The height of disloyalty 7

Rhetorical questions: What moves James Comey? What makes him tick?

Why did he emerge from the mists of mystery which rightly enfold the FBI, to make statements about Hillary Clinton’s unlikely innocence and then again her likely guilt? Was doing that part of his job description? Seems improbable.

He is such a tall man that when he stands among other people, he has no choice but to look down on most of them. He is surrounded by the tops of people’s heads. So prominent in bodily presence is he, and yet, until the last couple of years, unnoticed. Did he crave more attention? Then why did he (as he says he did) hide among the White House curtains in the hope (disappointed) of escaping the attention of President Trump?

An enigma.

Did he crave fame? He has attained notoriety at least, which may in time be infamy, if it is not forgotten.

He pinched the title of his apologia, A Higher Loyalty, from one of our posts about him: The higher loyalty of James Comey, September 11, 2016. (So we will maintain in the teeth of all doubt and derision). Of course we meant it ironically, since in our account his “higher loyalty” was given to Hillary Clinton, to whose level even a midget would need to stoop. But we don’t grudge it. It’s probably the best-worded phrase printed anywhere in or on his book. (Which we have not read and have no intention of reading. We go by what is said about it, and by the banality of what we’ve heard him say on TV. And we freely confess to our unshakable prejudice against him.)

To what “higher loyalty” does he himself lay claim? Any hint in his subtitle, “Truth, Lies, and Leadership”? What “truth”? Whose “leadership”? His own? If not, the answers to those questions will remain forever in the vast hot-air Closet of Incoherent Explanations to which politicians’ and bureaucrats’ memoirs and apologias are consigned by the laws of nature.

As to “lies” – is he loyal to some or any of them? Not to all, anyway. His self-contradictions are common knowledge.

What we hear and read about him is that, in addition to lying, he revealed some parts of what he knew – directly to the president-elect, deviously to the press through a friend – while concealing other parts, highly significant facts, among the curtains of his mind. (Along such lines as: “We have a dossier about you Mr. Trump, in which it is alleged that you colluded with a p(r)osse of Russian whores to let you watch them micturate on a hotel bed in Moscow. We also know who paid to have the dossier compiled, but we won’t tell you who it was.” And not a hint did he drop. Even though she who paid for the scurrilous lies was his recently defeated rival for the presidency.)

Many Democrats – whose side he seems, at least intermittently, to favor – want his guts for garters. They, including Hillary Clinton herself, blame him for her loss and Donald Trump’s triumphant gain of the presidency in 2016. She blames lots of people. How much blame – or from our point of view credit – for her loss and his victory belongs to James Comey, who can say?

Millions of Republicans and conservatives long for his utter undoing: indictment, trial, imprisonment, humiliation. Why? That is a question we can answer. There may be many reasons, but we reckon that the big one, the one that towers above all others, is that he could have brought crooked Hillary Clinton to indictment, trial, imprisonment and humiliation – and didn’t do it. 

Posted under corruption, Crime, United States by Jillian Becker on Saturday, April 21, 2018

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Breaking the spell 22

We very seldom quote from a Leftist atheist site.

Today we do.

At Patheos, Shem the Penman writes in praise of Daniel Dennett. (You can find the whole thing here.)

We won’t discuss his contention that Dennett writes better on atheism than Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris, all of whom he apparently despises (although all of them were to some degree, or at least for a certain time, on the Left). We have given our opinion of their writings elsewhere. (See eg. our reviews of some of their books under Pages in our margin.)

It is something he says that Dennett says that we choose to examine.

He writes:

It may not be as popular on nonbeliever reading lists, or as packed with quotable quips about religion as God Is Not Great or The God Delusion, but Daniel Dennett’s 2006 book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon gives us a scheme for a scientific study of religion: how it developed and what it means to society today. Even on my first reading of it, I recall being impressed with Dennett’s thoroughness and seriousness in his task, which was much more subtle and empathetic than the standard demolition of religion delivered by cheap polemicists like Hitchens, Harris and Dawkins.

Such a study is important, Dennett knows, because religion represents a significant investment by believers in time, effort, and resources. Whether we think religion is a good thing or not, we have to come up with some sort of explanation for its development and survival throughout human history. In Darwinian terms, it has to justify its cost at every step of its evolution. …

Nowadays, the custodians of religion have come up with ways to ensure its survival that represent defense mechanisms for the meme complex. The first is the “spell” Dennett refers to in the title: the admonition against examining religion the same way we’d examine other human phenomena like sexuality or language. But there’s a more significant way that religion perpetuates itself in our era, and that’s through the belief-in-belief. In other words, whether people believe in the deities and tenets of their religion, they profess belief that the belief in them is a good idea. Religion perpetuates itself not by the belief it inspires, but by the behavior it motivates. Professing religious belief, in particular, is a behavior that significantly contributes to the perpetuation of the meme complex of religion.

This is the feature of Dennett’s thought that distinguishes him from a critic of religion such as Dawkins: while Dawkins focuses on the literal beliefs of religious people, Dennett points out that from the meme’s-eye-view, there’s no difference between a Muslim who prays five times a day because he truly believes in Allah and the truth of the Koran, and a Muslim who prays five times a day because that’s what Muslims do. …

There is a difference. The difference is as stated – that the one truly believes and the other merely conforms. And it is a fairly significant difference, because there is a better chance that the conformer can be dissuaded from his conformity than that the believer can be dissuaded from his belief.

In sum, what Dennett is saying (according to the writer) is that religions continue through the ages because they become conventional in this or that society.

True, and not a revelation.

In most societies, throughout the Third World, the notion that ideas can and should be critically examined did not arise. Only the West was taught this marvelous and simple exercise; first very early in its history, by Socrates in the 4th century BCE, and then, after hundreds of years of dogmatic Christian tyranny, by the Enlightenment thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries CE.

With the Enlightenment, religion in the West began to die. To quote from our own Articles of Reason: Many a belief can survive persecution, but not critical examination.

It did not happen that everyone who was told to reason became a rationalist. For many who preferred to feel rather than to think, religion was replaced by Romanticism. But almost everyone came to accept what Science revealed and what its child, Technology, put to use. Almost everyone, that is to say, who was taught some science and whose lives were transformed by technology; those  who were TOLD about those ideas, who experienced their effects.

Sure, there are still millions in the West – mainly in America – who learn some science, use technology, and nevertheless continue to believe that their religion is true. But their number is dwindling.

Religion must be argued against. Especially, now, Islam must be argued against. Argument is the best weapon in our arsenal to use against Islam – without excluding any others – precisely because so many Muslims pray five times a day for no better reason than that “that’s what Muslims do”.

That is why Muslims fear critical examination, so much so that they are trying to get it banned by law in Western countries, and by the UN, where they have a bullying majority.

We quote a few passages from the essay Tell them listed in our margin under Pages

Why do millions of Americans “think” that economic equality is morally desirable? …

Why do millions of university students in America admire intellectuals who hate America, such as Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, and make an icon out of the sadistic mass-murderer Che Guevara?

Why? Because they’ve been told to. They’ve been told that good people do and “think” these things. They want to be good. They believe what they’ve been taught. …

Now millions of conservatives are waking up and are asking, how did this happen? It happened because people patiently, energetically, persistently planned it and made it happen.

What can we do about it, they ask themselves and each other.

What they have to do about it is change the minds of the believers. First they must be sure that they want the free republic the founders established; that they want to maintain free markets; that they don’t want a welfare state; that they do want to preserve national defenses; that they want indoctrination in the schools to stop; that they want to forbid the application of foreign law; that they do not want to go on funding an institution – the UN – that consistently works against their interests. Then they must decide that their political philosophy is right, uniquely right, and must be implemented at any and all costs. Then they must start teaching it. With energy, persistence, patience and fiery enthusiasm. It will take time. But that is the only way. Teach, preach, argue, use every method that works.  …

How badly does the conservative right want to win [and hold on to] power in America? How important is it to them that they should?

If it is important, tell the voters, tell the children that the free market is the only means of creating general prosperity, and why. Tell them that central planning of an economy cannot work, and why. Tell them why competition is good for everyone, producers and consumers alike.

Tell them what profit is and why it is essential for ensuring abundance.

Tell them that only where people are free can there be discovery and innovation, improvement in everyone’s daily life, better technology, the advance of civilization. Explain why. Show them the proofs of history.

Tell them the truth about life in the Third World. Not politically correct sentimental drivel, but the actual awful facts about life in most other countries.

Tell them why impartial judgment is the only means to justice; why all sane adult citizens must be treated equally by the law; why people must be judged by their actions, not their intentions or feelings.

Tell them why government should be kept small and its powers limited. Tell them what the essential tasks of government are: protection of the nation, of the individual, of liberty, of the rule of law itself. And why governments should not be allowed more power and money than it needs to fulfill its few essential functions.

Shout down the shouters.

Tell Muslims what is wrong with their creed and why American secularism is better. Don’t allow them … to shut out criticism of their absurd and savage beliefs.

Tolerate only the tolerant and tolerable.

It will take time. Start now. … Tell them.

Posted under Uncategorized by Jillian Becker on Thursday, April 19, 2018

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At last … 5

Katie Pavlich reports at Townhall:

Eleven House Republicans have sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray officially referring Hillary Clinton, fired FBI Director James Comey, fired Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch for criminal investigation. FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who were caught sending hundreds of anti-Trump text messages during the Clinton investigation, have also been referred for criminal investigation.

U.S. Attorney John Huber, who was tapped by Sessions a few weeks ago to investigate the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email probe, was copied on the request.

“Because we believe that those in positions of high authority should be treated the same as every other American, we want to be sure that the potential violations of law outlined below are vetted appropriately,” lawmakers wrote.

As the letter outlines, Comey is under fire for allegedly giving false testimony to Congress last summer about the FBI’s criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s repeated mishandling of classified information. Specifically, lawmakers cite Comey’s decision to draft an exoneration memo of Clinton months before FBI agents were done with their work and before Clinton and key staffers were interviewed for the probe. They’re also going after him for leaking classified information to a friend, which Comey admitted to under oath.

“It would appear that former Director Comey leaked classified information when sharing these memos with Professor Richman. Accordingly, we refer James Comey to DOJ for potential violation(s) of: 18 USC 641, 18 USC 793, and 18USC 1924 (a),” the letter states.

Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch is being referred for allegedly “threatening with reprisal the former FBI informant who tried to come forward in 2016 with insight into the Uranium One deal”.

“With regard to top counterintelligence FBI agent, Peter Strzok, and senior FBI lawyer Lisa Page, we raise concerns regarding their interference in the Hillary Clinton investigation regarding her use of a personal email server,” the letter states.

McCabe has been referred for perceived violation of three different codes after a DOJ inspector general report released last week showed he lied under oath multiple times to FBI and OIG investigators.

As far as Clinton’s referral, lawmakers argue she should be held accountable for “disguising payments to Fusion GPS on mandatory disclosures to the Federal Election Commission.”

At the very least! She surely has much more to answer for.

Will Sessions and Wray do what they’re asked to do?

It’s a happy day, but not yet time to celebrate. The guilty must be found guilty, and heavy sentences must be pronounced upon them.

Our editorial mind is closed to any possibility of their innocence.

Our rule of skepticism is suspended.

May this be the beginning of a wave of justice that will overwhelm them.

A report from Syria 79

Our British associate, Chauncey Tinker, proprietor of The Participator, has drawn our attention to this video.

OAN is a conservative news channel.

The reporter, Pearson Sharp, makes a strong case that the gas attack on Douma was staged for propaganda purposes. We had believed and said that there was a gas attack, so we post the video as self-correction. (Of course, we still cannot be sure whether or not there was a gas attack, and if there was, who launched it. Sharp’s interpreter may have deceived him, for instance; or the witnesses could have been lying.)

In any case, we are glad that the sites in Syria connected with the production of chemical and biological weapons have been bombed to rubble.

Since the Russians have acquired a firm foothold in Syria, and Iran too has a dangerous presence there, was the bombing politically and strategically justified?

Bruce Thornton writes, in part, at Front Page:

Given that our economy is inseparable from the global economy, we have no choice but to be concerned about the critical straits and canals through which global commerce travels, and the airports throughout the world through which people can reach our shores in less than a day. We also can’t ignore the numerous illiberal and autocratic regimes whose beliefs and values conflict with those of the West. The global market … needs a global sheriff so that this astonishing increase in technological innovation and wealth and their global distribution is free to continue. We may not have chosen this role, we may not like or want the job, but history so far has left the U.S. as the only great power with the military capacity for keeping order, and the political beliefs and principles that ensure we will not abuse that power to oppress others.

Yet that truth does not justify the one-world idealism that believes everybody on the planet wants to live like Westerners, or to embrace Western principles and goods like political freedom, tolerance of minorities, free speech, sex equality, secularist government, an open society, and the preference for discussion, negotiation, and treaties as the way to solve conflict rather than brute force. The great diversity of ways of life and beliefs means that transnational institutions, agreements, covenants, and U.N. Security Council resolutions will always in the end be instruments of diverse and conflicting national interests. They are honored as long as they serve those interests, but abused or subverted when they don’t, especially by the more powerful nations. …

The West’s military dominance in the 20th century ensured that other nations would bandwagon with the West and sign such international agreements, with the tacit proviso that they would violate them whenever necessary, even as they paid them lip-service. The history of the last century, which is littered with violated treaties and covenants, proves this obvious truth. …

Indeed, Syria offers a perfect example … of a superficial adherence to international covenants that facilitates violations of them. After Barack Obama issued his empty “red line” threat about Assad’s use of chemical weapons, Secretary of State John Kerry negotiated an empty “solution” to the problem by making Russia the authority overseeing the elimination of Assad’s stockpiles, even though it was and still is not in Russia’s geostrategic interests to disarm Assad. So we got a theatrical compliance that left Assad his weapons, and even worse, gave Russia a sanctioned entrée into the Syrian civil war. The pretense of adhering to international law gave cover to Russia’s strategic aims in the region, one of which was the continuation of Assad’s murderous regime. …

What could justify the raids against Syria? Deterrence is frequently invoked, but it obviously didn’t work last year after the President destroyed some of Assad’s jets. Over the past year, Assad has continued to use chemical weapons on civilians. Indeed, within hours of our latest attack Assad was using high explosives and barrel-bombs to slaughter people who are just as dead or mangled as the victims of his chemical attack. Further consequences may follow. Russia and Iran for now may be blustering to save face, but there still may be some retaliation that we will then have to answer. For once a nation goes down the road of deterring a bad actor by force, it has to continue indefinitely in order to maintain its prestige. It can’t announce publicly that it is a “one-off”.

Americans traditionally do not like constant war or military interventions, particularly “humanitarian” ones. We prefer to intervene when necessary, kill the bad guys, then come back home … Unfortunately, in today’s interconnected world, such conflicts are not as rare as we’d like. But we must make it clear that we will not intervene when necessary just to rush home as though the work is done, nor will we engage in conflicts and occupation of the defeated enemy in order to create liberal democracy.

Rather, we need a foreign policy similar to the “butcher and bolt” policy of the British Empire, or what Israel calls “mowing the grass”. This means when an adversary or enemy challenges our power and interests, or those of our close allies, we should use force to send a message, usually by destroying some of its military assets. We should not rationalize this action by appealing to international law, the U.N., or some fantastical common vales or principles of the mythic “international community.” We should make it clear that there is no time-certain for when we stop, rather that we will return whenever we judge it necessary. And we should do it on the principle that a sovereign nation has a right to defend itself as it sees fit, and owes accountability only to its citizens.

In the near future, bombing Syria will likely still be necessary, not just to deter Assad or change the regime into a liberal democracy, but to let all the players in the region know that the greatest military power in history is watching events in a region we deem vital to our interests, and that we will use force to remind them of our unprecedented ability to project devastating power across the globe. Such a policy will strengthen our prestige, and concentrate wonderfully the minds of our adversaries.

The only remaining question is, Will we the people of the United States be willing to pay the costs and accept the risks of such a policy?

Posted under Iran, Russia, Syria, United States, Videos by Jillian Becker on Tuesday, April 17, 2018

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Missile strikes on Syria: punishment, prevention, and warning 4

“What did the missile strikes on Syria’s chemical weapons sites do for America?”

“Why should Americans expend blood and treasure for Syrians victimized by their own government?”

“America is not the world’s policeman.”

Such are the questions and protests that are coming from angry commentators, including many conservatives.

So was President Trump’s decision to act as he did right or wrong?

Claudia Rosett, for long a trusty reporter on the horror show called the United Nations, writes at PJ Media:

With air strikes on Syria’s chemical weapons facilities, carried out jointly with Britain and France, America has done the right thing.

Leading from in front, President Trump is finally redrawing the red line that President Obama erased in 2013. Whatever the threats and criticisms that will surely follow, the world will be safer for it. The vital message is that America is no longer the hamstrung giant of the Obama era. Tyrants such as Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, and his patrons in Moscow and Tehran, have been served notice that it would be unwise to continue to assume that America will waffle, appease or simply retreat while they take upon themselves the shaping – to monstrous effect – of the 21st-century world order. This message is also likely to resonate in Beijing (which has reportedly been planning live-fire naval exercises next week in the Taiwan Strait) and Pyongyang (with its nuclear missile projects).

The immediate aim of the US-led air strikes was to end the chemical weapons attacks that Syria’s Assad regime has continued to inflict on its own people – despite Assad’s promises in 2013 to surrender his chemical weapons, and Russia’s promise to ensure Assad did so. On Friday, speaking at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council, Ambassador Nikki Haley charged that by U.S. estimates, “Assad has used chemical weapons in the Syrian war at least 50 times” – some of these attacks within the past year, including the gas attack that killed dozens … in the Syrian city of Douma.

There’s room for debate about whether it is America’s responsibility, on humanitarian grounds, to stop such atrocities. But whatever your views on protecting children in a far-off land from the hideous effects of chemical weapons, there is a larger, strategic reason for trying to stop Assad. Syria, with its liberal use of chemical weapons, has been setting a horrific precedent – repeatedly violating the Chemical Weapons Convention to which Damascus acceded in 2013, and eroding the longstanding international taboo against chemical warfare. This is dangerous way beyond Syria. As Haley told the UN Security Council: “All nations and all people will be harmed if we allow Assad to normalize the use of chemical weapons.”

In theory, the United Nations was supposed to prevent this, ensuring in tandem with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons that Assad would give up all his chemical weapons – with the specific oversight and guarantees of Russia, under a deal cut in 2013 by Obama and Putin. As I explained in an article earlier this week for The Hill, the UN has failed utterly, thanks to Putin’s cynical exploitation of the entire setup. Russia used the chemical weapons disarmament deal as a portal for its own military entry into Syria in support of Assad, and has since been using its veto on the UN Security Council, along with a torrent of Kremlin propaganda, to run diplomatic cover for Assad.

As many conservative commentators pointed out at the time, it was stupid (if not collusional) of Obama and his secretary of state John Kerry to hand over the responsibility for overseeing Syria’s WMD abandonment to Russia.

The upshot has been that if the US does not stop Assad’s use of chemical weapons, then nobody will.

Neither Britain nor France would have done it without the US.

The US could have done it on its own. British and French participation in the missile attack was useful for President Trump, though not necessary for the success of the operation. The huge majority of the missiles were American – 88 of the 105. Nine were French and 8 were British.

Prime Minister May allowed British forces to strike Syria along with US forces because she “owed” President Trump for his supporting her, when she hit back at Russia for the poisoning of two Russian expats in Britain by expelling Putin’s diplomats and closing a consulate. She asked President Trump to do the same, and he did. She was able to give the order for the strike on Syria by the RAF without consulting parliament because the MPs were still absent on their Easter break. She seized the moment, and now there’s an outcry in the Commons – as well as the country – about it.

As for President Macron, he seems to be fascinated by President Trump, wanting to follow him and yet also to direct him. Macron claimed that he had “convinced” Trump that he should keep the US military engaged in Syria – and then he retracted the claim.

Last April, after Assad used sarin gas in an attack that killed almost 100 people, Trump ordered a strike of 59 Tomahawk missiles on a Syrian airbase. Evidently, that was not enough to stop Assad’s chemical weapons spree.

At a Pentagon press briefing Friday evening held shortly after Trump’s public announcement of the strikes on Syria, Gen. Joseph Dunford listed three targets “struck and destroyed,” which he said were “specifically associated with the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons program.” The last two on his list were chemical weapons storage facilities, one of which included “an important command post”. On these, I don’t know anything beyond the generic descriptions Dunford gave at the briefing.

But the first target on Dunford’s list had a very familiar ring. He described it as “a scientific research center located in the greater Damascus area”. He added: “This military facility was a Syrian center for the research, development, production and testing of chemical and biological warfare technology.”

That sure sounds like the notorious Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, also known as the SSRC. In which case there can be no doubt that these air strikes were aimed at an incredibly high-value target, an outfit central to some of the worst depravities of Assad’s weapons programs, and – as it happens – a longtime client of North Korea and Iran. On the 99 percent probability that this was the research center to which Dunford referred, here’s some background:

For starters, I’d credit Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis with telling it exactly as it is, when he said at the same Pentagon press briefing Friday night, “We were very precise and proportionate. But at the same time, it was a heavy strike.”

The SSRC has been on the U.S. sanctions list for 13 years, first designated under the Bush administration in 2005, with periodic, horrifying updates under the Obama and Trump administrations, targeting its various fronts, procurement arms, officials and connections.

This is not just any old research center. According to the U.S. Treasury, it is “the Syrian government agency responsible for developing and producing non-conventional weapons and the missiles to deliver them”. …

On April 24, 2017, following Assad’s sarin gas attack on the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun, the Trump administration blacklisted 271 employees of the SSRC, stating that these individuals “have expertise in chemistry and related disciplines and/or have worked in support of SSRC’s chemical weapons since at least 2012”.  In other words, during the same time frame in which Russia (and former secretary of State John Kerry) were assuring us that 100 percent of the chemical weapons were gone from Syria, the Syrian regime’s SSRC was prolifically busy plowing ahead with Assad’s chemical weapons program.

We also have it on good authority that during roughly that same interval, the SSRC was ordering up shipments from North Korea. According to the UN Panel of Experts on North Korea sanctions, in a report dated March 5, 2018, their investigations into weapons and dual-use shipments to Syria from North Korea turned up more than 40 shipments between 2012 and 2017 “by entities designated by Member States as front companies for the Scientific Studies Research Centre of the Syrian Arab Republic.” Among these shipments were items “with utility in ballistic missile and chemical weapons programs”.

If the SSRC was indeed struck and destroyed, the likely benefits are enormous. That would deprive Assad of one of the most diabolical laboratories of his evil regime, quite likely providing a big setback to his chemical weapons program, with the two-fer that it might also have zapped his bioweapons program.

It would also send a useful message to everyone from the SSRC’s suppliers, such as Iran and North Korea, to such predatory dictators as Russia’s Putin and China’s Xi Jinping. Destroying the SSRC with air strikes ought to drive home, in a way that no amount of UN debate and no quantity of sanctions designations ever could, that these days the U.S. and its allies are serious about their red lines. 

The SSRC was struck. According to the caption to this picture in The Independent, this rubble is what’s left of “part” of it.

Against progressives 26

Pat Condell:

Posted under Progressivism, Videos by Jillian Becker on Sunday, April 15, 2018

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Enlightenment, atheism, reason, and the humanist Left 25

This is a kind of review. But it is more of an argument about ideas that vitally affect the real world.

I am in emphatic agreement with roughly half of what Professor Steven Pinker says in his new book Enlightenment Now: the Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress*, and in vehement disagreement with the rest of it. Like him, I esteem the Enlightenment most highly; profoundly value science; and certainly want progress in everything that makes us happier and better informed, our lives longer, healthier, less painful, and more enjoyable. Like him, I am an atheist. It is chiefly with his ideas on Humanism that I disagree. Which may seem strange since humanism is atheist. And, certainly, on all his criticisms of religion I am in complete accord. More than that: where small “h” humanism is concerned with humane morals – the imperative to treat our fellow human beings and other sentient beings humanely – the great professor and I could sing in harmony.

“The moral alternative to theism,” he writes, “is humanism.”

But Humanism-the-movement holds principles that I not only do not like, but strongly dislike. They are principles of the Left. And  while he is not uncritical of the Left, Professor Pinker upholds those principles. Humanism, wherever it may be found, is a Leftist ideology. And because the Humanist movement is well-established, widespread, its opinions prominently published, and taught (or preached) where scholars gather, atheism is assumed by many to belong to the Left, inseparably, part and parcel of its essential ideology.

Atheism may be indispensable to the Left, but Leftism is not necessary to atheism.

Atheism as such carries no connotations. No political or ethical ideas logically flow from it. It is simply non-belief in the existence of a divine being. Nothing more. A person’s atheism does not itself make him more humane or less humane.

Steven Pinker implies that it does. Although he states that “atheism is not a moral system … just the absence of supernatural belief”, he also declares that “secularism leads to humanism, turning people away from prayer, doctrine, and ecclesiastical authority and toward practical policies that make them and their fellows better off.”

He reasons along these lines:

“Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis.”

Not from holy books. Agreed.

“Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change.”

Agreed.

There being no supernatural moral authority, and as human beings have natural needs –

“Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience.”

So far, no cause for quarrel. But he elaborates on this last statement to demonstrate that Humanists do this “deriving” well:

“Humanists ground values in human welfare, shaped by human circumstances, interests and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem …”

There it comes, as if it followed logically from scientific knowledge and humane secularism, one of the main obsessions of the Left: concern for the planet, for which, the Left claims, human beings bear responsibility. The words “man-made global warming” silently intrude themselves; as does the “solution” for it – global governance, by those who know what the human race must do; total communism, the highest principle of the Left; its vision of a whole-world Utopia. Though Steven Pinker himself is not a Utopian, he writes a good deal in this book about the virtues of “globalist” politics. He sees globalism as an enlightened, reasonable, science-based, progressive, humanist creed. To “maximize individual happiness”, he remarks, “progressive cultures” work to “develop global community”. He has much praise for international institutions – including, or even led by, the (actually deeply evil) United Nations. He is confident the UN and other international bodies such as the EU, formed after the end of the Second World War, can help keep the world at peace. In fact, there has not been a single year since 1945 when the world has been without a war or wars.

To the globalist view he opposes the populist view. Not wrong when stated thus. But he does not see the populist view as the one held by 63 million Americans who voted Donald Trump into the presidency of the United States because they wanted more jobs, lower taxes, and secure borders; or that of the British majority who voted to withdraw their country from the undemocratic and corrupt European Union. No. He sees populism as a cult of “romantic heroism”, a longing for “greatness embodied in an individual or a nation”.

He is adamantly against the nation-state. He thinks that those who uphold the idea of the nation-state “ludicrously” envision a “global order” that “should consist of ethnically homogeneous and mutually antagonistic nation-states”. Who has ever expressed such an idea? And he puts “multiculturalism” (the failing experiment of enforcing the co-existence of diverse tribes within a nation’s borders) on an equal footing with “multi-ethnicity” (the melting-pot idea that has worked so splendidly for the United States of America).

To him, nationalism is ineluctably authoritarian and fascist. He sees President Trump – who is in fact unswervingly for individual freedom – as a “charismatic leader” of the dictatorial Mussolini mold. The politics of the Right for Professor Pinker are irredeemably dyed in the wool with Nietzschean anti-morality, “superman” aspirations, and genocidal urgings. Libertarianism is tainted with it too. He writes: “ … Ayn Rand’s celebration of selfishness, her deification of the heroic capitalist, and her disdain for the general welfare had Nietzsche written all over them.”

Interestingly – and restoratively to my esteem for him – he also asserts that certain Marxists and certain Leftist movements are equally, or even more, colored with Nietzsche’s inhumanity: “[Nietzsche] was a key influence on … Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques Derrida, and Michel Foucault, and a godfather to all the intellectual movements of the 20th century that were hostile to science and objectivity, including Existentialism, Critical Theory, Post-structuralism, Deconstructionism, and Postmodernism.”

Steven Pinker’s humanism, then, is not far to the Left, just “left-of-center”. And most of the humanists I have known (and argued with) would also place themselves on that section of the political spectrum. “[T]he moral and intellectual case for humanism is, I believe, overwhelming …,” he writes.

He concludes (and here he specifically rejects Utopianism):

We will never have a perfect world. And it would be dangerous to seek one. But there is no limit to the betterments we can attain if we continue to apply knowledge to enhance human flourishing. This heroic story … belongs not to any tribe but to all humanity – to any sentient creature with the power of reason and the urge to persist in its being. For it requires only the convictions that life is better than death, health is better than sickness, abundance is better than want, freedom is better than coercion, happiness is better than suffering, and knowledge is better than superstition and ignorance.”

That is the vision of the Decent Thinking Western Man. He believes that all human beings ultimately want the same things; that the good life is defined for all in the same general terms; that all  would agree to the Golden Rule, which has been “rediscovered in hundreds of moral traditions”.

But are those beliefs true? He himself records that there are many who do not value knowledge above ignorance, reason above superstition, freedom above coercion, even life above death. Which is to say, he writes about Islam (in which there is no Golden Rule). He knows Islam has no trace of “Enlightenment humanism”. He declares it an “illiberal” creed, and observes that “[M]any Western intellectuals – who would be appalled if the repression, misogyny, homophobia, and political violence that are common in the Islamic world were found in their own societies even diluted a hundred fold – have become strange apologists when these practices are carried out in the name of Islam.”

He finds one explanation for the double-standard of these intellectuals in their “admirable desire to prevent prejudice against Muslims”. But when it comes to revulsion against ideologists of repression, misogyny, homophobia, and political violence, is it prejudice or is it judgment? He says also that some of the apologetics are “intended to discredit a destructive (and possibly self-fulfilling) narrative that the world is embroiled in a clash of civilizations”. (Or, as I see it, of civilization against barbarism.) I wonder how anyone can look at the drastically changing demographics of Europe, or at least the Western part of it which will surely be under Islamic rule before the century is out, and not notice the clash.

But he does say that “calling out the antihumanistic features of contemporary Islamic belief is in no way Islamophobic”. Being the decent thinking Western man that he is, he is firmly for critical examination of all ideas.

His optimism shines out of the book. He thinks Islam can be reformed, even that a Muslim Enlightenment is possible. He believes there was an earlier age of Islamic Enlightenment, an “Islamic Golden Age” which could serve as a precedent. Well, if one wants to see bright possibilities, Islam may come to prefer science to the assertions of its prophet. It may become humane in its law and stop oppressing women. It may contribute to human progress. But whatever changes may come to Islam in the future, at present it does not value life above death, freedom above coercion, knowledge above superstition. And there is no good reason to believe it ever will.

 

Jillian Becker    April 12, 2018

 

*Enlightenment Now: the Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker, Viking, New York 2018. The quotations in the article come from the last chapter, Humanism.

About the mass destruction of populations 69

Moral clarity is needed on the question of whether the Syrian dictator Bashar Assad can be allowed to get away with using gas against the Syrian people in the civil war over which he presides year after year.

The answer is NO. He cannot be allowed to.

Gas was delivered on to the Syrian town of Douma from the air. No rebel faction has aircraft. It could only have been delivered by Assad, or his Russian allies at his behest.

There is no defense against chemical and biological weapons. They can be used against large numbers of civilians. That is why they are called “weapons of mass destruction”.

So yes, it is worse to kill off whole populations with gas or anthrax than to engage an army with conventional weapons.

If Assad or anyone else in a position to develop and deliver mass-murdering gas gets away with doing it, others will do it too, such as the mullahs of Iran, the despot of North Korea.

And if gas is re-introduced as a weapon of war, no one anywhere will be out of its reach.

Bad actors hesitate to use biological weapons – the spreading of diseases, such as anthrax – because the stuff can kill the attackers as easily as the attacked. Disease is wholly impartial and no respecter of persons. But gas, dropped from the air as it was over Douma, kills only those below, not those who drop it or send it. It is the cheapest weapon of mass destruction an immoral government with an air force can use.

Elliot Friedland writes at the Clarion Project:

[President] Trump was on the phone with the leaders of France and Britain, the only two other Western powers with serious force projection capabilities, although their militaries pale in comparison to that of the United States. …

The question is whether the United States and her allies will wage war on Syria.

Many pundits and politicians from both sides of the aisle feel the question has already been decided. Of course the President should act in the face of such immorality. America has a responsibility to lead, to not let tyrants commit atrocities with impunity. Despite the partisan rancor that normally characterizes Washington, there is remarkable unity around the idea that Trump ought to authorize at least some military action in Syria.

There are many good reasons to support such a position. Clarion Project’s Ryan Mauro forcefully argued the case against Assad on Fox News, highlighting the vital importance of maintaining deterrence against chemical weapons attacks.

But opposition to the war is bringing a strange medley of personalities from across the political spectrum together.

Tucker Carlson, one of the most watched right-of-center talk show hosts on American television, delivered a blistering rebuke of the pro-war crowd on his show. He said that even if Assad did order a chemical weapons attack that killed children (which Carlson acknowledges he is perfectly capable of doing), to remove him would only bring further chaos at the expense of American lives and billions more dollars.

In this opinion, he is joined by none other than Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain’s Labour party, who called for restraint and a multilateral solution brought by the United Nations.

The iniquitous United Nations, that does much harm and no good! (It must be abolished.)

Corbyn has links to Islamist figures, has called Hamas and Hezbollah his “friends” and is embroiled in an on-going anti-Semitism scandal. In the UK, Corbyn’s position was supported by none other than Nick Griffin, former leader of the far-right British National Party. Griffin tweeted that he would vote Labour and support Corbyn if he stopped U.S. airstrikes in Syria.

Left-wing journalist and self-described “anarcho-psychonaut” Caitlin Johnstone wrote in Medium “We All Need to Unite Against War in Syria Regardless of Ideology.” She cites Intercept founder Glenn Greenwald, who got famous breaking Edward Snowden’s Wikileaks as also being against the war.

Patriarcha, an ultraconservative Christian Facebook page even shared her article, calling it “compulsory reading”, despite that page’s longstanding visceral hatred for anything emanating from the left.

The prospect of war is uniting people who normally couldn’t stand to even be in the same room without screaming at each other. The conventional partisan alignments are breaking down in the face of the ever-changing political reality.

Fortunately, the person who will decide what to do is not Tucker Carlson, or Jeremy Corbyn, or Nick Griffin, or Caitlin Johnstone, or Glenn Greenwald, or some “ultraconservative Christian” …

Gas 5

Did the dictator of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, attack a town with lethal gas (in April 2018)?

President Trump says he did, so it has to be expected that the “Resistance” will deny it. Reuters and the New York Times, however, have both reported it as if, on the whole, they believe it. (See here and here.)

As  for foreign news channels, you cannot get more anti-Trump than the BBC, and they also say it happened – while casting doubt on the trustworthiness of the White Helmets organization which is one of the sources of the report.

At least 70 people have died in a suspected chemical attack in Douma, the last rebel-held town in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta, rescuers and medics say.

Volunteer rescue force the White Helmets tweeted graphic images showing several bodies in basements. It said the deaths were likely to rise.

There has been no independent verification of the reports.

Syria has called the allegations of a chemical attack a “fabrication” – as has its main ally, Russia.

The US state department said Russia – with its “unwavering support” for Syria’s government – “ultimately bears responsibility” for the alleged attacks.

What do we know about the attack?

Several medical, monitoring and activist groups reported details of a chemical attack.

“Seventy people suffocated to death and hundreds are still suffocating,” said Raed al-Saleh, head of the White Helmets. An earlier, now deleted tweet, put the number dead at more than 150.

The pro-opposition Ghouta Media Center tweeted that more than 75 people had “suffocated”, while a further 1,000 people had suffered the effects of the alleged attack.

It blamed a barrel bomb allegedly dropped by a helicopter which it said contained Sarin, a toxic nerve agent.

The Union of Medical Relief Organizations, a US-based charity that works with Syrian hospitals, told the BBC the Damascus Rural Specialty Hospital had confirmed 70 deaths.

A spokeswoman said there were reports of people being treated for symptoms including convulsions and foaming of the mouth, consistent with nerve or mixed nerve and chlorine gas exposure.

Continued shelling overnight and on Sunday was making it impossible to reach victims.

As the allegations emerged, Syria’s state news agency Sana said the reports were invented by the Jaish al-Islam rebels who remain in control in Douma.

“Jaish al-Islam terrorists are in a state of collapse and their media outlets are [making] chemical attack fabrications in an exposed and failed attempt to obstruct advances by the Syrian Arab army,” Sana said.

So Russia and Sana deny there was any such attack. That is not surprising.

But what we find surprising is the resistance to believing the reports to be true by some of our own regular Facebook commenters. There seems to be an unwillingness among a number of our otherwise like-thinkers to believe that Assad would do such a thing. We find that strange. Some say that whether the reports are true or not, America should take no part in the Syrian civil war no matter what Assad does. 

And Tucker Carlson on Fox is deploring the possibility of the US using force against Assad as this is being written. He asks how the US would become safer if there were regime change in Syria.

But Russia and Iran are deeply involved in it, and they both threaten US interests.

President Trump asks:

If they’re innocent, why aren’t they allowing people to go in and prove it? Because as you know, they’re claiming they didn’t make the attack.

Since he believes it happened, the big question now is: What will he do about it?

What do our readers think about all this?

Posted under Arab States, Civil war, Iran, Russia, Syria by Jillian Becker on Monday, April 9, 2018

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The hubris and incoherence of the Left 14

The sheer incoherence of the Left must surely sink it eventually!

Feminists who claimed for decades to be fighting for women’s “liberation” defend the absolute subjugation of Muslim women. In their thousands, wearing silly pink baby hats, they bob about  Linda Sarsour, a Muslima in a hijab, cheering her every lying word as she tells them how much better for women Islam is than the Constitution of the USA.

Americans who worked passionately for years to keep the teaching of religion – Christianity in particular – out of public schools, are now letting Islam be taught in them. And not just allowing it but insisting on it. And what is being taught is not even the truth about that horrible religion. We would not object if the truth were being told. No; what the children get is a false, prettified version written by deceitful proselytizing Muslims. A supremacist, totalitarian, misogynist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, murderous, savagely cruel ideology is presented to young scholars as a kindly, gentle thing, full of good-will and brotherly love.

And this happened:

So, after being maligned and threatened, Councilman Tom Harrison retracted his objection to Islam being included in the school curriculum, apologized, and groveled.

The idea of the separation of church and state does not exist in Islam. And it will no longer apply in all public schools in the United States, despite the First Amendment of the Constitution. At least, not when it comes to Islam. Islam, a blood-thirsty intolerant creed, is excepted.

Tolerance. Inclusiveness. Diversity. Buzzwords of the Left. Yet Leftists passionately support the intolerance, exclusiveness, and dogmatism that characterize Islam. They ignore its doctrine  that everyone in the world must become Muslim or suffer dire consequences, including murder.

What the Left has never understood, not for a moment since the New Left prophets such as Herbert Marcuse changed the category of persons they declared themselves to be the champions and saviors of  – substituting Lumpenproletarians, convicted felons, hoboes, women, Third Worlders for Karl Marx’s romanticized workers – is that they are patronizing the subjects of their crusade. They are the most extreme of social snobs.

They claim to be acting out of compassion, but there is an awful lot of condescension in their compassion, and an awful lot of vanity in their condescension.

Very few of them ever leave their comfortable quarters in the schools or parliaments or penthouses or manors or leafy suburbs where they write their books, speeches and op-eds, to visit the unsafe regions of the world where the folks they have made their Cause actually struggle to survive. They know almost nothing about them, and do not want to know. How shocked would they be to learn that the most rabid hatred of other races, religions, tribes, or mere skin color, is to be found there, among the “oppressed”, the “deprived”, the “wretched of the earth”?

So yes, there is a privileged white patriarchy consumed with moral vanity. But it is not to be found on the conservative Right. Here no one cares what color a person’s skin is. We do not think with our skins.

The privileged white patriarchy is to be found where ill-informed women march in pink baby hats. Where self-righteous students scream out their opinions against citizens’ ownership of guns. Where George Soros signs his checks.

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