Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Jeff Jacoby: Atheist's bleak alternative

The Boston Globe
December 13, 2006

FROM THE land that produced "A Christmas Carol" and Handel's "Messiah," more evidence that Christianity is fading in Western Europe: Nearly 99 percent of Christmas cards sold in Great Britain contain no religious message or imagery.

"Traditional pictures such as angels blowing trumpets over a stable, Jesus in his manger, the shepherds and three wise men following the star to Bethlehem are dying out," the Daily Mail reports. A review of some 5,500 Christmas cards turns up fewer than 70 that make any reference to the birth of Jesus. "Hundreds . . . avoided any image linked to Christmas at all" -- even those with no spiritual significance, such as Christmas trees or Santa Claus.

Presumably the greeting-card industry is only supplying what the market demands; if Christian belief and practice weren't vanishing from the British scene, Christian-themed cards wouldn't be, either. But some Britons, not all of them devout, are resisting the tide. Writing in the Telegraph, editor-at-large Jeff Randall -- who describes himself as "somewhere between an agnostic and a mild believer" -- announces that any Christmas card he receives that doesn't at least mention the word "Christmas" goes straight into the trash. "Jettisoning Christmas-less cards is my tiny, almost certainly futile, gesture against the dark forces of political correctness," he writes. "It's a swipe at those who would prefer to abolish Christmas altogether, in case it offends 'minorities.' Someone should tell them that, with only one in 15 Britons going to church on Sundays, Christians are a minority."

Meanwhile, the employment law firm Peninsula says that 75 percent of British companies have banned Christmas decorations for fear of being sued by someone who finds the holiday offensive. And it isn't only in December that this anti-Christian animus rears its head. British Airways triggered a furor when it ordered an employee to hide the tiny cross she wears around her neck. At the BBC, senior executives agreed that they would not air a program showing a Koran being thrown in the garbage -- but that the trashing of a Bible would be acceptable.

"It's extraordinary," remarks Randall. "In an increasingly godless age, there is a rising tide of hatred against those who adhere to biblical values." A "tyrannical minority" of intolerant secularists is openly contemptuous of traditional moral norms. "The teachings and guidance of old-fashioned Christianity offend them, so they seek to remove all traces of it from public life."

You don't have to be especially pious to find this atheist zealotry alarming. Nor do you have to live in Europe. Though religion remains important in American life, antireligious passion is surging here, too.

Examples abound: In two recent best sellers , Sam Harris heaps scorn on religious believers, whose faith he derides as "a few products of ancient ignorance and derangement." A study in the Journal of Religion and Society claims that belief in God correlates with higher rates of homicide, sexual promiscuity, and other social ills, and that when compared with relatively secular democracies, the churchgoing United States "is almost always the most dysfunctional."
Secular absolutists demand that schools and government venues be cleansed of any hint of religious expression -- be it a cross on the Los Angeles County seal, a courthouse display of the Ten Commandments, or the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

What is at stake in all this isn't just angels on Christmas cards. What society loses when it discards Judeo-Christian faith and belief in God is something far more difficult to replace: the value system most likely to promote ethical behavior and sustain a decent society. That isbecause without God, the difference between good and evil becomes purely subjective. What makes murder inherently wrong is not that it feels wrong,but that a transcendent Creator to whom we are answerable commands: "Thou shalt not murder." What makes kindness to others inherently right is not that human reason says so, but that God does: "Love thy neighbor as thyself; I am the Lord."

Obviously this doesn't mean that religious people are always good, or that religion itself cannot lead to cruelty. Nor does it mean that atheists cannot be beautiful, ethical human beings. Belief in God alone does not guarantee goodness. But belief tethered to clear ethical values -- Judeo-Christian monotheism -- is society's best bet for restraining our worst moral impulses and encouraging our best ones.

The atheist alternative is a world in which right and wrong are ultimately matters of opinion, and in which we are finally accountable to no one but ourselves. That is anything but a tiding of comfort and joy.

Jeff Jacoby's e-mail address is
© Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.

Scott P. Richert- Jihad in Rockford, IL: What the MSM Won't Tell You

December 09, 2006

The arraignment Friday December 8 of a Muslim convert on charges of planning an act of "violent jihad" at the largest mall (CherryVale Mall) in Rockford, Illinois, has left many people asking how such a thing could happen in this "middle-sized town in the middle of the Middle West."

They shouldn’t be so surprised.

For almost five years now, I’ve been writing about the presence of Islam here in the Heartland, most recently in the December issue of Chronicles. Yet even today, people want to believe that the Islamic threat is entirely external. After all, President Bush and supporters of the war in Iraq have told us that "We’re fighting them over there so that we don’t have to fight them over here."

Apparently, someone forgot to explain that to Derrick Shareef.

This 22-year-old black man converted seven years ago to the Nation of Islam. Over 24 hours after the first news reports, his race and the black Muslim connection are still missing from national news reports, though I had reported them on Chronicles’ website by 3 P.M. Friday. According to the Chicago Daily Herald (which picked up this angle several hours later), Shareef’s father and several of his father’s relatives are also members of the Nation of Islam.

It would be a mistake, however, to view this as an isolated incident, unrelated to "mainstream Islam," the "religion of peace." From the details federal prosecutors have released, it appears that Shareef, like an increasing number of black Muslim converts, has embraced a more traditional version of Islam than that typically associated with Louis Farrakhan’s organization—in dress (robes rather than suits), in physical appearance (Shareef has a long, flowing Arab Muslim beard, in contrast to the generally clean-shaven members of the Nation of Islam), in language (the federal affidavit entered at his arraignment includes numerous conversations in which Shareef speaks freely in Arabic Muslim terms—Umma, Kafirs, masjid, Jumma, mujahideen, And his mother told the Chicago Sun-Times today that he considered himself a Sunni Muslim.).

At one point, Shareef discussed attacking a synagogue "down the block" from a masjid (mosque) in DeKalb, where he seems to indicate that he has worshipped. The only mosque fitting that description is the Islamic Society of Northern Illinois University Mosque, which is not affiliated with the Nation of Islam.

Why is this important? Because we’re being assured that Shareef "acted alone"; that he had no contact with a "broader group"; that any threat to Rockford-area shoppers this Advent season ended with his arrest.

The first of those three claims seems technically true; but in a broader sense, it and the other two claims are meaningless. When a suicide bomber blows up a café in Israel, do we place him in a different category depending on whether he acted alone or had some contact with a broader group? Does the Israeli government tell café-goers to relax, because any threat to them perished along with the bomber?

Of course not. Yet Americans—from the man in the street on up to President Bush—insist on seeing Islam in America as somehow less dangerous to us than Islam in the Middle East. But they may have it precisely backward. Shareef’s "weapons of mass destruction" were four hand grenades—but they could have caused far more deaths and wreaked more havoc than Saddam’s nonexistent ones. And while Shareef had no contact with Al Qaeda, his vision of Islam (unlike Saddam’s) is shared with Osama bin Laden. In the end, that could have been enough to destroy the lives of several dozen Rockfordians and their families.

How many other Muslims like Shareef are there in America? It’s impossible to know, and that very fact highlights the failure of U.S. immigration policy. Some percentage of Muslims—foreign-born, as well as native-born; "cradle Muslims" as well as converts—share Shareef’s willingness to fight "violent jihad." Generally, however, they don’t go around advertising it. That’s why the only sensible policy today, as Chronicles’ foreign-affairs editor Srdja Trifkovic has argued, is to treat adherence to Islam as grounds for an automatic denial of entry to the United States.

Otherwise, we’ll always have doubts. In February 2002, Chronicles’ associate editor Aaron Wolf and I spent an entire day at the local Muslim school and mosque here in Rockford. We didn’t know what to expect going in; after all, the local media and the Chicago Tribune had all portrayed the mosque and school as "moderate" and run stories on how the backlash from September 11 had affected them.

And much of our day was no different from that at a good parochial school.[Through A Glass Darkly, Chronicles, April 2002]

Some of it was different, however, such as when a group of students, ages six to ten, began singing us a Muslim rap that they had learned for a recent talent show held at the mosque:

Give me, ya-Allah, Give me Iman and victory.
Give me, ya-Allah, give me strength to set us free,
As we struggle on your path,Mujahideen
Grant us, ya-Allah, the eyes to see your light,

And show us, ya-Allah, what is wrong and what is right
As we walk along your path, Siratul Mustaqeem . . .

Help us, ya-Allah, to spread this blessed deen
And help us, ya-Allah, help the Muslimeen
And help us, ya-Allah, overcome the Mushrikeen . . .

Make us, ya-Allah, fighters for your deen,
And make us, ya-Allah forever Mumineen
And do this, ya-Allah, despite the kafireen . . .

Or when we found, on the walls of the library where the children sang us this song, videotapes from the Islamic Propagation Centre International, founded by Muslim scholar Ahmed Deedat and based in Durban, South Africa. On September 16, 2001, the Sunday Times of South Africa revealed that Deedat has received millions of dollars from Osama bin Laden’s family and has named his headquarters, bought with those donations, after the bin Ladens. [SA Activist's Bin Laden Ties, By Buddy Naidu]

The videotapes sported such titles as Should Salman Rushdie Die? (the text on the case makes viewing the tape unnecessary: "The Holy Qu’ran says that any such blasphemer should be killed or crucified, and his hands cut off") and Crucifixion or Cruci-FICTION? (Muslims believe that Christ not only did not rise from the dead but was not even crucified).

In that same library, we interviewed the principal of the school and the chairman of the board of directors, who was also the assistant director of neonatology at Swedish-American Hospital in Rockford. The principal told us that "We don’t even deal with radical Islam, because we do not know what it is." Explaining his colleague’s statement, the chairman, who represented the mosque at an interfaith memorial service in Rockford for the victims of the September 11 attacks, used the image of a pendulum, which can "swing to the extremes and come back to the middle, but you are still within the boundaries" of Islam. Any discussion of radical Islam, he claimed, also depends on your perspective: "You can believe someone is a terrorist, and I don’t."

To prove his point, he cited the example of Osama bin Laden—five months after September 11.
Friday night, WIFR-TV in Rockford had me on for a five-minute segment on the ten o’clock news to discuss the Shareef case in light of the broader question of Islam in Rockford. As I explained my experiences at the mosque and school to Bryan Henry, the anchor, he replied, "But aren’t we talking about a select few extremists?" I pointed out that the local media have always treated the mosque and the school as representative of "moderate" Islam.

They still do: Right before my segment began, WIFR turned to Shpendim Nadzaku, the latest imam at the Rockford mosque. "Whoever this Derrick person is is out of his mind," Nadzaku claimed. "This is not what the Muslims that we know in Rockford are about, nor the teachings that they have, et cetera."

So there we have it: Osama bin Laden, good; Derrick Shareef, bad. I’ll leave it to the reader to puzzle out the logic.

September 11, 2001, should have brought about a change in American immigration policy toward Muslims. Instead, while we’re spending our blood and treasure fighting an unnecessary and unjust war in Iraq, we’re inviting Muslims into the United States as permanent legal residents at the greatest numbers ever in our history—nearly 96,000 in 2005 alone—apparently forgetting that every single one of the September 11 hijackers was here legally.

And I’ll wager now that, when the next terrorist attack occurs on American soil, we’ll find out that the perpetrators had already arrived—legally—before the end of 2006.

Or, like Derrick Shareef, they will be native-born converts to Islam—whose conversion was made easier by the growing Muslim presence in the United States.

Scott P. Richert [send him mail] is the executive editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture

Knight's Old-Fashioned Approach Works

Commentary: Despite critics, numbers bear out that Bobby Knight's old-fashioned approach works

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

By Ray McNulty
Scripps Howard News Services

Some time soon, possibly before the end of the year, Bob Knight will win his 880th game as a college basketball coach.

That's one more than the great Dean Smith. Four more than the legendary Adolph Rupp. Dozens more than the incomparable John Wooden (664) and Hank Iba (764) and everyone else who walked the sideline on the major-college level.

And for some -- his legion of critics, mostly, including too many of my media brethren -- that's a bad thing.

Because to them, Knight, despite his 877 victories, is a dinosaur whose demanding, no-nonsense, old-school ways belong in the past.

They say he's a bully because he refuses to settle for good enough from anyone, not just on the basketball court, not only from his players. They say he's a hypocrite because he preaches pride and discipline but, across the years, has embarrassed himself and his schools by failing to control his own temper. They say he's a jerk because he doesn't abide by the laws of political correctness, which have lowered our standards and expectations, bred a culture of intolerance and entitlement, and undermined the integrity of a once-great nation.

It's what they don't say about Knight, however, that is most telling.

They say nothing about his wonderful work with charities. They say nothing about his program, which has never run afoul of NCAA rules and has been successful far beyond the court. They say nothing about his players, who go to class and graduate, who learn to play the game better than they knew they could while also learning life lessons that make them better people, who never show up on the police blotter.

And, really, aren't those the characteristics that matter most?

Not only does Knight win -- 27 NCAA tournament appearances, five Final Fours, three national championships and one Olympic gold medal in a Hall of Fame career that began at Army, blossomed at Indiana and continues at Texas Tech -- but he wins the right way.

Yet, the media remains eager to pounce on every misstep, sometimes manufacturing controversy where none exists. Just last month, Knight was dragged through the media mud again, despite the young man involved saying it was nothing and his parents having no problem with the coach's actions.

That didn't stop the media from putting Knight back in the headlines -- for all the wrong reasons.

Determined to get a sulking player's attention during a late-game timeout, Knight reached out with his right hand and flipped up the sophomore's chin, ordering him to lift his head and look him in the eye. And this non-incident was deemed to be the news of the day by ESPN, which seized the opportunity to pull out those old video clips and dredge up Knight's tumultuous past.

Why? Because it was Knight, a polarizing sports figure whose get-tough tactics are now considered Neanderthal, even barbaric, in a soft society too concerned with self-esteem.

Which makes him an easy target.

Truth is, the fact that Knight is considered by many to be unfit to coach says more about us than it does about him.

Sure, Knight yells and cusses, pushes and pulls, occasionally allowing his temper to flare. He does whatever it takes to get your attention and get you to play better.

And so do many football coaches.

It's no surprise, then, that Knight counts George Patton and Vince Lombardi among the leaders he admires.

They were giants in their time, Patton on the battlefield, Lombardi on the football field. But they, too, would be considered dinosaurs if judged by current standards.

Patton probably couldn't survive in today's Army. Lombardi probably couldn't survive in today's NFL.

That's hard to accept.

Knight doesn't.

He still does things his way, the old-fashioned way, the only way he knows. He values hard work. He expects commitment. He builds character.

He still does what he thinks is right.

Not everyone can play for Knight, who coddles no one. He's too strict, too demanding, too harsh for too many of today's young athletes.

But not everyone has to: Knight doesn't draft you; his program is a volunteer army.

Nobody forces you to join the Marine Corps -- and Knight is the Marines of college basketball.
Besides, the players who choose to play for him know what they're getting into. In most cases, Knight's reputation is the reason they chose to play there. Those who aren't tough enough wash out. Those who make it are better men because of him.

It's no coincidence that so many of Knight's alumni rush to his defense, remaining as loyal to the man as he is to them.

Still, the critics are there, waiting for Knight to grab another player or throw another chair, saying his way doesn't work anymore. They say kids are different now, as if that's a good thing. They say the world has changed -- and that Knight must change with it.

But they know that's not going to happen.

And it shouldn't.

Yes, Knight is a flawed man. He has, at times, behaved boorishly. But the same raging fire that has gotten him in trouble also has put him on the verge of becoming the winningest coach in the long and storied history of big-time college basketball.

So I guess it comes down to this: Does the good outweigh the bad?

That's for each player and his parents to decide.

But if I had a son good enough to play Division I basketball, I'd have no problem with him wanting to play for Knight.

Then again, my father served under Patton in World War II.

Robert Spencer: Tony Blair Renounces Multiculturalism - Sort Of

Robert Spencer
December 13, 2006

British Prime Minister Tony Blair declared last Friday that “no distinctive culture or religion supercedes our duty to be part of an integrated United Kingdom.” He listed “respect for this country and its shared heritage,” along with “belief in democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, equal treatment for all,” as the things that “we hold in common” and give “us the right to call ourselves British.”

Philip Johnston, Home Affairs Editor of the Telegraph, termed this a “volte face” and noted that “just eight years ago” Blair “was a multiculturalist champion.” The prime minister’s speech, wrote Johnston, “was the culmination of a long Labour retreat from a cause it once enthusiastically embraced.” It was a retreat, he suggested, made necessary by the force of events: “In recent weeks, Jack Straw, Ruth Kelly, John Reid, and Gordon Brown have all played their part in a concerted revision of the Cabinet’s stand which began in earnest after the July 7 bombs in London last year.”

Blair himself, however, doesn’t seem to have intended his speech to be taken as a rejection of or retreat from multiculturalism. He explained: “It is not that we need to dispense with multicultural Britain. On the contrary we should continue celebrating it. But we need – in the face of the challenge to our values – to re-assert also the duty to integrate, to stress what we hold in common and to say: these are the shared boundaries within which we all are obliged to live, precisely in order to preserve our right to our own different faiths, races and creeds.” In line with this, he called for an adjustment in how multiculturalism was to be understood: “it is necessary to go back to what a multicultural Britain is all about. The whole point is that multicultural Britain was never supposed to be a celebration of division; but of diversity.” He rejected the separatism and relativism that would make for the Balkanization and atomization of British society and rule and law: “The purpose was to allow people to live harmoniously together, despite their difference; not to make their difference an encouragement to discord.”

Consequently, he called for grants “to promote integration”; an end to forced marriage (which the British failed to outlaw last summer); adherence by all groups to the rule of law (in other words, no Shari’a in Britain: Blair said, “Nobody can legitimately ask to stand outside the law of the nation. There is thus no question of the UK allowing the introduction of religious law in the UK”); restrictions on preachers coming from outside of Britain (which will do nothing, of course, about home-grown British jihadists such as the July 7 bombers); citizenship as part of the national curriculum (with “religious education in all community schools” that “should be broadly Christian in character but that it should include study of the other major religions”); “vigorous” enforcement of “legal requirements” for madrassas; an English requirement for permanent residency; and more.

As positive as all this is, it is rather astounding to realize that these measures, as mild as they are, have not been undertaken long ago, or that anyone would think them controversial. It is disappointing that Blair defines, at least in this speech, Britain’s national character almost exclusively in terms of the “tolerance” that “is part of what makes Britain, Britain.” He speaks in a somewhat confused manner about a placard that a Turkish protestor held aloft at a demonstration against the Pope’s recent visit there: “Jesus was a prophet but not the Son of God.” This placard, says Blair with evident admiration, occupied “an altogether higher plane of theology.” He added: “Most Christians are hugely surprised to be told that the Koran reveres Jesus as a prophet.” In this he demonstrated a complete lack of awareness of the fact that Islam’s reverence for Jesus as a prophet is a manifestation not of Islamic openness to Christianity, but of just the opposite: it is a manifestation of a supremacist theology that strips Christianity of all legitimacy and presents itself as the replacement and corrective of Christianity’s deification of Christ. In light of that, Blair would do better to speak not of “the rich Abrahamic heritage we share in common,” but of the necessity for Muslims in Britain to reject this supremacist doctrine, which because of the political character of Islam leads ineluctably to what Blair calls the “warped distortion of the faith of Islam” – that is, the Islam that believes it has a right and duty to impose Shari’a in Britain.

Blair, breaking new ground as the first non-Muslim Grand Mufti of Britain, affirmed that “of course the extremists that threaten violence are not true Muslims in the sense of being true to the proper teaching of Islam.” He did not, however, inform his audience where this “proper teaching of Islam” could be found, or call upon any of the mainstream Sunni schools of jurisprudence to repudiate the doctrine, which they all hold, that the Islamic community has the responsibility to wage war against the non-Muslim world in order to impose the rule of Islamic law. But Blair could not be expected to speak about this, even if he knew about it: discussion in Britain of the elements of Islam that give rise to violence and fanaticism have thus far been dismissed as “racism,” despite the patent fact that Islamic jihad supremacism is a religious and political ideology, and not a race at all. That’s why the end of Blair’s speech had an ominous tinge: “The right to be different. The duty to integrate. That is what being British means. And neither racists nor extremists should be allowed to destroy it.” Clearly by “extremists” he meant jihadists, but by “racists” it is likely that he meant the most vocal opponents of the creeping Islamization of Britain. After all, the Blair government attempted to pass an “incitement to religious hatred” bill that would have criminalized “abusive or insulting” behavior toward a particular religion. Certainly Islamic jihadists and their allies have characterized honest discussion of the violent elements of Islamic theology and tradition as abusive and insulting, truth notwithstanding; Blair’s bill would make deviations from his polite fictions about “the proper teaching of Islam,” no matter how careful, scholarly, and respectful, into criminal offenses.

As Johnston notes, however, the force of events has already compelled the Labour leadership to qualify its hitherto no-holds-barred support for multiculturalism, and has led Mr. Blair to affirm British values to the extent that he did on Friday. It is likely that this process is not over, and that reality will force new concessions from these leaders. As events rush on, they will increasingly see that Blair’s watery vision of mutual tolerance is not enough to ensure national self-preservation, and that multiculturalism must be discarded altogether in favor of a forthright and unapologetic assertion of British and Western civilization as something worth defending, and as something superior in numerous particulars to the alternative offered with increasing stridency by the Muslim immigrants in Britain. At that point, if it is not too late, it will be impossible to criminalize discussion of the violent elements of Islamic theology and tradition, for discussion of them will be an obvious national necessity, inextricable from the defense of the nation. If it is not too late, we may hope that Britain may then reemerge not just as a geographic location for anything at all and nothing in particular, but as a dynamic exponent of the Judeo-Christian civilization that has always been the focus of Islamic jihad efforts. And at that point it will be finally understood that the new defense against the jihad will be what truly gives British subjects the right of which Blair speaks: “the right to call ourselves British.”

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Robert Spencer is a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of
Jihad Watch. He is the author of six books, seven monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith and the New York Times Bestseller The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). His latest book is the New York Times Bestseller The Truth About Muhammad.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Dennis Prager: Capital Punishment - Another Argument For It
December 12, 2006

Over the years I have offered many arguments for capital punishment for murder:

1. It is a cosmic injustice to allow a murderer to keep his life.

2. Killing murderers is society's only way to teach how terrible murder is.

The only real way a society can express its revulsion at any criminal behavior is through the punishment it metes out. If murderers all got 10 years in prison and thieves all got 20 years in prison, that would be society's way of saying that thievery is worse than murder. A society that kills murderers is saying that murder is more heinous a crime than a society that keeps all its murderers alive.

3. It can, if widely enacted, deter some murders. Though I regard this as a less important argument than the first two, there is no doubt that it is true. Everyone acknowledges that punishments can deter all other crimes — why wouldn't capital punishment deter some murders? Is murder the only crime unaffected by punishment?

The great thinker Ernest van den Haag brilliantly made the case for execution as deterrence: Imagine if a state announced that murders committed Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays would be punishable by execution and murders committed the other days of the week would be punishable by imprisonment. Would murder rates remain the same as they are now on all the days of the week? I doubt it.

The most common objection opponents offer against capital punishment is that innocents may be executed.

My answer has always been that this is so rare (I do not know of a proved case of mistaken execution in America in the last 50 years) that society must be prepared to pay that terrible price. Why? Among other reasons, because more innocents will be killed by murderers who are not executed (in prison, or once released or if they escape) than will be killed by the state in erroneous executions.

So, yes, I acknowledge the possibility of an innocent being killed by the state because of a mistaken murder conviction. But we often have the tragedy of innocents dying because of a social policy. I support higher speed limits even when shown that they lead to more traffic fatalities. I support the right of people to drink alcohol even though the amount of violence directly emanating from alcohol consumption — from drunk drivers to spousal and child abuse — is so high.

And now I have an additional argument. Regarding murder, it is not only those of us who support capital punishment who support a policy that can lead to the killing of innocents. So do almost all those opposed to capital punishment. Nearly all opponents of capital punishment (and many supporters of capital punishment) believe that if the police obtained evidence illegally, the conviction of a murderer should be overturned.

Take this Illinois story.

In 1982, James Ealy was convicted of the strangulation murders of a family — including a mother and her two children. It took the jury just four hours to render the guilty verdict, and Ealy was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. However, his lawyers argued that the police had improperly obtained evidence, and an Illinois Appellate Court, whose justices acknowledged Ealy was guilty of the murders, vacated the ruling. But without that improperly obtained evidence, Ealy could not be retried successfully, and he was released from prison.

On Nov. 27, 2006, Ealy strangled to death Mary Hutchison, a 45-year-old manager of a Burger King in Lindenhurst, Ill.

That woman was killed because many Americans believe that it is better to let a murderer go free than to convict one with evidence improperly obtained.

Whether that position is right or wrong is not relevant here. What is relevant is this: The people who believe in this policy do so knowing that it will lead to the murder of innocent people like Mary Hutchison, just as I believe in capital punishment knowing that it might lead to the killing of an innocent person. So those who still wish to argue for keeping all murderers alive will need to argue something other than "an innocent may be killed." They already support a policy that ensures innocents will be killed.

JWR contributor Dennis Prager hosts a national daily radio show based in Los Angeles. He the author of, most recently,. Click here to comment on this column.

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Thomas Sowell: Supreme Farce

December 12, 2006
Thomas Sowell

It might be a hilarious comedy routine to have a group of highly educated judges solemnly expounding on something that everybody knows to be utter nonsense. But it isn't nearly as funny when this solemn discourse about nonsense takes place on the Supreme Court of the United States -- and when most people are unaware of what nonsense the learned justices are talking.

The issue before the High Court is whether local authorities have the legal right to make students' race a factor in deciding which school to assign them to attend.

The parent of a white student is complaining because he is not allowed to go to the school near where he lives but is instead being assigned to a different school far away, in order to create the kind of racial mix of students the local authorities are seeking, in the name of "diversity."

Those of us old enough to remember the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education will see a painful irony now, since that case began because a black girl was not allowed to go to a school near where she lived but was instead assigned to a different school far away, because of the prevailing racial dogmas of that day.

The racial dogmas have changed since 1954 but they are still dogmas. And flesh-and-blood children are still being sacrificed on the altar to those dogmas.

Some of the learned justices are pondering whether there is a "compelling" government interest in creating the educational and social benefits of racial "diversity." If so, then supposedly it is OK to do to white kids today what the Supreme Court back in 1954 said could not be done to black kids -- namely, assign children to schools according to their race.

What are those "compelling" benefits of "diversity"? They are as invisible as the proverbial emperor's new clothes. Yet everyone has to pretend to believe in those benefits, as they pretended to admire the naked emperor's wardrobe.

Not only is there no hard evidence that mixing and matching black and white kids in school produces either educational or social benefits, there have been a number of studies of all-black schools whose educational performances equal or exceed the national average, even though most black schools fall far below the average.

My own study of successful all-black schools was published 30 years ago in The Public Interest quarterly. Since then, there have been other studies of similar schools across the country, published by the Heritage Foundation in Washington and by scholars Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom, among others.

There have also been all-Chinese-American schools that exceeded national norms. How have such schools managed to succeed and excel without the "compelling" need for a racial mixing of students?

Look at it another way: Have black kids bussed into white schools had their test scores shoot up? No -- not even after decades of bussing.

Some black students -- in fact, whole schools of them -- have performed dramatically better than other black students and exceeded the norms in white schools.

Yet this phenomenon, which goes back as far as 1899 and included an all-black school within walking distance of the Supreme Court that declared such things impossible back in 1954, is totally ignored.

Are such things exceptional? Yes. But the mystical benefits of "diversity" are non-existent, however politically correct it is to proclaim such benefits.

Hard evidence shows that students of all races can succeed or fail in schools that are racially mixed or racially unmixed.

The latest variation on the theme of mixing and matching by race is that there needs to be a "critical mass" of black students in a given school or college, in order for them to perform up to standard.

Not only is there no hard evidence for this dogma, such hard evidence as there is points in the opposite direction. Bright black kids have benefitted from being in classes with other bright kids, regardless of the other kids' color.

All this is ignored in the Supreme Court's supreme farce.

Copyright 2006 Creators Syndicate

Monday, December 11, 2006

Book Review: 'Spoiled Rotten America' by Larry Miller

December 11, 2006 5:35 AM

Larry Miller Hurts Me
A look around his Spoiled Rotten America.
By Warren Bell

There is a certain kind of pain that writers get, and we can only get it from each other. Call it “Pen Envy” — that horrible feeling of complete admiration and loathing that comes immediately after the thought, “I wish I’d written that.” And if you want to compound that toxic stew of emotion, make the ache-inducing overachiever a friend. Grit your teeth, paint on a smile: “Yeah, that was good, nice job there.” Then count to five and expect some kind of return compliment, knowing full well you haven’t earned it. Ah, forget it, the next friend I make is a mechanic.

Actor, comedian, and writer Larry Miller first gave me a serious case of wished-I-dids a little over four years ago with an essay called “Whosoever Blesses Them.” Written for the website of that other conservative magazine (The Weekly Standard), Larry’s 2,000 words brought electron microscope focus (and more than a few laughs) to the subject of the Middle East. The piece was e-mailed around at something slightly higher than the speed of accuracy, and soon people were mistakenly attributing it to Dennis Miller. It’s a spectacular job, a high-wire act both politically and comedically. Larry describes seeing a Hamas representative and his attorney interviewed by Greta Van Susteren, and finds himself less bothered by the terrorist:

"Because if we’re only willing to absorb their own words—nevermind their demonic deeds—he and his brethren have a perfectly uncomplicated point of view and agenda, and their clarity should give us our own clarity, and wouldn’t that be refreshing? You want us dead? Well, now, isn’t that a funny coincidence. Guess what we want?"

Ouch. The italics on “we” in the last line, like a kidney punch. I might need some ice. And now I am a bit older, a bit achier, and I sure didn’t need this: Larry Miller has a whole book. Spoiled Rotten America: Outrages of Everyday Life is 17 chapters of his musings and rantings on life, parenthood, marriage, entertainment, and work. Especially work, but more of that in a minute.

Full disclosure: Larry Miller is my friend. He co-starred in a show I created called Life’s Work which didn’t make it past episode 18 of its first season. Which was too damn bad, because I loved working with Larry, and if it had been a huge hit, we would have been able to work together for seven or eight years, and I would have $60 million right now. (I might need a moment. Thanks.) Larry originally signed on to do the show because he liked my writing, and that compliment has always meant the world to me. Making Larry laugh is one of my great joys and a source of immense pride — in fact, I stood right next to him as he told Jerry Seinfeld that I was funny, and by golly I won’t bring that up less than a trillion times between now and the grave. We were on the phone recently, and I was teasing him about his technophobia. (Larry isn’t exactly Steve Jobs.) As he struggled to get the dot-com or dot-net thing right on my e-mail address, I said, “No, Grandpa, you dial the area code first, then the number.” He had to think for a few seconds, and then he laughed for about five minutes. Assuming he was sober, I took it as quite a tribute.

You probably know him already as an actor, and if you don’t, your kids do. Somehow Larry has become Evil Principal/Dean/Boss to a generation, and (this is a compliment) is well on his way to being kind of a sturdier Margaret Dumont for our era. But before acting, Larry made a lasting and significant mark as a stand-up comic. (Which has always struck me as a weird term — why should posture enter into it? Was stand-up to differentiate from sit-down? Who were the great sit-down comics?) Larry always describes his work as a comedian in the simplest, most beautiful terms: “I tell jokes,” he says. And if you’ve never heard his classic bit, “The Five Levels of Drinking,” reserve a few moments later today to enjoy it in its entirety.

Then a few years ago, Larry started writing for that conservative-magazine-that-shall-not-be-named. It’s not a surprising evolution, really — a lot of comics want to be profound. Steve Martin was a philosophy major. Woody Allen balanced the Early Funny Ones with the Later Unwatchable Ones. (For comic profundity, little beats the scene in Stardust Memories when the aliens tell Allen that the secret to life is “tell funnier jokes.”) Why, even a humble sitcom writer might someday dream of dabbling in politics for a conservative magazine website. (Of course, I refer here to Rob Long.)

But here’s the kicker: Larry Miller is profound. He possesses an ability to look deep within a thing, whether it’s the racial divide in America, or the surpassing greatness of Lou Costello, and bring forth a richness of understanding, a new way of seeing it, or maybe a surprising and funny and sweet observation. His book is packed with laugh-out-loud moments, but they surround a wonderful, refreshing take on life, a traditionalist’s view that dares to note (for instance) that men are given to wander, but shouldn’t, because if they’re married, they promised not to. In the midst of a several-chapter rumination on adultery and the male libido in general, he hits on the Unified Moral Theory:
“There’s no free lunch.”

Everything has a price, up front or later. That’s not cynical, it’s liberating, and a big step toward individual accountability, responsibility, and loyalty – which, if you think about it, is the whole point of the Ten Commandments to begin with. In fact, “There’s no free lunch” is a pretty good secular reduction of numbers 1 through 10 right there.

Another theme that runs through his book like coal through Pennsylvania is work. Larry has a work ethic that would put… well, coal miners to shame. Frankly, it puts me to shame every time I think about it. He keeps an office for writing, follows regular work habits, and puts in regular hours. You have to understand, most people in Hollywood didn’t come here for their love of sweat. We like the creative work, but we like it at our own pace. Until I have a deadline approaching, I can avoid work with the best of them. Not Larry. He tells a story in the book of doing some writing in his house early one Sunday morning. While his wife sleeps in, their kids take to driving golf balls into a newly painted living room wall. And Larry doesn’t notice. Because he’s working. But his attitude about work is never superior, he claims no higher moral ground for his efforts. He just loves it. It’s beautiful to behold, really, a man who loves his work for the pure joy of it, and Larry both embodies and celebrates that.

I suppose to keep this on the up-and-up, I better point out a few flaws in the book. Larry likes puns a good deal more than I do, and he goes on one or two Seussian rhyming jags, but that’s the price you pay for reading an author who will take a break mid-page to suggest that you join him in a cocktail, then resume, refreshed, a few moments later. Larry also puts a lot of chips down on the premise that any title with “The Quickening” after a colon is comic gold. It didn’t really tickle me the way it must have tickled him, but I can’t hold it against him, the way you can’t hold The Pompidou Centre against Paris. There’s so much to enjoy, and so few reasons to complain.

The amazing thing about Larry Miller’s career is that in his film work he frequently and easily plays the bad guy. It’s a stunning irony, as the only thing I can honestly say for sure about him, and what comes through loud and clear in Spoiled Rotten America, is that he wants nothing more than to be a good guy.

— Warren Bell is a veteran of 17 years of writing for television. He is currently executive producer of ABC’s According to Jim, which will return to the network in mid-season. He lives on a tiny lake just outside Los Angeles where he chases geese with his two sons on their mighty boat, the Proud Anselmo.

Milan's Beef About Skeletal Models

By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 8, 2006; Page C01

This week the trade organization that oversees the seasonal runway shows in Milan announced that it plans to develop a nationwide campaign to fight anorexia. The goal is to keep emaciated and unhealthy-looking models off the catwalks and out of fashion advertising campaigns. How precisely the Camera della Moda plans to do that has yet to be determined.

Earlier this year, officials in Madrid banned from the runways models whose body mass index (a measure of body fat) fell below 18. That announcement barely caused fashion insiders to blink because Madrid is not one of the international centers of fashion. In fact, when Didier Grumbach, the man in charge of Paris's fashion week, was asked about the Madrid ban, he suggested that it was unwieldy, misguided and an inappropriate infringement on the creativity of designers. And in some respects he was right. It is not possible to legislate body weight.

But it is significant when Milan notices that some models look as though they have not eaten in months, because the Italian city -- along with Paris, London and New York -- helps set the global fashion agenda and ultimately the social definition of beauty. With design houses such as Giorgio Armani, Prada, Versace and Gucci based there, Milan has the kind of clout that Madrid lacks.

One of the questions the industry must address is the influence it has over women and their body image. The deaths of two underweight South American models earlier this year, one from anorexia and the other from heart failure, caused a flurry of news stories that suggested a cause-and-effect relationship between fashion's obsession with thinness and anorexia. But anorexia is a thousand times more complicated than a desire to fit into runway samples.

Still, being pounded over the head with the belief that thin, thin, thin is beautiful can chip away at the fragile self-esteem of a young girl . . . and at the confidence and spirit of smart and accomplished women. Any industry that threatens the mental and physical health of its employees and customers needs to engage in thorough self-examination.

The fashion industry did not abruptly embrace skeletal models. These women have always been achingly thin. Remember Twiggy? (And for a time, male models looked as though they were feasting on nothing but cigarettes and air.) But the models have gotten thinner, and now they also look sad, vacant and unhealthy.

In the 1980s, curvy women with big personalities such as Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell dominated the runways. They were the "glamazons" noted for their sexy struts, their figures and their pizzazz. Then along came Kate Moss, the invasion of the waifs and fashion's strange fascination with heroin chic. A wan, homeless look dominated. (In hindsight, Moss looked practically plump next to some of the current runway stars.) The Brazilian models followed. They were led by Gisele Bundchen, who resurrected the industry's love affair with curves. While these models had a hint of hips, they made the stars of the '80s look plus-size.

Many of the models currently in vogue come from Eastern Europe. They are pale, almost to the point of translucent, and astonishingly thin. They look positively rickety. Seeing one in a swimsuit can make you shudder. They are not sexy or even particularly pretty. (How can they be when they look as though the life has been sucked out of them?) They're not making a pouty face for the cameras because they're feeling sexy. They look like they're pouting because they're hungry.

One model who has received a great deal of runway time recently is Vlada Roslyakova. When she first started appearing in shows of well-known designers, she stood out because of her awkward, robotic gait. She had a rigid posture and a tendency not to move her arms. Over the seasons, she has learned how to simultaneously move both her arms and her legs when she walks. But she remains alarmingly thin, without curves or affect. Yet she had no shortage of employment opportunities this past season.

The vigorous curves and assertive expression of Cindy Crawford in 1997.(Jeff Christensen - Reuters)Another emaciated model, Sasha Pivovarova, has been the star of Prada advertisements. She marches down the catwalk with her icy blue eyes staring wide and unblinking from their hollow sockets. If folks saw her looking like that on the street, they'd think she was delirious. They'd throw her a bagel and run the other way.

The designer Giorgio Armani has noted that he doesn't like these featherweight models. And in his spring 2007 show, his models were thin but not distracting. Armani wants to keep the attention focused on his clothes. (That's also one of the reasons he has always shied away from using star models.) Implied in his preference is an element of respect, not just for women but also for the human form.

Many of Milan's female designers use hyper-thin models. A whole phalanx of emaciated young women walked the runway for Miuccia Prada. Their size was especially noticeable because many wore microscopic tunics and bloomers. Their tiny legs, with kneecaps wider than thighs, were clearly visible. They made an appearance at Gucci, too, which is now under the direction of Frida Giannini. And they were sprinkled in at Versace, where Donatella Versace is in charge. These designers say women's power, confidence or intelligence inspire their work, and then they send bony zombies down the runway. How can this be?

For all the emphasis the fashion industry places on creative integrity and individual vision, an enormous part of the problem is that its members all too often can't shake off a junior high school mentality of wanting to be part of the popular crowd. All it takes is for one influential person -- designer, editor, model booker -- to pronounce a girl "major." Everyone wants to use the same in-demand models. Hot models lend status to modest shows and confirm the stature of big shows. Over a typical runway season, the same models appear so often on different runways that it is easy to become immune to how shockingly thin they are. After a while, it seems normal that a model's thighs are the same circumference as a 12-year-old's upper arm.

The industry did not make the leap directly from Naomi to Sasha. Waifs were the steppingstone. These are the post-waifs.
And if the industry does not think carefully about the current aesthetic, what comes next could be truly ghastly.

Nick Canepa: Memorable run for LT, Chargers

December 11, 2006

Qualcomm Stadium has become such a magical place, where only good can happen, you half expect to see Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy running for touchdowns. Instead, there's one Charger playing as if he just stepped out of a cartoon, tailback LaDainian Tomlinson, who spends more time in end zones than lawn does.

And yesterday, as everything continued to fall into place for the Chargers during the bewitching ride that has been their 2006 season, Tomlinson only added to the happiness. The moment to remember is LT being mobbed by his teammates and then carried off the field after he scored his third touchdown of the game and 29th of the season, setting an NFL record, as San Diego pounded Denver 48-20 and fans chanted “LT! LT! LT!”
It ranks as one the great snapshots in the stadium's 49-year history.

“I tell you what, it was an awesome moment,” quarterback Philip Rivers was saying. “I had the chills. ... I mean you really did. It was that special, looking around the stadium and at everybody in the stands. Not one person was sitting down.”

LT's a big part of the story, but it is a story with many parts.

Unbeaten at home this season and winners of seven straight games, the Chargers somehow can't help but have everything go their way. Their victory over the Broncos, coupled with Kansas City's loss to Baltimore, assured them the championship of the AFC West.

“So many special things happened to this team today,” Tomlinson said. “When we're old and can't play this game, those are moments we're going to remember. Being able to tell our kids, to tell our grandchildren, but not only me, the offensive line, our fullback Lorenzo (Neal), obviously the tight ends. We can talk about something special that we did. We made history today.”

Indianapolis lost to Jacksonville yesterday, so the Bolts now are in position to have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. It's a big deal, a warm-weather team staying home in January – especially when that place has become such an advantage.

“We knew what we were playing for today, and we took care of business,” said Rivers, who had a very good and efficient afternoon against a solid defense, throwing for 279 yards and two touchdowns to tight end Antonio Gates. “Everybody was talking about if this and if this and if this, then this, and we didn't get caught up in that. But obviously, we knew the situation, that Kansas City and Indianapolis lost before we kicked off. We control our own destiny.”

That they do. If they win their remaining three games – two of them at home – the Chargers automatically will draw a first-round playoff bye and have home-field advantage. But they're in the playoffs and not thinking that far ahead.

“You know, if we keep adding on to the record, that's great, but my main concern is really locking up home-field advantage,” Tomlinson said.

The Chargers are 11-2 and now have to be considered the NFL's best team. Their depth of talent was obvious when linebacker Shawne Merriman missed four games due to a suspension for steroids and the team won all four. Yesterday, the Chargers were without receivers Keenan McCardell and Malcom Floyd and still put up 48, the most points scored in a regular-season game on a Mike Shanahan-coached team.

Unlike Chargers of the past, this team can close. They have scored 163 points in fourth quarters alone – 20 in this one – more points than the Raiders and Buccaneers have scored their entire seasons. Their 425 points (32.7 per game) are 54 shy of the team record set in 1985. Four times they have scored more than 40.

And with the return of Merriman and defensive end Luis Castillo (ankle sprain), the threat of constant pressure is there. But the defense is not close to being as good as it can be.
“To become the team we want to become, we have to finish games out for 60 minutes,” said Merriman, who sacked Denver quarterback Jay Cutler late in the game, forcing a fumble and recovering it to set up LT's third touchdown of the day.

The Chargers were up on the Broncos 28-3 at halftime, but as has been their wont of late, they allowed a team to come back and make a game of it in the third quarter – thanks in large part to Antonio Cromartie's lost fumble on a kickoff return. The visitors closed to within 28-20 as the third quarter ended, but the hosts put up 20 points in the fourth, the icing being LT's record-breaker.

As Tomlinson said, the record's out of the way now – he's outscored the Raiders and Bucs by himself – so it's time for other business. The Chargers aren't done. But they are champions of the AFC West.

“It has a nice ring to it,” Merriman said. “You say it fast, you say it slow, it sounds good.
“Everything fell our way . . . 11-2 sounds great, but we've got to finish. We're not done. And we are going to finish this season out.”

In what better spot than the Second Happiest Place on Earth?

Nick Canepa: (619) 293-1397;

Jeff Jacoby: Oh, Brother

Monday, December 11, 2006
The Boston Globe

Big Brother has been busy.

New York City's board of health voted last week to ban the use of trans fats in restaurants, a step that will force many of the Big Apple's 26,000 eating establishments to radically alter the way they prepare food. The prohibition is being called a model for other cities, such as Chicago, where similar bans have been proposed.

Is it a good idea to avoid food made with trans fats? That depends on what you consider good. Trans fats are said to raise the risk of heart disease by increasing levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol. They also contribute to the appealing taste of many baked and fried foods, and provide an economical alternative to saturated fats. As with most things in life, trans fats carry both risks and benefits. Do the possible long-term health concerns outweigh the short-term pleasures? That's a question of values -- one that scientists and regulators aren't competent to answer.

Different people have different priorities. They make different choices about the fats in their diet, just as they make different choices about whether to drive a Toyota, drink their coffee black, or get a tattoo. In a free society, men and women decide such things for themselves. In New York, men and women are now a little less free. And since a loss of liberty anywhere is a threat to liberty everywhere, the rest of us are now a little less free as well.

But the slow erosion of freedom doesn't trouble the lifestyle bullies. They are quite sure that they have the right to dictate people's eating (and other) habits. "It's basically a slow form of poison," sniffs David Katz of the Yale Prevention Research Center. "I applaud New York City, and frankly, I think there should be a nationwide ban."

Yes, why go through the trouble of making your own decision about trans fats or anything else when officious bureaucrats are willing to make it for you? Liberty can be so messy. Who wouldn't rather have Big Brother prohibit something outright -- smoking in bars, say, or cycling without a helmet, or using marijuana, or gambling, or working a job for less than some "minimum" wage -- than be allowed the freedom to choose for oneself?

"A nationwide ban," says Katz wishfully. It’s an old temptation. New York’s interdiction on trans fats was adopted on December 5 -- 73 years to the day from the repeal of Prohibition, the mother of all "nationwide bans."

But Big Brother doesn't always appear as a hectoring nanny. Sometimes he comes disguised instead as a victim of the bullies.

Consider the plight of Scott Rodrigues, a Cape Cod man who lost his job with the Scotts lawn-care corporation when a drug test showed that he had violated a company rule against smoking at any time -- on or off the job. Scotts no longer hires tobacco users, since they drive up the cost of medical insurance, and Rodrigues, a former pack-a-day smoker, knew about the policy and was trying to kick his habit. He was down to about six cigarettes daily when he was fired.

Now he claims that Scotts violated his privacy and civil rights, and is suing his ex-employer in Superior Court.

"How employees want to lead their private lives is their own business," his lawyer told The Boston Globe. "Next they're going to say, 'you don't get enough exercise'. . . . I don't think anybody ought to be smoking cigarettes, but as long as it's legal, it's none of the employer's business as long as it doesn't impact the workplace."

It's hard not to feel a measure of sympathy for Rodrigues . Many activities endanger health and can drive up the cost of health insurance, from drag-racing to overeating to promiscuous sex. Yet none of those appear to be grounds for termination at Scotts. It seems capricious to treat only smokers so harshly.

But capricious or not, Scotts is entitled to condition its employment on any criteria it wishes. (With the significant exception of the "protected categories" -- race, religion, etc. -- itemized in civil rights statutes.) Rodrigues has not been cheated. No one forced him to take a job with an antismoking employer. Scotts is a private firm, and if it chooses not to employ smokers -- or skiers, or Socialists, or "Seinfeld" fans -- that choice should be legally unassailable. Rodrigues is free to vent his disappointment, of course. He can criticize Scotts publicly, even organize a boycott. (He can also go to work for one of Scotts' competitors.)

But forcing the company to defend itself against a groundless lawsuit goes too far. That is an abuse of governmental power -- an assault on the liberty of employers to operate freely in the market. It is a different kind of bullying than the ban on trans fats, but it's an act of bullying nonetheless.

The price of liberty, Thomas Jefferson warned, is eternal vigilance. But too few of us have been vigilant. And the bullies keep gaining ground.

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Mark Steyn: ISG must stand for, uh, Inane Strategy Guesswork

December 10, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times

Well, the ISG -- the Illustrious Seniors' Group -- has released its 79-point plan. How unprecedented is it? Well, it seems Iraq is to come under something called the "Iraq International Support Group." If only Neville Chamberlain had thought to propose a "support group" for Czechoslovakia, he might still be in office. Or guest-hosting for Oprah.

But, alas, such flashes of originality are few and far between in what's otherwise a testament to conventional wisdom. How conventional is the ISG's conventional wisdom? Try page 49:

"RECOMMENDATION 5: The Support Group should consist of Iraq and all the states bordering Iraq, including Iran and Syria . . ."

Er, OK. I suppose that's what you famously hardheaded "realists" mean by realism. But wait, we're not done yet. For this "Support Group," we need the extra-large function room. Aside from Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Kuwait, the ISG -- the Iraq Surrender Gran'pas -- want also to invite:

". . . the key regional states, including Egypt and the Gulf States . . ."

Er, OK. So it's basically an Arab League meeting. Not a "Support Group" I'd want to look for support from, but each to his own. But wait, Secretary Baker's still warming up:

". . . the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council . . ."

That would be America, Britain, France, Russia, China. A diverse quintet, representing many distinctive approaches to international affairs from stylish hauteur to polonium-210. Anybody else?

". . . the European Union . . ."

Hey, why not? It's not really multilateral unless there's a Belgian on board, right? Oh, and let's not forget:

". . . the Support Group should call on the participation of the United Nations Secretary-General in its work. The United Nations Secretary-General should designate a Special Envoy as his representative . . ."

Indeed. But it needs to be someone with real clout, like Benon Sevan, the former head of the Oil for Food Program, who recently, ah, stepped down; or Maurice Strong, the Under-Secretary-General for U.N. Reform and godfather of Kyoto, who for one reason or another is presently on a, shall we say, leave of absence; or Alexander Yakovlev, the senior procurement officer for U.N. peacekeeping, who also finds himself under indictment -- er, I mean under-employed. There's no end of top-class talent at the U.N., now that John Bolton's been expelled from its precincts.

So there you have it: an Iraq "Support Group" that brings together the Arab League, the European Union, Iran, Russia, China and the U.N. And with support like that who needs lack of support? It worked in Darfur, where the international community reached unanimous agreement on the urgent need to rent a zeppelin to fly over the beleaguered region trailing a big banner emblazoned "YOU'RE SCREWED." For Dar4.1, they can just divert it to Baghdad.

Oh, but lest you think there are no minimum admission criteria to James Baker's "Support Group," relax, it's a very restricted membership: Arabs, Persians, Chinese commies, French obstructionists, Russian assassination squads. But no Jews. Even though Israel is the only country to be required to make specific concessions -- return the Golan Heights, etc. Indeed, insofar as this document has any novelty value, it's in the Frankenstein-meets-the-Wolfman sense of a boffo convergence of hit franchises: a Vietnam bug-out, but with the Jews as the designated fall guys. Wow. That's what Hollywood would call "high concept."

Why would anyone -- even a short-sighted incompetent political fixer whose brilliant advice includes telling the first Bush that no one would care if he abandoned the "Read my lips" pledge -- why would even he think it a smart move to mortgage Iraq's future to anything as intractable as the Palestinian "right of return"? And, incidentally, how did that phrase -- "the right of return" -- get so carelessly inserted into a document signed by two former secretaries of state, two former senators, a former attorney general, Supreme Court judge, defense secretary, congressman, etc. These are by far the most prominent Americans ever to legitimize a concept whose very purpose is to render any Zionist entity impossible. I'm not one of those who assumes that just because much of James Baker's post-government career has been so lavishly endowed by the Saudis that he must necessarily be a wholly owned subsidiary of King Abdullah, but it's striking how this document frames all the issues within the pathologies of the enemy.

And that's before we get to Iran and Syria. So tough-minded and specific when it comes to the Israelis, Baker turns to mush when it comes to Assad assassinating his way through Lebanon's shrinking Christian community or Ahmadinejad and the mullahs painting the finish trim on the Iranian nukes. Syria, declare the Surrender Gran'pas, "should control its border with Iraq." Gee, who'dda thunk o' that other than these geniuses?

Actually, Syria doesn't need to "control its border with Iraq." Iraq needs to control its border with Syria. And, as long as the traffic's all one way (because Syria's been allowed to subvert Iraq with impunity for three years), that suits Assad just fine. The Surrender Gran'pas assert that Iran and Syria have "an interest in avoiding chaos in Iraq." This, to put it mildly, is news to the Iranians and Syrians, who have concluded that what's in their interest is much more chaos in Iraq. For a start, the Americans get blamed for it, which reduces America's influence in the broader Middle East, not least among Iran and Syria's opposition movements. Furthermore, the fact that they're known to be fomenting the chaos gives the mullahs, Assad and their proxies tremendous credibility in the rest of the Muslim world. James Baker has achieved the perfect reductio ad absurdum of diplomatic self-adulation: he's less rational than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

If they're lucky, this document will be tossed in the trash and these men and women will be the laughingstocks of posterity. But, if it's not shredded and we embark down this path, then the Baker group will be emblematic of something far worse. The "Support Group" is a "peace conference," and Baker wants Washington to sue for terms. No wonder Syria is already demanding concessions from America. Which is the superpower and which is the third-rate basket-case state? From the Middle Eastern and European press coverage of the Baker group, it's kinda hard to tell.

© Mark Steyn 2006