro-choice person (not Will) admit that even earliest-term abortion is “probably killing” a human, yet the rights of the already-born mother trump those of the unborn child and therefore abortion should be kept legal. That’s nonsense—why should the rights of any person trump those of any other, especially when life and death are at stake? The argument usually then dissolves either to a discussion of utilitarian economics or to name-calling, with the pro-choice person calling the pro-lifer a caveman, a misogynist or whatever. But through all the rhetoric, the fundamental question remains: when do you become a person entitled to the right to life?

I usually bring up one bit of scientific evidence on the side of pro-lifers, which is that the genes that determine hair color, eye color, some aspects of personality, etc are present at conception. I take that to mean that the personhood is also present at conception. The pro-choice response typically is that genes and DNA are present in every cell of your body, and if you for instance slice off a finger are you then saying that that finger is entitled to the full protection of personhood? That argument is deceptive and misses the point. A finger is and always will be less than a whole person without the capacity to become anything greater; the cells that result from conception will develop into a full human in due time if the natural factors are left to run their course. Then the pro-choicer responds “What about spontaneous abortions (miscarriages)?” Again, slightly shifting the subject—death from natural causes, whether inside the womb or out, is the most common cause of death. But we’re not talking about death from natural causes, we’re talking about death from chemical or mechanical instruments artificially introduced by an agent with the purpose of ending the pregnancy before term.

So then the argument shifts to viability, and that’s largely where the first, second or third trimester standards arise. The argument goes that abortion should be legal up to the point when the fetus becomes viable outside the womb. That, too, is a shifting standard. What was not viable a few years ago is viable today, and what is not viable today will likely be viable in a few more years. What if we progress to the point where a fetus can be conceived and brought to term entirely outside any womb at all? Additionally, by the strictest definition of viability a child who is less than a few years old is not viable without the intervention of parents or other caretakers—are they also subject to arbitrary killing within the law? And remembering my university days, viability could be argued as late as age 25 or so for some who just can’t seem to survive without their parents’ constant infusions of cash and advice. So where do we draw the line?

The pro-life position is principled, informed but not ruled by science, informed but not ruled by logic, and informed but not ruled by religious belief. It takes into account the needs of society, the needs of individuals and the fundamental “first principles” by which a civilization stands or falls. The pro-choice position is, to me, a slippery one, full of shifting standards, deceptive and off-the-subject lines of reasoning and ultimately intolerant of dissent, as any pro-life Democrat can attest.

I’m starting to see the same slippery tactics applied on the side of cloning proponents, and while I remain neutral on the subject myself I have to say that such things are pushing me to the side of those who are against it. The same false choices are set up—therapeutic cloning is acceptable while reproductive cloning isn’t (why, and who says?)—and the same ad hominem attacks are leveled against opponents. And the problems with cloning are glossed over or ignored—how will an adult “grow” a new liver to replace their failing one in time to remain alive? Won’t an adult have to wait at least a few years for their cloned organ to grow to the point that it will function at the capacity the body needs?

I am pro-life, yet I don’t fear science or knowledge at all (read my post on science and faith if you don’t believe me). I welcome scientific discovery as a chance to understand our world better, and to have a more thorough base of information from which to decide difficult matters. Though I am a libertarian-leaning conservative, I resent libertarians and others who attack my position on life as the product of irrationality, dogma or ignorance. As I see the same tactics applied to the question of cloning, I wonder whether there is any more rational defense of cloning than there is of abortion. If not, I’ll likely find myself cloning’s opponent.
Posted by B. Preston at 05:18 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 23, 2002

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LOTS OF STUFF ON UPI about Arafat today...will Israel let him out of his besieged hq to attend some pan-Arab meeting, and if they let him out will they let him back in once the meeting's over, etc. As per my other post earlier today, it bears noting something that the UPI picks up on, which is that Arafat gets cold shoulders in Arab capitals when he travels to them to gin up support. He's fast becoming a pariah everywhere, and what's worse for him is that he is also quickly looking more and more like the pawn of someone else's larger interests that he really is.

His Arab brethren in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere don't give a fig what happens to the Palestenians, and they care even less what ultimate fate claims Arafat. If he pulls off the impossible and actually achieves peace, the Arabs will shake his hand and plot some other way to kill Israel. If Israel kills Arafat, the Arabs will condemn it for its cruelty, win European support and perhaps a freer hand to undermine Israel. As for the Palestenians, they can't even become citizens in 21 of the 23 countries in the region--only Jordan and Israel offer that prize, and Jordan is already a majority-Palestenian state ruled by a minority Hashemite clan.

But Arafat and the "Palestenian cause" are the pawn the Arabs use to make Israel look bad, and they hope the little pawn will someday trap Israel and help destroy it. By posing the "Palestenian cause"--unarmed or lightly armed street rabble--opposite the fierce Israeli army, the Arabs make David look like Goliath. Israel is surrounded by enemies, outnumbered by them by more than 10 to 1, yet by comparison the Palestenians come off looking like the helpless victim. Our media plays its role dutifuylly, reporting the back-and-forth violence as the fighting of moral equals, though the Palestenians target Israeli schoolchildren while Israel exclusively targets terrorists and their operatives.

It's a foul game, murderous and cynical, and the Arabs' wish to dismember Israel is at the root of it. Israel is still David, bravely confronting the enemy surrounding its camp, and the Arab world is still the arrogant Goliath, but somehow the lens of the media makes the boy David look taller than the giant. I'm praying that in the Arab-Israeli war to come, David will hit his mark again.
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January 22, 2002

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WE LIVE IN INTERESTING TIMES. In Israel, scores of civilians fall to the bombs, the gunfire, the savagery of terrorists, while they’re doing nothing more than making their way to work, or eating at a pizzeria or attending a wedding. Their survivors vow to keep on living, keep on going, keep on being free, and the terrorists vow to keep on killing in the name of their ideology, or their cause or their creed.

The truth behind the struggle is evident to all who will take the time to look at it: Israel is a tiny country of only a few million residents, surrounded on all sides by 22 nations sworn to destroy her. Israel’s only crime is its existence, and for that crime her people are slaughtered in cold blood. And yet, in our country, in Europe, and especially in the Middle East, Israel is called “bloodthirsty,” “evil,” and worse, while those persecuting her are given aid, finances, and a world stage from which to tell lies. And the terrorists keep killing, and it is plain to anyone who will take the time to look that they will never stop killing, until either all of Israel is dead or all the terrorists are dead.

Half a world away, American troops guard some of the most dangerous criminals of our times. They are also terrorists, cousins of those who murder Israelis, brothers of those who so recently killed so many in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. The truth of our struggle is plain to any who will take a moment to look at it: these terrorists have sworn to kill as many Americans as they can, any way they can, any time they can. They kill men, women, and children; human life means nothing to them. And yet in the United States, in Europe and the Middle East, the cause of the terrorists is beginning to take root. Our government finds itself on the defense against accusations of torture, inhumane treatment, and illegal interrogation, though not a single shred of evidence has surfaced to make the charges credible.

The American people aren’t making the charges—they support the war and the detention of the terrorists in Cuba. The charges are coming from the media, veiled in questions such as “In some quarters, the pictures of Al Qaida detainees in shackles is raising concerns,” and “Some are beginning to question whether the US has any right to keep the detainees separate,” and so forth. The questions are designed to mask the intentions of the questioner, which is to make his own baseless accusations appear to be the thoughts of “others.”

I have never seen a more irresponsible use of the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press than I have witnessed in recent days. I can’t watch the cable news chat shows, with their games of sophistry that never reach a conclusion. I can’t abide the thought that somewhere out there is a reporter ready to accuse the government of illegally holding and treating the terrorists. Our free press is in effect accusing our troops themselves and their commanders of illegal activity, inhumane treatment and immoral behavior. It should be plain to anyone who will take the time to see that the terrorists will try to keep killing, whether they’re held in a prison camp in Cuba or whether they hold a lease on an apartment in New Jersey. In accusing our troops and our government of inhumane treatment of the terrorists, our free press may do serious damage to the nation’s resolve to see the war to a just victory. That may in turn to serious damage to the nation which guarantees the press its freedom.
Posted by B. Preston at 11:56 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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A DAY AT THE MOVIES: The wife and I finally got around to seeing The Lord of the Rings today. Yes, I know, it's a month or so into its run and I should've seen it a long time ago, but we have a two-year-old and, well, movies just aren't at the top of the to-do list nowadays. Movies we do see are almost always rentals. But LOTR was an exception for me. I had to see this one on the big screen, with big sound, a good bucket of popcorn in my lap. So we hired a babysitter, and away we went.

As countless others have written before me, LOTR is an exceptional film. Every shot is beautiful, and the script faithfully follows the novel (faithfully enough, anyway) in a way that keeps the action moving in a story that holds together very well. As a viewer, I was swept up in the characters, the plot, the very real world of Middle Earth and the struggle to defeat evil with good. As a professional, I have very few qualms with any of the choices made by director Peter Jackson, and only rarely was my suspension of disbelief dislodged. When a shot knocked me out of the story at all, it was for its sheer boldness, as when the camera follows the birds into Sauroman's pits to tell him where Gandalf has led the Fellowship--that's a stunning shot, and I appreciated it as such, interrupting for a moment my belief in Middle Earth but at the same time allowing me to enjoy the film as a work of art.

Having watched Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace on DVD the night before, LOTR looks all more like a real achievement. There are no obvious bows to marketing, no politically-correct plot devices. Both are stunning films visually--TPM's galaxy seems functional, its cities inhabited, its imminent evil pervasive but not yet in control; LOTR's Middle Earth, with its distinct races, its geography, its architecture, seems to have existed forever. But the similarity between the films ends there. TPM is sterile, inhuman, and incoherent. The acting--Jake Lloyd, Natalie Portman, Liam Neeson--all of the major characters except Ewan MacGregor--is flat and pedestrian. Though TPM's crew faces a thousand threats from faceless enemies, they never seem to get beyond reading their lines in dress rehearsal. The Jedi battle with Darth Maul should be terrifying--Luke's battles with Darth Vader certainly are--but it's only interesting visually because the characters have never won over the viewer's hearts. Qui-gon's death only makes him a little stiffer than he was in life.

LOTR's characters seem alive, and the Hobbits and dwarves seem smaller than their companions. Gandalf's relationship with Frodo and Bilbo seem steeped with a real history, and Frodo's relationship with Samwise seems real as well. All of the cultures come across as distinct and real feautures of Middle Earth, and before Bilbo's birthday party is over you are already taking part in the journey ahead. The evil of the ring seems real, and its evidence in Bilbo's actions serve to show just what's in store for Frodo--and you care about it. When characters are tempted by the ring, they actually seem to want it, and its evil actually seems to have them in their grip. When the Fellowship is in danger, you sense it. The reality of it all brought to mind Saving Private Ryan--it's that visceral a film, while not being as gory. It's by far the darkest, least predictable film (and I know the storyline pretty well) I've seen in a long time.

So why did I contrast LOTR with The Phantom Menace? Both films are part of the greatest myths of modern times. It's fair to say that Tolkien created the fantasy genre of fiction with the LOTR trilogy, and made possible a whole range of following myths ranging from The Wheel of Time to Star Wars. Both films are also part of my own favorite fantasy worlds. Growing up, Star Wars and The Hobbit dueled for my attention, with Star Wars winning largely because it came in the form of three spectacular films. Yes, The Hobbit and LOTR were also made into films, but the animated versions of these great novels represent some of the most incompetent filmmaking in history. The characters are interchangable and indistinct, the use of rotoscoping in the Ralph Bakshi-directed LOTR serves only to jar and confuse the viewer, and the whole enterprise is dumbed down to the level of gibberish.

With The Phantom Menace, Star Wars fell from the glories of the past to, well, a dumbed down version of itself. TPM's story makes no sense, the villianous aliens are indistinct and terribly lip-synched, and don't get me started on Jar Jar unless you're handing me an axe. LOTR represents what TPM should have been--spectacular filmmaking on a level above the garbage the movie industry usually churns out. I hope that Lucas has taken a good hard look at what Peter Jackson has done, both visually and thematically, with LOTR, and I hope he has learned some valuable lessons from the criticism that has bedeviled TPM since its release three years ago. Episode 2 not only has to beat Episode 1 (which shouldn't take much effort to do), but it now has to beat Peter Jackson's incredible work on Lord of the Rings to win back the hearts and minds of the movie-going public. Both Episode 2 and LOTR's second installment, The Two Towers, will hit theaters later this year, and my hope is that both will remind the rest of Hollywood how to make quality moves again.

Another note about LOTR--we saw it today, a Monday, during the matinee hours, at an off-the-beaten-path theater. The room was packed. LOTR must still, after a month on screen, be doing a brisk business.
Posted by B. Preston at 12:44 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack