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Published by David French -- Harvard Law grad, former lecturer at Cornell Law School, author of books no one reads, master of the three point shot, constant critic of Duke Basketball, Playstation2 addict, owner of a cool new Sony DCRTRV25 MiniDV Digital Handycam, father of two and husband of one extremely hot wife


The Culture Curve
Thursday, July 11, 2002  
ARE WE GOING TO INVADE . . . OR NOT? Conflicting reports today from USA Today and UPI. USA Today is reporting that "top Bush administration officials have concluded" that "a full-scale U.S. invasion of Iraq will require significant provocation by Saddam Hussein's regime — such as invading a neighbor, fielding a nuclear weapon or attacking its minority population." UPI, on the other hand, reports that invasion planning is well under way and an attack will most likely commence shortly after the November elections.

I found myself slightly disturbed by the USA Today report. If we wait for "significant provocation," doesn't that undercut the new Bush Doctrine that mandates pre-emptive attacks against known enemies? If we wait for Saddam to field a nuclear weapon, doesn't that raise the risk that any invasion would result in a nuclear exchange -- an exchange that could possibly include Israel? If the Bush Doctrine means anything, it means that we have to attack Iraq with enough force to bring down Saddam and install a friendly regime. We know that Saddam supports terror, we know that he has repeatedly violated virtually every one of the significant Gulf War cease-fire accords, and we know that he is working feverishly to build nuclear weapons. If he doesn't qualify for pre-emptive removal, who does?

My own guess is that the campaign against Saddam will not be a repeat of the Gulf War. As many commentators have noted, there's very little chance that Saddam would sit idly by while we build up an enormous invasion force just across his border. He'll either use whatever weapons of mass destruction he has or take other action (possibly against Israel) to complicate our strategic calculus. If we do attack Iraq militarily (and I think we eventually will), the beginning of the campaign may look more like Afghanistan than Desert Storm -- sudden air attacks, followed by a gradually increasing ground presence. In other words, an air and special ops campaign would cover our conventional troop build-up.

If Bush takes half-measures against Iraq -- especially after his tough public rhetoric -- and leaves Saddam in power, then the "Bush Doctrine" will be a dead letter, and the world will rapidly revert to its status quo prior to September 11. Bush has an opportunity to remake the Middle East and decisively destroy Middle Eastern terrorism and the Islamo-fascist despotism that spawned it. If he doesn't sieze that opportunity, then he will go down in history not as a Churchill but as a Chamberlain.

I'm confident that Bush will make the correct choice.

7:41 AM

WHY THE PLEDGE DECISION HURT. I found this post by fellow lawyer/blogger Peter Sean Bradley interesting. Here's the salient point:

"First, there is a psychological difference between removing 'under God' from the Pledge and not including those words in the first place. People as a matter of individual and social psychology easily distinguish between losing something and not getting something. People irrationally overvalue losses. [Some economists have concluded that investors typically consider the loss of $1 dollar twice as painful as the pleasure received from a $1 gain. ] For example, if someone asked me whether I would contribute to an inititiative to include the phrase 'under God' in the Pledge, I probably wouldn't contribute. However, I probably would contribute a much larger amount to a drive to amend the Constitution in order to keep it in.

"Usage creates expectation. The elimination of that usage - even if it causes a return to the status quo ante - is going to be seen as a loss of something. In the case of Pledge, it is also going to be seen as state action against the God-believing majority of Americans, not simply an endorsement of neutrality. As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote - before he became Justice Holmes - in the Common Law, even a dog distinguishes between being kicked and being stepped on."

I think he's exactly right. If a Republican congressman had introduced a bill asking that the Pledge include further reference to God, and that bill was defeated, I don't think that you would see anything like the outrage the Pledge decision has generated. It was the feeling of loss -- the feeling that something precious was being specifically targeted for elimination -- that made the Pledge decision so difficult to stomach.

Check out Peter's weblog (I hate the term "blog" . . . makes everything we write sound trivial). He has quite a few thoughtful posts on the law and society.

7:18 AM

OSAMA BIN LADEN IS DEAD? Amer Taheri, a journalist for the Arab News (and occasional New York Times contributor) thinks so. In fact, he seems to have very little doubt:

"Osama bin Laden is dead. The news first came from sources in Afghanistan and Pakistan almost six months ago: the fugitive died in December and was buried in the mountains of southeast Afghanistan. Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, echoed the information. The remnants of Osama's gang, however, have mostly stayed silent, either to keep Osama's ghost alive or because they have no means of communication.

"With an ego the size of Mount Everest, Osama bin Laden would not have, could not have, remained silent for so long if he were still alive. He always liked to take credit even for things he had nothing to do with. Would he remain silent for nine months and not trumpet his own survival?"

I tend to agree with the writer's assessment. However, I still get nervous every time an Al Qaeda spokesman promises to produce a recently filmed videotape. A clear image of a smiling and taunting bin Laden would not just be a blow to our morale but might also revive the bin Laden ideology that Mr. Taheri believes died even before bin Laden himself.

7:00 AM

Wednesday, July 10, 2002  
THE EVOLUTION ESTABLISHMENT HYPERVENTILATES. Word comes of an allegedly stunning find in the world of paleontology. Scientists have discovered a "6-million to 7-million-year-old skull . . . a discovery that will change scientific thought about human origins and force paleontologists finally to abandon the notion of a so-called missing link." In an interview with BBC News Online Henry Gee, senior editor at the scientific journal Nature, noted that the fossil demonstrates how messy the (alleged) process of evolution had been: "It shows us there wasn't a nice steady progression from ancient hominids to what we are today."

In other words, thanks to this discovery, scientists are now rushing to make new assertions about the state of human life on Earth millions of years ago. Evidently, the age of this skull throws into further doubt the straight-line (knuckle-dragging to erect walking) evolutionary model that has been taught as gospel for more than a generation. As USA Today explains:

"Since 1925, when the first humanlike fossil was discovered, known as the Taung skull, it has been widely believed that human evolution progressed in a straight line from a knuckle-walking primitive ape to a fully erect human.

"Ever since, paleontologists have been searching for a missing link to represent the bridge between apes and humans. Lucy, a 3.5-million-year-old fossil found in the 1970s, was one of the first candidates for that link. But many more fossils have been discovered since, with many combinations of features that show human evolution was not so simple."

Science is a fascinating thing. On the one hand, one set of scientists can evidently tell from a single skull whether certain, long-cherished macro-evolutionary theories need to be revised. On the other hand, after hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of research hours, another set of scientists can't even definitively tell us whether we should be eating porterhouse or pasta.

2:24 PM

Tuesday, July 09, 2002  
BAD FOR CHRISTIANITY? Slate's Steven Waldman argues today that vouchers are "bad for Christianity." He cites three reasons: 1) mission dilution; 2) growth of minority religions; and 3) tuition inflation. According to Waldman: "School vouchers could have many positive potential outcomes for education, and possibly some for organized religion. For example, low-income churches that otherwise could not afford to set up schools might now do so. But if history is any guide, the national voucher movement will make religious education more expensive, less pure, and less Christian."

If history is any guide? Although Waldman talks authoritatively about history, he provides precious few relevant historical examples. In fact, the one truly relevant example he cites (federal aid to college students) decisively undercuts his point. Since World War II, the federal government -- through grants, loans and the GI Bill -- has been pouring federal money into private colleges. As Waldman notes, these colleges range "from Jerry Falwell's Liberty University to the Rabbinical College of America in New Jersey, affiliated with the Lubavich Rabbi Menachem Schneerson." Yet what Waldman doesn't say is that each of these religious institutions has maintained its distinct religious character at the same time that it accepted this student aid. In fact, I can't think of one institution of higher education that has changed its religious mission or emphasis as a result of receiving federal student aid. I know that my own school (Lipscomb University in Nashville) has received millions of dollars in federal student aid yet still mandates daily Bible classes and daily chapel attendance.

Waldman brings up Catholic Charities as an example of a religious organization whose message has been diluted by government funding. While it may be true that Catholic Charities has de-emphasized its religious message to retain government funds, this decision was made in a completely different legal context from colleges and universities. Catholic charities -- as a direct recipient of government funding -- is subject to many more constraints than a private college that indirectly receives government funds through student aid. With respect to student aid, the government gives the money to the student, and the student decides how it is spent. With Catholic Charities, the government gives the funds directly to the charity. The voucher system -- which places parents in control of the funds -- is much more similar to college student aid programs.

Further, because of recent Supreme Court decisions in not only the voucher case but also cases like Rosenberger and Southworth (which both involved government funding of religious and expressive organizations), there is now serious constitutional doubt that the government can attach conditions to even direct funding that would materially interfere with a religious organization's message and purpose.

Waldman's next point is even more puzzling. I fail to see how it would harm Christianity if Muslim students were able to go to Muslim schools, or if Buddhist students went to Buddhist schools. Voucher programs liberate all students from the public school monopoly. It only makes sense that -- in a large and religiously diverse country -- individuals from other faiths would choose to be educated by individuals who shared that faith. How does true religious freedom possibly harm Christianity? Tens of thousands may choose Muslim or Buddhist schools. Millions would choose Christian schools.

Finally, Waldman argues that government aid will cause some religious schools to raise tuition. Even if that statement is true, I fail to see how slight tuition increases "harm Christianity." He's making an economic argument, not a specifically religious argument. Perhaps he thinks that it would be unchristian for a school to raise tuition. Perhaps it would be . . . and perhaps not. However, the possibility that some schools may choose to raise tuition does not make an entire program harmful to Christianity. If a school prices itself out of the market -- regardless of its religious affiliation -- it will pay the price.

The anti-voucher crowd has to do better than Waldman's piece if it wants to persuade Christians that market-based educational reform and increased religious freedom are bad ideas. If the voucher system is accepted nationally, and if history is our guide -- as Waldman seems to think it is -- then we should prepare for the explosive growth of high-quality private Christian education. Just as Christian universities (like Bob Jones, Lipscomb, Evangel, Wheaton and others) have flourished as students from all economic backgrounds have been able to take advantage of federal student aid to attend the college of their choice, so will Christian secondary schools.

Christians should be lining up to argue for vouchers in their community. We have a new generation to educate . . . and a culture to change.

7:43 AM

Monday, July 08, 2002  
A TRULY AMAZING STORY. As any faithful reader of the Curve knows, this is hardly the place to read about new developments in the world of diet and nutrition. I typically leave such discussions to Oprah and the Today show. However, I found this piece truly stunning. The New York Times Magazine (the guardian of all things PC) published a lengthy discussion of new research that reveals that the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet that the nutritional world has been advocating for 25 years may, in fact, be responsible for the explosion of obesity in America.

According to this article, the public health establishment has been so convinced that high-protein, low-carb diets (like the famous Atkins diet) are dangerous that they have a) refused to fund research into the effectiveness of the high-protein diet and b) ignored substantial evidence that their own preferred low-fat diet may actually be harmful to your health. For all those people who revere "science" as something inherently trustworthy, this article is a must-read.

The political correctness of the public health establishment was so pervasive that the National Institute of Health refused to support research into high-protein diets -- even when study after study was failing to demonstrate that low-fat, high-carb diets were either causing people to lose weight or preventing heart disease. Additionally, it turns out that some of the low-fat gospel is based on completely unproven assumptions about the course of human evolution (namely, the alleged presence of a fat-preserving "thrifty gene"):

"As for the thrifty gene, it provides the kind of evolutionary rationale for human behavior that scientists find comforting but that simply cannot be tested. In other words, if we were living through an anorexia epidemic, the experts would be discussing the equally untestable ''spendthrift gene'' theory, touting evolutionary advantages of losing weight effortlessly. An overweight homo erectus, they'd say, would have been easy prey for predators."

I am one of the fortunate few that has never had to worry about my weight, so the article was uninteresting to me from a personal health standpoint. What was interesting, however, was the almost willful blindness and fallibility of the scientific establishment. Motivated more by preservation of the scientific status quo or -- even more powerfully -- hostility to a specific non-PC scientific alternative, scientists turned their back on research and inquiry.

In how many other fields is politics driving research? What about global warming? What about the origin of the universe, or of the species? What research is not being pursued because doing so would threaten accepted (and acceptable) scientific consensus? As secular (and many Christian) individuals smugly tout "science" as somehow more objective, more worthy of respect than faith, it is worth reminding them of the scientific world's own bias and repression.

The Times article ends with an anecdote about a scientist who had discovered that low-fat diets might lead to weight gain and low-carbohydrate diets might lead to weight loss but made the writer of the article promise not to reveal his identity. The scientist only allowed himself to be identified when he discovered that he was not alone in his belief. The article is replete with similar examples of scientists who had to choose between (career-killing) real research or lucrative endorsement of the status quo.

The repression of new ideas? Silencing dissent? Isn't that what scientists say is the problem with religion?

8:02 AM

THE VOUCHER WARS. As the education establishment pulls out its ultimate rhetorical weapon -- a tear-jerking (and typically nonsensical) tale by an inner-city first grade teacher -- conservative Andrew Sullivan (no friend of evangelical Christians) writes a thoughtful piece educating British readers on the political and educational merits of the voucher system.

If you read both pieces, you'll see in a microcosm the battle that will soon be fought state by state and school district by school district around this country. It is almost impossible to overestimate the educational establishment's hatred of the voucher system, and we can't underestimate their willingness to use emotional manipulation and spurious scare tactics to defeat real reform.

And I thought "progressives" were supposed to be open to new ideas . . .

7:35 AM

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