Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Shifting Paradigm of Islam

"An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last." - Winston

Richard Cohen of the Washington Post has discovered an Egyptian anti-Semite. Unfortunately, the object of Cohen’s ire has been dead for over four decades. Yes, Cohen who once labeled Israel a “historical mistake,” has taken to the pages of the Washington Post to chastise a martyred cadaver. Indeed, Cohen castigates The Economist for its review of Sayyid Qutb’s biography which celebrates Sayyid’s contributions to contemporary Islamic political “reform” while ignoring the bigotry for which he is equally famous. Cohen’s column makes you wonder where he and the American Press corps have been for the last 50 years. Qutb and the Muslim Brotherhood (al Ikwan) has already been taken to the woodshed by Cohen’s betters; the likes of Paul Johnson, Bernard Lewis, and Paul Berman. Cohen also suggests that the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is starting to get thin. Do you think, Dick?

There are precious few columns in the Post or other dailies about contemporary home grown anti-Semitism and hate speech like that of Louis Farrakhan (aka Louis Walcott) of the Nation of Islam and Malik Zulu Shabazz (aka Paris Lewis) of the New Black Panthers. Indeed, Cohen could audit Farrakhan’s hate speech on one of his many visits to Howard University right there in Washington, DC. In case anyone missed it, the old Panthers, who were once garden variety black nationalists, have been hijacked by another malignant strain of Islam. Most of the “new” cats are radical Muslims.

But the most egregious negligence of the Press on all things Islamic is their failure to track the bloom of foreign Muslim study programs, cultural centers, mosques, and related organizations in the West – especially those on American university campuses. Indeed, one of more notable Saudi funded institutes thrives, again, in Cohen’s backyard at Georgetown University.

The Alwaleed Bin-Talal Center for Christian-Muslim Understanding is funded by “Prince” Alwaleed whose autocratic family, the house of al Saud, mandates Wahhabism as the state religion of Saudi Arabia. Alwaleed owns three palaces, the world’s largest yacht, and the world’s largest private airplane. He was educated in US schools, yet he still practices polygamy. Alwaleed’s lifestyle and similar Saud family excesses help to make countrymen like Osama bin Laden possible.

A Freedom House study of Wahhabi publications used in American mosques concluded that the Saudi brand of Islam: opposed all non believers, advocated hatred of all other religions, and blamed “democracy” for the pathologies of the 20th Century. Wahhabis also control the Islamic shrines at Mecca and Medina, sacred to Muslims of all stripes, yet off limits to non believers, infidels, dar al harb (literally “the house of war”).

There are no Jewish or Christian centers of “understanding” in Saudi Arabia. Cohen and most of his journalistic colleagues have been remarkably uncurious about the ideology, funding, and objectives of a host of Islamic propagandists, most of whom originate in the Arab world. Many scholars suggest that Saudi Arabia alone may have spent as much “87 billion dollars” to date to spread “theofacism.”

No surprise then when John Esposito, the noisy Catholic director of the Alwaleed Center, was quick to come to the defense of the ground zero mosque - even beating President Obama to the punch. Twenty million Saudi petro-dollars did not come to Georgetown University without political obligations or ideological strings.

Beyond pederasty, it’s difficult to know what Catholic hierarchies believe they have in common with Islamist elites.

Take Turkey as an illustration. The Turks have long been held up as an example of Islamic “moderation,” yet starting with the Armenian genocide (1915) official state policy has sought to eliminate all vestiges of ecumenicism in what was arguably the oldest Christian diocese in the world. The only seminary in Turkey has been closed now by Ankara fiat; and without clergy, the Christian congregation has been reduced to marginal numbers. The Eastern Rite Orthodox patriarch in Istanbul has sought a dialogue with the Islamist regime in Ankara for years - to no avail. Anatolian Christianity is being exterminated in slow motion. Even in the so-called “moderate” Muslim world, tolerance is a one-way street.

No less an Islamic eminence than the Turkish prime minister has put a stake through the heart of moderation. Indeed, on several occasions Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that to put the adjective “moderate” before the noun “Muslim” is an insult to Islam: “The term ‘moderate Islam’ is ugly and offensive; Islam is Islam,” says Erdogan. If Muslims themselves don’t believe in Islamic moderation, why is this myth so pervasive among Europeans and Americans?

Tariq Ramadan, grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, discredited Swiss professor of taqiyya (the Islamic art of deception), and celebrated “moderate” was recently granted a visa, courtesy of Hillary Clinton, to tour the American academy, including a stop at Georgetown University. Previously, Ramadan had been offered a university sinecure at Notre Dame University. Ramadan, labeled a “dangerous” man by the French foreign minister, is notorious for breathing fire at young European Muslims while singing dulcet notes of moderation when speaking French or English to infidels. Ramadan defends the infamous Islamic practice of stoning women. How moderate is that?

Clearly, academic America is motivated by petro-dollars, seen as an alternative revenue stream. These same scholars seem all too anxious to return the favor by defending Islamism and associated practices on cue under the burkas of ecumenicism, culture, and moderation. Tolerating intolerance in the name of tolerance is not a virtue; it is an oxymoron; the first impenetrable paradox of the early 21th Century.

Richard Cohen’s opinion columns and similar reporting, like that of Michelle Boorstein, is typical of most journalism or academic writing on all things Islamic; more notable for what it excludes or ignores. Qutb is not simply a lone agitator for Muslim irredentism; that creed is now spread by the global reach of the Muslim Brotherhood, cutouts, and subsidiaries. Hamas and al Qaeda are just two of the more notorious military spin-offs of the Brotherhood.

The spread of an equally virulent Wahhabism with Saudi monies is complemented by a plethora of irredentist Deobandi seminaries in Pakistan. 60% of Pakistani clerics attend such religious schools. Deobandi, Taliban, and al Qaeda fanaticism are now the dominant Islamic idioms in South Asia. In flood ravaged Pakistan, the void created by Islamabad incompetence is being filled by radicals.

With the help of Arab financing, the spread of radical Islamic proselytizing centers in the form of mosques, cultural centers, and madrasses now threatens the myth of Islamic “moderation” – especially in Europe and America. The moderation paradigm has been carefully cultivated, with little or no evidence, by a combination of Islamic missionaries, venal academics, naïve journalists, and fearful politicians in the West.

Nonetheless, major Arab states like Saudi Arabia (the richest), the Emirates, Egypt (the most populous), Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, and the two Palestines are slowly shedding the veils of victimhood. World Health Organization studies of Egypt alone suggest that as many as 90% of Egyptian women have been castrated. Consanguinity in the Emirates is thought to be 50% among Arabs.

Even if terrorism, Sharia financing, and jihad proselytizing were set aside; the prevalence of these and other irredentist practices, which also include fatwas (summary judgments), honor killings, beheadings, amputations, stoning, flogging, polygamy, and child marriage, would put the lie to any conventional notions of “moderation” in the Muslim world. Arguments about whether these traditions are religious or cultural are becoming less and less relevant. These practices are being exposed as part of the weft and warp of dar al Islam.

Not every Muslim is a terrorist, yet nearly every terrorist is a Muslim. In the past year, 90 terror groups struck in 83 countries where there were nearly 60, 000 casualties. Sunni attacks alone accounted for more than half the victims.

Recent Pew surveys of Arab attitudes towards Jews put another nail in the moderation coffin. In the countries surveyed, negative attitudes towards Jews were well north of 90%. Europeans and Americans didn’t fare much better.

While perceptions about the Sunni side of the Islamic equation are shifting in Europe and America; there has never been any doubt about radical Shiite irredentism in Iran and elsewhere. Salman Rushdie, author of Satanic Verses, a novel which mocks the Koran and Mohamed, still has a Shiite price on his head. Indeed, just as theocratic Arabs hijacked a noble Egyptian culture over time; a more recent surge of Shia Islamists has commandeered a noble Persian tradition. Israel, Europe, and America are now in the crosshairs. Nonetheless, signs of blowback are appearing in both worlds.

In 1962, Thomas Kuhn published The Structures of Scientific Revolutions, a groundbreaking study of shifting paradigms. Kuhn argued that reasonable observers might look at the same evidence and come to radically different conclusions because both proceed with different bias or assumptions. He also argued that the reconciliation of conflicting views, paradigm shifts, was glacial – often requiring a new generation of analysts.

The conventional wisdom about Islam, or more precisely its status as a morally equivalent religious culture, is starting to shift. The tectonic plates of opinion are moving almost imperceptibly towards the recognition of radical Islam as a necrotic menace, an undemocratic, if not toxic, political paradigm. Appropriately enough, the early evidence of the shift is iconic.

In 2002, a Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl, was found decapitated and literally decimated (cut into 10 pieces) by Islamists in Pakistan. Then there was the award winning 2007 UNICEF ‘engagement’ photo of a nine year old girl and a bearded, aging patriarch. Then comes the photo of a mutilated young Afghan girl on the cover of Time Magazine, nose and ears cut off by Islamic fanatics for some minor transgression. The girl was rescued on a roadside by some American GIs before she bled to death.

Most recently, in New York City, the ground zero mosque and its controversial imam have been swept up in a vortex of public dismay over the cleric’s politics, foreign finances, and Islam’s dismissal of American sensitivities. “In your face” is sometimes out of place even in Manhattan.

Defenders of the mosque refuse to recognize the politics, foreign financing, or the religious double standards of Muslims, especially Arabs, when it comes to infidel (aka “unclean”) churches and or synagogues in Muslim countries. Adding insult to injury, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, has been hired by the US State Department as an American outreach (sic) spokesman to the Emirates. Americans are beginning to recognize the lengths to which apologists will go to defend the indefensible. Public opinion polls reflect that dismay.

The Islamic paradigm is shifting in Europe and America. And the questions these changes raise have global consequences. As the appeasement paradigm oxidizes, the West will ask itself why non-Muslims should sacrifice their children and treasure to save Islam from itself. And if fanaticism is more of a threat to dar al Islam than the West, infidels need to know why “moderate” Arab and Muslim armies are not at the front. Europe and America will also need to know why “moderate” Arab treasure is not financing the fight against extremism - instead of buying yachts, palaces, and propaganda pulpits in Europe and America.

As we speak, Saudi Sunnis are praying that the Israelis will make short work of Shiite apostates in Tehran. Yet, the question remains; why should Israel, Europe, or America fight any battles for or within Islam?

All of which raises a penultimate strategic question: What are the consequences of a transient Islamist triumph in South Asia or the Middle East? Do we continue to support Muslim royals, oligarchs, and tyrants or do we let them fall to their fate in the hands of fellow believers? If the Israeli experience provides any precedent, no amount of reason or appeasement (see land for peace) will placate Muslim elites or radical insurgents.

The short answer may be that any merger of Islamist non-state and Islamic state actors simplifies the targeting problem. The West may die from a thousand cuts before it prevails in any series of debilitating guerilla wars. Conversely, NATO still retains the conventional and nuclear superiority to make short work of state actors. If conflict is inevitable, why let a weaker, decentralized adversary dictate the terms of the fight?

Tactical simplicity often provides strategic clarity. Islam is not a monolith, nor is it a monoculture; nonetheless, for too many, it aspires to be both. These aspirations pit the irreconcilable paradigms of theofacism and democracy against each other. The coming clash will not be military, political, religious, or cultural; it will be all of these.


This essay first appeared in the American Thinker on 11 September 2010. The author also writes at G. Murphy Donovan.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Atheists and Anti-Semites

There is a God-shaped vacuum in every heart. - Blaise Pascal

Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great (the book) and Bill Maher’s Religulous (the film) are hysterical; not hysterically funny, just frenzied. If you didn’t know better, you might think that rabbis and priests were pursuing these guys through the salons of Georgetown and the gin mills of West Hollywood threatening them with bris, baptism, or brimstone. They protest too much. Indeed, they seem to be self-anointed missionaries for nihilism.

The Hitchen’s book and the Maher film are just two examples of a post 9/11 cultural bloom that seeks to argue that Islamic barbarisms are logical outcomes of the ignorance and oppression of Judaism, Christianity, and related Imperialism. The premise of their arguments is moral equivalence; that is, all religions are equally evil – well springs of barbarity.

Maher is also a self-styled expert on moral courage. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, while bivouacked at ABC, Maher charged:

"We (Americans) have been the cowards. (The US military) lobbing cruise missiles from two thousand miles away. That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building (i.e. the World Trade Center), say what you want about it. (Islamists are) not cowardly.

Maher also claims religion is a “neurological disorder.” Yet, a son who ambushes his Jewish mother to mock religion surely quacks like an atheist. So let us review the arguments for rational atheism, their theology if you will.

For starters, atheists reject the historical consensus on God. Never mind that every culture, large or small, believes in some sort of deity. Secondly, they reject the common consensus that is the faith of their peers. As a practical matter (see Pascal’s Gambit) the vast majority of people believe in some kind of superior being. They do so, not out of fear or ignorance, but out of humility - the certainty that humans can not be ‘as good as it gets’. Experience and common sense tells us that Bill Maher and Christopher Hitchens can not represent the apex of evolution.

Another axiom for militant atheism is invective; laying the history of bad behavior at the feet of traditional religion. This is more than a little like blaming war on soldiers and crime on cops. A corollary of invective is ad hominem attacks; cherry picking religious figures to vilify. The Pope, Mother Teresa and Talmudic scholars come to mind; every contemporary liberal’s favorite whipping posts – as if name calling were an argument.

Yet, Hitchens saves the best of his worst for Blaise Pascal, the brilliant 17th Century mathematician and physicist who examined the limits of reason, especially in matters of faith. Pascal celebrated and defended “the expected value of faith” and the “infinite” value of belief against any utility of relying on reason alone. Pascal argued that reason provides neither certainty nor truth. Hitchens calls this “sordid” and likens Pascal to “hypocrites and frauds” who abound in the “Talmudic Jewish” (sic) tradition.

Polemicists like Maher and Hitchens confuse God with religion. Our entire ethical, legal, and democratic tradition is a linear descendant of Judaism and Christianity. A Temple or Church is only one of many public institutions; each populated with saints and sinners. Yet, without these influences, democratic capitalism is impossible. Indeed, it was an Augustinian monk (Erasmus) who raised the most profound and lasting defense of free will and free choice.

Rational atheism, on the other hand, is a kind of moral anarchy. Ethical autism has a long history with science; now compounded by the electronic autism of Eric Schmidt (Google as God). George Orwell would feast on such carrion!

Many modern anti-religious zealots, unlike Pascal, are not tempered by humility or doubt. They can not say: I do not know. The can not say: I may never know. What they do say is that all that will be known shall be known by people like me; an enlightened, progressive, liberal, rational, scientific, intellectual elite. This group will take all of the credit and none of the blame for the mixed record of reason and science since the Enlightenment. They seldom note that the ABC’s of modern warfare (atomic, biological and chemical weapons) were not created by nuns, monks, or rabbis.

The heart of evangelical atheism is cowardice. What many can not say is what they truly believe. They believe that they, and only they, know the way forward – all others are backward. They believe that they should not be constrained by “arbitrary” ethics, morality or law; sounds too much like religion. Hitchens uses the phrase “unfettered scientific inquiry” to describe his vision of the future. Josef Mengele would be comfortable with such a charter.

A profound, some would say fatal, conceit infects secular rationalists; the belief that there could not be any intelligence that is superior to their intelligence. They also believe what tyrants and oligarchs have always believed since the birth of philosophy; they are the philosopher kings (Plato); they are the vanguard (Lenin); and they are the master race (Hitler). They believe that they should do the thinking for the rest of us. They believe that men like Karl Marx and Noam Chomsky are as godlike as it gets. Hobbes called them necessary and Nietzsche called them supermen.

Hitchens disinters Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky, and Rosa Luxemburg in his rant against religion. This is typical Left logic; one which confuses radical with significant. The only possible service Trotsky and Red Rosie provide is to illustrate how the atheist Left deals with apostates. Trotsky ended his days with a socialist axe buried in his skull. Someone might also point out to Hitchens that Karl Marx was not so much a descendant of the "rabbinical line" as he was a product of Teutonic philosophy and a virulent, self-loathing Anti-Semite.

National Socialism and Soviet Communism shared Anti-Semitic roots. And now at the start of a new century, Anti-Semitism is again the legit motif of yet another “ism” – Islamism. Indeed, the convergence of the secular left and the Islamic right is one of the great ciphers of the new millennium – a merger where ecumenicism and suicide pacts are interchangeable.

Things get very unscientific very quickly when you ask an atheist to define objectivity and reason. How do they separate their minds from the things they try to understand? Are rationalists capable of some out-of-body experience where they are devoid of inherited knowledge, historic influences, emotions, bias, prejudice and all the other sensibilities and tangential influences that plague ordinary mortals?

If you listen carefully, you would never know that reason is just one tool, like arithmetic, that we use to understand. And you will seldom hear that most “research” is a smoke screen for junk science – secondary or derivative compilations. Primary research and reproducible experiments are rare, very expensive and time consuming. Yet, as long as academics get something into print, nobody seems to notice.

In their hearts, so-called secular rationalists may not believe in consensus; may not believe in the wisdom of crowds, may not believe in history or tradition; and if you have visited any modern American university campus recently, you will understand that they sure as hell do not believe in tolerance, free speech, or democracy – at least not in any recognizable forms.

Truth is what we choose to believe. And the most difficult challenge for all inquiry is to bridge that gap between analysis and acceptance. Any belief is more potent than any new idea. And what we believe always has more to do with faith than reason; we can not test every belief or every premise for every action. We believe in many things so that we do not trip over everything. The alternatives are chaos or inertia.

In the end, the liabilities of atheism are twofold; philosophical and practical.

Although separated by centuries, Pascal and Thomas Khun (1962) noted that reason often creates parochial blind spots where the quicksand of irreconcilable paradigms is obscured. Pervasive efforts to minimize the blatant political threat of Islamism are symptoms of this philosophical necrosis today. Here atheists and Islamists share compatible illusions; they believe they are omniscient, they harbor similar conceits, and they worship many of the same false idols.

On a practical level the “school house” test is also revealing. Rationalists seldom consign their children to shabby state institutions, like the secular schools that they “mandate” for less affluent citizens.

Indeed, even “community organizers,” send their kids to private or “religulous” schools. Faith is just another word for trust. Civilization is impossible without it. Thank God!

The author, like George Carlin and Martin Scorsese, attended Cardinal Hayes High School on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. He also writes at G. Murphy Donovan.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Binary Imperative

“Everything has either a price or a dignity. Whatever has a price can be replaced. Whatever is above all price has dignity.” – Emmanuel Kant

Agnotology is the study of ignorance, or not knowing. As such it is the antithesis of epistemology, the study of the scope and limits of knowledge. In spite of its Greek roots, the word was minted within the last decade by Robert Proctor, a California academic who specializes in the history of science. The term Agnotology was coined to discredit the “junk science” used to defend cigarette smoking; but more recently it could be found imbedded in the faux science used to defend theories of climate change (nee “global warming”).

Surely ignorance itself is not a modern phenomenon. An individual might be expert on some subject, but no person is expert on all subjects. And specialized expertise is often dangerous; Dr. Frankenstein of literature and Werner Von Braun, Martin Heidegger, and Albert Einstein of recent memory are famous examples.

When the latter three wandered beyond their niche of expertise, specialized knowledge was of little value, hardly fungible. Von Braun and Heidegger became Nazis and the German refugee Einstein, as a Princeton recluse, was a late arrival as a critic of mid- 20th Century German behavior. Even within his specialty, Einstein was morally ambiguous; he was for nuclear weapons before he was against them.

In isolation, science is the study of process; how things work, not how they should work. Pure science has few concerns with ethics; legal restrictions maybe, but few notions of propriety beyond that.

Ignorance, scientific and moral, is universal to some degree or other. You might also expect ignorance to be value neutral; a kind of immunity for unfortunates who do not or will not understand. Not in a democracy! Ignorance is not a defense in any common law tradition.

All are called before the bar for what a “reasonable man” might be expected to know. Ignorance is indeed held to a higher standard than knowledge. This facet alone makes the study of ignorance a worthy field of inquiry.

Thus Agnotology is not simply the study of vacuums of knowledge, but it is also a study of responsibility and societal expectations. Dr. Proctor’s wife therefore refined the definition of Agnotology as a kind of “culturally produced” ignorance; clearly implying that social movements and motives play a role. Unlike Epistemology, Agnotology carries significant moral hazard.

No small wonder then that the praxis of Agnotology covers a multitude of sins; structural ignorance, inattention, suppression, selective fact finding, secrecy, manipulation, plagiarism, and other engineering tools. These are inspired by some combination of social, political, religious, or cultural ideology (including political correctness). Indeed, many observers see Agnotology, or false narratives, as the product of social and political struggle – a kind of perverse dialectic that creates and sustains pervasive ignorance – beliefs at odds with truth.

Giving this phenomenon a name is a new development; but clearly several related practices have been around for centuries. Politicians use “opposition research” to discredit opponents, intelligence agents use disinformation, and soldiers use psychological operations (aka PSYOPS) to confuse the enemy. Perhaps the most notorious subterfuge was the Communist practice of agitation and propaganda (agitprop), the use of arts or Media to incite violence or discredit opponents. Agitprop could be compared to the contemporary use of “talking points,” repetition to sustain false narratives, a practice common to journalism and politics.

The communications revolution of the past sixty years was thought to extract the teeth from agitprop. Indeed, communications philosophers like Marshall McCluhan went so far as to forecast a “global village,” a theory that suggests that electronics would create a kind of value neutral, global central nervous system where judgments might be suspended. The content of Media, such as TV, according to McCluhan, shouldn’t matter either. Indeed, content like The View, Kieth Olberman, Bill Maher, Sixty Minutes, Homer Simpson, and Grand Theft Auto might be confirmation of McCluhan’s influence, if not his theory.

If content didn’t matter, then advertisers would be wasting their money. Commercial content seeks to influence minds and open wallets. If content doesn’t matter, then censorship shouldn’t matter either. Here Beijing Communists recently hoisted Google’s Eric Schmidt on McCluhan’s petard. Surely other morally ambiguous entrepreneurs like Microsoft now wait for the ax to drop. Indeed, the evidence to date suggests that communications philosophers, scientists, and engineers are clueless about the cultural implications of an internet revolution - “unfettered” by value judgment.

It seems that value neutral techno-optimism fails to account for two developments.

The first is the centrifugal spin of political forces since the end of WWII. The world has not become more unitary, as McCluhan had forecast, it has become more fractured. Membership at the UN has grown tenfold since 1942. Neither democracy nor enlightenment is the dominant idiom among a resounding majority of new members.

A bloom of international institutions has accompanied the colonial meltdown. Like the sponsor states, organizations like the UN, the European Union, the Arab League, and the African Union rapidly oxidized into expensive talking clubs where tyrants, apologists, oligarchs, anti-Semites, and fiscal illiterates predominate.

The second development is the realization, now formalized as science by Dr. Proctor, that communications gadgetry is as likely to spread ignorance as knowledge. Here, the growth of fanatical religious irredentism is exhibit “A.” And the donut hole of scientific integrity is being filled by theocratic barbarisms that many political “scientists” and academics defend in the name of culture or ecumenicism.

The thread of utopian optimism that guides modern science and engineering has a specific lineage in German philosophy; a theme that runs through Hegel, Nietzsche, Marx, Lenin, and now Fukuyama. That thread is the assumption that struggle, or dialectics, coupled with the passage of time, is somehow a kind of progress. Ironically, religious irredentists, progressive journalists, and academic utopians seem to share a similar vision of the future. Christopher Hitchens, a step-child of Marx, in his recent best seller, God is Not Great, uses language like “unfettered (sic) scientific inquiry.” Josef Mengele might have been comfortable with such imagery.

Unfortunately, the science of communications is a modern Janus: both a marketplace for ideas and a nitwit’s megaphone. The centrifugal forces of anti-democratic politics are at odds with the gravitational pull of improved communications. Indeed, some combination of technology and false content could undo the very democratic traditions that made the internet possible.

The pandering of scientific monopolies (e.g. Google and Microsoft) to totalitarian regimes has an obvious logic beyond markets. Business is thought to be a vehicle for change. Yet, the sword of commerce also cuts two ways; do they become more like us or do we become more like them? With market communists like China and Venezuela, the jury is still out. The evidence in the Muslim world is far less ambiguous. Islamism clearly has the upper hand – a growing anti-democratic malignancy within the Muslim world and the West.

The study of ignorance, or Agnotology, is still a new science. Nonetheless, a number of axioms might now be postulated:

The first is that truth, especially scientific truth, has a moral component. There are no “unfettered” sciences, especially communications.

An understanding that knowledge and ignorance (masquerading as content) have equal footing in the internet age might be a second axiom. While reason is necessary, only values are sufficient in the pursuit of truth. Unfortunately, the willingness of democracies to defend either reason or democratic values is still a cipher.

A third postulate is the realization that modern journalism is not so much “the first draft of history” as it might be the last draft of truth. Journalism (Agnotology, Proctor and Schiebinger, p. 266) is clearly the prime suspect in the viral spread of ignorance and false narratives, now formalized as Agnotology. McCluhan captured the danger when he concluded: “News, far more than art, is artifact.”

As an academic philosopher, Marshall McCluhan was familiar, no doubt, with the role of moral philosophy in the development of commerce and culture in the West; a tradition that included; Augustine, Aquinas, Erasmus, Adam Smith, and Immanuel Kant. Kant was unique because he was the first great modern ethicist without religious credentials. His arguments had a profound influence on western epistemology and legal traditions. His “categorical imperative,” the admonition to do the right thing (fiat justitia, pereat mundus), was a duty; an obligation based on reason informed by values - not appeals to tradition or theology.

If there is now to be a science of ignorance, its implications are as relevant as epistemology or any subordinate field like communications theory. McCluhan was wrong. No medium, or content, is value neutral. This is not to say that McCluhan was amoral; he, like Google, Microsoft, and contemporary content providers, simply chose to ignore the values issue.

Philosophers and entrepreneurs of the Internet Age at some point will be forced to consider a “binary imperative;” step up to the ethical plate or lose the cultural game. If we fail to consider what is best, surely we will succumb to the worst.


This essay appeared in the 29 July 10 issue of Family Security Matters.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Richard and Helen

What the doyenne of the White House Press Corps misses (WashPost, 8 June 10) isn't half as important as what Richard Cohen and the the MSM ignore every day. The issue here isn't what Helen Thomas thinks about Israel; it's her expressed bigotry towards Jews that should be worrisome. Jews should "return to Germany and Poland" for what; a second shot at the Holocaust that missed them last century?

Thomas's blatant and obscene suggestion goes to the heart of a myth perpetuated by most of Richard Cohen's colleagues and progressive fellow travelers (pardon any redundancy); this is the notion that if Israel behaved better, or disappeared, the Islamist menace goes away too. This line of thinking demonstrates a profound ignorance of Arab and Muslim history - and 50 years of modern Islamic barbarisms. The roots of Muslim irredentism and antisemitism predate the modern state of Israel by a millennium or more.

We don't need a lesson in Holocaust history so much as Cohen and every other urban redneck like Thomas needs a lesson in the history of Islam (see "Islam and Monoculture," American Thinker,16 Aug 09) The distinction, made by self-loathers, between Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism is just another burqa for a kind of politically correct bigotry. Israel was once thought to be the canary in the coal mine of civilization; we might now change the metaphor to sacrificial lamb. Cohen, and those who believe as he does, is making the next Holocaust likely.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Who Betrays US?

"If everybody is thinking alike, then someone isn’t thinking.” - George S. Patton

Crystal is not glass. Strike crystal and it rings like a bell. When it breaks, crystal makes a special noise, a sound like the end of music. The other day, we heard the end of a special elergy, the 24 notes of taps, when General Stanley McChrystal furled his flag.

McChrystal was no ordinary infantryman; he chose the road not taken. Rangers are a unique fraternity where only extraordinary warriors thrive. Those who rise to the top in any calling often walk a fine line between genius and eccentricity, soldiers are no exception. General McChrystal crossed the line more than once, but he never stepped on a land mine until Rolling Stone magazine came to do a “profile” at HQ Afghanistan.

The agent of McChrystal’s demise was an effete free lancer who looks and sounds like a prep school refugee. Lest anyone pretend the author of “The Runaway General” didn’t have an agenda, Michael Hastings coined the following journalistic axioms in an earlier piece for GQ:

"You pretend to be friendly and non-threatening. And over time you build trust, which everyone knows is an illusion. If the time comes, if your editors calls for it, you're supposed to f--k them (your subject) over."

Hastings was on special assignment for a magazine whose usual fare is sex, drugs, and rock & roll. Yet, like Hugh Hefner’s Playboy, Jann Wenner’s Rolling Stone has cultural pretensions. Those affectations were on full display in the McChrystal issue. Lady Gaga (sic) graces the cover; equipped with a bullet brassiere on full auto. Ms. Gaga is a performance artist whose cultural niche is defined by Madonna groupies.

Like Hefner, Wenner panders to a young and, by their own definition, hip demographic of readers under 30 years of age; although both publishers might charitably be described as priapic geriatrics, 84 and 64 years of age respectively. Like all purveyors of progressive culture, Wenner has trouble separating value and vulgar. And, to no one’s surprise, he consistently carries water for the left; as a Clintonista or, more recently, as an Obama contributor.

From any perspective, we have to assume that General McChrystal, and/or his staff, was aware of these things and the risks of having of an anti-war zealot in their midst. The key question to be answered is; who was using whom?

After Afghanistan, a maverick like McChrystal wasn’t going to be selected for a political job like Army Chief of Staff. Hard to picture McChrystal, like the incumbent George Casey, making the rounds of the Sunday gab shows reminding citizens that the feelings of Muslims were more important than the safety of soldiers massacred at Ft. Hood, Texas. And surely McChrystal wasn’t a candidate to follow Mike Mullen into the political swamp at the JCS. On the Pentagon’s E Ring, Mullen is better known for social issues, like gay “rights” for sailors, than he is for war fighting. There were no stars in McChrystal’s future either; he already had his four.

McChrystal is a country music fan; no doubt he’s familiar with Kristofferson’s iconic line: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” When McChrystal let the fox into the Afghan hen house, he knew which huevos were in play.

Before the Rolling Stone controversy, the friction between the “White House wimps” and the military brass was the worst kept secret in Washington. Yet the rift, from the beginning was cultivated by the president - and what can only be described as a cabal of divisive beltway toadies. From the start, Obama ignored the field commander, refused to define the enemy or describe the end game - or explain to the American public why Afghanistan “is a war of necessity.” The party line had three “soft” features; don’t use the word “war,” don’t mention Islam, and restrict descriptions of the bad guys to either Taliban or al Qaeda.

Shortly after the election, Obama put on his long pants and fired the previous ISAF commander in Afghanistan - and then dithered for months over troop deployments. Since then, the White House has been driving on a learner’s permit. In the past year and a half, the commander in chief has met the tactical commander on few occasions; McChrystal, in contrast, has met with Hamid Karzai, face to face, over 50 times during the same period. If McChrystal claims Obama is only “disengaged” on the subject of war: the general is being generous.

The hapless Senate majority leader, Harry Reid (D- Nevada), told America that the Iraq “war is lost,” just before the last American election. A newly elected Vice President followed up with very public carping at General McChrystal’s expense. If there were ever a toady who should be cashiered for loose lips; it’s Joe Biden (hereafter known as Joe “bite me” to troops in the field). Biden doesn’t just put his foot in his mouth; he doesn’t bother to remove his shoes after he steps in something. Biden’s advice on Iraq was to subdivide, i.e. three new states (sic), as if the UN didn’t have enough dysfunctional members.

“Team” Obama was augmented by Richard Holbrooke and Karl Eikenberry early on, both sent to Kabul, presumably, to make sure McChrystal walked the “soft power” walk. Unfortunately, neither Holbroke nor Eikenberry play well with other adults.

Holbrooke’s function in South Asia is a dark swan. He doesn’t seem to get along with anyone but himself. In the foggy world of diplomacy, androgyny, and cookie pushing; Holbrooke stands out. He is supposed to be a special envoy; but, his specialties might be limited to arrogance and petulance. Holbrooke, former Clintonista and incumbent Karzai basher, doesn’t play well with 3rd World leaders or allied military officers.

And Eikenberry’s performance isn’t too far removed from Holbrooke’s. Soon after arriving in Kabul, Ambassador Eikenberry started to “back channel” McChrystal, (i.e. send critical, uncomplimentary reports back to Washington). Indeed, Eikenberry pique seems to have been tweaked because a Brit, and not Eikenberry, was appointed “viceroy”; a slight he seems to lay at the feet of a Karzai/McChrystal conspiracy. Eikenberry was miscast by Rolling Stone as a martinet “stuck in 1985;” the year may be closer to 1895 and the Eikenberry character could have come straight out of Gilbert and Sullivan.

On the UN side of Kabul, the blue helmets were having a civil war of their own. Norway’s Kai Eide, and his American deputy, Peter Galbraith, had a transnational shoot out over the legitimacy of Hamid Karzai’s election in 2009. Galbraith got fired, Karzai got a second term, and Eide took the Quisling special back to Scandinavia. Eide was and remains an ardent fan of accommodation with the Taliban

These “team” players were supplemented by a gaggle of second guessers back in Washington with the president’s national security advisor, Jim Jones, on point. Jones’ most recent contribution to the clueless sweeps was a “greedy Jew” joke spliced into a speech that was supposed to underline American support of Israel. After 18 months in office, the commander in chief has traveled to several Arab, Turkish, and Muslim capitals, yet never to Israel. Mr. Obama’s Islamic globe trotting sends a message consistent with Jones’ taste in jokes. From the beginning, the former Marine commandant, like Joe Biden, also made loud noises that undermined or contradicted McChrystal’s strategy at the front.

So what’s a soldier to do when a president hand picks you to lead the charge in combat and then allows rear echelon cockroaches to eat your lunch? McChrystal did what any good guerrilla fighter would do; he let another insect carry a poison pill back to a dysfunctional nest. Indeed, General McChrystal performed one final service for his country; he used a press nitwit to expose a confederacy of national security dunces; using the prescribed “soft” tactics – things like toxic ridicule.

A cipher in all of this is Hilary; she comes off like the Cheshire cat; grinning from ear to ear while the Oval Office tries to put lipstick on another pig. Clinton has kept her distance; “give him (McChrystal) what he wants;” says she. If and when the Obama national security crowd self-destructs, Hilary can say “I told you so,” pick up the pieces, and do a pants suit rendition of what Bobby Kennedy did to Lyndon Johnson in 1968.

Any idea that McChrystal was insubordinate or threatened civilian authority is bravo sierra, as they say in the barracks. The general simply raised the blinds and let in some light. He even helped the young president to grow up a bit. On the day Obama let his field commander go, the president used the word “war” to describe the Afghan conflict. That’s progress! Obama then appointed a third field commander in 18 months; demoting the CENTCOM commander to replace McChrystal in Kabul.

And yes, the new guy is the old David Petraeus who, when serving in Iraq under George Bush, was vilified by the left, including then Senator Obama, as a liar and traitor. Indeed, the same news outlets that published those scurrilous George Soros ads, now celebrate the Petraeus choice as “inspired.” General “betray us” under a Republican has morphed into General “save us” under a Democrat. So much for politics stopping at the water’s edge.

So what’s the plan now? It appears the exit strategy for Iraq and Afghanistan is on schedule (according to Joe bite me) and Petraeus will be the happy face of at least one success even if it belongs to the previous administration. Yet, the president is still hostage to a campaign slogan, that “war of necessity.” Unfortunately, the Oval Office position is already flanked left and right. The incumbent does not want to carry any war, of choice or necessity, into the next presidential cycle. And the Cheshire cat just grins and waits.

All of which highlights the distinction between politics, Chicago style and principled soldiering, McChrystal style. Given a choice between sacrifice and survival, which road do men of character take? McChrystal has answered that question; he fell on his sword. Obama will get back to us in 13 months.

Stanley McChrystal may have furled his flag, but let’s hope he has not spiked his guns. In or out of Iraq and Afghanistan, the threat whose name we dare not speak will get worse before it gets better. When it does, real soldiers will need to strap on their irons again. Keep your powder dry, Stan.


A shorter version of this essay appeared in the 29 June 10 edition of American Thinker

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Applebaum; the buck stops with BP?

“Never confuse movement with action.” – Ernest Hemmingway

Frau Fraud

Almost every time you read an Applebaum column in the Washington Post, you will be reminded that the author is a conservative. Such clues are necessary because, unlike Charles Krauthammer, you would never know from reading Annie's copy. Applebaum is in danger of giving tokenism and affirmative action a bad name.

Indeed, Ms. Applebaum reads more like E.J. Dionne on a bad hair day. Take her recent contribution, "The oil spill isn't Obama's Katrina,"(Wash Post, 15 June) where she absolves the administration for the accident and its consequences. With such reasoning Ms. Applebaum qualifies for an "s--t (rhymes with twit) happens" tee shirt, or maybe a bumper sticker that reads; THE BUCK STOPS WITH BP.

More than a few facts are ignored or distorted in Ms. Applebaum’s argument. First, the accident wasn’t a spill; it was a blowout (aka leak). Second, Katrina was an "act of God," as lawyers are wont to say, and the blowout was man-made. Thirdly, if you give government, at any level, an excuse to do nothing - it will do nothing. A fourth feature of the problem, overlooked by Applebaum, is that federal restrictions in safe areas have pushed oil seekers to deeper waters where the hazards are greater.

Nonetheless, the Oval Office response to the Gulf disaster from the start was too little and way too late. The initial posture was "not our problem," and a storm of invective was hurled at the most visible industry culprit. In fact, there were several industries and a host of government culprits including the Minerals Management Service (MMS). When the MMS chief, Elizabeth Birnbaum, was fired; the President either did not know, or lied, about the firing to a room full of complicit journalists. If the government could do nothing, why fire the hapless Ms. Birnbaum?

Instead of marshaling every resource, foreign and domestic, to manage the damage, political and Press nitwits insisted on quibbling for two months about estimates of the "flow," as if they didn't know that precise flow could only be known once the flow was captured. Here we have a legitimate Katrina flashback. Remember those early Press casualty estimates; those 10,000 Katrina dead that never materialized?

The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is a case study of a flawed model of governance. Like all liberal or socialist models, the internal contradictions are insurmountable. On the one hand, the statist argues for more government hands in every detail of life - until government fails; and then he blames everyone except the “managers” feeding at the public trough.

The knee jerk reaction of the Oval Office to the Gulf disaster was to point fingers and look backwards. Somehow, even after years in power, four if you count a Democrat Congress, the previous administration is still blamed for all of our ills. The "blame Bush" irredentism is a creepy echo of Communist era paranoia when totalitarian failures were laid at the feet of Imperialists and counter revolutionaries.

The excuse making of Ms. Applebaum and like minded apologists does nothing but resurrect all the original doubts about a politician who was thought to be a callow amateur; an inexperienced, empty suit with a good rap. The "community organizer" model is one that sees management as a public relations problem; i.e. you manage the crisis by controlling the spin.

The drilling embargo announced shortly after the blowout is illustrative. Before the explosion, the White House was for more drilling, after the accident, a moratorium was announced - natural disaster would now be compounded by economic suicide. Halting new drilling is like shooting the wounded. What's next, grounding every airline after the another crash?

Stephen Chu’s resume is another swirl in the spin cycle. The White House seeks to reassure a skeptical public by mentioning the Energy Secretary’s Nobel Prize at every opportunity. Mentioning Chu’s physics prize does nothing but illuminate his lack of experience as a crisis manager or drilling engineer. Dr. Chu’s prize is about as relevant to the Gulf problem as Mr. Obama’s prize was to world peace. Credentials may be necessary, but they are never sufficient.

Ms. Applebaum, like the White House, seems oblivious to the big picture; that is how to achieve energy independence and minimize risk. There are no risk free solutions and there are no silver bullets either; there are only painful trade offs. Most hobby horse technologies amount to expensive wishful thinking while proven solutions like nuclear power languish because of opposition from the left. The same “progressive” factions that oppose safe shallow water exploration and safe drilling on federal lands are also anti-nuclear.

So again the nation is in peril because politicians can not overcome ideological or obstructionist partisans. The true villains in the Gulf disaster are vacuums; a want of political leadership and a lack of legislative courage.

Anne Applebaum is correct about one thing; the Gulf oil blowout is not another hurricane; it's much worse by orders of magnitude. The White House and Congress are hurling charges about a "reckless" oil industry in the vain hope that nobody notices the public servants who continue to posture and dither at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

It is more dangerous to work on a drill rig or a deep sea fishing boat than it is to serve in combat. The risks and sacrifices of oil workers are seldom noted by politicians or industry critics. Death by fire is a horrible end.

Until the blowout, BP was one of the most successful companies of modern times. Would that public services of any sort be half as productive or competent. Big enterprises, like BP, create jobs and wealth; big government consumes wealth and often smothers enterprise. It is obscene for any politician to suggest that safety is not a constant concern of those who take the risks as a condition of their employment.

BP has lost half its market value since the accident; were governments to shrink comparably when they fail, taxpayers might be better served. The problem with our notion of “public servants” is that only half of the phrase is true.

Ms. Applebaum's brand of journalistic agnotology recently won a Pulitzer Prize, a tribute which should put to rest any doubts about her politics. Indeed, she and fellow laureate, Janet Cooke, now share the same pedestal and similar fantasies.


This article originally appeared in the 22 June 10 edition of Family Security Matters.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Those Troublesome Jews

Charles Krauthammer
Washington Post

Some truth for a change.

A timely tale (Wash Post, 4 June 10), well told, Charles. Little room for optimism left. I used to think of Israel as the canary in the coal mine, now the metaphor might be changed to sacrificial lamb. Unfortunately, Israel may be the price we pay for our next wake up call. Were I an American Jew, I would be nervous; were I an Israeli, I might think about putting my head between my legs and kissing my ass goodbye. For Israel's enemies, the next three years are the window of opportunity they have been anticipating for last 60 years. The next Holocaust may not be a "final solution," but the next attempt will surely be worse than the last.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Manly Women and Girly Men

“If a woman possesses manly virtues one should run away from her; and if she does not possess them she runs away from herself.” – Nietzsche

Have you noticed how many Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) types are showing up on the editorial pages and network chat shows these days? You can’t miss the girls; Nina Totenberg, Diane Rehm, Gwen Ifill, and Eleanor Clift. (Yes, Eleanor made her bones as a public pundit!) Most of them look, and sound, like refugees from a John Waters makeover in Baltimore - hair helmets and all.

Top dollar female commercial network anchors and correspondents, on the other hand, usually look and squeak like pole dancers (think Kelly or Norah O’Donnell); yet, when the need is for an acid tongue; the public bullpens at CPB or BBC are where the go-to gals hang out.

Katty Kay missed the network glam team by a decade or three, but she kept her stage name anyway. Kay is one of those unique triple-dippers; hands in two public pockets - and one shapely ankle dipped in commerce. She now sits to the left of ABC’s Chris Mathews on Sunday morning - should there be any lingering doubts about Ms. Kay’s politics. Truth is, you can not have a news panel or reality (pardon any redundancy) show in America today unless your team includes at least one bitchy or condescending representative of the British Commonwealth. Take a bow Simon!

Most of the public broadcasting chaps, by the same token, seem to look like Andrea Mitchell or Katie Couric. The look may be pant’s suit ambiguous, thanks to Hilary, but there’s nothing vague about fey politics; all the boys hail from left field.

Even token conservatives like Paul Gigot are well left of center. A token is any nominal conservative who has accepted a Pulitzer or pretends to provide the “balance” on a loaded panel. The men of CPB seem to take their cues from progressive stalwarts like Bill Moyers or Daniel Schorr. Moyers, you may recall, had retired, but CPB brought him back to cover the Obama Awakening.

Girly men were all over the fish wrap last month. First, there was the study suggesting that healthy (as in plump?) women prefer effeminate men. The study was mute on the preferences of skinny sensitive men; but, chubby chasing was not excluded. Christina Romer and Elena Kagan might need Secret Service protection.

The ‘girlie man’ study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, also concluded that countries with “poor hygiene” were more likely to tolerate polygamy. What happens when the natives in Arabia, South Asia, and Utah get this bulletin?

And then we saw Rupert Murdoch outing Arthur Sulzberger, the flamboyant editor of the New York Times, as a “poofter” on the pages of the Wall Street Journal. Can you say Manhattan cat fight? What’s next; limp noodles at fifty paces?

Ever anxious to stay with the big boys, Fred Hiatt, editor at the Washington Post has been featuring the soft side of Agnotology in the wake of the Obamacare vote. Take Matt Miller’s piece, “The Republican Crack Up,” on 31 March. Now if you knew ahead of time that Mathew had a sinecure at a “progressive” think tank (Center for American Progress), a microphone at National Public Radio, and a column at the Post – you probably wouldn’t read the article, because it would be too predictable.

Nonetheless, his argument has four premises; the Republicans “lost big” (sic) on the healthcare issue, the “tax issue” is dead, Mitt Romney will be hoisted on the “Massachusetts” health care petard, and Obamacare brings “security that families crave”. Any, or all of these, sound like they might be White House talking points?

Miller’s soft spin ignores more than a few facts. To date, all the political losses have been Democrat; and a bi-partisan majority has consistently opposed Obamacare and the inevitable higher taxes. And who anointed Mitt Romney as the Republican heir apparent? And who argues that a particular state, especially uber liberal Massachusetts, is representative of America on any issue?

Miller also ignores the risky synergy of debt, deficits, recession, unemployment, “higher taxes,” and all of the uncertainties associated with yet another major federal program. Sanity is now the major domestic concern; “security” left the tent when another entitlements circus came to town. Withal, Miller puts words in the mouths of imaginary enemies and then proceeds to argue with himself as if no one will notice him begging (or buggering) the question.

Such reasoning might be dismissed as the untidy musings of a giddy progressive, but it seems that the author is a Brown University product. Indeed, a few clicks of the browser reveal that Mathew Miller has a web site devoted to himself. Ut ameris, amabilis esto!

Like their role models at BBC, American public radio and television newsrooms have long been an employer of first resort for “progressive” polemicists like Miller. Ironically, their commercial colleagues, already awash in partisan muck, are trying to save themselves by throwing a lifeline to the Left. Featuring more liberals, to save a sinking “mainstream,” is a little like bailing water into the boat.

Maybe it’s something in the water or maybe just a politically correct variant of narcissism, but the Left in America has become loopier and loopier over time. Ambiguity and hysteria appear to emanate from some fundamental confusion. Admission to the progressive club today seems to be predicated on some bizarre affirmative action criteria; a 25% set aside for women who want to be men, a 25 % set aside for men who want to be women and a 50% reserve for those who might not make either team.


The author is a recovering urban progressive who left the Bronx at an early age to get a job and become an adult. He also blogs at G. Murphy Donovan

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Internet and the Agora

“The object of reasoning is to find out, from the consideration of what we already know, something else which we do not know.” – Charles Pierce (1870)

The blogosphere seems to be flushing the mainstream downstream. The blowback is venomous, not a pretty sight. Media stars, especially, are fighting a vicious rear guard action against the inevitable. The rise of the Internet and the fall of traditional journalism are giving hyperbole a new lease on life.

First we see Tom Friedman on Meet the Press calling the Internet “an open sewer of disinformation”. Then we hear Eric Schmidt, from the heights of Mountain View, second the motion by calling the Net a “cesspool.” Next, Ellen Goodman, in her swan song, tells us with a straight face that Internet users will lament the loss of “fact checkers” and old school “journalists.”

Friedman’s attack on the blogosphere fairly drips with irony. His opinion colleague at The New York Times, Maureen Dowd, was cited for plagiarizing from a blogger last May. And now again in February the Times has had to fire a financial reporter, Zachery Kouwe, for lifting copy from The Wall Street Journal.

Truth is not simply what you say; it is also what you don’t say. What Ms. Goodman does not say is that facts are what we choose to believe. Unfortunately, what we believe is not necessarily true. And so it is with Goodman’s facts and analysis.

A list of fact checkers from Ms. Goodman’s world of truth might include; Janet Cooke, Ben Bradlee, Stone Phillips, Jane Pauley, Mike Wallace, Mike Barnicle, Jayson Blair, Howell Raines, Dan Rather, Nina Totenberg, and Doris Kearns Goodwin. Professor Goodwin is included here because she is a high profile triple threat; academic, historian, and Media maven.

These traditional practitioners have one or more of the following in common; fraud, plagiarism, misrepresentation, cover up, or little or no fact checking. These are just the descriptions that might be used in polite conversation.

Yet, those are not all of the facts. Consider also the iconic institutions that employed or continue to employ such poseurs: The Washington Post, NBC, CBS, The Boston Globe, The New York Times, ABC, National Public Radio, and Harvard University.

Cases of journalistic malpractice often have common denominators; tenured activists and like-minded employers. The Washington Post and The New York Times cases are instructive. Their agendas were mirror images.

In September 1980, Janet Cooke created a fiction about a young District of Columbia crack addict. The Post story was nominated by the paper’s editors for a Pulitzer Prize. After the prize was awarded, some real fact checkers couldn’t find the lad in question and the fraud was exposed. When Editor Ben Bradlee tried to return the prize; the Pulitzer Committee demurred at first, confirming that this competition, like the annual Norwegian Nobel peace contest, is a kind of Special Olympics for the politically correct.

The New York Times fraud of 2003 was an eerie parallel to The Washington Post tale more than two decades earlier. Times editor Howell Raines ignored internal complaints about Jayson Blair’s sloppy work and advanced his young black protégé anyway. And, like Janet Cooke, Blair stepped on a land mine covering a story with racial overtones – the Beltway sniper.

Blair’s scam was exposed by a former Times employee and the scandal occasioned an internal review that pretty much concluded that Jayson’s entire tenure under Raines was an extended exercise in misguided affirmative action, if not ethnic immunity. After the Raines era, The New York Times might have changed its motto to; “All the news that fits, we print!”

The real story behind both frauds was the hazards of soft racism. Both reporters were all too willing to spin narratives about African American drug abusers and serial killers that their editors were all too willing to print - facts be damned. This willingness to confirm racial stereotypes by black reporters and white editors is the real tale yet to be told.

The perils of patronizing bias are not limited by race, youth, or sex. Newsroom cougars have been part of the swim to the bottom too. Maureen Dowd, Sally Quinn, and Ellen Goodman could be pinups for journalistic agnotology, other variants of false narrative.

Miss Dowd recently accused a congressman of calling the president a “boy” with no proof other than innuendo. The false narrative here is the belief that those who criticize black politicians are bigots. Ms. Quinn (Ben Bradlee’s wife), along with Jon Meacham, famously hosts an ecumenical web site (On Faith) which features Islamist apologists. The false narrative here is the belief that there are “moderate” or harmless variants of Jihad and Sharia. And lastly there is Ellen Goodman, herself, who in a recent column equated those who question some of the “junk science,” associated with global warming, with “holocaust deniers.” These recent cases illustrate the lack of fair play and racial double think that has come to characterize many traditional newsrooms.

As it is with fact checking, reporting, and analysis; Media dinosaurs are again unwilling or unable to deal with truth. The mainstream monopoly is over. It is no longer possible for a few elites with a narrow ideology to control information or analysis, the building blocks of belief. Hemingway, a journalist by trade, was fond of saying that good writers know what to throw out. The same might be said of good editors.

Politics, academia, and journalism are all troubled by the absence of term limits. Over time, these institutions tend to collect like-minded players where tenure becomes the dominant idiom. Small wonder that the ideological stasis at the networks and in the newsroom has fueled the “thunder on the Right,” enabling the rise of the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Rupert Murdoch. A news consumer hopes to be better informed by the provider. If we are misled or polarized; surely, these are self-inflicted wounds.

Limbaugh and Murdoch have thrived for different reasons. Limbaugh sees himself as a voice for a “silent majority,” an audience patronized or ignored by the mainstream. Unlike his detractors, Limbaugh makes no secret of his agenda and he makes no fatuous claims of impartiality. Murdoch is probably less ideological, but just as savvy. Possibly taking a cue from Limbaugh, Murdoch and his FOX network recognized an underserved audience and exploited the bias of their competitors. There’s money to be made in filling a vacuum – even when it’s something as simple as providing another point of view.

The virtues of the new paradigm are self evident. On the Internet, readers can go to an original content site, an aggregator, or they might create their own site. No one, save endangered pundits, laments the end of network and press monopolies; or the role that tenure, spin, hypocrisy, and bias play at those institutions. The Internet is the best thing to happen to free choice since Erasmus; the best thing to happen to democracy since John Locke; and the best thing to happen to commerce since Adam Smith. The Internet is the new agora, a new market for ideas. The end of the mainstream, the mendacity monopoly, is gospel. Good news indeed!


A shorter version of this piece appears in the American Tinker on 27 Feb 10.
The author is also the principal contributor to Anacostia Angst on Blogspot.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Howell Raines; Back from the Boneyard

Seeing Howell Raines, disgraced former editor of the NY Times, preach about honesty in journalism (WashPost Op-Ed, 14 March) is a little like listening to Harry Reid (D-Nevada) trying to sell gambling and prostitution as destination resorts. In 2003, Raines, you may recall, was encouraged to spend more time “fly fishing” after his ace reporter, Jayson Blair, was exposed as a fraud and a cheat. Numerous staffers had raised alarms about Blair’s work, some of it on the DC beltway sniper story, but Raines would hear no criticism about his affirmative action protégé - facts be damned.

The Blair fiasco was a bizarre echo of a similar incident at the Washington Post two decades earlier when a Ben Bradlee protégé cooked the books about a young black heroin addict in the District of Columbia. Bradlee nominated Janet Cooke for a reporting Pulitzer which she won. When Cooke’s fiction was exposed, the reporter and the prize went up in smoke; both consumed by the white heat of truth.

The ugly side of affirmative action was the real story behind both incidents. Two white editors, afflicted by a kind soft bigotry, were reluctant to use the same standards of journalism with minorities and women that are applied to white males. Indeed, in both cases, black reporters were all too eager to manufacture racial stereotypes; and two politically correct editors were all too willing to sacrifice integrity on the altar of ethnic or gender immunity.

Now Raines, dripping with trout stream indignation, laments the standards at FOX and blasts Roger Ailes as a kind of newsroom ogre. The irony, and personal animus, here has a sickly sweet sent of mendacity - leavened with envy. FOX and internet journals are thriving while archaic outlets like the Times and the Post are sinking, stuck in the muck of a tedious patronizing ideology. Raines, like the fictional Colonel Jessep, “can’t stand the truth.”

Traditional journalism is going under because it is still printing a product that fewer and fewer customers want to buy or read. The dinosaurs are walking the plank; an aging species that can not see that adaptation might be as simple as providing another point of view. Mr. Raines, and like minded editors, makes the inevitable, and enviable, success of FOX possible. Rupert Murdoch should send Howell Raines a thank-you note, a copy of Pinocchio, and a box of hand-tied trout flies.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dear Fred

Fred Hiatt
The Washington Post

Dear Fred,

I see that the latest survey of mainstream customers shows another decline in readership. Before the slide becomes terminal, you might want to consider the role that agnotology has come to play in many newsrooms. Take the recent piece by Matt Miller (31 March) in the Post, a transparent series of White House talking points masquerading as analysis. Worst still was the editorial by Jessica Valenti (21 February), an essay that was flawed in fact and logic. Ironically, in the shadow of Janet Cooke, fact checking, especially on the editorial page at the Post has gotten worse, not better. Indeed, Ms Valenti's essay is a classic piece of journalistic agnotology; not merely a wrong-headed opinion, but a swirl of evidence designed to produce a false narrative or perpetuate ignorance. An analysis of Ms. Valenti's nonsense was published in FSM earlier this month. See previous post or:


You can continue to argue, like your two predecessors, that you are victims of internet competition, technology, or shifting reading habits; yet, at some point you have to consider the quality of your product. Quality matters! You also have to ask why other news outlets are flourishing while you continue to wilt. I'm not talking about featuring conservatives like Will or Krauthammer for token balance, but rather an examination of the agenda embedded in the tone, politics, and quality of reporting and analysis. The Post, the NY Times (especially under Hal Raines), and many urban newspapers have regressed from printing the "first draft of history" to publishing agnotology - the last draft of truth. As a practical matter, you might also want to take a business clue from the competition. The best model for the information age is often something as simple as another point of view; and a judicious mix of fact and argument.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Insects in the Dust

Feministing (the blog) is head and shoulders above any writing on women’s issues in mainstream media.” – Columbia Journalism Review

Once upon a time, American feminists had noble goals; sexual equality, a political franchise, and a host of concerns about the rights of girls and women. Over time, this agenda has been eroded by special pleading and self-indulgent vulgarity. In your face now takes pride of place on the distaff schema. If you think the Vagina Monologues are art, but Hooters needs to fold, you could be an American feminista. And on questions of national security, many progressive women are more naive than their male counterparts, if that’s possible. A co-dependent press often provides a forum for many weak gender arguments.

Take a late February Washington Post column, “For Women in America, Equality is Still an Illusion,” by Jessica Valenti, founder of the blog Feministing. She begins by trivializing epidemic rape in Africa, genital mutilation in Arabia, and female slavery worldwide by suggesting these barbarities are comparable somehow to the plight of women in America:

"… too many of us in the United States ignore the oppression on our doorstep. We're suffering under the mass delusion (sic) that women in America have achieved equality…women are still being raped, trafficked, violated and discriminated against -- not just in the rest of the world, but here in the United States."

A reader hardly has time to ponder the distinction between rape and violation before Valenti stumbles into a thicket of select statistical evidence.

She tells us that “last year the Justice Department reported … 182,000 sexual assaults” in America, but the real number was more like a million “because victims often don’t label their experience as rape (sic).” So we are to believe that the Justice Department is in error by multiples of five due to semantics? (One of the authors of the report cited by Valenti was a woman.) Valenti doesn’t mention that any number between her high and the Justice Department low would still be a fraction of one percent in a population of over 150 million American women. Without context, a number is whatever you want it to be.

Her argument goes on to lament the number of women in Congress (17 %), the number of US counties that do not provide abortion (85 %), and the fiction about women making “76 cents to the man’s dollar.” All of this is characterized as an “epidemic of Sexism.”

Ms. Valenti’s statistics deserve to be refreshed with context: American women are the majority sex, women are the majority of registered voters, and they are also a majority in the professional workforce. They have the numbers, the votes, and the money. More women than men vote by a wide margin. If women do not run for or serve in Congress, who is at fault? If voting patterns prove anything, they prove that Americans do not share Ms. Valenti’s illusion about women as victims.

Speaking of painful issues, abortion may be a (legal) right, but convenience is not. Even abortion advocates argue circumstances should be created to make abortion unnecessary. Convenient clinics don’t qualify as an entitlement or a disincentive.

Finally, the wage disparity complaint is another social vampire; this issue simply will not die. Feminists like Valenti seldom note that wage bias is impossible in the military, in education, or in government at any level where salary is tied to grade and tenure, not genitals. Female demographics among minorities also undermine the wage disparity canard; black women, for example, are better educated and better paid than black men by a wide margin. For the rare case (8,000 per year in a population of 79 million working women) of sex based wage bias in the private sector, the legal remedies are abundant and well used.

Ms. Valenti also fails to recognize that “progressive” politicians are often the worst offenders in wage disparity disputes. The Obama political campaign, for example, on average paid women staffers 20% less than men.

The most annoying assumption imbedded in Valenti’s whining is one that suggests that, if some select set of gender demographics were more equitable, somehow the world becomes, ipso facto, a better place. No evidence supports this fable.

Kabul fell (September 1996) to theocrats a few months before Madeline Albright’s watch began. Every girl’s school in Afghanistan was subsequently closed while America was absorbed by President Bill Clinton’s exploitation of a junior female intern and his subsequent impeachment. At the time, neither Albright nor Clinton’s wife made much of the personal abuse of women at the White House, or state sponsored abuse abroad. Indeed, the priapic President’s behavior exposed feminism on the Left for what it is; a highly selective concern, more about extreme party politics than exploitation or abuse of power.

Indeed, there is no evidence, with Miss Albright as Secretary of State or now with Mrs. Clinton that “equality” or woman’s rights have any priority in foreign policy. Misogyny, polygamy, consanguinity, slavery, child marriage, punitive gang rapes, public floggings, honor killings, stoning, and genital mutilation continue unabated in the Arab and Muslim worlds (1.6 billion citizens). In Egypt alone, the most populous Arab nation, World Health Organization figures establish that as many as 40 million women (95.8%) have been victimized by partial or full circumcision. Now that’s a troubling statistic!

Meanwhile back at Ms. Valenti’s blog, beyond regular features such as Friday Feminist F--k You, one might read an elaborate defense of a Pakistani jihadist, aka Lady al Qaeda, Aafia Siddiqui, a former graduate student at MIT and Brandeis University. After going underground for five years Ms. Siddiqui was captured in Afghanistan where she tried to shoot a US military officer. In July of 2008, Siddiqui was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to prison. The 1 March post in Feministing ended with the following tribute: “The veiled terrorist; now how sexy is that?”

Uninformed apologists for Pakistani or Afghan theocrats might want to check in with Christina Lamb, a journalist who covered Afghanistan during the last reign of terror. Talking to a teen in a soccer stadium, she recorded this grim picture of Taliban diversions:

"I‘ve seen more than a hundred (executions). I used to come because it was entertainment….The best time was during Ramadan because then there would be at least a hanging or amputation a day, sometimes three or four….we would buy pistachios or oranges.

The person could be shot, hanged or sacrificed….you know, like sheep. Their hands would be tied and they would be laid on a block then their chest split open with a long knife and their guts spilled out.

Women were tied to goalposts and shot down, or if they had committed adultery, they would be stoned….I saw some homosexuals have their hands and feet tied and a wall collapsed on top of them. That was interesting….

They (the Taliban) made the family (of the victims) come and watch and collect the dead bodies."

The stadium where this “entertainment” took place was completed in 1996 with the help of American taxpayers – at the midpoint of the Clinton administration.

Lamb recorded these Jihadist atrocities in the Sewing Circles of Herat (pp. 246-249), a classic chronicle of the plight of women under Islamic radicals. One of her correspondents was a young Afghan girl who was forced to wear the burkha and prohibited from teaching. In a smuggled letter to Christina Lamb, she likened the status of women under Islamic religious law to “insects in the dust.”

Now how sexy is that?


This essay first appeared in Family Security Matters on 16 April 10.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Integrity in the Rear View Mirror

Looking for your integrity in the rear view mirror is becoming an occupational hazard in the newsroom. Take Fred Hiatt's latest on the opinion pages of the Washington Post. (WP, Op-Ed, 29 March). Hiatt is worried about "fiscal catastrophe" after the Obamacare bill has passed. Makes you wonder where the editor of the Post and his editorial colleagues have been doing for the last year.

Of course Fred knows, like every other entitlement shill inside the beltway, that once passed, this new largess will not be undone; even if universal health care and fiscal responsibility are mutually exclusive (see R.J. Samuelson). Admiral Cockburn will burn the capitol again before any large federal entitlements are cut. Pinata programs are perpetual motion machines; they only move in one direction - up!

P.J O'Rourke once characterized the US Congress as a "parliament of whores." Before that, Mark Twain suggested that American politicians might be the only "permanent class of criminals" in the world. Surely the editor of the Post knows all this; so what's he up to?

Now that we're adrift in the fiscal crapper, Hiatt seems to be making an argument for swimming lessons. Or is "having your cake and eat it" a better metaphor? In the run-up to Obamacare; Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and prescription drug relief were all celebrated as social landmarks. Yet somehow these programs are never judged to be failures once they become corrupt and/or insolvent. So what's a body to do? Cover your azimuth, says Fred; be against it after you were for it. That way, when the obvious becomes inevitable, an editor might play the sage and say: "I told you so." Good get Fred, you covered your bets.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Op-Ed Immunities

“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” – Sigmund Freud

Maureen Dowd and the New York Times (see "Boy, Oh Boy," 12 Sept 09) have made it official; Barack Obama has been granted ethnic immunity. Like Marion Barry, former mayor and now councilman in the District of Columbia, and Charles Rangel of the House Ways and Means Committee, any criticism of the president’s behavior might be dismissed as racism. Never mind that the president was raised by a white mother and abandoned by a black father. Never mind that he then enjoyed a privileged background which included the best prep school in Hawaii; followed by Ivy League undergraduate and graduate schools. Never mind that our first “black” president does not send his daughters to the self-segregating, all black, District of Columbia public schools. Never mind any of this; the new post-racial, bi-racial president is now just another victim of white racism.

Miss Dowd begins, as many such arguments do, with invective, an ad hominem attack. The purpose of name calling is to poison the well. Thus Joe Wilson (R-SC) is smeared at the outset as a “milquetoast” backbencher. Dowd goes on to say that she didn’t hear Wilson shout “you lie”, she heard him shout “you lie, boy” at the president. Like the thought police, Maureen now reads minds. Put aside, for the moment, Dowd’s vitriolic clairvoyance, which surely says more about her patronizing view of black men than it does about Wilson’s motives. More disturbing is her treatment of the facts. Surely, anyone who calls the president a liar on the floor of the House of Representatives can not possibly be a wimp. Just as surely, if the shout of “liar” could be heard by the President, Speaker Pelosi, and the entire nation, Wilson wasn’t speaking from the any literal or figurative “back bench”. Indeed, the most surprising part of the 9 September confrontation was that the shout of “liar” was only heard once.

If Wilson lacks tact, his candor more than compensates. This is more than we can say for Maureen’s hysterical reaction. She goes on in her column to use every snarky trick in the rhetorical playbook to impugn Representative Wilson’s integrity. We are told that he is a descendant of Confederates, a citizen of South Carolina, and similar innuendo or guilt by association attributed to conservative white males from south of the Mason Dixon. Between calling Obama a “boy” and savaging Wilson for being a southern “white male”, Dowd manages to validate many of the stereotypes about aging liberal spinsters; so much venom, so little time.

Yet, what Miss Dowd didn’t say is even more telling. She doesn’t say anything about the facts that might prove or disprove Wilson’s charge. He shouted “liar” at that point in Obama’s health care pitch where the president claims his bill would not cover illegals. A day or two later, House Democrats quickly inserted language in the healthcare draft to exclude illegals, in effect, giving more than a measure of truth to Wilson’s charges.

Dowd also ignores other distortions like cost, tort reform, and the impacts on Medicare and Medicaid. The most blatant mendacity she ignores might be Obama’s claim that a reordering of 20% of nation’s economy would not “add a dime to the deficit (sic).” Hearing all this, there are three possibilities; Obama is a liar, he is a fool, or he believes he is speaking to idiots. Most of the truth may lay behind door number three. Obama was addressing a joint session of Congress. P.J. O’Rourke has characterized that collective as a “Parliament of Whores”. In contrast, Miss Dowd labels the same forum as a “majestic chamber”. The space between these extremes is filled by opinion polls which now rate American politicians somewhere between the floor and dirt.

Indeed, former President Jimmy Carter has endorsed Dowd’s histrionics. Speaking to NBC’s Brian Williams on 15 September, Carter claimed that race was at the core of opposition to Obama. On the same day that Dowd’s piece appeared, Colbert King at the Washington Post flashed his race card too, capturing the moment with; “It’s all sweet music to the ears of Lee Harvey Oswald wanabees.” When the race card appears, it is often a symptom that someone is losing an argument.

Miss Dowd has made a cottage industry out of conservative cadavers; she has been dining out on the Bush family, in particular, for 20 years. When not conducting séances for the Times, Dowd and her Washington Post colleague, Sally Quinn, preside over Georgetown salons on the left bank of the Potomac. Indeed, if Helen Thomas is the dean of the White House Press Corps; Dowd has earned her giblets as doyenne of the Georgetown chapter of the Obama Girls.

Yet even self-anointed pom pom girls sometimes trip over their laces. Joe Wilson didn’t call the president a “boy”, Maureen Dowd did. In doing do, she resuscitated the original raps against the President – questions about his maturity and competence. Before coming to Washington, Obama had three bullets in his resume; two books about himself and a legislative record of voting “present” on any issue that might threaten his “political viability”. Using race to inoculate Obama against criticism isn’t doing the President any favors.

Indeed, the best advice for Dowd, her sycophants, and the New York Times appeared in the on-line commentary after her 12 September polemic; “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Grow up!”


About Me

The author is a native of the Bronx, a transplant to DC. He is a Vietnam veteran and former USAF Intelligence officer with tours at all of the major 3 button Intelligence agencies. He is a graduate of the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. School and Cardinal Hayes HS in NYC. He also has several degrees from less illustrious institutions. Check Six writes primarily at G. Murphy Donovan and Agnotology in Journalism. His work has appeared in various political, national security, and Intelligence journals.