Daniel Pearl.  Nicholas Berg.  James Foley.  Steven Sotloff.

Four American noncombatants have been beheaded by Islamic fanatics, and the videos of their murders brazenly circulated over the internet for the world to witness.  Another Westerner — David Cawthorne Haines, a security expert hired by international aid organizations – faces the same gruesome fate.

Why do they behead us?Sotloff.Foley

The question goes to the method, not the motive, of the madness. Murderers’ motives don’t matter much in the Middle East.  In local eyes, there are so many causes to kill for, and so many victims deserving death.  But assuming one is inclined to butcher, why do so by the particularly peculiar method of beheading?  Why not butcher by shooting, or by hanging, or by detonation?

This is, to put it mildly, a grim inquiry.  But it is worth the trouble to explore.  For the answer may tell us something about the nature of the evil we face. Continue reading


Filed under Foreign Policy, Law


Richard Nixon and Barack Obama are rarely compared.  But the way these two presidents have dealt with crises in the Middle East provides instructive contrasts on the nature of leadership.

This summer marks the 40th anniversary of the resignation of President Nixon, a man more associated with skullduggery than leadership.  But in October 1973, when his Vice President was resigning in disgrace and the congressional investigation into his own misconduct was moving to its fatal conclusion, Nixon demonstrated how a leader can take command, master events, and shape history.


His example provides a contrast to the current President, whose concept of leadership involves “leading from behind.”  To the extent it involves taking initiative, it is the initiative of “avoiding doing stupid shit.” Continue reading


Filed under Foreign Policy, Politics


“Then the Philistines seized Samson, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza.”   Judges 16:21.

Something about Gaza, and the way its Hamas bosses periodically goad  Israel into military action, turn otherwise sensible observers into sightless chumps — incapable of distinguishing between initiating and responding to force, and blind to the difference between attempted murder and self-defense.


We see that day after day after day in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, CNN, and other mainstream media outlets, which report on the crisis as if it were a contest between two antagonists competing on a morally level playing field.  It appears in the television graphics of careful neutrality: charts showing the number of Israeli air strikes compared to the number of Hamas missiles and mortars; comparisons of the number of casualties on both sides; and reports on the relative suffering of the noncombatants.

This is nonsense.  Three important principles underlie this crisis, which ought to be evident to anyone with eyes to see.   First, there is no equivalence between Israel and Hamas.  Second, inchoate crimes are still crimes, and in wartime, they are war crimes.  And third, “proportionality” has no proper role when thugs are trying to murder your children. Continue reading


Filed under Foreign Policy, Law


The cancellation of the six REDSKINS trademark registrations is not so much a victory for American Indians, as it is a defeat for commercial speech, which means a defeat for the First Amendment.

According to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”), 30% of American Indians consider REDSKINS a disparaging and offensive term.  Even assuming that is so — and the flimsy record in the case does not inspire confidence — the decision should alarm Americans of every category.  For the logic of the TTAB’s ruling gives any minority faction — regardless of the merit of their position — the power to deprive others of the important governmental benefit of trademark registration, which is a form of constitutionally protected commercial speech.

redskins mark

Many commentators have viewed the case as a contest over respect for Native Americans.  But the TTAB ruling transcends the trademarks in question.  One does not have to agree that a word with obvious racial overtones like “redskins” is an appropriate choice for a football team, to appreciate the chilling effects of the ruling.

The root of the danger does not lie with the 2-1 majority decision to cancel.  It lies with the law they applied.    Continue reading


Filed under Culture, Law


Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a liberal.  He espouses strong left-wing positions on gun control, abortion, immigration, and climate change.  He proposed banning the sale of many sweetened beverages over 16 ounces.  He endorsed Obama in 2008.

Last week, Bloomberg traveled to Harvard University, the bastion of American liberalism, and delivered a stinging criticism of liberals.


After the obligatory attempts at joking up the student audience (“I’m excited to be … in the exact spot where Oprah stood last year. OMG.”  “Don’t you just hate it when alumni put their names all over everything? I was thinking about that this morning as I walked into the Bloomberg Center.”), Bloomberg turned to the subject of freedom of speech.  He began with exaltations of separation between church and state, and references to the McCarthy Scare of the 50s, familiar tropes in any liberal address.  “Repressing free expression is a natural human weakness,” he told the students and faculty, “and it is up to us to fight it at every turn.”  Bloomberg did not say whom he included in “us,” but most attendees probably thought they knew.  Surely “us” referred to liberals – the enlightened ones who have been campaigning against dead Senator McCarthy for 65 years.

But the Mayor threw them a curve ball. Continue reading

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Filed under Politics


It’s May, the season of college graduation ceremonies, when the college careers of seniors terminate at what are paradoxically called “commencement” exercises.

A great deal of attention will be paid to those invited to speak at these ceremonies, even though most of what they have to say will be rich in platitudes and eminently forgettable.  In fact, this year’s crop of commencement speakers will probably be better remembered for those who did not speak than for those who did.  Ayan Ali Hirsi, Christine Lagarde, Condoleesa Rice, Charles Murray, and Robert Birgeneau are among a growing list of interesting people who have been “disinvited,” or otherwise pressured to stay away, in a misguided campaign to shield undergraduates from viewpoints that might make them “uncomfortable.”graduates1

But for those interested in the state of education at America’s colleges, it may be less important to listen to what the elders have to say to the students than to what the students themselves have to say.

Two Ivy League student essays are worth examining, if only to note their starkly contrasting visions. One is an optimistic picture of a world in which success is possible to all, provided only that they are equipped with the right values.  The other is a grim picture where victimhood is inescapable, no matter how many blessings one receives.  It may be coincidence, but the fact that the first is written by a freshman, and the second by a senior, suggests a troubling explanation: the modern university may be deadening the spirit of its young charges. Continue reading

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Filed under Culture


The termination of Brendan Eich – a big story earlier this month — raised important First Amendment issues concerning the boundary line between the right of individuals to engage in private political activity and the public interest in campaign finance disclosure.  There is a tension between the two.  The Eich affair tells us it’s time to take a fresh look at balancing them.


EichBrendan Eich you will recall (the news cycle moves so swiftly these days) is the geeky pioneer and inventor of Javascript.  He was forced to resign after only ten days as CEO of Mozilla.  His sin was donating $1,000 six years earlier to support California’s Prop 8, a ballot initiative which deemed marriage as an institution between a man and a woman.  In 2008, when Eich made his donation, that idea commanded the assent of every Presidential candidate, including Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton.  Prop 8 was approved with 52% of the vote.

Prop 8 was subsequently invalidated by the courts, and the passage of time has changed popular attitudes. Today, same-sex marriage commands majority support in every region of the country, and in every age group.

But Eich’s 2008 contribution – like that of all contributors, pro and con, to the Prop 8 contest –remains a matter of public record.  And publicity has its consequences.  In Eich’s case, it was a career-ender.

Commentators may have differed on their attitudes toward his termination, but a consensus quickly emerged that this was a private matter between him and his employer, and, as such, beyond the reach of the First Amendment.

“At the risk of sounding pedantic,” wrote a commentator for Slate, sounding pedantic,

…[T]the First Amendment applies exclusively to state actors, like Congress or state legislatures, so a private corporation like Mozilla simply cannot infringe upon an employee’s free speech rights, even if it wanted to. There is no wiggle room around this point. It is a basic constitutional fact.

A commentator for National Review Online agreed that “this sordid and alarming little affair does not in any way implicate the First Amendment.”  Andrew Sullivan, redoubtable champion of same-sex marriage but also one of the first to criticize Mozilla for its intolerance, conceded that Eich “wasn’t a victim of government censorship or intimidation….  He still has his full First Amendment rights.”

Well, no.  Eich doesn’t have his full First Amendment rights.  He never did.

Continue reading


Filed under Culture, Law