Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Archive for October, 2009

It’s a question of values

Posted by sanityinjection on October 8, 2009

Today’s complicated ethical dilemma comes to us from the Gaza Strip. Gaza, as readers will recall, is a poor and crowded area controlled by Palestinians. Its borders are tightly controlled by Israel and Egypt because the government of Gaza, run by terrorist group Hamas, sees nothing wrong with allowing missiles to be brought across those borders and fired at Israeli civilians. But I digress.

In the Gaza Strip is a small zoo called the Marah Land zoo. It offers Gaza’s children and families a chance to see some wildlife. However, the zoo can’t boast too many exotic animals, because the cost of having them smuggled across the closed border is exorbitant.

So when the zoo wanted to open a zebra exhibit, instead of paying $40,000 to acquire a real zebra, zoo officials used their ingenuity: They took two donkeys and painted them with black and white stripes. When the effect wasn’t very convincing, they replaced the black paint with women’s hair dye. The results were good enough to delight the children who visited the zoo and got a chance to see their first “zebra”. (Never mind that real zebras and donkeys differ significantly in many aspects other than their coloring.)

Now, if a zoo here in the US tried something like this, we wouldn’t hesitate to call it criminal fraud. In Gaza, though, nobody seems to mind, least of all the parents of the kids. After all, the zoo’s prices are very reasonable, and it’s not as if there is another zoo they can go to that offers a real zebra.

What this illustrates is a contrast in cultural values. In our culture, the deception is unacceptable, based on the assumption that the goal is to make money by duping people. For the Palestinians, the deception is OK, because it serves the practical goal of doing something to benefit the children of Gaza. But you have to wonder where they draw the line. Why not glue a horn to a horse’s head and call it a unicorn? That would delight the children, too, while giving them an equally false lesson in biology.  How do we suppose the children will feel if they find out that they were tricked in this way?

By the way, the article on this is almost as deceptive as the zoo itself. Reuters writes that “Gaza’s Palestinians are impoverished by their isolation under an Israeli embargo”. In fact, while the embargo certainly hurts, Gaza has been dirt-poor for a century or more, including periods when it was part of Israel, Egypt, the British mandate of Palestine, and the Ottoman Empire.

The article also fails to point out that the zoo’s owner, Mohammed Bargouthi, is one of the richest Palestinians in Gaza, having done very well for himself by stealing Western aid dollars when he was a cabinet minister in the Palestinian Authority. If anyone could afford a real zebra for the Gaza strip, it would be Bargouthi. But why do that when you can scam children and be viewed as a humanitarian into the bargain?

The same people who would dress a donkey up as a zebra would not hesitate to cheat in negotiating a peace deal with Israel if it advanced their goal of an independent Palestinian state. That is not to say that there are no honest Palestinians, just to point out that honesty as a constant virtue is simply not held in the same regard in the traditional Arab culture as it is in the West. On the contrary, if you can cheat your neighbor successfully, you are admired as clever, and would not be condemned as long as your neighbor didn’t suffer too badly.

While the Israelis have plenty to answer for on their side of things, including a failure to reign in religious zealots who insist on settling in the middle of hostile Palestinians, keep the lesson of the zebras in mind when you hear Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying that Israel lacks a “credible partner” in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Advertisements

Posted in Foreign Affairs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

LA Times gets it right on Second Amendment

Posted by sanityinjection on October 6, 2009

It’s always nice when a media outlet exceeds your expectations. So I was very pleased to read the Los Angeles Times’ editorial today on the Second Amendment case that the Supreme Court has decided to hear.

Briefly, the case focuses on the city of Chicago’s ban on private owenership of handguns. You may recall the Court recently struck down Washington D.C.’s gun ban, ruling that the Second Amendment definitively applies to individuals. In this case, the legal question is whether the state of Illinois (and by extension Chicago) must be bound by the federal Second Amendment in passing its laws. Technically, the amendments in the Bill of Rights only constrain the federal government; however, the Fourteenth Amendment has been taken to extend the protections of the Bill of Rights to state law in other cases.

I applaud the LA Times for recognizing the clear legal argument, and the potential danger to our freedoms if the court were to rule that the states need not be bound by the Bill of Rights. In doing so, the paper’s editors explicitly state that the goal (which they support) of controlling gun violence through legal restrictions on gun ownership and use cannot justify violating the logical interpretation of the Constitution. Or to put it much more simply: The end does not justify the means.

Newspaper editorial boards tend to be practical types unsympathetic to moral, legal, or technical arguments. The Times’ e-board in this case has displayed a wisdom and prudence unusual among its peers.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Pseudo-education?

Posted by sanityinjection on October 6, 2009

I commend to your attention today’s column by conservative commentator Thomas Sowell. Sowell, while brilliant and a fine writer, can be a bit of a crank sometimes, and this piece is no exception. He writes about his dismay in receiving a letter form a fifth-grader whose assignment was to ask a “famous person” how they would solve an important problem such as the economy:

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2009/10/06/a_letter_from_a_child_98592.html

Sowell’s main point is that the child’s teacher should be encouraging him to think for himself rather than looking to celebrities for received wisdom – and also choosing age-appropriate subject matter. After my recent post on the cult of intelligence, Sowell draws attention to the even more pervasive cult of celebrity:

Getting students used to looking to so-called “famous” people for answers is the antithesis of education as a preparation for making up one’s own mind as citizens of a democracy, rather than as followers of “leaders.”

Nearly two hundred years ago, the great economist David Ricardo said: “I wish that I may never think the smiles of the great and powerful a sufficient inducement to turn aside from the straight path of honesty and the convictions of my own mind.”

  Although I do take some hope in the fact that a fifth grader from Michigan actually knows who Sowell is.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , | 10 Comments »

The Left’s cult of intelligence

Posted by sanityinjection on October 1, 2009

I’ve been meaning to write about the high value bordering on worship that liberals place on the quality of intelligence for some time. Ironically, it was a recent London Times interview with virulent leftist and two-bit author/scriptwriter Gore Vidal that finally inspired me to do so.

Vidal, you see, is a perfect example of the phenonemon I’m talking about, both as subject and object. For the modern Left – and it makes no difference if you’re European or American – there is no higher virtue than that of intelligence. And more specifically, not the kind of savvy of a bootstrap millionaire or a populist preacher, but only of the bookish, intellectual, Ivy League variety. For the Left, people with this quality are the world’s elite. They, and only they, are qualified to lead.

Nowhere has this been more evident than in US presidential politics. The Democrats’ Mike Dukakis was seen as more intellectual and more intelligent than Republican George Bush Sr. Democrats Al Gore and John Kerry were similarly idolized by the Left for their alleged intelligence, while Republican Bush Jr. was widely insulted as “stupid”. The message was clear: Intelligence makes the best leaders.

At first this seems to make a certain amount of sense. Wouldn’t we all prefer a smart leader to a stupid one? But that’s not really the question. Would we prefer a  highly intelligent leader, whose other qualifications are scant, to one of average intelligence whose other qualifications are impressive? If so, we discount character, diligence, experience, courage and many other factors that most leaders throughout history have embodied. I would argue this was one of the dilemmas facing American voters in choosing between the highly intelligent but underqualified Barack Obama and the average intelligence but highly qualified John McCain. Granted, most voters did not cast their vote based on this criterion – but I would argue a majority of those on the Left, including my own family members, did so.

Back to Gore Vidal – The man is obviously intelligent and well educated. And he’s made a living out of it. We are supposed to give greater weight to his words, not because of his experience or wisdom, but because of qualifications he earned over 50 years ago. Meanwhile, his life has been one of economic privilege, sexual hedonism, and strident atheism.  For someone who has defiantly done exactly as he pleased and accepted no limitations on his own behavior, he delights in preaching to others.

And yet even Vidal, in his old age, seems to have become aware of the limits of intelligence alone. In the Times interview, Vidal speaks of his disappointment with President Obama: “He was the most intelligent person we’ve had in that position for a long time. But he’s inexperienced. He has a total inability to understand military matters….His problem is being over-educated.”

Keep in mind, Vidal was a supporter of Obama’s. He and his left-wing cohorts believed that Obama’s intelligence was exactly why he’d be the greatest President in recent memory. They certainly knew at the time that he was inexperienced, but that didn’t bother them. They were happy to be upgrading from “the stupidest man in the country, Mr. Bush.” Only now are they waking up to find that experience matters a lot more than they thought – something plenty of people of average intelligence could have told Vidal’s clique, if they had deigned to listen.

Vidal marries his worship of intelligence with an aggressive anti-Americanism: “Does anyone care what Americans think? They’re the worst-educated people in the First World. They don’t have any thoughts, they have emotional responses, which good advertisers know how to provoke.” America’s great successes must be a puzzlement to the brilliant Vidal.

But the true myopia lies in the fact that the Left is incapable of perceiving that the majority of Americans – or indeed people anywhere – do not share their all-encompassing worship of traditional intelligence. That’s why Dukakis and Gore and Kerry all lost, and why the Left remains baffled by the fact of it. They not only thought they were smarter than everyone else – they expected us to receive their commands like the word of God by virtue of their superior intelligence. Ronald Reagan was lampooned throughout his Presidency by the Left as an idiot -and yet today he is recognized around the world (and even by some of his more honest critics) as one of America’s greatest leaders. No one, including Reagan, would describe him as an intellectual genius. His academic career was undistinguished and his grasp of the minute details of public policy vague. But what Reagan did have was a visceral understanding of character and human nature along with a dedication to duty and a firm belief in American values. This allowed him to surround himself with highly competent advisors and assistants – many smarter than himself – who helped him to turn his vision for America, and indeed the world, into reality. Sitting across the table from foreign leaders, he could rely on staff to brief him on policy details, but his ability to accurately size up the men across the table could only come from himself.

Serendipitously, Roger Simon over at Politico seems to be groping at what I’ve expressed above, though he locates it more in the world of popular culture than politics. He misses the fact that this is a particularly liberal phenomenon, mainly because he is himself a liberal and is helplessly mired in the usual liberal misperception of their own ideas as universal. But Simon’s point is that intelligence does not imply virtue, and gives some good examples to the contrary.

Again, I am certainly not suggesting that intelligence is a bad thing. (That would be rather self-hating of me.) I am simply suggesting that to take this one good quality out of context and elevate it to the sole criterion on which to judge human potential and achievement – as the Left continually does – is pretty much insane. (Historians use the epithet “reductionist” to describe anyone who foolishly tries to explain human events by reducing everything to one overriding factor.) Let us admire and respect the intelligent, and learn from them when we can – but let us also ask if they are brave, perceptive, hardworking, wise, and trustworthy.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Let Rio have the Olympics

Posted by sanityinjection on October 1, 2009

As you surely know if you have been watching Obamavision, I mean television lately, President Obama is traveling to Copenhagen, Denmark to lobby on behalf of his home city of Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 Olympics. Chicago is one of four finalists for the games along with Madrid, Tokyo, and Rio de Janeiro.

The President has received some criticism (especially from the Right, natch) as to whether this is appropriate or represents the best possible use of his time, as both foreign and domestic priorities loom large. The best line was from conservative activist Grover Norquist, who quipped that he has no problem with Obama going to Denmark, but he’s a little concerned that he might try to come back 🙂

Putting this question aside, I’d like to make my own pitch to the International Olympic Committee, should any of its solons happen to be reading. I urge the IOC to support not Chicago’s bid, but Rio’s. Here’s why:

  • Spread the love: Both the US and Japan have hosted multiple Olympic Games. Spain had the Summer Games in Barcelona as recently as 1992. No Olympics have ever been held in South America.
  • Local support: Recent polls suggest that about half of Chicagoland residents would prefer not to have the Olympics in their city. Brazilians on the other hand are very excited about the prestige and attention the Olympics would bring to their city and country.
  • Atmosphere: Rio is internationally known as a friendly city and a place to party. Chicago, while a great city, isn’t known for either. Plus Rio has better beaches.
  • Economics: Chicago is a city with a healthy economic base. Hosting the Olympics will probably cost as much in disruptions and preparations as it will gain in business. Rio, while prosperous in some ways, has areas of shocking poverty and is far more in need of the boost the Olympics would bring, as is Brazil generally. Furthermore, while athletes from Europe, East Asia and North America can afford to attend the Olympics wherever they are held, there may well be athletes in South America for whom having the games on their continent will make the difference as to whether they can compete at all.

It’s not that I am against having the Olympics in the US, or in Chicago if the city truly wants them. However, it’s a virtual guarantee that there will be another Olympic in the US within the next few decades. Brazil has no such guarantees, and the money Rio has spent to prepare its pitch for the games is far dearer to them than to the multiple US cities that apply every single year.

As an American, I would vigorously advocate for something that was important for the future of my country. This is an athletic contest. Fun, yes. Admirable, yes. Critical, no. Let somebody else have a turn.

Posted in Current Events | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »