9/11: The Tenth Anniversary

“As I write in my new book, 9/11 was something America’s enemies did to us; the ten-year hole is something we did to ourselves — and in its way, the interminable bureaucratic sloth is surely as eloquent as anything Nanny Bloomberg will say in his remarks.

And so we commemorate an act of war as a “tragic event,” and we retreat to equivocation, cultural self-loathing, and utterly fraudulent misrepresentation about the events of the day. In the weeks after 9/11, Americans were enjoined to ask, “Why do they hate us?” A better question is: “Why do they despise us?” And the quickest way to figure out the answer is to visit the Peace Quilt and the Wish Tree, the Crescent of Embrace and the Hole of Bureaucratic Inertia.” – Mark Steyn, Let’s Roll Over

My sentiments exactly.

(Sorry. I was going to comment on the last Republican debate tonight, but I think commemorating 9/11 should take precedence.)

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A Caveat

While the death of Osama bin Laden is definitely something to celebrate – God bless our troops! – I think we have to be careful not to declare this the “End of the War on Terror.” There are still plenty of bad guys out there who need to be stopped; radical Islamism is still a genuine threat to the USA and to Western civilization. We cannot let our momentary – though well-deserved – patriotic glee detract from our resolve or our vigilance. Our message to Osama’s supporters should remain loud and clear:

In Egypt, Skeptics Vindicated

Islamist Group Is Rising Force in a New Egypt
by Michael Slackman @ the New York Times

CAIRO — In post-revolutionary Egypt, where hope and confusion collide in the daily struggle to build a new nation, religion has emerged as a powerful political force, following an uprising that was based on secular ideals. The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group once banned by the state, is at the forefront, transformed into a tacit partner with the military government that many fear will thwart fundamental changes.

It is also clear that the young, educated secular activists who initially propelled the nonideological revolution are no longer the driving political force — at least not at the moment.

At the Times, of course, reporters still hold out hope that the Muslim Brotherhood will help usher in a tolerant, pluralistic democracy. The rest of us know better, though. We may indeed end up with a “one person, one vote, one time” scenario when all is said and done.

Egypt

So – if you’ve been reading the news lately, then you know that Egypt is in the process of burning to the ground right now. Certain leftists on Live Journal would like for me to celebrate this “popular uprising” against Mubarak as an expression of the very “democracy” that we hawks champion, but I’m afraid I can’t do that without pointing out the ways this could go horribly, horribly wrong.

Consider what a recent Pew poll discovered about the Muslim majority in Egypt. While that majority favors “democratic government” (59%), they also support:

  • Gender segregation in the workplace (54%).
  • Stoning as a punishment for adultery (82%).
  • Whipping/cutting off hands for theft (77%).
  • The death penalty for leaving the Muslim religion (84%).

The ballot box does not a liberal democracy make. This is something that the international left repeatedly fails to grok. Over and over again, said leftists have claimed that duly elected socialists are “democratic” even when those socialists are guilty of numerous human rights abuses (see also: Hugo Chavez). But democracy is not established by the mere act of voting. Voting is just a surface feature of liberal democracy. Liberal democracy is a complex system comprised of the following obligatory elements:

  • The rule of law, not men.
  • The separation of powers (so that no one person or group has absolute control).
  • Checks and balances (so that, again, power is not concentrated in one person or group).
  • Respect for the rights of minority populations.

If a government fails to reflect these four key principles, it doesn’t matter whether it was “elected.” It’s still not a democracy.

I honestly want Egyptian small-l liberals to succeed in overthrowing Mubarak and installing a truly democratic goverment. The moralist in me believes we shouldn’t tolerate Mubarak’s thugocracy for another minute. But if, after ousting Mubarak from power, the Egyptian electorate then proceeds to vote for the full enforcement of sharia, that will not be a victory for democracy. If the Muslim Brotherhood is allowed to participate in a future election and wins, that will not be a victory for democracy. That will be the worst case scenario.

Two Quick Links

Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent
Fiona Godlee, Jane Smith, & Harvey Marcovitch @ BMJ.com

In a series of articles starting this week, and seven years after first looking into the MMR scare, journalist Brian Deer now shows the extent of Wakefield’s fraud and how it was perpetrated (doi:10.1136/bmj.c5347). Drawing on interviews, documents, and data made public at the GMC hearings, Deer shows how Wakefield altered numerous facts about the patients’ medical histories in order to support his claim to have identified a new syndrome; how his institution, the Royal Free Hospital and Medical School in London, supported him as he sought to exploit the ensuing MMR scare for financial gain; and how key players failed to investigate thoroughly in the public interest when Deer first raised his concerns.11

Who perpetrated this fraud? There is no doubt that it was Wakefield. Is it possible that he was wrong, but not dishonest: that he was so incompetent that he was unable to fairly describe the project, or to report even one of the 12 children’s cases accurately? No. A great deal of thought and effort must have gone into drafting the paper to achieve the results he wanted: the discrepancies all led in one direction; misreporting was gross. Moreover, although the scale of the GMC’s 217 day hearing precluded additional charges focused directly on the fraud, the panel found him guilty of dishonesty concerning the study’s admissions criteria, its funding by the Legal Aid Board, and his statements about it afterwards.14

Furthermore, Wakefield has been given ample opportunity either to replicate the paper’s findings, or to say he was mistaken. He has declined to do either. He refused to join 10 of his coauthors in retracting the paper’s interpretation in 2004,15 and has repeatedly denied doing anything wrong at all. Instead, although now disgraced and stripped of his clinical and academic credentials, he continues to push his views.16

Meanwhile the damage to public health continues, fuelled by unbalanced media reporting and an ineffective response from government, researchers, journals, and the medical profession.17 18 Although vaccination rates in the United Kingdom have recovered slightly from their 80% low in 2003-4,19 they are still below the 95% level recommended by the World Health Organization to ensure herd immunity. In 2008, for the first time in 14 years, measles was declared endemic in England and Wales.20 Hundreds of thousands of children in the UK are currently unprotected as a result of the scare, and the battle to restore parents’ trust in the vaccine is ongoing.

I wonder if the Hollywood idiots who have perpetuated this scare will ever apologize. Apparently, Wakefield himself is not inclined to do so.

*****

Uneducated to Serve
by RiShawn Biddle @ The American Spectator

Much of the discussion about America’s abysmal public schools has focused on how decades of declining literacy and academic performance weigh heavily on the nation’s global competiveness (and on the wallets of taxpayers burdened by decades of near-unchecked spending increases and unfunded teachers pensions).

But increasingly, the nation’s educational crisis also weighs heavily on national security and defense. Military leaders have learned all too well from their own analysis of dropouts and General Education Development (GED) recipients that poorly-educated kids make terrible soldiers — especially in an age in which math and science skills are as important in operating military electronics as they are in high-skilled white- and blue-collar jobs.

Occasionally, people come to my center looking for help on the ASVAB — and most of the time, their fundamental skill sets reflect the observations made in the above article. It’s definitely a worrying situation.

Book Rec: Intellectuals and Society

Intellectuals and Society
by Thomas Sowell

Can you believe that Sowell turned 80 this year and yet continues his relentless assault on the groupthink and prejudices of the left? He is one powerful and vital personality – but I suppose bucking the tide in academia is bound to make one extremely stubborn.

Sowell studied economics at Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Chicago and is currently a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University; for decades, he has written books for popular consumption covering a host of topics, including the history of world cultures, the history of conquest, basic economics, and political ideologies. In short, he is himself an “intellectual” according to his own definition of the term. But unlike many others who make their living selling ideas (as opposed to products or services), Sowell is able to stand outside the academic milieu and trenchantly comment upon its dysfunctions.

Intellectuals, states Sowell, live in a world in which they are rarely forced to face the consequences of being foolish. As a matter of fact, in academia (excluding, of course, those departments which deal with practical specialties such as business administration, medicine or engineering), nonsensical thinking is incentivized. These people, claims Sowell, have been told all their lives that their intellects make them quite unlike ordinary men; thus, they experience a strong psychological pull towards ideas and ideologies that emphasize their status as special snowflakes. Leftism, with its dramatic propositions and identifiable villains, contains all the self-congratulatory rhetoric most academics need to feed their sense of superiority; traditional conservatism, with its emphasis on systemic processes that by their nature can’t be centrally controlled, offers nothing similar.

Here, Sowell covers much the same material he covered in his 1996 tome, The Vision of the Anointed (which SABR Matt should remember, as I read huge swaths of that book to him back in the late 90’s). For example, he once again explains the core differences between the “tragic” vision held by most conservatives – a vision that emphasizes the world’s fallen condition – and the “vision of the anointed” held by most leftists – a vision that assumes perfection can be achieved on Earth if only people of sufficient compassion and conviction take the reigns. For those who are familiar with Sowell’s earlier work, such passages will probably feel a little repetitive.

There is also one glaring flaw in Sowell’s analysis: he explicitly excludes scientists from his indictment on the assumption that scientists receive sufficient external validation from the publicity their discoveries receive and thus feel no need to venture beyond their narrow specialties and cut a flash in the wider world. That may have been true back when the discoveries scientists were making could be comprehended by the general public, but science nowadays is far more esoteric. For example, from what I understand, SABR Matt is attempting to discover how waves in the atmosphere might influence the development of systems that are thousands of miles away from a particular atmospheric disturbance. His work may lead to better models which can subsequently be used by weather forecasters, but I doubt the average Joe on the street is going to understand exactly how Dr. SABR Matt made the local weather report more accurate, as the math involved certainly isn’t ordinary Algebra. And similar gulfs open when you start discussing neuroscience, quantum mechanics, or, God help me, quantum mechanics in neuroscience. Does the average American know who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry this year? The prize was awarded to Richard F. Heck, Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki “for palladium-catalyzed cross couplings in organic synthesis.” What the heck is that? I don’t know because I’m not a chemist — and neither are most Americans.

The point I’m trying to make here is that public appreciation for scientific achievement is starting to dwindle because science has now moved well beyond the typical layman’s education — and as a result, some scientists have in fact drifted beyond their specialties in search of fame and fortune. In other words, these scientists have wholeheartedly adopted the habits and attitudes of Sowell’s “intellectual” class. How many scientists, for example, have earned notoriety for advocating sweeping economic changes to combat global warming despite their utter lack of education in economics? How many scientists have earned notoriety for attacking traditional religion despite their utter lack of education in philosophy, theology, and Church history? In my observation, the list is pretty extensive and is only getting longer.

Still, Intellectuals and Society contains many sections that are absolutely worth the price of the book. Anyone who is concerned about our national defense should, for example, appreciate the two chapters in which Sowell draws parallels between the pacifism that was in vogue in the years between World Wars I and II and the anti-war prejudices of today’s intellectual elite. Anyone who is sick of the left’s seemingly unshakable belief that an Ivy League degree automatically qualifies someone for a position of leadership should thoroughly enjoy Sowell’s discussion of knowledge and its sources. (Millions of brains in the aggregate are far smarter than 1000 brains, declares Sowell, even if the average IQ of the 1000 is higher than the average IQ of the millions.) And anyone who is alarmed by the behavior of our current president should love Sowell’s attacks on what he terms “verbal virtuosity” – the ability to peddle pleasant-sounding but ultimately empty soundbites. (“Change,” Sowell thunders, is not automatically good. The specifics of your change matter more than your ability to weave a web of pretty phrases.) Bottom line, Sowell gives the thinking conservative plenty of ammunition with which he or she can fight today’s political battles. For that reason alone, you should pick up this book.