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It Would Be a Pity

If the right person were pressured out just because of the family she comes from.

I’m not sure that Caroline Kennedy has had a fair run from the media, although she certainly hasn’t been subjected to the kind of outright malice directed at Sarah Palin. I’m not suggesting she was the right person. Cuomo certainly has more experience. But there seems to have been an assumption that she considered herself entitled to the senate seat simply on the basis that she is a Kennedy, and had nothing else to offer. I can see no reason to believe that is so.

Banning What Wasn’t Being Done

Banning torture makes good headlines. But what is the point if it wasn’t being done anyway? It seems to me this is another case of trying to take the moral high ground, not by doing anything different or better, but by subtly suggesting that others were doing something bad that you needed to stop. My understanding is that for all the fuss about torture, water-boarding had only been used three times, and not at all since 2003.

Of course that still begs the question about when discomfort and embarrassment become torture, and under what circumstances making someone feel uncomfortable or embarrassed in order to obtain information might be acceptable. Comments welcome.

Inauguration Speech

Again, comments from friends that “I must have been moved by Obama’s speech.” Well, no. Not really. 

Apart from generic expressions of hope for the future, with about as much depth of thought as a placard I saw someone carrying that said “Our Future Starts Now,” there was nothing in the speech to suggest a well thought out programme for making the world, or even the US a better place. It was like listening to a series of readings from Helen Steiner Rice greeting cards.

But the crowd and media reaction! Pretty much like the response of the congregation in the last verse of this delightful poem by SJ Forrest:

He preached about the Trinity and how the world began;
Explained the Incarnation and the Destiny of Man.
He carefully expounded every detail of the Creeds,
And tried to show their relevance to modern human needs;
He brilliantly upheld the Christian heritage of Truth,
And sought to make it lucid and acceptable to youth.
They listened with correctitude, but everybody said,
‘He’s far too theological, and quite above our head.’

He gave an exposition of the Church’s means of Grace,
Revealing how the Sacraments revive a fallen race;
Of self-examination and the ways of Mental Prayer,
And why we need Communion, and how, and when, and where.
He spoke of Bible-reading, and to make it all complete,
Gave practical instruction on the value of Retreat.
And everyone agreed that it was logical enough,
But only suitable for those who like that kind of stuff.

He chose the Ten Commandments as the basis of a Course,
He amplified their meaning and emphasized their force;
He took the eight Beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount,
And spoke of Christian stewardship and rendering account.
He did his best to penetrate beneath their toughened skins
With pointed expositions of the Seven Deadly Sins.
They felt a little slighted to be led across this ground,
For morals in suburbia are basically sound.

One day, in disillusionment, believing no one cared,
He flung at them a homily completely unprepared,
Endeavouring his customary quarter-hour to fill,
With sentimental platitudes that meant precisely nil;
Returning to the vestry in the grip of horrid fears
That people would consider it insulting to their ears.
But no, they were enraptured and devoured every word:
‘Oh, Vicar, it was lovely! Quite the best we’ve ever heard !’

Obama Again

I’ve copped a bit of flack the last few days over my repeatedly expressed concerns about Obama’s abilities.

It’s not that I am sure he is incapable, it’s just that there is nothing in his life so far which suggests he is. He has a beautiful voice, he is handsome, he reads well from a teleprompter. But that’s it.

 “But he is a good man, and that’s what we need,” one friend said to me. Well, yes, we do need good men. That ought to be a necessary qualification. It ought not to be the only qualification.

But I’m not even sure it applies to Obama.

He appears to have had some very ill-chosen friends over a long period of time, friends like Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright, who have actively opposed what most people would think of as the “national ideals” (a phrase from his inauguration speech). You cannot be judged for your family, but you can be judged for your choice of friends. He appears to have done little or nothing to assist the poorer black members of his extended family. He repudiated his grandmother and her care for him in what was surely cynical political point scoring. He tolerated, if not actually approving (that’s harder to prove) the most appalling libels about Sarah Palin and her family during the election campaign. And his inauguration was speech was possibly the most ungracious ever made – certainly since Franklin Roosevelt similarly called for a restoration of American values. making it clear he believed these had been abandoned during the time of his predecessor Hoover.

In fact, for all his bumbling with the media, George Bush seems to me to embody far more of the qualities which have genuinely made the US great – genuine integrity and courage, generosity, and a willingness to do what he believes is right, even when those around him find the going too tough. I, at least, am grateful for Bush’s presidency, and what has been achieved in it.

I hope Obama will do well. I would like him succeed. But I am not hopeful.

But Why?

Instapundit links to a post by Walter Shapiro suggesting Barack Obama wrote himself into the presidents’ job.

His memoirs are an impressive piece of writing, and he has certainly done nothing else that would qualify him for the job – he’s never had a steady job (half a single term as a junior state senator doesn’t count – half because for most of the second part of his term he was campaigning for another job altogether). He has never run an organisation of any size – actually never run anything at all. So yes, Shapiro is probably right. Obama wrote himself into the job.

The only problem is, it is now almost certain his “memoirs” were not written by him, but by unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers. Here and here for more detail. So the truth of the matter is: Bill Ayers wrote Obama into the presidency.

Israel and Gaza

Israel is not blameless in its relationships with the Palestinian people. Palestinian homes, farms and businesses have been bulldozed to make way for Israeli settlers. Genuine and appalling atrocities have been committed against some Palestinians. People have been right to express concern about these things, and to urge Israel stop further occupation and settlement of Palestinian land, and to make space for an independent Palestinian state.

Over the last ten years, however, Israel has done exactly that. When it handed over the Gaza Strip in 2005, it left substantial infrastructure including schools and hospitals, greenhouses, tourist trade, and some of the best coastal real estate on the Mediterranean. What could have been a thriving and peaceful Palestinian state has been turned into a hell-hole by the genocidal leadership of Hamas.

Hamas’ charter specifically calls for the destruction of Israel.  These are direct quotes: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” “There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.” “After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying.”

The Hamas charter also quotes from one of the books of sayings or Hadith (Sahih Muslim, Book 40, Number 6985) as follows: ‘The Last Hour will not come unless the Muslims fight against the Jews and the Muslims kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: “Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him.”’

This is a publicly stated policy, not just of the destruction of Israel, but the of the slaughter of all Jews, everywhere – a world view were Jews are such a blot on creation that even nature is personified as co-operating  in their murder.

These are not just words. Despite promises of peaceful co-existence, rocket and mortar attacks on Israel continued unabated after the handover, and increased dramatically after Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. In 2008 some 1,750 rockets and 1,528 mortar shells were lobbed from Gaza into Southern Israel – an area the approximate size of Adelaide – landing in schools, shopping centres, homes, and kindergartens. The reason the death toll has not been higher is a combination of the incompetence of Hamas and the Israel’s effective early warning systems – calling people to get from shopping centres or homes into shelters in some cases with less than a minutes warning.

One cannot help but wonder why there has been virtually no media coverage of these constant attacks, and no protests or calls for Hamas to halt them and to keep to the peace agreement.Hamas’ recent use of longer range Iranian and Chinese missiles has put larger Israeli population centres and major infrastructure including nuclear power stations at risk. Musheir al-Masri, a Hamas spokesman in the Palestinian Legislative Council, said (Filastin al-‘An website, December 24) that the rockets which had been launched up till then were only the first message and threatened to extend the attacks beyond what had been carried out so far. He guaranteed that Israel would “be hit in a way it had never been before,” and that he was not afraid of Israeli threats. The population of the villages bordering on the Gaza Strip, as well as Sderot and Ashqelon, would not be secure “as long as Palestinians are not secure”.

Again, I cannot help but wonder what our response would be if a group which had sworn to destroy us utterly had fired a similar number of rockets and mortars into Adelaide, and how long it would have taken us to go from “Please stop” to “Stop now” to “Stop or we will make you stop” to finally doing something about it.

One of the arguments some commentators have made is that Israel has the right to defend itself, but that the response has been disproportionate. I’m not sure what ‘proportionate’ could possibly mean in these circumstances. It surely cannot mean tit for tat is OK. It would be worse if Israel did respond ‘proportionately’ by firing the  same number of rockets and mortars at random into Gaza. The only humane response is to take the minimum action necessary to prevent attacks continuing, while doing everything possible to save lives on both sides. This is exactly what Israel has done – giving up any advantage surprise might have given them to ring people in buildings they believe are being used for terrorist purposes to warn them to leave, dropping leaflets in Southern Gaza warning that the hundreds of tunnels used to smuggle weapons will be destroyed.

Like most people I was appalled by reports of deaths of children at a Gaza school which had been bombed. But I certainly do not trust the Adelaide Advertiser or the ABC to give me the full story. According to Israeli sources, the true story is this: There is a history of UN sponsored schools being used to store weapons and to launch attacks on Israel. See this Reuters article and this video.

As usual, the school was warned beforehand that children, staff and non-combatant personnel should be evacuated.  The majority of deaths came not from the Israeli attack but from secondary explosions of mortars and other weapons stored at or near the school. The bodies of two Hamas leaders and remaining munitions were found at the site.

For a different, and eye opening, perspective on this, this account by the mother of an Israeli soldier is worth reading.

The loss of life is tragic. The mismanagement of what could have been a viable Palestinian state by a bunch of murderous thugs is tragic.But the “darkest hour of the Palestinian people” may be coming to an end. If Israel can remove Hamas and its Iranian supplied weapons, and continues to supply food, fuel and medical aid to Palestine, and if the Palestinian people themselves reject the vile and violent leadership which has lead them to nothing but deprivation and ruin, there may still be hope for a real and lasting peace in the Middle east. This is not a far-fetched hope – at risk to their own safety, even some Gazans are now placing the blame for the current misery where it belongs.

Far from protesting Israel’s entirely reasonable and overdue defence of her own citizens while endeavouring to reduce loss of life in Gaza, the best thing we can do now if we are serious about peace and justice is to offer moral support to Israel, to assist in any action which will bring real hope and stable government to Palestine, and most of all, to pray for an end to hatred and violence.

What’s With the Serviette Under the Food?

In the category of other dumb ideas – why is the trend in cafes now to put the serviette under the food, coffee, whatever? This makes it completely useless for its intended purpose, which is to have a convenient way of wiping hands, mouth etc. For a serviette to be able to do its job, two things are required – that it be accessible and clean. So why put it under the food or drink where it is: 1) Often not easy to get out, and 2) Messy before you even use it? Please let’s go back to the simple and sensible idea of putting serviettes, napkins, whatever you want to call them, beside the food or drink. Thanks!

Of All the Dumb Ideas

The idea of using taxpayers’ money to bail out failing companies would have to be one of the worst.

Let me see if I’ve got this right. The government is going to take money from companies and people who get things right, who care for their assets, make sound management decisions, and thus provide a future for their clients, employees and shareholders, and give that money to people and companies who don’t.

And this is supposed to supposed to ensure greater employment and a sound financial future. It won’t. And it is a disincentive to future financial responsibility. How would any state, business or person be encouraged to be responsible when those who have been careful managers are punished with increased taxation, and those who have not are rewarded with hand-outs?

This is a plan which is monumentally and obviously self-destructive of future financial growth.

What Were You Thinking?

Before the US Presidential election I wrote a latter to the Editor of the New York Times as follows:

Dear Editor,

I note with interest your endorsement of Senator Obama for President.

Senator Obama is a very attractive man. He has a lovely voice. These are bonuses in a public figure, but they are not qualifications.

Character and policies are important. These are the factors on which a voting decision should be made. In both these factors there are differences between the two candidates.

But before these things are considered, before a candidate is even proposed, he or she must have shown the ability both to manage and to lead.

To manage is to use available resources effectively and efficiently to bring about a desired result.

Senator Obama has never managed a state or an organisation of any scale. He has never even run a corner store.

On what basis  could anyone believe him capable of managing the financial, personal and organisational complexities of the presidency?

To lead is to have  a vision which is shared with others by consistent example. To do this one must clear about one’s own beliefs, and stand for them unswervingly.

A leader cannot simply say, when asked to make a difference, “Present.” That may be an option in the Illinois Senate, It is not an option for the President.

Past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour.

Senator Obama has not shown any ability to manage. He has shown no ability to lead.

There is nothing in Senator Obama’s history to encourage confidence that he would make a wise, courageous and capable president.

Yours, etc

He has done nothing since the election to make me change my mind. 

As Joe Biden said “The presidency is not the place for on-the-job training.” 

America, what were you thinking?

What Matters

More than just kindness, whatever Jewel might say.

What matters are the things that make us human – our capacity for relationships, for creativity, for hope, and our capacity for rational and purposeful investigation of the world around us.

Baz Lurhmann in Moulin Rouge had it right with his catalogue of beauty, truth and love. But these make a difference in the world only if they are made active in practical thought and rational action.

Qohel is about politics, religion, art, history, about right and wrong, and about how making a difference means depends not just on wanting things to be better, but on working to make them better, and thinking about what works.