Monday, July 31, 2006


Rodney Stark’s book, The Victory of Reason, describes how Christianity shaped western civilization and the world we live in today. Some of his ideas have been raised by other writers (for example, the medieval period was not a “dark” age), but he succinctly pulls together a thousand years of history to build his case that no other religion has been able to bring progress and freedom to individuals like Christianity has been able to do.

Some ideas:

Typical intellectual controversies among Jewish and Muslim religious thinkers involve whether some activity or innovation. . .is consistent with established law. Christian controversies typically are doctrinal, over matters such as the Holy Trinity or the perpetual virginity of Mary. (8)

Jesus wrote nothing, and from the very start the church fathers were forced to reason as to the implications of a collection of his remembered sayings. . . (9)

Real science arose only once: in Europe. China, Islam, India, and ancient Greece and Rome each had a highly developed alchemy. But only in Europe did alchemy develop into chemistry. (14)

Whitehead ended with the remark that the images of gods found in other religions, especially in Asia, are too impersonal or too irrational to have sustained science. (15)

Chinese intellectuals pursued “enlightenment,” not explanations. (18)

Plato’s focus was on the polis, not the citizen. (23)

. . .the Christian stress on individualism is “an eccentricity among cultures.” (24)

Medieval Christianity ended slavery which led to an economic and technological revolution that Greece and Rome were incapable of having because slavery in those societies retarded technological development. He makes the case that Christian theology was opposed to slavery unlike Islam where the founder, Mohammad, had slaves and sanctioned slavery.

Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic stressing that capitalism and the notion of hard work and frugality grew out of the Reformation ignores the rise of capitalism in late medieval Roman Catholic Italy. Christianity does not look down on work as many traditional societies do.

Despotic states discourage and even prevent progress. (37) Despotic states produce universal avarice. (71)

People actually lived better in the medieval period than in ancient Rome and Greece.

Money. . . lies dead [when] converted into vanities. (122)

“Indolent state churches” are destructive to a society. Latin America is his example.


The July 30th Dallas Morning News had an article “Humans today hardly resemble ancestors.” People today are taller and live longer than humans from the 1800s. It strikes me as hardly news.

The biggest surprise emerging from the new studies is that many chronic ailments such as heart disease, lung disease, and arthritis are occurring an average of 10 years to 25 years later than they used to. There is also less disability among older people today. . . . Bodies are simply not breaking down the way they did before. Even the human mind seems improved. The average IQ has been increasing for decades.

Improved medical care is only part of the explanation; studies suggest that the effects seem to have been set in motion by events early in life, even in the womb, that show up in middle and old age.

American men are nearly 3 inches taller than they were 100years ago and about 50 pounds heavier.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


It has been hard for me to comment on the Middle East situation for a number of reasons, but it has been fascinating and disturbing to see how things have unfolded. Let me make a number of random comments:

1. I believe the vaunted Israeli military and intelligence forces have shown some serious limitations dealing with both Hamas and Hezbollah. Hezbollah is much stronger than I think anyone expected. It became clear that Israel could not do this quickly several days ago. Naturally the longer it takes and the greater force Israel must use beyond southern Lebanon risks international reaction. Also it is very possible that we have not seen Hezbollah's complete arsenal. Israel is in an extremely vulnerable situation--from the news reports, I cannot tell if the average Israeli understands their vulnerability.

2. Bill O'Reilly had an interesting commentary tonight basically saying the West (and Americans) do not have the will to defeat terrorism. "Terrorists are not selfish, we are." Americans are pursuing "happiness and gratification." See the video clip I don't see the West, and maybe even Israel, having the same commitment to democracy as radical Islamicists have to their cause. We do enjoy the good life.

3. The UN has been ineffective. NATO involvement is an interesting possiblity. But other countries have been very reticient about offering troops to patrol the Lebanese-Israel border, although they have been critical of Israel in many instances. Either they see this as a "no-win" situation" or they do not want to face the potential cost(s). I don't see any world leader eagerly jumping into this situation--the possiblity for failure is much greater than the possibility for success.

4. The potential for a more serious crisis lies with Iran and Syria. One interesting item is that for the first time moderate countries in the Arab world are distancing themselves from radicals like Hezbollah and Iran. Obviously they do not want to appear pro-Israel, but they also have something to fear from Iran and the radical Islamicists. In fact, they may have more to fear from their Islamic brothers. If the crisis is resolved, I see the moderate Arab regimes as the critical linchpins in any settlement.

5. In watching CNN and FOXNEWS, I vote for Amy Kellogg(FOX) as my favorite in-the-field correspondent! She had the presumption to correct someone at the FOX anchor desk who I think was hyping and misrepresenting a particular situation.


Check out to see where you are on the political spectrum from left to right.

Monday, July 24, 2006


I just discovered a very interesting set of maps showing religious affiliation in the continental 48 states at the "Regions of the Mind" blog. I am not sure there is anything one probably cannot already assume, except I was surprised at the low number of relgious affiliations in the Southeast US which is considered part of the Bible Belt.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


For Hezbollah activity in the US see the Counterterrorism blog:

Also see about Hezbollah in Detroit, Michigan. But in the Detroit area--the heart of Islamic America--it's a different story. Hezbollah supporters connected to Iran are feted by top federal officials.


Slate, a generally liberal online magazine and certainly not pro-Bush, has an article on reasons not to blame Bush for the war in Lebanon I think Democrat liberals do have a problem: everytime a problem occurs they blame Bush--I think this is getting old and could backfire on them. I even saw one Democratic spin meister blaming Bush for the slow response of the American embassy in Beirut. He also sets a bad example for young children with regard to table manners--he talks with his mouth full of dinner roll (video of the G8 Conference banquet in Russia).

The author of the article noted: You can blame Bush for a lot of mistakes, and I do, but not for the latest turn in the seemingly eternal and eternally depressing Arab-Israeli conflict.


Mary Ann Sieghart questions Muslim moral superiority at the London Times:,,1071-2276983,00.html

Rarely does a news story bring tears to the eyes. But when I read the account last week of the murder of Samaira Nazir in an “honour killing” (surely an oxymoron), I nearly wept. Here was a bright, articulate graduate who had her throat cut, was stabbed 18 times by her brother and cousin because she wanted to marry a Muslim man whom her family had not chosen.

This is happening more often than Europeans and Americans want to admit. She goes on to write: Broadly, with only a few exceptions, ours is a law-abiding society in which we tolerate difference and get on with our lives while trying to behave well towards each other. So why, in that case, are Muslims so negative towards us? We hear a lot about Islamophobia, but to judge from a survey conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, British Muslims are far harsher on the rest of us than we are on them — and they are far more critical of us than are Muslims living in Germany, France or Spain.

Read the article to see the Pew survey results. Very interesting. . .and troubling.


An interesting article by Victor David Hanson on the current impact of the Israeli attack on Hezbollah and Israel. The US has very limited choices. Also see Steve Huntley's column at the Chicago Sun Times

The Democrats want Secretary of State Rice to go to the Middle East and solve everything, but I am not sure that she, or anyone, can solve the problem. She can't negotiate with Hezbollah because that would imply defacto recognition of a terrorist paramilitary organization. The US has little leverage with Damascus or Teheran. If she or Bush fails, I am sure if will be an election issue in November.

One option she may have is to see if more moderate Middle Eastern governments can lean on Damascus. But I am not sure they would have any impact on Teheran.


Recently overheard: Why did this Italian check the "white" box on this form and not "White Hispanic?"

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


For some time I have been considering the issue of why educated, intelligent people turned to communism after World War II in Czechoslovakia. By the late 60’s many had become disillusioned and began to question what caused them not to ignore the flaws in communist ideology until it was too late. Maybe my interest is a result of meeting some of these people who, after 1968, were questioning themselves.

Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague, 1941-1968 by Heda Margolius Kovaly describes her story from Nazi concentration camp to wife of a Czech communist who was purged in the early 1950s during the Slansky Trials. After her husband was purged (and later killed) from his leadership position in the trade ministry, she became a pariah and struggled to keep herself and her small son alive when everyone and everything seemed to be turned against her. It is a fascinating and troubling story. While there were good people who tried to help in small ways without endangering themselves or their families, more appeared to be hurtful to her as they fell in with the party line. Or maybe they were "small" people who had bec0me taken with their new found power over people.

Some quotes:

For many people in Czechoslovakia after the war, the Communist revolution was just another attempt to find the way home, to fight their way back to humanity.

I have often thought that many of our people turned to Communism not so much in revolt against the existing political system, but out of sheer despair over human nature which showed itself at its very worst after the war.

The Communists at that time kept stressing the scientific basis of their ideology, . . .

Our conditioning for the revolution had begun in the concentration camps. Perhaps we had been most impressed by the example of our fellow prisoners, Communist who often behaved like beings of a higher order. Their idealism and Party discipline gave them a strength and an endurance that the rest of us could not match.

The most eagerly embraced belief of the time was that no national or racial oppression could exist under communism.

Why did some Communists continue to believe after the purges of the 1950s? For them, the struggle for the ideal took on the meaning of a struggle for personal redemption. . . . To give up this ideal would be to disclaim the meaning of one’s whole life.

Membership in the Communist Party was very much like belonging to a religious order.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


I just finished reading a very interesting book by one of Saddam’s air force generals who was also a Christian, Georges Sada. He was more involved with Saddam in the 1980s and early 1990s. It is clear that Saddam was ruthless and in many way very short-sighted. I want to read some of the reviews of the book—I understand it was on the NYT’s best seller list earlier this year.

Some of the author’s points:

1. He believes the use of military force against Saddam was justified.
2. Saddam was like Stalin—he had a genius at doing evil.
3. Saddam seldom based his military strategy on logic, national interest, or least of all, genuine national defense. As in everything else, his tactics were centered on whatever would benefit him personally or exalt his reputation and authority in the region.
4. Saddam’s WMD were moved to Syria.
5. He had arranged for Chinese nuclear scientists to build his atomic weapons so that UN inspectors would not find atomic research facilities in Iraq.
6. Saddam’s operation centers were built below the underground bunkers where civilians took refuge forcing America to kill civilians if operation centers were to be destroyed in the 2003 war.
7. The UN oil for food program was corrupted by Saddam through bribery.
8. During the invasion the US failed to make use of many Baathists who were forced by fear to serve Saddam.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


For some time I have been thinking about Bush’s foreign policy as it relates to larger themes in American foreign policy. Because of Iraq it is difficult to deal with this issue because the left castigates Bush and his decision while the neocons praise his resolution The left would have us believe that Bush has unilaterally sent America down a new path introducing such policies as preemptive war and having this idiotic idea that somehow America can bring democracy to the world. I have begun to think that Bush may have more in common with the Democratic President Woodrow Wilson, who at the end of WWI also had this idea of creating a new world order and saw a political messianic mission for the USA.

I just finished an excellent article in Diplomatic History, “Woodrow Wilson and George W. Bush: Historical Comparisons of Ends and Means in Their Foreign Policies” (June 2006) by Lloyd E. Ambrosius which tries to assess this same problem. He surveys of number of scholars and journalists who have written on both sides of this debate. As with all discussion of parallels nothing is ever exact and one can find similarities and differences. In his concluding remarks Ambrosius stated: Appealing to the old American hope of “freedom just around the corner,” both Wilson and Bush proclaimed American ideals to justify their new foreign policies. Whether in 1917 or 2001 or 2003, they led the nation into war, promising to protect traditional values and institutions at home and to explain these abroad, thereby making freedom and democracy the foundation for world peace.

Later he writes: After World War I, Wilson failed to make the world safe for democracy. His experience suggests that fighting wars to spread democracy and thereby attain perpetual peace is more likely to result in unanticipated costs and unintended consequences.

Yet the comparisons go deeper and may become even more confusing. While one can find a number of parallels between Bush and Wilson, it appears to me that Wilson was much less willing to use force after getting the US into WWI. For example, he did not send American troops in to stop the Turkish massacre of Christian Armenians. Yet I am not sure Bush would have either in that case. Also Wilson was much more willing to use international organizations to complete his vision (the League of Nations). However, Bush may also be in the process, especially with Korea, of limiting US unilaterial involvement.

It’s hardly fair to summarize an article into these few words, but it is worth the read because I believe Ambrosius has done an excellent job of summarizing the issues (much better than the talking heads on CNN and Fox).

Sunday, July 09, 2006


Michael Goodwin's column in the New York Daily News caught my attention: "It's World War III and the US is Out of Ideas." He argues that "World War III has begun."

The feeling that the wheels are coming off the world has only one recent comparison, the time when America's head-butt with communism sprouted hot spots from Cuba to Vietnam. Yet ultimately the policy of mutual assured destruction worked because American and Soviet leaders didn't want their countries hit by nuclear bombs.

Such rational thinking is quaint next to the ravings of North Korean nut Kim Jong Il and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They both seem to be dying to die - and set the world on fire. And don't forget Osama Bin Laden's declaration that it is the duty of every Muslim to acquire a "Muslim bomb." Is there any doubt he would use it if he had it?

Goodwin admits to being a pessimist. I don't know his politics, but he is critical of both Democrats and President Bush. No one seems to like pessimists, but the times don't seem to reinforce those inclined to be optimistic.

Actually for some time now I have thought about similarities between the times in which we live and the war fears of the 20th century. Before World War I there were serious crises and active terrorist groups--anarchists and Slav nationalists. I know some would say the West is more like the appeasers of the 1930s, but, except for a few Churchillians, most people in the 1930s weren't thinking war was an actual possibility until it happened. Before 1939 terrorist groups were not active as in pre-1914 Europe. And obviously neither period had the weapons systems (nuclear, biological, and chemical) that we have today, but, especially in the case of World War I, this did not prevent huge casualty rates from occurring. I don't think the current crisis are comparable to cold war crises--Soviet leaders were good materialists and recognized what nuclear war would do.

Friday, July 07, 2006


Attended another wedding so this AOL article on how you can tell if the odds favor a marriage lasting attracted my attention.

* Age matters: 25 is better than 18.

* Cohabitation before marriage increases the odds of divorce.

* The husband helps around the house.

* A second marriage increases the odds of divorce.

* Religious people try harder to stay married.

* Not being rich or poor, but somewhere in the middle.

* Owning a home rather than renting.

* Parents were divorced, especially an angy divorce.

* The bride and her father are not tense walking down the aisle, but are relaxed with each other.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


I finished reading Robert Service's recent biography on Josef Stalin and have drafted my book review and will start editing it. When I first received the book, I thought: "Not another biography on Stalin." However, Service's study will be the biography to read for years to come (unless some new archival sources open up in Moscow). It is an excellent study of the life and times of the vozhd.

It is fascinating to see how the private life and experiences influenced Stalin throughout his career. I know it is not popular in America to believe that a leader's private decisions and experiences influence one's leadership (aka Bill and Monica). But anyone who writes or reads a biography has to consider how the private experiences of powerful people influence them as they rule and develop policy. In Stalin's case the issue is how his private experiences caused him to view or use people as he manipulated the Terror. I believe Service does a good job showing that the purges were a culmination of his values growing up in a dysfunctional family and then advancing into leadership positions in the organization environment of the Bolshevik party. One quote I particularly liked was: "terror attracted him like a bee to a perfumed flower"(158).

Service does not go as far as some other writers in choosing to see Stalin as suffering from servere psychological problems, although he does recognize he has a strong tendency toward paranoia. I am more inclined to see some serious maladjustments. Service has no answer to how Stalin "displayed congenial 'ordinary' features even while carrying out acts of unspeakable abusiveness"(604).