Friday, September 29, 2006

It's hard to identify the most disheartening thing about the current mess in Iraq: the tragic deaths and horrific injuries of thousands of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians, the vast cost of the war compared to the degree to which desired outcomes have been realized, or the utter refusal of those responsible to admit that the situation is worse than they claim.

Now we have a source that appears to confirm what everyone already knew: that the war in Iraq has made us less, rather than more safe. This is, of course, the leaked National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) titled Trends in Global Terrorism. You can read the declassified "Key Judgments" of the NIE at the website of the Director of National Intelligence at

There's a critical point to be made here.

After the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the howls of outrage from the press over the failures of our intelligence community were predictable. How could you morons possibly not have known this was coming? What's wrong with you? Why aren't you out there collecting intelligence to protect us?

Unfortunately, we have created a culture in this country in which the media automatically assumes that anything classified is classified for some malign reason: to cover up government malfeasance, to hide things that the American people have a right to know, etc, etc. The concept that there may be a legitimate reason to protect some secrets seems to be anathema to the media...unless, of course, the secret to be protected deals with how they collect and report their information. At this point, freedom of the press trumps any other moral or ethical considerations.

My personal opinion - not shared by many who will read these words, I'm sure - is that there are legitimate reasons for some information to be classified and protected. The catchall phrase "national security" doesn't explain those reasons to the American people, nor does the bland phrase "sources and methods." Here's the ground truth: "sources and methods" means that:

1. It's difficult to collect intelligence, because the people you're collecting against try very hard to keep you from collecting it.

2. When you find a good source of intelligence, it generally means that the people you're collecting against don't realize what you're doing. If they find out, they can take steps to keep you from collecting. This is what happens when classified information is leaked: the bad guys learn what we know, figure out how we learned it, and plug the leak...often by killing or imprisoning the person who gave us the information, or fixing the technical weakness that was exploited to collect it. And then the intelligence community has to start over, and wait for the next beating from the media.

It's time to be realistic. The key judgments of the NIE don't need to be classified. They only tell us what everyone with eyes, ears, and a brain already knew. The data on which those judgments were based may need to be classified, and I'm willing to give Mr Negroponte the benefit of the doubt.


Instead of worrying about whether the rest of the NIE ought to be released, worry about what the key judgments say - they are the end result of the analysis. Read the judgments, think about them, and then use your own analysis to inform your decisions in the upcoming elections.

Have a good day and a good weekend. More thoughts coming.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

In this blog, I frequently talk about the effect things we do today will have on my grandchildren. Just to make sure you know what I'm talking about, here is the first picture of my new grandson, Noah, born last Saturday. Of course he doesn't look much like a future president or doctor or astronaut...what he looks like is a middle linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Weighing in at 9 pounds, 13 ounces, he's a lot to love. But I can handle it.

Have a good day. More thoughts later.


Monday, September 25, 2006

There are millions of blogs out there. Many, if not most of them are not worth your time in reading; however, there are a few (I like to think that mine is one of them) which offer interesting information or thought provoking commentary.

Take a few minutes and check out the blog "It Is a Numeric Life" (available at It's run by a medical school librarian who has a fascination with statistics and numbers, and he always offers something interesting, noting that "Numbers simply make you feel better." Well, sometimes - numbers from the IRS or most of my other creditors don't make me feel any better, although I understand his point.

This past Saturday's post on "It Is a Numeric Life" reported the recent statistic that we have more TV sets than people. You can read the short article (and my comment, among others) at In short, it says that there are 2.73 TV sets and 2.55 people in the typical home, and that the average person watches 4 hours, 35 minutes of television each day.

I found this interesting when compared to my own life. Agnes and I have three television sets in our home: a huge, HD plasma monster hanging on the wall of the rec room, a TV-DVD-VCR combination in our bedroom, and a mid-sized flat panel set in the guest room. This gives us a ratio of 1.5 TV sets per person, slightly ahead of the statistical average of 1.07. What's interesting to me, though, is how little we actually watch those three TV sets. We watch very little broadcast, cable, or satellite television; we mostly use the TVs for watching DVD or VCR movies and dance instruction videos. I watch more "regular" TV than Agnes does, but it doesn't amount to more than a half-hour or so per week, generally in chunks of a few minutes while I'm changing clothes or folding wash, and is limited almost exclusively to CNN Headline News or the History Channel.

In spite of what our TV set-to-person ratio might lead you to believe, while at home we prefer reading and listening to music to watching the ol' tube. In that regard, I agree with one of my favorite philosophers, the great Groucho Marx, who once said, "I find television to be very educational. Every time someone turns it on, I go into the library and read a book."

Life's too short to spend it watching TV, except as a way to learn more about the world around you.

Have a good week. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

With the midterm elections coming, and the 2008 Presidential Sweepstakes starting up, it's time for us to be bombarded with the latest crop of useless and insulting print and video ads from the candidates. You know the ones I mean..."vote for me because my opponent secretly supports Osama bin Laden, and he's a devil-worshiping pedophile who kicks helpless puppies and kittens, and...", well, you get my drift. One of your best friends at times like these is the wonderful website ( run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. Unlike most politically-oriented websites, this one is resolutely non-partisan...they dissect Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, with equal vigor, carefully analyzing the content of political ads and researching the truth of claims and allegations made by all sides. I check this site regularly, and so should you...whether you are a die-hard Republican or a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, it's important to know the truth about the claims your respective parties are making...which invariably aren't as truthful and accurate as you probably think.

I stumbled on great piece related to these thoughts in this morning's Washington Post. Peter Carlson's article "They All Approve This Message" is a great satire on the idiocy of the modern political ad. You can find this article in the online edition of the Post at On reading it, I was reminded of the famous David Allen Coe song titled, "The Perfect Country Western Song," in which he sang that a real country-western song had to include mention of mama, or trains, or trucks, or prison, or getting drunk...therefore, the perfect country-western song would include the verse:

"Well, I was drunk the day my Mom got out of prison,
And I went to pick her up in the rain,
But before I could get to the station in my pickup truck,
She got runned over by a damned old train."

Well, I've drifted a bit from my main point, which is the same point I always make in this blog: don't let anyone do your thinking for you. Be skeptical. Challenge bald assertions by politicians who want your vote, then forget about you until the next election. You have a unique opportunity to shape the future of your country with your vote. Don't waste it on morons who appeal only to your fears and your base instincts. Use, read all sides of the arguments, and make an informed decision.

My grandchildren will live with the long-term results of the decisions we make today. Don't let them down.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, September 23, 2006

A happy post this morning!

Every once in a while I need to be reminded that, in a world full of violence and intolerance, there are things that can make us happy and give us hope for the future. One of these was last night's opportunity to spend some time enjoying an evening of ballroom dancing with my friends. The more important one, though, came this morning.

Shortly after 7:00, our daughter-in-law Tabitha called to let us know that our long-awaited new grandchild has finally arrived! Noah was born at about 5:15 this morning, weighed in at a hefty 9 pounds, 13 ounces, and measured 20.9 inches in length. We haven't seen the pictures yet, but Tabitha tells us that Noah has his sister Marcy's chubby cheeks and his brother Joe's bright and lively eyes.

If you've been following this blog long enough, you know that I think my grandchildren are the most wonderful gift a quickly-aging grandpa could have. There's nothing quite like looking at these beautiful children and knowing that a little piece of me will go on into a future whose shape we can only guess.

Which is, of course, why I am so concerned about the course of international relations and the spreading fungus of religious intolerance. We all want a better world for our children and grandchildren than we had, and that's why I will continue to speak unpleasant truths in this blog in the hope that enough people will read them, think, and be moved to action.

I love my grandchildren, and want the very best for them. Work with me to help make their future one of peace, tolerance, and prosperity.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, September 22, 2006

I'm sorry if I have to keep coming back to the issue of the Islamic reaction to Pope Benedict's speech, but I think it's a valuable thread because of what it demonstrates about the dangers of blind faith and extreme beliefs. The latest demonstration of the peaceful nature of Islam comes from Pakistan, where CNN reported yesterday that a group of about a thousand "clerics and religious scholars" said that "The Pope, and all infidels, should know that no Muslim, under any circumstances, can tolerate an insult to the Prophet(Muhammad)...If the West does not change its stance regarding Islam, it will face severe consequences."

Where I come from, that sounds like a threat, delivered by adherents of a religion that burns churches and murders members of other faiths as retaliation for doubting their peaceful nature.

The statement from Pakistan went on to say that "Jihad is waged to rid an area, state, or the world of oppression, violence, cruelty, and terrorism, and bring peace and relief to the people. History is full of incidents where Muslims waged jihad to provide relief to people of many faiths, especially Jews and Christians."

As I firmly believe - and have commented in earlier posts - there is danger in blind faith, no matter whether that faith is Islamic, Christian, Jewish, or anything else. I have often recommended two books for you to read and study, and I do so again: The End of Faith, by Sam Harris; and When Religion Becomes Evil, by Charles Kimball. Both offer profound insights into the dangers of, as Pope Benedict would say, faith without reason. Also worth reading is Bernard Lewis's 2003 essay, "I'm Right, You're Wrong, Go to Hell."

We, as the inheritors of a Western tradition of reason and religious tolerance, must clearly understand the dangers posed by fanatical and unreasoning religious (and political!) beliefs. And the worst part of all this is that the religious fanatic sees absolutely nothing wrong or inconsistent in his position - for his is the one true faith, and if we can't see it, we deserve only to die.

Religious fanatics - no matter what the religion they espouse - do not offer the kind of future in which I want my grandchildren to grow up. Or the kind of future in which I want to live.

Have a good day and a good weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

If you needed any proof of what a ridiculous buffoon Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, is, he offered it clearly yesterday in his address to the United Nations. In a speech notable for its utter lack of civility and common sense, he stood before the General Assembly and repeatedly called President Bush "the devil," commenting that the chamber "...still smells of sulfur today."

Regular readers of this blog know that I am no particular fan of President Bush, but he is the President of the United States, and as such deserving of a certain level of respect from fellow heads of state. Chavez has shown himself to be a common demagogue on the name-calling level of the worst Islamic radicals, unworthy of his position as the head of a great nation. He has made a complete fool of himself, and has served his nation poorly.

By contrast, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, another thorn in the political side of the United States, sounded almost statesmanlike in spite of the odious nature of his comments.

The United Nations, and the people of Iran and Venezuela, deserve better. Come to think of it, so do we.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

It's interesting to sit back and watch the reaction to Pope Benedict XVI's now-infamous speech about religion, violence, and reason continue to unfold. Many Muslims, still not seeming to have read the speech or understand the point the Pope was making, continue to prove the essential peacefulness and non-violence of their religion by rioting and burning the Pope in effigy, and the "Mujaheddin Shura Council," a loose group of Muslim extremists which includes al Qaeda in Iraq, has said in a web posting that "...We will break up the cross, spill the liquor, impose the head tax, then the only thing acceptable is a conversion (to Islam) or (death by) the sword."

There is, as of yet, no particular evidence that Benedict's remarks are making Muslims look closely at their religion and understand its relationship to the rest of the world. Instead, Muslims around the world remain hypersensitive to real or perceived insults...of the sort they routinely heap on Christians and Jews.

I'd like to think that this sad episode will lead to improved understanding among the world's great monotheistic religions, but it's unlikely to happen. The Muslim reaction to the Pope's remarks has proved his point that religion and reason must work together...and has clearly demonstrated what happens when they do not.

Unless this mess takes an unexpected turn in the next day or two, I think I've probably said all I can profitably say about it. More thoughts, on different topics, tomorrow.

Have a good day.


Monday, September 18, 2006

The Muslim reaction to the September 12 comments by the Pope in his speech at Regensburg continues about as you might suspect. CNN is reporting this morning that Muslims, outraged by the what they perceive as Benedict XVI's characterization of Islam as a fundamentally violent religion, are reacting with - surprise! - violence. A nun has been murdered in Somalia in an attack said to be related to the Pope's speech, while in the West Bank, five churches have been attacked with molotov cocktails, as has a sixth church in Gaza.

Now, I don't pretend to be the smartest fellow on the planet, but it occurs to me that if you wish to convince others that you are non-violent, burning down churches and murdering nuns is probably not the best way to make your point. And this doesn't even mention the savage butchery of Shi'a Muslims by Sunni Muslims, and vice versa, in Iraq. On the basis of the evidence, I believe any thinking person would find it difficult to accept characterization of Islam as a religion of peace.

When are Muslims going to wake up and understand that not everyone has chosen to worship God according to Islam?

When are Muslims going to speak out, clearly and decisively, against the violence and intolerance exhibited by many of their coreligionists, instead of rioting and thundering and demanding apologies over the least perception of insult...or even criticism...of their religion?

When will Muslims accept that Christians and Jews object to being referred to as "infidels," "apes," "pigs," or worse, every bit as much as Muslims object to any hint of criticism, however mild?

I believe the answer to the above questions is, "never," for several reasons (all of which I have addressed in earlier posts).

First, as I wrote in yesterday's post, Islam is the ultimate fundamentalist religion. Muslims believe that the Koran (in Arabic) is the absolute word of God, perfect in every detail, and that anyone who does not accept this is fit only to be a slave to right-thinking Muslims.

Second (actually, an outgrowth of the first), Islam does not recognize freedom of religious belief in the Western tradition. In Saudi Arabia, it is a crime to worship in any way other than Islam. Other Islamic countries may not be quite as intolerant, but in no such country are adherents of religions other than Islam permitted the full range of rights of worship granted to Muslims.

Third, there is no tradition of independent thought or critical thinking in Islam. I have yet to hear any Muslim seriously discussing the dichotomy in depicting Islam as a religion of peace at the same time that Muslim mobs burn churches over perceived insult, or murder each other over their differing interpretations of their religion.

And finally, unlike Christianity, Islam has no single supreme authority who can speak authoritatively to all Muslims. While Christians recognize the Pope as God's supreme representative on earth, understood to speak infallibly when discussing matters of faith and morals, Muslims have no such authority. The mullahs or imams who preach peace and tolerance are shouted down by those who advocate intolerance and violence, and there is no higher authority who can step in to enforce adherence to a common standard of appropriate religious behavior.

I'm not a theologian. I'm not even particularly religious in most senses understood in the current debate. But I believe it is important that people of good will and common sense agree that the worship of God - whatever "God" is understood to be - is more important than the form in which that worship is carried out. Unfortunately, people who believe absolutely that only one form of worship is correct or appropriate will be difficult, if not impossible, to convince to behave in a peaceful and mutually respectful manner toward adherents of other religions.

And that's a very dangerous pity.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, September 16, 2006

The hot issue in the news is - amazingly enough - "Muslim Rage." Can you imagine? The latest thing they are enraged about is a speech delivered by Pope Benedict XVI at Regensburg University in Germany this past week, in which he quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor's disparaging comments about the prophet Mohammed's spread of Islam by violence.

As you might suspect, the adherents of the peaceful religion which has given us literally thousands of suicide bombers in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, are enraged that someone would suggest that they are other than peace-loving. You may recall that these are the same people who rioted and burned embassies around the world over editorial cartoons which, in their view, insulted the prophet Mohammed.

It's hard to pick out the worst part of this ridiculous fiasco: whether it's millions of Muslims rioting over a portion of a speech none of them has ever read, or the spineless grovelling of news reporters who consistently fail to press the Muslims they interview for opinions beyond the tired old chestnuts that are always paraded by Muslim spokesmen blaming all the ills of the world on the West.

Here are a few points for you to consider:

First, read the Pope's speech and understand what he actually said. You can find the full text of the speech on the Vatican website at: The speech was to an academic audience at the University of Regensburg, and dealt with the relationship between faith and reason, and the importance of each to the other. While much of the speech consists of fairly dense philosophical argument, the meaning is clear: it is not a deliberate slap at Islam as a faith, but a call for a balance between faith and reason in the world, and his arguments were based on the philsophy of ancient Greece that has shaped much of Western thinking. The Pope said that violence is contrary to reason, and that "not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature." I doubt that any of the Muslim authorities who have screamed for apologies and thundered about the defamation of their faith have thought to consider what Benedict really's much easier just to spin up huge crowds of followers who have no tradition of independent thought and will shout whatever their imams tell them to.

Next, consider this: Muslims everywhere are in a towering rage over perceived insults to their religion. I would find this outrage much easier to accept were it not coming from the adherents of a religion which routinely depicts Christians and Jews as apes and pigs. Evidently, if you are a Muslim it's perfectly all right to heap the most vile and despicable insults on other faiths, but utterly wrong for the merest hint of criticism - much less insult - to be uttered against Islam.

Yesterday evening on CNN Headline News, the anchor interviewed Yahya Hendi, the Muslim Chaplain at Georgetown University and asked him to explain why Muslims were so enraged by the Pope's comments. Mr Hendi said, in essence, that Islam is a religion of peace and that the Pope's comments were a direct insult to that religion and its tradition of peace and understanding. The anchor then asked Mr Hendi how he would answer Americans who find it difficult to reconcile his depiction of Islam as a peaceful religion with the day to day reality of savage violence in Iraq (most of it inflicted by Muslims on other Muslims) and suicide bombers who are encouraged to kill Americans. Mr Hendi's response was typical: he didn't answer the question. Instead, he harped on the standard Muslim themes of evil Christians, the Crusades, the Inquisition, etc, etc, etc. His bottom line was, don't point fingers at Muslims, because Christians and Jews have red hands, too.

I was appalled by this drivel from an imam accredited to a major Catholic university, and even more appalled by the news anchor letting him get away with it unchallenged. The utter bankruptcy of Mr Hendi's words is easy to prove:

1. As I recall, the last Crusade took place somewhere around the year 1271...whereas Muslims are being urged to kill Americans today.

2. The Inquisition (and I believe he refers mainly to the Spanish Inquisition) was started in 1478 by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, and was finally abolished in 1834 by Queen Isabel II.

3. As for the accuracy of the depiction of Islam as a religion spread by violence, once might point to the Moorish invasion of the Iberian peninsula in the year 711 under the leader Tariq ibn Ziyad. Muslim domination of the area known as al Andalus (modern Andalusia) lasted from 711 until 1492, when the last Muslim ruler surrendered his possessions in Granada to Ferdinand and Isabella (yes, the same ones who founded the Spanish Inquisition). One might also consider the Muslim invasion of Europe defeated by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in October, 732.

I don't pretend to be a completely conversant historian, nor do I claim to be the final authority on anything I've written. But what I am is a stickler for the truth...and no one is holding the Muslim world to any standard of truth. We tend to cringe back, wringing our hands at perceived past injustices and letting loud, ill-educated crowds shout their hatred at us without calling them to account.

I like to think of myself as a realist. And the reality is that nothing we say will make the least impression on any deeply-believing Muslim. Muslims believe that they are the possessors of the final, revealed word of God, spoken directly from God's lips to Mohammed's ears in Arabic and absolutely true in every detail and syllable. To be fair, many ultra-fundamentalist Christians believe the same thing about the Bible. The difference is, though, that Christianity has moved away from the excesses of the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the bloodier parts of the Bible, while Islam not only has not had a similar transformation, but doesn't want to recognize that other religions have.

I believe the best we can do is ensure that Christians and Jews, and the Western world in general, stands up to the wildest excesses of the Islamic world in the hopes that we can someday see them understand that the glories of the seventh century are unlikely to be recreated in the twenty-first.

One final note: as I write these words, the CNN website is reporting that the Pope is "very upset" that he has offended Muslims. I can only hope that he does not offer a groveling apology for something that requires none. It is the Muslim world which offers the rest of humanity an apology...but we'll never get one. They know, after all, that they and only they have the final and revealed word of God on their side.

Have as good a day as you can. More thoughts tomorow.


Friday, September 15, 2006

There are lots of important topics that I need to address in this space, but I'm taking a break today to talk about something less important to most readers, but more important to me personally.

Today is the 24th anniversary of the day in 1982 when Agnes and I married in a civil ceremony in the Standesamt Zehlendorf in Berlin, Germany, accompanied by our friends Ken and Andrea and our daughter Yasmin. It was the second marriage for each of us - the triumph of hope over experience, as someone once said - but it's worked out marvelously well over the intervening years. I can truthfully say that I'm one of what seems to be a rare breed: a happily married man.

Nowadays, 24 years is quite a long time for a marriage to last. Each day I wake up marveling at how lucky I am to have found such a great lady...and how lucky I am that she hasn't strangled me in my sleep yet. I'm not the easiest person to live with, but Agnes does a marvelous job of putting up with all my quirks, both big and small. If it wouldn't have been for Agnes, I'd never have gotten into ballroom dancing and probably wouldn't have achieved whatever level of success in life I've attained. As she would probably say, behind every great man is a woman, pushing like hell. deep thoughts for today. Just a shake of the head in wonder at my good fortune in having found such a grand lady, and a happy look forward to the next 24 years. You should be so lucky.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, September 14, 2006

I was surprised, and a little bit outraged, at an article I read yesterday titled, "Test Nonlethal Weapons on U.S. Citizens, Official Says." The article quoted the Secretary of the Air Force, Michael Wynne, as stating that nonlethal weapons such as high-power microwave devices should be used on American citizens in crowd-control situations before they are used on the battlefield. The article quoted Mr Wynne as saying that using such weapons in domestic situations would make it easier to avoid questions in the international community over any possible safety concerns. "If we're not willing to use it here against our fellow citizens, then we should not be willing to use it in a wartime situation," he said.

With all due respect to Secretary Wynne, and with full understanding of what he's really trying to say, is there anyone out there besides me who thinks this is stupid?

I ask you: in which other country do the military forces invest millions in technologies designed not to kill? And is moral bankruptcy so widespread in the world that attempts to use weapons that don't kill people can be condemned? And consider the likely outcome in this country of doing what Mr Wynne has recommended: the first time anyone even considered using such a weapon on American citizens, the ACLU and every lawyer within a thousand miles would file a pile of lawsuits a mile high, accusing our government of using dangerous weapons on helpless people. The current wave of lawsuits about police use of Tasers is just a small example of what would likely happen.

Let's face it: those who are spring-loaded to think the worst of America will not be swayed by the fact that we've exhibited an unusual level of moral courage by testing weapons designed not to kill them on our own people.

All that said, I think Mr Wynne has a good idea. Unfortunately, in the goofy world of topsy-turvy morality in which we live, it'll never work.

Too bad.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Back on September 3rd in this space, I lamented how poorly we as a nation present ourselves and our values to skeptical - if not downright hostile - overseas audiences. I argued that our government did a very poor job of street-level diplomacy, and urged that we bring back the US Information Agency to do the work of presenting the American story.

Within the Department of State, there exists the position of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, currently occupied by Karen Hughes. This organization has taken the mantle of the old USIA, and runs an active program of public information, public diplomacy, and outreach to other countries, and you can learn more about it - as I did - by visiting its website at

It's impossible to overemphasize the importance of this organization at this time in our history. When America, despite all the good it does in the world, is the focus of such unreasoning hatred, we must do a better job of presenting our face to the world. We will never change the opinions of those Islamic radicals whose minds have been utterly poisoned by incompetent and intolerant religious leaders. But we must work on those people who can still be reached...who can still make up their own minds and understand that there is a larger and better world beyond the stark black-and-white images thundered in hate-filled Friday sermons.

Ms Hughes, more power to you. Good luck with one of the toughest and most thankless jobs in the US government. I can only hope that a president who has shown himself to be staggeringly incompetent at diplomacy will give you the resources and the support you need to save us from the mess he's gotten us into.

Read Ms Hughes' article titled, Where's the Outrage at, think about it, and forward it to others. It's one of the best of the many pieces of commentary that have appeared in connection with the fifth anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.

Have a good day. More thoughts in the coming days.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I had intended to use this post to talk about my ideas for improving America's public diplomacy, but you'll have to wait for that one - I'd like to talk about something else that came to mind during our visit to the Sugarloaf Craft Festival in Manassas, Virginia, last weekend.

I enjoy craft shows because I admire the skills many people have that I don't. One of the exhibitors was a lady from Moneta, Virginia, named Susan Loy, who does beautiful literary calligraphy - you can check out her work online at her website, Susan (a delightful lady to talk with!) takes biblical verses, poetry, and other literary works and turns them into marvelous pieces of calligraphic art. I tend to be a fairly emotional person, and I was literally moved to tears by some of her work, particularly the beautiful Bible passage from 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13 that begins, "Love is patient and kind..."

And that got me to thinking...

What are the equivalent verses on love of neighbor in the Koran? We tend to hear the most violent and intolerant parts of the Koran quoted by Muslim extremists, but are there also calls to love and understanding like one finds in the Bible? Yes, the Bible also has plenty of violence and intolerance in it, but over time, Christians have moved away from them and toward the essential message of love and tolerance.

I found an online English translation of the Koran (which, of course, Muslims will say is worthless because it isn't in Arabic), but haven't had the time to read through the over 6,000 verses in search of messages other than violence and hatred.

The Ten Commandments say, "Thou shalt not kill." They do not say, "Thou shalt not kill other Christians, but everyone else is okay." In the Muslim world, the tears shed for the victims of terrorism are shed only for Muslims. What does the Koran say?

What is the Koranic equivalent of the beautiful words about love of 1 Corinthians?

I'm really interested in this - ask a Muslim where the calls to brotherhood and understanding are to be found in the Koran, and let me know.

In the meantime, look up Susan Loy at the next Sugarloaf Crafts Festival (or on her website) and be prepared to be impressed by a very nice lady with some marvelous talent.

More thoughts later.


Sunday, September 03, 2006

Two posts ago, I began a discussion of how inept we as a nation are at presenting ourselves to the rest of the world. Every brain-dead jihadi with a videocamera and a PC is cranking out CDs and DVDs glorifying the murder of Americans, and morons like Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad spend hours ranting to their audiences that everything wrong with the world is the fault of America.

What, one might ask, is the US government doing about this?

I don't think it's inaccurate to say that our government does an abysmal job of presenting our face to the world. There appears to be no efficient and effective office in the State Department (or anywhere else in the government) that works around the clock to explain US values and policies in clear and understandable words to a skeptical world fed a continuous diet of anti-American venom. After all, Mr Bush himself is utterly unable to present a clear, consistent and convincing explanation of his decisions on Iraq to his own people, much less to the rest of the world.

In 1999, the government closed down the US Information Agency, the organization charged with "public diplomacy," or presenting information about the United States to the rest of the world. Many cynics, including those who have written about the USIA in Wikipedia (see the entry at believe "public diplomacy" to be nothing more than a kinder, gentler version of the politically-charged term "propaganda," but it's more than that - public diplomacy attempts to present a positive image of the United States to foreign audiences who have plenty of opportunities to hear the negative image presented without challenge. We are defaulting in the game of public relations...allowing our enemies to bombard the world with relentlessly negative stereotypes of our nation and to blame us for every real and perceived problem without challenge. I have never flinched from agreeing that we should admit our mistakes and move forward while trying to do better. But if we allow every would-be religious fanatic or political demagogue to increase his (or her) popularity and avoid censure for his (or her) policies by blaming everything on the evil machinations of the United States, we allow a blind and unreasoning hatred of America to develop unchallenged.

We must do better than this. We must, as a nation, realize that what the rest of the world hears and thinks and believes matters to us in our quiet suburban homes. We must stop reflexively allowing the political demagogues and religious fanatics to set the agenda and claim ownership of the media. The cost of doing so in dollars will be negligible compared to the cost of keeping our heads firmly buried in the sand.

Bring back the USIA and take the fight for hearts and minds to the rest of the world. Don't allow our feckless media to shout down attempts at positive public diplomacy. It's time to start acting like what America could be - the beacon of hope for a world in deep trouble.

Tomorrow, specific ideas for what to do. Until then, have a good day...and don't be afraid to stand up for the honor and dignity of your country.