Monday, February 28, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: Scared Rats

This week begins with a general scurrying of scared rats in Syria and Egypt. If this is the result of the Bush administration's mild assertiveness, then Middle Eastern tyranny is a smaller and more pathetic enemy than we thought.

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Syria's Proxies Crumble
• Where is Egypt Going?
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• Tipping Point for the IRA?
• The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations
• Commentary: What Is Wrong with the World

• Human Achievements: The Pencil
• Things of Beauty: Road and Cliff

Syria's Proxies Crumble

When the protests against Syrian control of Lebanon began, I wasn't sure how serious the protesters were—or how willing the Syrians would be to forcibly crush the dissidents. Finally getting a chance to see some footage of the protests on television convinced me: this rebellion has all the signs of the real deal. Even more convincing is the speed with which Syria's Lebanese puppets are giving up power.

The passage that best captures the sense of the past week's events is this one, from Atlas Shrugged: "He felt as if, after a journey of years through a landscape of devastation, past the ruins of great factories, the wrecks of powerful engines, the bodies of invincible men, he had come upon the despoiler, expecting to find a giant—and had found a rat eager to scurry for cover at the first sound of a human step."

"Lebanese Government Resigns Amid Mass Opposition Protests," AP via New York Times, 2/28/05

"With shouts of 'Syria out!,' more than 25,000 flag-waving protesters massed outside Parliament on Monday in a dramatic display of defiance that forced the resignation of Lebanon's prime minister and Cabinet two weeks after the assassination of an opposition leader.... 'It is the first victory, but it will not be the last,' opposition leader and former information minister Ghazi al-Areedh told the crowd in a scene broadcast live around the Arab world.... Syrian President Bashar Assad said in a newspaper interview published Monday that he would not withdraw troops from Lebanon until Damascus had guarantees and there was overall 'peace' in the region. Syrian intelligence agents also are present through much of the country and could be used to crack down on the opposition movement.... 'Today the government fell. Tomorrow, it's the one huddled in Anjar,' opposition leader Elias Atallah told the crowd to cheers, referring to the Syrian intelligence chief based in the eastern Lebanese town of Anjar. He said the opposition will continue its actions until all demands are met.... Interior Minister Suleiman Franjieh had banned all protests Monday on grounds of 'supreme national interests.' The security forces cordoned off Martyr's Square early in the morning, but they made no serious effort to disperse the demonstrators, many of whom had slept in the square. Some soldiers and police even sympathized with the protesters and were seen advising newcomers on how to evade the cordon."

Monday, February 14, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: James Madison Saves Us

The election results for Iraq are in, and the winner is: James Madison. With Shiite religionists forced to seek a coalition government with secular parties, this looks like a triumph for the Madisonian principle of protecting liberty by balancing factions against one another.

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James Madison Wins the Iraqi Election

Republican Federalism Tames Iraq's Religious Factions

by Robert Tracinski

The Iraqi election posed a grave potential danger to American interests: the possibility that an overwhelming victory by Shiite religious parties would push Iraq toward a theocratic or quasi-theocratic government allied with Iran.

The Iranians have certainly devoted a lot of money and effort to achieve that result by backing religious parties like the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the leading member of the "List No. 169" coalition backed by the Ayatollah Sistani, Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric. Yet other experts have assured us, for some time, that Iraqis would not choose a theocratic government. Who was right? It was impossible to tell for sure without polling the Iraqi people themselves, in the only way that really mattered: a national election.

The results of that election are now in, and the winner is: James Madison.

I have been speculating for the past few weeks that the savior of American policy in Iraq would be James Madison. What I meant is that the structure of the interim legislature, for which Iraqis voted on January 30, would implement a crucial principle elucidate by Madison in The Federalist Papers.

In The Federalist, No. 10, Madison addressed the question of how a federal constitution—a republican system that encompassed a large nation, whose members have diverse backgrounds and interests—would limit the danger of various religious, economic, or regional factions trampling on the rights of others. He answered that a large republic solved this problem by balancing the power of different factions against one another: "Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other." And he applied this specifically to the question of religious factionalism: "A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source."

That is precisely the result we seem to have in Iraq. The Shiite coalition dominated by pro-theocracy parties won only 48% of the vote and only 140 seats out of 275 in the interim legislature. Even better, those who planned the process for creating the new Iraqi government had the foresight to require that all of the crucial decisions, such as choosing the nation's new president and prime minister and drafting the new Iraqi constitution, had to be approved by a two-thirds supermajority. The Shiite religionists didn't even get close to commanding that kind of following. As a result, they will be required to form a coalition government where they share power with secular parties who oppose their religious agenda.

And the religious parties are even weaker than that. Their List No. 169 is itself a coalition that contains two major religious parties and number of smaller secular Shiite parties. That means that the religious parties on their own are even farther below a majority; I'll wait for experts to weigh in on this, but it may be that the Islamists' share of the Iraqi vote is closer to 40%. Iraqi political observers were speculating before the election that the Shiite coalition would not be very strong. It will be even weaker now that its secular members realize that the religionists are not all-powerful.

And it gets worse for the Shiite religious parties. Remember that most Sunni Muslims didn't vote in this election. If the Sunnis participate in future elections, the power of the Shiites will be further diluted.

The New York Times has a long and excellent analysis of the election results. (The Washington Post, by contrast, has a shamefully dishonest analysis, which twists the facts to make the election look like a victory for Iran.) The most eloquent commentary on the election results is an extraordinary photo accompanying the New York Times article, which shows Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the black-turbaned Shiite cleric who heads the worst of the Iranian-backed Islamist parties, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. He is shown slumped over and breaking down into tears as the election results are announced.

This is the same man who spent much of the past week stridently demanding a greater role for Islam in the new government, as early election results showed the Shiite coalition with a commanding lead. As I pointed out in TIA Daily, however, that early lead was based on results from Shiite strongholds in southern Iraq and was bound to diminish as results came in from the Kurdish north. I was more right than I expected. So this is not merely a "disappointing result" for the religious parties; it is a demoralizing defeat. This was their best opportunity to achieve an Islamic state—and they have failed.

The result, it appears, is that the Shiite religious faction will be counterbalanced by other Iraqi factions—just as James Madison predicted. In fact, the analysis by Dexter Filkins in today's New York Times has distinctly Madisonian overtones. Here are the key passages:

"The verdict handed down by Iraqi voters in the Jan. 30 election appeared to be a divided one, with the Shiite political alliance, backed by the clerical leadership in Najaf, opposed in nearly equal measure by an array of mostly secular minority parties. According to Iraqi leaders here, the fractured mandate almost certainly heralds a long round of negotiating, in which the Shiite alliance will have to strike deals with parties run by the Kurds and others, most of which are secular and broadly opposed to an enhanced role for Islam or an overbearing Shiite government....

"The vote tally, which appeared to leave the Shiite alliance with about 140 of the national assembly's 275 seats, fell short of what Shiite leaders had been expecting, and seemed to blunt some of the triumphant talk that could already be heard in some corners. The final results seemed to ease fears among Iraq's Sunni, Kurd, and Christian minorities that the leadership of the Shiite majority might feel free to ignore minority concerns, and possibly fall under the sway of powerful clerics, some of whom advocate the establishment of a strict Islamic state. As a result, some Iraqi leaders predicted Sunday that the Shiite alliance would try to form a 'national unity government,' containing Kurdish and Sunni leaders, as well as secular Shiites, possibly including the current prime minister, Ayad Allawi. Such a leadership would all but ensure that no decisions would be taken without a broad national consensus."

Iraq's enlarged political sphere (to use Madison's metaphor) includes Kurds, Sunnis, Christians, and secular Shiites, who counterbalance the power of the religious Shiites. And although Sunnis are also heavily influenced by Islamic fanaticism, sectarian differences will make it nearly impossible for the two factions "to discover their own strength, and to act in unison," as Madison put it.

If this is the future of Iraq—a future in which ethnic and religious factions are balanced against one another, their factional agendas canceled out in a "broad national consensus"—that is good news for the Iraqis, for the future of the Middle East, and for the success of America's endeavor in Iraq. The election results are good news for the Iraqis, because it means that they are far more likely to form a stable government that recognizes the rights of its citizens, rather than subjugating them to a tyranny of the Shiite majority. It is good news for the future of the Middle East, because such a nation situated next door to Iran would further undermine that nation's already unpopular theocracy.

It is very good news for the United States, because it increases the likelihood that, in the end, we will not have spent our blood and treasure merely to create a hostile new theocracy. It increases the likelihood that we can export some element of our political ideals—James Madison and all—to a region of the world that is vital to our interests.

Friday, February 11, 2005

An Intellectual History of Pre-Historic Man

Sandra Shaw's Eye-Opening History of Art

by Robert Tracinski

A few months ago, we offered the first semester of Sandra Shaw's course on the history of art. From Ms. Shaw's previous work, I knew this new course would be excellent. But now that I am well into the first semester, I have discovered that it is eye-opening in ways that exceeded my expectations.

At this point, I have listened to the first five lectures (in a digital audio format, accompanied by images available on the course website). We have just finished looking at the art of the early Mesopotamian civilization of Sumeria. Most of the art we have discussed up to now is from prehistoric peoples. Because the pre-Sumerian peoples left no written records—no indication of their ideas, their religion, their rituals, their social organization—these are people whose mental life and development is almost completely obscure to us. But they did leave art—and Ms. Shaw shows that this is a powerful record of the intellectual development of pre-civilized man. The value of her lectures is best expressed in a seeming oxymoron: Sandra Shaw provides an intellectual history of pre-historic man.

I do not want to give away the details of her discussion, nor could I do justice to the material; the reader is best off discovering the lectures for himself. But I want to make this point for the benefit of those who might have looked at the initial description of these lectures, and perhaps seen some images of the artworks she refers to. If you have been turned off because these early examples seem so hopelessly crude and primitive as to be utterly uninspiring—think again. By the time Ms. Shaw's lectures are done, you will see these crude figures as man's first, crucial steps toward a concept of success, happiness, and human efficacy; as man's first steps in developing his power of abstraction; as man's first projections of a heroic ideal.

Sandra Shaw is able to achieve this because she has a unique combination of abilities as a lecturer on art.

My general experience is that most discussion of early art falls into the "armchair" school of art history. These historians are able to discuss in often excruciating detail the historical, economic, and social context within which a given work of art was produced—but there is usually something too abstract and general about their comments on the art itself. The best of these historians are able to notice the broadest artistic developments—the use of shading or foreshortening, for example, to imply the representation of objects in three dimensions—but there is a lack of detail in their understanding of the choices the artist makes. They view art as a scholar views it, not as an artist does.

Sandra Shaw looks at art with an artist's eye—or to put it more precisely, she understands art from the perspective of an artist's psycho-epistemology. That is, she sees art in terms of the mental processes the artist must have been going through—the precision of his habits of observation, the degree to which he is attempting to draw abstractions from concretes, the exact techniques of modeling the figure, the specific choices of what to emphasize. I have what I think is a better than average education in the history of art (which is not making too great a claim in today's context), but I am not an artist, and I have been constantly struck by the fine subtlety of detail Ms. Shaw is able to draw to her listener's attention. Her lectures are unique, in my experience, in their ability to analyze and explain the artist's mind, and I think this is because Sandra Shaw is herself an artist who has clearly devoted a lot of effort to understanding the process by which she creates her own works.

This is a very rare thing to discover. Most artistic types tend to be relatively inarticulate when expressing themselves in words. I mean this without censure; the ability to express oneself clearly is a skill that has to be learned and developed, and the development of an artist's skill in one medium—in paint, say, or bronze—is often pursued at the expense of his skill in the medium of words. Frank Lloyd Wright once began a lecture by saying that he felt more comfortable expressing himself "with a hod of mortar and some bricks"—and given what he accomplished in bricks and mortar, who can blame him? So it is rare to find an artist who is able to explain art in clear, precise, philosophical terms.

Sandra Shaw is that rarity. She looks at art from the artist's perspective, but she draws deeply from the scholar's erudition, introducing each era with an essentialized overview of what we know about man's development in technology, religion, and all other areas of his life, giving us important clues that explain the intellectual development we see in his art.

The result really has been an eye-opening series of lectures that have left me feeling, not only that I understand prehistoric art for the first time, but that I truly understand prehistoric man for the first time.

I mention all of this not only to encourage you to discover the first semester of her course, but also to announce that we are now offering for sale the second semester: twelve lectures on the history of art from fifth-century, BC, Athens—the height of Greek heroic sculpture—to the fall of Rome. Because the second semester is several lectures shorter than the first, it is available at the reduced price of $160.

Go to:

(Students: this course can also be purchased at a deeply discounted student rate through Ms. Shaw's website.)

For those tempted to skip the first semester and start at the exalted pinnacle of Greek art, I recommend listening to both series of lectures. Your appreciation of Classical art will only be heightened by seeing how far man had to climb, over how many millennia, and through what chain of earlier discoveries and achievements, to reach that summit.

TIA Daily Contents: An Intellectual History of Pre-Historic Man

Sandra Shaw's lectures on the history of art show us the crucial and inspiring achievements of man's early intellectual development.

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Feature Article
An Intellectual History of Pre-Historic Man
by Robert Tracinski
Sandra Shaw's Eye-Opening History of Art

Thursday, February 10, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: A New Policy on Iran?

Condoleezza Rice's much-discussed statements on Iran are not a new "hard line" policy. But in Congress, there is discussion of a new policy of support for internal opposition to Iran's theocracy.

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• No New Policy on Iran
• Old Policy Reaches Rock Bottom in North Korea
• The Actual New Policy on Iran?
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• "Easongate" Grows
• Commentary: Shwartzenegger's "Revolution"?

• Human Achievements: The First Computer Business Plan
• Things of Beauty: Francis A. Silva Painting

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: The Social Security Distortion

Social Security is a welfare program that makes no sense, even as a welfare program. Why? Because its distorted design is meant to confuse and evade the central moral issue of the welfare state.

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• The Iraqi Election: Will James Madison Save Us?
• The Iraqi Election: Chalabi's Return?
• Justice Coming for Saddam
• Bush and the "V-Word"
• The Ballooning Bush Welfare State
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• Human Achievements: Molecular-Scale Transistor
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• The Social Security Distortion
by Robert Tracinski
Social Security Is Designed to Obscure the Moral Premise behind the Welfare State

Will James Madison Save Us?

As I remarked yesterday, our leaders seem to be relying on Ayatollah Sistani to save us from the creation of a theocracy in Iraq. This article reports one piece of good news: Sistani has vowed not to involve himself directly in the drafting of the Iraqi constitution. But Sistani also declared that the constitution "should respect the Islamic cultural identity of the Iraqi people"—whatever that means.

The man who will really save American policy in Iraq is James Madison—the father of the US Constitution, who explained (The Federalist, No. 10) that the best protection for liberty is to counter-balance factions against one another, preventing any one group from imposing its will on the others. In Iraq, it is beginning to look like the relatively secular Kurds will serve as the crucial counterbalance to the Shiite Islamists.

"Ballot Strength Leads Kurds to Press a Role as Deal Makers," Edward Wong, New York Times, 2/9/05

"If current election returns hold, the relatively secular Kurds may prove a necessary coalition partner, putting them in a position to limit any attempts by religious Shiites to install an Islamic government.... American officials have long considered the Kurds to be their closest allies in Iraq, partly because the Kurds, mostly Sunni Muslims, are generally less religiously observant than Arabs here. As the country moves toward a new government and constitution, the Americans will likely find themselves depending on the Kurds to act as a check on conservative Islamic politicians. The Kurds' confidence in their political muscle has grown tremendously since Monday, when it became apparent they are likely to have the second-largest bloc in the 275-seat constitutional assembly, and possibly the most cohesive and most courted. Because forming a new government will require a two-thirds vote, and because it seems unlikely the main Shiite slate will get such a majority, the Kurds may become an essential coalition partner....

"The electoral commission announced Monday that the main Kurdish coalition had 25 percent of the votes tallied so far, behind the leading Shiite slate of candidates but well ahead of other parties. About 4.6 million of an estimated 8 million votes have been counted.... Of all the political groups, the Kurds, who make up one-fifth of the population, are the most organized, and their coalition has a much better chance of holding together in the national assembly than the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite religious slate assembled by Ayatollah Sistani."

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: Leftist Loyalists Flee to Canada

Remember the stories about despairing leftists applying for visas to Canada after the election? Well it turns out that as many as 20,000 have actually followed through—a telling admission that the left is no longer confident it has the ability to win a war of ideas.

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Psychologists: Are Mass-Murderers Evil?

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Psychologists: Are Mass-Murderers Evil?

That the existence of evil can even be a subject for debate is an indictment of the current state of psychology. How can you study the mind without grasping the central fact of volition? How can you judge what is psychologically "healthy" when you believe, as one psychiatrist quoted here says, that everything is subjective and that good and evil are "in the eye of the beholder"?

A few psychiatrists are beginning to argue that the concept of "evil" can be applied to mass-murderers. But will they also realize that morality also explains run-of-the-mill criminals—as shown by Stanton Samenow? And when will they grasp that volition and morality apply to normal life—and make the difference between an individual's misery and happiness?

Incidentally, note the odd—and possibly revealing—use of the first-person plural by whoever wrote the headline for this New York Times article.

"For the Worst of Us, the Diagnosis May Be 'Evil'," Benedict Carey, New York Times, 2/8/05

"In an effort to standardize what makes a crime particularly heinous, a group at New York University has been developing what it calls a depravity scale, which rates the horror of an act by the sum of its grim details. And a prominent personality expert at Columbia University has published a 22-level hierarchy of evil behavior, derived from detailed biographies of more than 500 violent criminals. He is now working on a book urging the profession not to shrink from thinking in terms of evil when appraising certain offenders, even if the E-word cannot be used as part of an official examination or diagnosis. 'We are talking about people who commit breathtaking acts, who do so repeatedly, who know what they're doing, and are doing it in peacetime' under no threat to themselves, said Dr. Michael Stone, the Columbia psychiatrist, who has examined several hundred killers.... 'We know from experience who these people are, and how they behave,' and it is time, he said, to give their behavior 'the proper appellation.'...

"Dr. Simon considers the notion of evil to be of no use to forensic psychiatry, in part because evil is ultimately in the eye of the beholder, shaped by political and cultural as well as religious values. The terrorists on Sept. 11 thought that they were serving God, he argues; those who kill people at abortion clinics also claim to be doing so.... 'When you start talking about evil, psychiatrists don't know anything more about it than anyone else,' Dr. Simon said. 'Our opinions might carry more weight, under the patina or authority of the profession, but the point is, you can call someone evil and so can I. So what? What does it add?' "

Monday, February 07, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: Iraq's Theocrats Make Their Move

Some leaders from Iraq's religious parties push for behind-the-scenes rule by clerics in Iraq, while the US hopes that Ayatollah Sistani will stand up for secular government. But where does Sistani really stand?

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• Iraq's Would-Be Theocrats Make Their Move
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• Commentary: The Enemies of the Enlightenment


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The Enemies of the Enlightenment

This is a nice identification about Britain's proposed "incitement to religious hatred" law—from an author who knows a thing or two about the subject: Salman Rushdie. Note that Rushdie characterizes this, accurately, as a battle to preserve the legacy of the Enlightenment. But notice also who the Enlightenment's main enemies are, at least in this case: the supposedly secular, "politically correct" left.

"Democracy Is No Polite Tea Party," Salman Rushdie, LA Times, 2/7/05
"I recently returned from a trip to Britain, where I discovered, to my consternation, that the government is proposing a law to ban what it is calling 'incitement to religious hatred.' This measure, much beloved by liberals, is apparently designed to protect people 'targeted' because of their religious beliefs. But I see nothing to applaud. To me it is merely further evidence that in Britain, just as in the United States, we may need to fight the battle for the Enlightenment all over again. That battle, you may remember, was about the church's desire to place limits on thought. Diderot's novel 'La Religieuse,' with its portrayal of nuns and their behavior, was deliberately blasphemous: it challenged religious authority, with its indexes and inquisitions, on what was possible to say. Most of our contemporary ideas about freedom of speech and imagination come from the Enlightenment. But although we may have thought the battle long since won, if we aren't careful, it is about to be 'un-won.' "

Friday, February 04, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: "Normal Life" in South Korea

A letter-writer shares his observations on how liberty and capitalism—the influences of American ideals—have transformed South Korea.

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Letter to the Editor
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Two Empires in Africa

The best legacy of the British Empire is the presence of millions of educated English speakers around the globe. This is a rich, readily accessible deposit of the "ultimate resource"—human talent—that the global economy has just begun to develop and tap. The "outsourcing" of white-collar work to countries like India has already begun—and now this trend is reaching Africa. This is how the new American Empire of global commerce is building on the foundation laid by the old British Empire. Thanks to TIA Daily reader Scott Bergstrom for recommending this link.

"Accents of Africa: A New Outsourcing Frontier," Marc Lacey, New York Times, 2/2/05

"Susan Mina, a Kenyan who has never stepped foot out of Africa, speaks English like the haughtiest of Britons. She can also put on a fair imitation of an American accent by swallowing all her words. Still, every once in a while, some Swahili slips out of her and that is not at all helpful as she tries to enhance Africa's role in the global explosion of outsourcing.... Controlling one's Swahili is just one of the challenges that Kenyans are facing as they play catch-up in an industry that India and other countries have turned into major job generators. Kenya's regular phone lines are so abysmal that the founders of KenCall had to go through the cumbersome process of getting government approval to use a costly satellite hookup. Even more dollars were burned on an elaborate generator system aimed at keeping KenCall's computer screens running during Nairobi's frequent power failures. 'Africa needs to raise its game,' said Russell Southwood, who publishes an online newsletter on telecommunications in Africa.... 'It needs to show the world that it can do more than pick minerals out of the ground and grow fruits and vegetables. KenCall is now up and running, and eager to lure business from Western companies that want cheap labor—but educated cheap labor like Ms. Mina, who has a university degree but earns less than $5,000 a year, not as much as a fast-food cashier would make in the United States."

Thursday, February 03, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: Progressives and Reactionaries at the State of the Union

At last night's State of the Union address, it was Republicans who came across as the forward-looking idealists—and it was Democrats who, fully and finally abandoning their "progressive" facade, were the small-minded, carping reactionaries.

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The Fellowship of Freedom
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by Robert Tracinski
"Progressives" and "Reactionaries" at the State of the Union

The Fellowship of Freedom

The most interesting moment of last night's State of the Union address was a spontaneous connection between an Iraqi human rights activist and the mother of a Marine killed in Iraq. It's hard to tell whether this indicates any wider affection between Iraqis and Americans; the Iraqi woman at last night's speech is unusually pro-American. But purely on its own terms, it was a touching moment of fellowship across cultures, showing how people can be united by the common value of liberty.

"Iraqi Woman, Marine's Mom Share Moment," Joseph Curl, Washington Times, 2/3/05

"None of the 5,056 words President Bush uttered last night in his State of the Union address was as moving as a simple hug between an Iraqi woman who voted for the first time and the mother of a US Marine who died fighting to give her that privilege. The powerful moment, a snapshot of the sacrifices Americans have made to free Iraq from dictator Saddam Hussein, came near the end of the president's address as he introduced the parents of Sgt. Byron Norwood of Pflugerville, Texas.... Choking back his emotion, Mr. Bush said: 'Ladies and gentlemen, with grateful hearts, we honor freedom's defenders, and our military families, represented here this evening by Sergeant Norwood's mom and dad, Janet and Bill Norwood.' The parents stood and acknowledged the thunderous applause. Just then, Safia Taleb al Suhail, who was seated one row in front of them in the balcony guest box of first lady Laura Bush, turned and reached up to Mrs. Norwood. The two embraced as the applause grew to a crescendo....

"The moment followed the president's praise of Mrs. al Suhail, the leader of the Iraqi Women's Political Council, who had flown to the United States after voting Sunday in Iraq. 'She says of her country, "We were occupied for 35 years by Saddam Hussein. That was the real occupation. Thank you to the American people who paid the cost, but most of all to the soldiers." ' "

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: Reflections on Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand "was man's great idealizer and defender."

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Feature Article
Reflections on Ayn Rand
by Peter Schwartz
Ayn Rand Taught the World How to Value Human Life

Reflections on Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand Taught the World How to Value Human Life

by Peter Schwartz

Editor's note: Today is the 100th anniversary of Ayn Rand's birth. This eloquent eulogy of Ayn Rand by TIA's founding editor, Peter Schwartz, was originally published in the March 15, 1982 issue of The Intellectual Activist. This article is part of the new bound volume of the back issues of TIA from the Peter Schwartz era, 1979–1991.—RWT

Ayn Rand taught the world how to value human life. She was man's great idealizer and defender. In her novels, in defiance of the cynics, she portrayed her heroes as figures to be looked up to and emulated. In her philosophy, in opposition to the skeptics, she defined man as a rational being, whose power of reason left no part of the universe unknowable and no goal unattainable. In her cultural/political writings, she identified the meaning of the seemingly innocuous slogans and projects and policies that posed deadly intellectual threats. Someone who knew and admired her commented sadly, upon her death: "The world is unprotected, now."

Ayn Rand believed that happiness should be viewed as man's normal state of mind. She taught people to expect happiness and not to settle for less—to regard frustration and misery as the exception, as unnecessary—to recognize a "benevolent universe" where success is achievable if only men use their minds. She wanted man to be the very best he could be, and she gave us the knowledge of how to do so.

Her radical theory of morality established man's happiness as the central purpose of his life. But achieving it, she said, comes not from surrendering to some mindless hedonism or from obedience to some supernatural authority—but from the commitment to live by rational values. She taught that living an honest, productive, selfish life entails greater effort and greater integrity—and greater reward—than adopting the life of a Mother Theresa. Ayn Rand glorified man. She believed that life was precious, too precious to be thrown away in the form of self-sacrifice. She showed that virtue consists in productivity, not renunciation, and in pride, not selfless humility. Ayn Rand taught the world that it is the most moral of acts to achieve happiness.

In Atlas Shrugged her theme is that the world rests on the shoulders of the men of productive ability, the men of the mind. But, if it is they who hold up the world, it is Ayn Rand who upholds the upholders. It is her shoulders upon which they themselves ultimately rest. It is she who identified their importance, who gave them a philosophy and a moral sanction, and who was—is—their only defender. Ayn Rand is the "Atlas" to whom all men are indebted.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: The Main Battle of Cold War II

I have described the occupation of Iraq as a new Cold War between America and Iran. Following last weekend's election, the main battle of Cold War II is under way: which country will the new Iraqi government choose as its ally?

Top News Stories
• The Great Game
• Legal Chaos in Guantanamo
• North Korea's Collapse?
• The Suppression of Evolution
Whittaker Chambers and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
• Commentary: The European Quagmire

• Human Achievements: Cox & Forkum on Ayn Rand Centenary
• Things of Beauty: Hazy Morning

Whittaker Chambers and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

National Review Online recently republished Whittaker Chambers's scurrilous 1957 attack on Ayn Rand, in which his central complaint was that "Randian made the center of a godless world." (See my comments.) Now that complaint has been echoed—by Iraqi al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in his screed against "democracy," translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute. It is revealing indication of whose side the religious right is really on.

"Zarqawi and Other Islamists to the Iraqi People: Elections and Democracy are Heresy,", 2/1/05

"Democracy is based on the principle that the people are the source of all authority, including the legislative [authority]. This is carried out by choosing representatives who act as proxies for the people in the task of legislating and making laws. In other words, the legislator who must be obeyed in a democracy is man, and not Allah. That means that the one who is worshiped and obeyed and deified, from the point of view of legislating and prohibiting, is man, the created, and not Allah. That is the very essence of heresy and polytheism and error, as it contradicts the bases of the faith [of Islam] and monotheism, and because it makes the weak, ignorant man Allah's partner in His most central divine prerogative—namely, ruling and legislating. Allah said: 'Sovereignty is Allah's alone. He has commanded you to worship none but Him' [Koran 12:40]. 'He allows none to share His sovereignty' [Koran 18:26]...."