Saturday, January 10, 2009

The virtues of Christianity -- one tiny example

There are lots of people -- atheists, Leftists, foolish Jews etc. -- who say horrible things about Christianity. And I find that very unbalanced.

In my early life I was steeped in Christianity so I think I know a little about it. And although I have been an utter atheist for all my adult life (I am now 65), I still enjoy reading my Bible on occasions and I still have a lot of time for those whom I once called "brothers". So I think I do have some standing to defend Christianity.

Social scientists and statisticians hate it (and I am of that ilk too) but for most people examples are more persuasive than generalizations and averages so I just want to give here one tiny example of why I still heart the Protestant faith into which I grew up.

My old church in Brisbane is Ann St Presbyterian. In the 60s I was a communicant member there. Nowadays I pop in very rarely, maybe at Easter or some other day of special significance. And I always feel most at home there and love singing the old hymns.

But what I want to mention on this occasion -- at peril of embarrassing him -- is one of the elders there. Presbyterian churches are very democratic and are governed by elected elders rather than by Bishops and suchlike. And whenever I walk into my old church for a service, the elders are there by the door to greet people as they arrive -- a thoroughly admirable custom in my view.

And one of the elders who seems always to be there must have been -- in my guess -- a butcher at some stage. He has lost most of his fingers on his right hand. Butchers regularly sacrificed fingers to the bandsaw in the old days and I guess some still do. So is the elder concerned embarrassed to do what elders do -- shake hands with people as they arrive? Not at all. He holds out what is left of his hand with perfect good cheer and we are all glad to shake it. He always looks as spruce as can be, dressed in an old-fashioned but immaculate suit, and is an example to us all not to be ground down by adversity.

The church has given him a respected role and self-esteem and he has given back inspiration and a lesson to all who shake his hand. How can I not respect a faith and a church that has done that? Maybe I am just a sentimental old fool but I will take that risk.


Yes, Israel Can Win in Gaza

Israel is significantly weakening Hamas - with Palestinian help

It seems that most of the West's news reporters and pundits agree with Islamists everywhere that an Israeli victory in Gaza is impossible. They decry Israel's defensive attack on Hamas, prophesying an inevitable strengthening of Islamism among Palestinians and a dark future for the Jewish state. How do our commentators come to this conclusion? They point, most frequently, to Israel's war with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006, and echo Hezbollah's claim that it won a great victory. Indeed, this narrative goes, in launching their rockets at Israel, Hamas leaders were imitating Hezbollah's winning strategy.

In fact, Hezbollah was thoroughly shocked by the Israeli bombing campaign, and its supporters, who mostly live in southern Lebanon, are not likely to tolerate another wave of destruction caused by another Hezbollah attack. Even the inconclusive Israeli ground actions in Lebanon, which never involved more than six companies (roughly 600 men), resulted in the loss of some 400 Hezbollah fighters in direct face-to-face combat while Israel suffered only 30 casualties.

Of course, none of this prevented the Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah from claiming that he had won a great victory for God. Had his victorious claims actually been true, Israel should have been deterred from attacking Hamas. And by his logic, Israel would have cowered in fear of thousands of more rockets from Hamas, and the even more powerful rockets that Hezbollah would launch in tandem. Nasrallah certainly encouraged Hamas to attack Israel in language that implied he would intervene if a war ensued -- a credible promise had he really won a victory in 2006.

But as soon as the fighting started in Gaza, Nasrallah reversed the terms of his declarations -- threatening Israel if it attacked Lebanon (which of course nobody in Israel would want to do). When three rockets were fired from inside Lebanon on Thursday, Hezbollah wasted no time assuring the Israelis that it had nothing to do with it, and that it did not even have that type of rocket in their inventory. This is a familiar trope of the Palestinian experience. There is always some extremist leader ready to instigate the Palestinians to fight, implicitly promising his valiant participation -- until the fighting begins and the promises are forgotten in fear of Israeli retaliation.

Another familiar Palestinian experience is that the extremists can always prevail politically over the moderates, but in so doing they split Palestinian society. A key metric of this disunity is, in fact, the success of Israel's current war against Hamas. Consider: According to Gaza sources, until the ground fighting started some 25% of the 500 dead were innocent civilians. The Israelis claimed that 20% of the casualties from the aerial attack were civilians. Either way, this was an extremely accurate bombing campaign. (Even in the 1991 and 2003 U.S. air campaigns against Iraq, when most of the bombs were already precision-guided, gross targeting errors killed many civilians.)

A targeting accuracy of 75% -- by the lowest estimate -- cannot have been merely obtained by overhead photography from satellites or reconnaissance aircraft, because few Hamas objectives were classic "high-contrast" targets such as bunkers or headquarters. Most targets were small groups of people in nondescript civilian vehicles that blend in with traffic, or inside unremarkable buildings. Nor could telephone intercepts have yielded much intelligence, because all Palestinians know that the Israelis have long combined voice recognition with cellular-grid location in order to aim missiles very accurately at single vehicles in traffic, or even at individuals standing about with their cellphones switched off.

So how did Israel do it? The only possible explanation is that people in Gaza have been informing the Israelis exactly where Hamas fighters and leaders are hiding, and where weapons are stored. No doubt some informers are merely corrupt, paid agents earning a living. But others must choose to provide intelligence because they oppose Hamas, whose extremism inflicts poverty, suffering and now death on the civilian population for the sake of launching mostly ineffectual rockets into Israel. Hamas completely disregards the day-to-day welfare of all Gazans in order to pursue its millenarian vision of an Islamic Palestine.

Some in Gaza must also resent Iran's role in instigating the barrage of rockets fired on Israel. And all must know that the longer-range rockets are supplied by Iran along with money for Hamas leaders, while ordinary Palestinians languish in poverty. Senior Hamas leader Nizar Rayan, killed on Jan. 1, was a poorly paid academic, yet he died with his four wives and 10 of his children in spacious quarters. He obviously had enough money to heed the Quranic injunction against marrying more wives than one can afford. That too must arouse bitter opposition among poor Palestinian civilians, inducing some to help Israel target Hamas. Perhaps these informers include Fatah members, further antagonized by persecution. Last week alone, some 50 were reportedly tortured by Hamas.

Hamas won the 2006 election because it was the only available alternative when a majority of voters were disgusted by Fatah's blatant corruption. Since then, many nonfundamentalist Palestinians have been oppressed by the puritanical prohibitions imposed by Hamas, while all Gazans have been greatly impoverished. There is no evidence that support for Fatah has therefore increased, or that its surviving leaders could still rally their followers. This reality sets an upper limit on what Israel can achieve by ground combat -- it cannot change the regime.

What Israel can do is weaken Hamas further in its current ground operations by raiding targets that cannot be attacked from the air -- typically because they are in the basements of crowded apartment buildings -- and by engaging Hamas gunmen in direct combat. Simply reducing the combat strength of Hamas is crucial, as it was in 2006 against Hezbollah, because while many like to parade dressed in the robes of martyrs, when there is actual fighting enthusiasm rapidly wanes.

With few exceptions, Israeli ground forces are not advancing frontally but are instead mounting a multiplicity of raids. If their target intelligence remains as good as it was during the air attack, they will run out of targets in a matter of days. That is when a cease-fire with credible monitoring would be possible and desirable for both sides as the only alternative to renewed occupation. Hamas will claim a win no matter what happens, but then so did Hezbollah in 2006. And yet, for the most part, Hezbollah remains immobile and the Israeli northern border with Lebanon remains quiet. If Israel can achieve the same with Hamas in Gaza, it would be a significant victory.




Public works only exacerbated the Great Depression : "Contrary to common misconception, interference did not begin with Roosevelt's New Deal but rather with Herbert Hoover, who took office in March 1929. As one historian put it, Hoover, an engineer by profession and part of the Republican Party's progressive wing, was not the last of the old presidents but the first of the new. In previous depressions, the federal government typically cut spending and taxes and let the market liquidate bad investments. As a result, the depressions were relatively brief. This time around Hoover moved quickly to raise government spending and taxes of all kinds (the top marginal income-tax rate went from 24 to 63 percent); subsidize banks, railroads, industries, homeowners with mortgages, local governments, and farmers; and sign the infamous Smoot-Hawley Tariff. Even with the tax increases, the budget deficit ballooned to record levels. Hoover urged the nation's governors to increase public-works spending substantially and had the federal government join the effort. He favored new rounds of inflation, but the Fed's efforts were offset by factors beyond its control. Egregiously, Hoover personally pressured major corporations not to cut wages. (As commerce secretary, he had long been an advocate of government-business-labor "partnership," i.e., cartelization.) When wages are rigid while all other prices are falling, unemployment goes up. The result of Hoover's program? Unemployment went from 3.2 percent in 1929 to over 25 percent in 1933. It remained in double digits until 1941, a year after the military draft started. GNP shrank 44 percent from 1929 to 1932."

Change is coming, to benefit trial lawyers: "Obama promised change, and it's already happening, at the expense of the poor, consumers, and small business. `Regulations set to take effect next month could force thousands of clothing retailers and thrift stores to throw away trunkloads of children's clothing.' That's the result of a law championed by Obama and trial lawyers, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which imposes draconian requirements and penalties on sellers of childrens' toys and clothing. As a result, used clothing stores for poor kids, like Kid to Kid, are going out of business. Price increases in children's toys and clothing will also likely result."


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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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