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Mirrors and Veils: The Bergdahl Perplex

June 1st, 2014 - 8:39 pm

I will confess to a dark suspicion that when Robert Bergdahl, standing next to President Obama, said in Pashto to Bowe Bergdahl, “I am your father,” it was some sort of coded message.  I mean, what in the world was that all about?  Does any father have to say such a thing to a son?  Did he think Bowe didn’t know who his father was?

But then I started to ask questions of people who had followed the Bergdahl saga, and they calmed me down a bit.  The elder Bergdahl seems a bit odd.  Look at the pictures.  “A hippy,” one of my best sources said.  A guy who’d gone to Idaho to pursue a lifestyle reminiscent of the romantic sixties:  love, peace, and the expansion of the mind.  Or so they say.  And it connects well with the story of Bowe, leaving his base in an “intoxicated state,” which, if true, can’t mean alcohol, which is forbidden in such places.  It might mean pot, or hashish, however.  Berkeley, California, on the plains of Afghanistan.

I think, as I always do when confronted with “breaking news,” that we are some distance from the truth.  We don’t have the real facts just yet, and, contrary to all our frenzied desire to know everything right away, it’s a good idea to take a deep breath and analyze the odors.

One good place to start is where Brad Thor does:  forget about the Taliban, they weren’t holding Bowe.  He was a captive of the Haqqanis, which Thor nicely describes as a mixture of terrorism and mafia, “80% Sopranos and 20% Al Qaeda.”  He then asks an important question:  what did the Haqqanis get for Bergdahl?  That’s exactly right, because four of the Guantanamo terrorists were indeed Taliban, and hence low priority for the Haqqanis.  So?

So we need to ask how much money the Haqqanis got, or how many weapons, or maybe diamonds, I don’t know.  We probably arranged for the payment–it’s illegal to do it directly, I believe (although CIA has done it, as has the military, usually under the guise of “providing information”)–and the Qataris may have thought it was a good investment.  But something of value had to be given to the Haqqanis.  I don’t believe they turned over Bowe as a favor to the Taliban.

It is also possible that the Iranians were involved….

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Roman Jews: We Are Not Afraid

May 27th, 2014 - 6:00 pm
couple-with-israel-and-italian-flags-5-27-14-2

Judaism is booming in Italy, and has become chic in recent years.

 

A terrorist struck at the Jewish Museum in Brussels on Sunday.  The police are trying to find the killer, but meanwhile, two days later, crowds of people came to the Jewish Museum in solidarity…in Rome.

Riccardo Pacifici, the president of the Rome Jewish community, spoke in a way the Belgians and other European Jews should have:

“It’s time to show these rogues, these murderers, that we are not afraid, they do not intimidate us. We will march together and take them to jail,” according to Italy’s Il Messagero newspaper on Monday.

While many Jews on the other side of the Alps are so frightened of being attacked, they are either leaving or trying to conceal their Jewish identity, it is quite different in Italy, as I detailed recently in Tablet Magazine.

In Rome, the Jews have developed a reputation for being tough guys, and they’ve proved the image is correct.  Ever since the main synagogue on the banks of the Tiber was bombed by Palestinian terrorists in 1982, the Rome Community have organized self-defense groups that have gone after antisemitic groups in the city.  They have staged public demonstrations, smashed the headquarters of Jew-hating groups, and occupied courtrooms where Nazis were on trial, lest the judges think there was little public concern about the verdict.

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As usual, the Italians are operating outside the box.  The “European” elections in Italy weren’t really about Europe, and it’s hard to fit the amazing results into the pattern you’ve been reading about regarding France, Great Britain and the other EU countries.

The elections were nominally for the European Parliament, an honorific body that has no legislative standing (it only ratifies measures from on high, it can’t initiate anything) but good salaries and amazing slush funds for travel, lodging, and associated expenses.  This time around, however, the vote was taken to be a referendum on the new prime minister (Matteo Renzi, the 39 year old from the center-left Democratic Party (PD) who has been in office barely three months).  His noisiest and most threatening challenger was Beppe Grillo, a foul-mouthed former professional comedian who leads the 5-Star Movement.  Grillo called for the total rejection of the political class (above all, Renzi) and promised that, once he won the European vote, he’d demand the government fall and then he would win national political elections and purge the whole political system.

Instead, Renzi carried the PD to unprecedented success:  more than 40% of the vote.  No Italian party had won 40% since the Christian Democrats in 1958.  Moreover, his PD was the only governing party on the continent to improve its standing compared to past elections, and most Italian commentators, including some who expected Grillo to win (he got about 21%, half of Renzi’s) are now saying that Renzi is in full control, and if members of his coalition balk at passing his key reform measures, he can threaten them with new national elections they know they will lose.

Which is quite something for a 39 year old who just a couple of years ago, as mayor of Florence, badly lost the PD’s primary and faced an uncertain future.  We seem to have an answer to the basic question about Matteo Renzi.  Everyone knew he was smart and ambitious, but nobody knew if he had the charisma, toughness and cunning required to govern Italy.   Now we know that he does.

Good news for Italians, who will shortly head the EU for six months, thereby giving Renzi an additional platform to advance his pro-growth programs.  Combined with the electoral battering of the bureaucratic parties that have been running Europe, and the strong popular support for nationalist, Eurosceptic leaders in France and Britain (and a mild rebuff to Chancellor Merkel in Germany), there is at least some chance that Brussels’ misguided policies of top-down hypercontrol of European enterprise may be loosened.

It’s suitably ironic that the new star of European politics is a young Florentine, running as leader of the country’s biggest left-wing party, who is universally believed to be a conservative.  Maybe even a neoconservative.

Perhaps Scott Walker, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz should campaign as Democrats.

We all know the Muslim world is a political and cultural disaster zone.

All you need to know is the spectacularly low level of book sales in the Arab world, and a similarly miserable record in winning Nobel prizes, whether in literature or hard science.  A dozen years ago, a group of Arab scholars did a report for the United Nations that ascribed the failure of Arab society to a lack of freedom, knowledge and womenpower.  And things have gotten considerably worse since 2002;  the authors could write that there were no ethnic conflicts then.  That’s long gone.

Never mind a failed state;  we’re talking about a failed civilization, even in the most culturally advanced Muslim domain, the Islamic Republic of Iran.  The root of their failure is the War Against Fun.  They’re not only failures, but grim, humorless failures.  This is the miserable common denominator of the Muslim world.  As Jonathan Schanzer recently tweeted, “Saudi blocks Youtube. Iran blocks Instagram. We knew they could eventually find common ground.”

They know it themselves, and talk about it a lot. Several writers in the Saudi press, for example, unloaded on the ban on celebrating Valentine’s Day, as here:

[The answer] to most of our daily needs comes from the West, from the Christian world, of [the culture] we created in previous eras only a pittance remains… the prohibition on Valentine’s Day bears no relation to faith or belief, but [only] to desert thinking that lacks subtlety, targets women specifically and prevents a social encounter between men and women and normal life as in other societies. The guardians of values and customs went overboard in pressuring our society…it has become desiccated and coarse and adopted the thinking and behavior of the desert..

Or in this tirade, quoted in the same article linked above:

What grabs attention is that those who ban imitating the West on Valentine’s Day see nothing amiss in imitating the West in other ways, and are completely immersed in [Western] consumer culture and in devouring new Western products…

They know we’re better.  Some of them, seemingly more with the passage of time, are desperate and brave enough to risk life and limb to fight back on behalf of fun.

The War Against Fun is deadly because it stultifies and suffocates creative enterprise.  If the regime wins, and fun is killed, it would mark the death of playfulness, which is the heart of creativity.  The Iranians are (falsely, I think) credited with the invention of chess, but there are no brilliant Persian chess grandmasters nowadays.  Iranian humor is nasty, misogynistic and often sadistic, like the unhappy country’s ruling tyrants.

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The Censors and Their Tyrannical Friends

May 20th, 2014 - 6:30 pm

From the very beginning, the doctrines of political correctness were intended to silence and paralyze the Right.  The locus classicus of this demand is Herbert Marcuse’s essay on “Repressive Tolerance,” written in the early 1960s when he was a Brandeis professor:

Liberating tolerance…would mean intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left. As to the scope of this tolerance and intolerance: … it would extend to the stage of action as well as of discussion and propaganda, of deed as well as of word.

Tolerance would only be granted to those with proper ideas, and committed to proper actions.  And who would decide which ideas and actions were proper, and which were to be forbidden?

People rather like himself:

…everyone “in the maturity of his faculties” as a human being, everyone who has learned to think rationally and autonomously.

His students and followers, in other words.  He wanted to create:

[a] democratic educational dictatorship of free men… in Mill, every rational human being participates in the discussion and decision–but only as a rational being. (In contemporary America) this would be a small number indeed, and not necessarily that of the elected representatives of the people. The problem is not that of an educational dictatorship, but that of breaking the tyranny of public opinion and its makers in the closed society.

Marcuse denied he was an elitist, insisting that once people were “educated” to accept ideas and actions that the society at large considered subversive, true freedom would reign supreme.

He’d be quite surprised to learn that his proposals are gathering momentum, precisely among those who consider themselves members of the intellectual elite.  The movement extends from college campuses (for which he had some hope) to international “scientific” bodies (think about the campaigns against those who refuse to accept the dogmas of “climate change”), to the broader society.  We have reached a point where a radical “activist” can go on national TV and call for the imprisonment of anyone in public office who disagrees with him.  And the host murmurs that there might not be enough room.

Like Marcuse, the advocates of this rule-by-right-thinking-inellectuals invariably claim to be democracy’s best friends, even as they work for its doom.  Take David Brooks for example, who proclaims that we’re in an era of democratic complacency and decay.  He thinks that we’ve recently learned about the shortcomings of democratic republics:  “The events of the past several years have exposed democracy’s structural flaws.”

And then he tells us things we learned back in the 1830s from Alexis de Tocqueville:  democratic countries are lousy at long-range planning, our system of checks and balances can paralyze badly needed policies, etcetera etcetera and so forth.  We show up badly, he says, when compared to innovative “Guardian States” like China and Singapore.  Our schools stink when compared to South Korea’s.  And best of all, he insists, “They are better at long-range thinking and can move fast because they limit democratic feedback and don’t face NIMBY-style impediments.”

Brooks, just like Marcuse, insists that he has come to save democracy, not to bury it.  He wants “a strategy to make democracy dynamic again…use Lee Kuan Yew means (aka benevolent dictatorship, ML) to achieve Jeffersonian ends — to become less democratic at the national level in order to become more democratic at the local level.”

And what is his glorious solution?  The model for the revivification of democracy?

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The Secret Deals With Iran

May 14th, 2014 - 7:17 pm

“You’re right to keep tweeting that question.  Why the hell is the agreement with Iran still secret?”

I’m always grateful for praise, especially when it comes from America’s legendary spymaster, the late James Jesus Angleton, who was passing on the kind words through my recently rehabbed ouija board.  I’d been repeatedly tweeting “why is the deal with Iran still secret?” and apparently Angleton manages to get online (although with him, you never really know where his information comes from).

ML:  “Presumably there’s some stuff in it that the administration doesn’t want us to know about, otherwise they’d open it up.”

JJA:  “Yes, that’s the obvious explanation.  But I’m surprised that those few members of Congress who HAVE read it, are similarly hushed up.  And I’m also surprised that those who haven’t read it aren’t insisting that they do.  After all, we’re not surprised to have secret treaties, are we?  But then, it’s hard to keep track of all the secret deals in the world nowadays.  Which, among other things, puts a lot of strain on the language…”

ML:  “Yeah, you always were keen on language.  Some of those non-secret ‘secrets’ are Rumsfeldian, they’re part of the ‘known unknown,’ or maybe better, the ‘unknown known.’  For me, that’s the most fascinating one:  the secrets we don’t want to know.”

JJA:  “Precisely.  Not surprisingly, several of them have to do with Iran, a country that specializes in secrecy and deception.”

ML: “Yeah, but these aren’t deceptions, or at least they’re not about Iranian deceptions. As far as I can tell, we and other Western governments are keeping secrets from the people. The governments know what’s happening, but they hush it up. And it’s not only the interim agreement. There’s the whole business about al Qaeda-and-Boko Haram, which in turn leads us to al Qaeda-and-Iran, etcetera. Not to mention the question about American hostages in Iranian captivity.”

JJA: “Let’s leave the hostages for last. I’ve seen a lot of that stuff on Boko Haram, and it’s hilarious to see all the editorialists and columnists who are acting as if they’d been following Nigeria in great detail for a decade or more, heh. All of a sudden everyone’s an expert.”

ML: “Who knew there were so many Africanists? Those of us who did Africa for years and years rarely saw any of these guys…”

JJA: “It’s easier to stay in New York or Washington, you don’t have to take all those shots.”

ML: “Or take those malaria pills with nasty side effects…”

JJA: “But there has been some good research, and I liked that Eli Lake story that referred to academic research on the connections between Boko Haram and al Qaeda.

ML: “Me too. But I wasn’t all that happy with the lack of good followup. That story went back to the 1990s, and said that Boko Haram figures were in touch with Osama bin Laden’s gang in Sudan. And, given the way my mind works, I started thinking…”

JJA: “…about Iran. Well of course, because we know that bin Laden was then establishing working relations with Hezbollah, which of course IS Iran, and so logic grabs you by the throat and drags you to the question: is there a link between Boko Haram and Iran, aside from bin Laden?”

ML: “Just so, exactly what I thought. And then I find that the good Jacob Zenn at the West Point Combating Terrorism Center wrote a good deal about Iranian support for radical Islam in Africa.”

JJA: “And I can promise you that there are American intelligence officers who can connect an awful lot of Iranian dots in West Africa over the years. Iranian arms shipments have been seized, and here and there in the African press you can find former Boko Haram members who talk quite openly about their colleagues being trained in Afghanistan, and even in iran itself. This guy, for example.”

ML: “Yeah, I saw that. But I couldn’t tell how reliable the story was.”

JJA: “There’s quite a bit of it, once you start digging. And of course there’s all that stuff about the al Qaeda-Iran cooperation, mostly written by Tom Joscelyn and Bill Roggio in that wonderful Long War Journal.

ML: “I’ve got some sympathy for the analysts and reporters who get baffled by the AQ-Iran connection. I mean, how can you explain the apparent fact that there are AQ groups fighting each other in Syria, and there’s evidence that Iran is supporting them all?”

JJA: “But we know they did the same thing in Iraq! (He was getting worked up, and started coughing. Are there Camel cigarettes where he is?). They supported both Sunnis and Shi’ites, and both sides of some tribal conflicts as well. They desperately wanted civil war, figuring they would benefit from all the killing.”

ML: “Also, it gives them some degree of control, I suppose, whoever wins in the end…”

JJA: “Well, in Syria they want Assad to win, no question about that. Africa is more like Iraq, the Iranians support radical jihadis whoever they are, Boko Haram included…so, as in Syria as in Iraq and Afghanistan, if you want to win, you’re going to have to come to grips with Iran.”

ML: “Good luck with that one! Obama just wants a deal with Iran, he doesn’t want to challenge the regime in Tehran.”

JJA: “Sure, everybody has that figured out by now. But they always omit another of those non-secret secrets, the one you mentioned at the beginning. The hostages.”

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The Chinese and the Jews

May 6th, 2014 - 8:13 pm

Over the past couple of decades the Chinese have become more interested in the Jews.  Of late the Chinese regime has been bringing Jewish scholars and theologians to the People’s Republic to discuss Torah, Talmud, Mishnah and even some of the more mystical tracts.

Why?

It’s no surprise that China-Israel trade is increasing, nor that the China-Israel relationship has grown and deepened.  Israel may well be the most dynamic country in the world, bursting at the seams with high-tech startups, dazzling inventions–especially in military and medical technologies–and highly educated and talented people.

But I’m not talking about Israel here.  This is about the Chinese fascination with the Jews and Judaism, the religion and the People of the Book.

I’ve got a theory.  It’s based on some real history, some anecdotes from participants in those ongoing conversations, and my own views of how the Chinese think about the world.  Some of it will likely turn out to be fanciful, but it’s an important subject and it behooves us to ponder it.  David Goldman has done some first-class pondering already, as is his wont, and I’m hoping to add some context.

Back when the country’s greatest modern man, Deng Xiaoping, converted the PRC economy to capitalism, Chinese “social scientists” went to work trying to figure out what makes capitalists tick.  They were quickly baffled.  They kept running into problems; that “knack” we’ve got somehow eluded their new system.  After a while, they figured out that the capitalists’ success couldn’t be entirely explained by the nuts and bolts of the marketplace, or by institutions like private property, important though they were.  Yes, it would have been easier just to read Michael Novak’s magnum opus, but they got to his end place:  religion is an essential part of successful capitalism.

In their amazing way of organizing most anything, the Chinese launched churches, and of course millions upon millions of them attended Christian (mostly Catholic) services.  To be sure, the Party kept a suspicious eye wide open, and some of the churches were deemed too dangerous, even in the cause of Communism.  But on they went, convinced they were on the right path.  If anyone doubted it, they had mountains of research and even Tocqueville to justify the turn to religion.

After a couple of decades of this, there were still problems, and their social scientists took another look.  This time around, they found–surprise!–lots of Jews involved in capitalist enterprises, from banks to stock exchanges to corporations.  Indeed, the Jews had a history of doing it.  Maybe the Jews knew something the others didn’t?  Well, look at Israel…or New York…

And so they’re talking to Jews, not about capitalism but about Judaism.  State radio now broadcasts in Hebrew.  The Jewish experts who are brought to China find themselves speaking Hebrew with their Chinese interlocutors.  Chinese students can now learn Hebrew, and immerse themselves in Jewish studies (maybe they’ll give Ayaan Hirsi Ali an honorary degree sometime soon?).

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Our Enemies’ Hollow Castles

May 4th, 2014 - 2:52 pm

We know that our side is doing poorly.  What about the bad guys?  Before we inscribe the likes of Khamenei, Putin, and Maduro in the lists of world-historical figures, and throw up our (outstretched) hands in despair, let’s look at them with the jaundiced sneer they deserve.

Venezuela’s the easiest:  sustained anti-regime demonstrations have been running for more than three months, and seem unlikely to stop soon.  Staples are in short supply, rationing cards are in the mail, inflation is at 40% and surging, gas stations are closed because there’s no gas, and despite the usual brutality of state repression (widely blamed on Cuban “advisers” which recalls the role played by Russian and Iranian “advisers” in Syria), the demonstrators keep showing up.  Few analysts think Maduro is likely to fall soon, but then again few expected the fall of the Ukrainian regime when challenged by the Maidan protesters.

Whatever your own crystal ball foretells, the regime is wobbly, the society is deeply riven, the opposition seems well organized and well led, and Maduro is certainly not in a position to play an effective role in the global anti-American alliance that stretches from Pyongyang to Managua and Havana by way of Moscow and Tehran.  Venezuela’s crisis significantly weakens our enemies.

Iran is at once the most difficult to see plain, and the clearest case of regime failure.  Ben Weinthal recently asked rhetorically whether there is a rising wave of political protest in Iran.  He pointed out that a considerable number of Iranians were cutting their hair–even shaving their heads–to protest the savaging of political prisoners in Evin Prison’s infamous horror chambers.  Ben’s story struck a harshly dissonant international chord in the face of the extended chorus of praise that has serenaded Rouhani ever since his election last June.

Rouhani is a replay of the last Iranian “reformist” president, Mohammad Khatami, who failed miserably to reform anything, and whose only popular success was with Western dreamers in the political and academic clouds.  Having lived through that phony reform, the Iranian people have little inclination to be gulled by the latest version, especially as they see the emptiness of Rouhani’s promises every day.  Nothing good is happening for them.  You may have heard that the Iranian economy is “improving,” but you’d have a hard time convincing the Iranian equivalent of Joe Sixpack of that.  Things are getting tougher for them–as in Venezuela, gas stations are closed because there is no gas–and the regime isn’t helping.  The government–that’s Rouhani et. al.–is eliminating the energy subsidies that keep millions of the poor afloat.

This is only one of many signs of the political and economic ruin of the regime.  Most of the major banks are broke, as is–officially–the National Iranian Oil Company, and most all of any increase in income resulting from the collapse of the sanctions policy goes not to social needs or even to productive enterprise, but to the corrupt ruling class.  And the mullahs are destroying the country itself, from the smog that chokes Tehran (Iran has four of the ten most pulluted cities in the world) to the destruction of Lake Urmia (in a replay of what the Soviets did to Lake Baikal).  Listen to the assessment of a reformist a few months back:

As a governing system, the government and executive branch of the Islamic republic, has lost its ability to carry out the normal duties of a government….The signs of dysfunction in the administrative, financial and economic organizations are evident despite all the imposed regime filters and in the absence of honest independent news agencies not only in the contradictory and confrontational policies and decisions of officials and senior administrators but also in the smallest administrative units of the country.

The wreckage of the Iranian state is not just the result of corruption and incompetence;  it also derives from the intense infighting within the elite.  Unconfirmed stories have appeared in the Iranian press reporting phone taps organized by the Revolutionary Guards Corps against members of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s inner circle, as well as against one another within the Guards.  There are documented fractures within the ranks of Hezbollah.  Assassinations continue apace, as in the case of Mojtaba Ahmadi, the head of the Cyber Army, in October.  The Iranian Embassy in Beirut was bombed in November by a terrorist group the Iranians had actually created.   And, in a telling blow to the regime’s ideology, Christianity is booming, and the regime is resorting to public meetings to warn the people about its dangers.

The regime does not seem to know how to cope with this crisis.  On the one hand, it increases repression.  The tempo of executions has famously increased since Rouhani’s election, and the recent brutality in Evin Prison–discussed by Ben Weinthal–shows that regime leaders are even afraid of prisoners.  For good reason:  last year many leading political prisoners refused to join the regime’s call for easing sanctions, despite torture and isolation.

It’s a hollow regime.  Its internal opponents hold it in contempt and do not fear it, and it is palpably failing.  Yet, as its unpopularity mounts, it calls for a doubling of the population.  Khamenei wants 150 million Iranians, and the state is working to get the numbers up:  free birth control assistance is being terminated (except for HIV-positives), and artificial insemination has been declared Islamically correct.

Does the supreme leader want more and more opponents of the regime?  Who knows?  Maybe it’s a desire for cannon fodder…

Which leaves us with Putin and his Russia.

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Blood Moons, Baptists, and Asteroids

April 20th, 2014 - 7:36 pm

Reverend Hagee thinks the blood moons are auguries, prefiguring the End Times.

“What is the prophetic significance (of the four blood moons)? Is this the end of the age?” Hagee asked his congregation during a sermon shortly after his book was released, Christian Today reports.

He cites Acts 2:19-20 as a sign: “And I will show wonders in Heaven above and signs in the Earth beneath, the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.”

In extensive remarks available online on his interpretation of the Blood Moons, Hagee says, “I believe that the heavens are God’s billboard, that He has been sending signals to planet Earth, and we just haven’t been picking them up.”

He adds: “God is literally screaming at the world: ‘I’m coming soon.’”

In case you missed the forecast, we’re going to have four blood moons in the next couple of years, appearing at six-month intervals.  They’re quite spectacular, altogether worthy as a scene-setter for the Divine arrival or return, depending on your messianic convictions.  I missed the first one–deluge here in D.C.–but I’ll try to catch the next three.

I’m not going to deconstruct the Book of Acts, but as a matter of theological principle I don’t see any reason the Almighty should not use the heavens to send messages or show his powers.  That’s happened before, from the Flood to the parting of the Red Sea and of course mannah. He unleashed total darkness on Pharaoh’s Egypt, and turned its water to blood, so a bloody moon as a message to mankind is plausible.

More to the point, Reverend Hagee is in good company when he looks to the heavens to understand the destiny of our world.  Tuesday evening (as Earth Day comes to a close), three former astronauts are going to hold a press conference in Seattle to announce the earth-shaking news that we now know that the earth has been hit many times by really big asteroids.

…our planet has experienced many more large-scale asteroid impacts over the past decade than previously thought… three to ten times more, in fact. A new visualization of data…shows that “the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a ‘city-killer’ sized asteroid is blind luck.”

Blind luck if you’re a secular scientist, that is.  Divine intervention if you’re inclined in that direction.  It’s a big deal.  The scientists have found “26 multi-kiloton explosions since 2001, all of which are due to asteroid impacts. It shows that asteroid impacts are NOT rare—but actually 3-10 times more common than we previously thought.”

This discovery is part of a pattern, as I’ll explain on the next page.

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Shutting down a speaker, or a professor, or a book with which you strongly disagree is nothing new. Indeed, if there’s anything really new about Brandeis’ disinvitation to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, it’s that they invited her at all, no matter how briefly.  I was amazed and (briefly) encouraged.  Could it be, I wondered, that Brandeis, of all universities, was offering an honorary degree to someone so totally out of step with multiculturalism?  So I tip my hat to those who pulled it off, it took real intellectual courage.  You can be sure that they’re in plenty of pain these days.  They are stuck in Waltham, while Ayaan is comfy down the road in Cambridge, surrounded by security guards ever attentive to the possibility that some day some one will attempt to carry out one of the many death threats she receives.

Of course they were rolled, and if the other honorees had any real integrity, they’d cancel.  If the school’s donors took freedom seriously, they’d cancel their contributions.  But the key to understanding Brandeis is that it has been this way for half a century.  Banning Ayaan is indeed the fulfillment of a famous call to censorship by one of the most famous leftist philosophers of the last century:  Herbert Marcuse, a Brandeis professor who in 1965 published a vigorous defense of ideological repression called “Repressive Tolerance.”  Here’s how he sums up the thrust of his essay:

The conclusion reached is that the realization of the objective of tolerance would call for intolerance toward prevailing policies, attitudes, opinions, and the extension of tolerance to policies, attitudes, and opinions which are outlawed or suppressed. In other words, today tolerance appears again as what it was in its origins, at the beginning of the modern period–a partisan goal, a subversive liberating notion and practice. Conversely, what is proclaimed and practiced as tolerance today, is in many of its most effective manifestations serving the cause of oppression.

Marcuse didn’t like American liberal bourgeois society, and he was infuriated by its popularity, which he blamed on a combination of bad education and powerful media (advertisements particularly alarmed him).  What to do?  He despaired of convincing a majority of Americans that we needed a communist revolution, so he called for censorship.  Just ban the ideas on which the country rested.

He neatly anticipated the anti-free speech campaign now waged against those who challenge the current orthodoxy, whether in science, politics, or entertainment.  If you can’t beat them, silence them:

The toleration of free discussion and the equal right of opposites was to define and clarify the different forms of dissent: their direction, content, prospect. But with the concentration of economic and political power and the integration of opposites in a society which uses technology as an instrument of domination, effective dissent is blocked where it could freely emerge; in the formation of opinion, in information and communication, in speech and assembly.

Ergo, in order to get “really free” thought, you must destroy free speech:  “the restoration of freedom of thought may necessitate new and rigid restrictions on teachings and practices in the educational institutions…”

It’s a seductive mantra.  Silencing one’s opponents has long appealed to those to whom skepticism is a four-letter word, and without skepticism, toleration has no meaning.

Marcuse was one of the great culture heroes of his time, and acquired quite a substantial following “Repressive Tolerance” was dedicated to his Brandeis students, and one of the most infamous of them–the Communist leader Angela Davis–did her best to translate it into practice.

The silencing of Ayaan carries on that old Brandeis tradition, and no doubt Herbert Marcuse is celebrating it as best he can.  He must have been horrified when she was invited in the first place.