On My Desk: To Set The Record Straight

The Swift Boat controversy continues to resonate in American politics. The term “swift-boated” intends to convey an unfair or untruthful massive attack on a political candidate, riding along with the notion that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and their leader John O’Neill had been substantially rebutted. However, despite the occasional claim by John Kerry that their myriad claims had been proven false, the vast majority of their allegations went unanswered.
Scott Swett and Tim Ziegler have written a new book to set the record straight, entitled — of course — To Set The Record Straight. Scott will appear on tomorrow’s Heading Right Radio show to discuss the book, which is exclusively available through their website. I’m quoted occasionally in the book, and we’ll discuss the blogospheric response as well. King Banaian joins me as co-host.

Mumia Memory Lane

Yesterday I asked readers to find the record of an ABC News report on Mumia Abu Jamal from almost ten years ago, one which exploded the myths of the Free Mumia movement. Incorrectly, I recalled John Stossel working that segment, or perhaps he did another piece independently, but reader Greg Lang of Soliah.com — which follows the case of former SLA fugitive and murderer Kathleen Soliah/Sara Jane Olsen — forwarded me the transcript of the show I remembered. Sam Donaldson reported on the 20/20 segment almost exactly nine years ago on the shooting of Daniel Faulkner, and the myths that arose from the defenders of the controversial defendant:
Myth #1: The 44-Caliber Bullet

DONALDSON: … 20/20 has looked at the arguments both she and the free Mumia movement make on the key points. First, ballistics. Jamal’s supporters say the bullet that killed Officer Faulkner was .44-caliber, not a .38, like the gun found at the scene.
CLAUDE PUJOL: The bullet is not the size of the gun, first thing. They never did any tests.
ED ASNER: The fact that no ballistics tests were done, which is pretty stupid.
SAM DONALDSON (voice-over): But ballistics tests were done and proved the bullet was fired by a .38-caliber revolver. The claim that the bullet was a .44 rests solely on a hasty note scribbled by a pathologist at the autopsy. However, the pathologist later testified that he had no expertise in ballistics, that he had only been guessing. But Weinglass [Mumia’s attorney, former Chicago Seven attorney Leonard Weinglass] refuses to believe that. …
SAM DONALDSON: But if it’s a .38, then your contention that it was a .44 is wrong.
LEONARD WEINGLASS: Well, I think that issue is very much something that should be played out in front of a jury.
SAM DONALDSON (voice-over): But it had already been played out in front of a judge, when, three years ago, Weinglass’s own ballistics expert testified the fatal bullet was a .38.

Myth #2: The Fabricated Confession
Eight different witnesses testified that Mumia Abu Jamal admitted to shooting Faulkner at the hospital while being treated for his own gunshot wound, and then said, “I hope he dies.” Later, Mumia recanted this admission and claimed it never happened.

SAM DONALDSON (voice-over): It is a fact that the confession surfaced only after two months. And that one officer present originally reported, “The Negro male made no comments.”
But hospital security guard Priscilla Durham (ph) told the jury she reported it to her supervisor the next day. And another security guard, James Legrand (ph), says he, too, heard the confession. The slain officer’s partner, Garry Bell, says the shock of the shooting suppressed his memory.
GARRY BELL: I’ve searched my soul. I’ve beaten myself up wondering how I could not have gone at a sooner date, immediately even, and report what I had heard.
SAM DONALDSON (voice-over): Finally, if there was a plot to fabricate a confession, then it had to include at least the eight people involved in reporting and investigating it, an idea rejected by two separate appeals courts in the last three years.

Myth #3: The One-Armed Man Gambit
The defense claims that several witnesses saw a man shoot Faulkner and then run away. However, these witnesses contradict each other, themselves, and the physical evidence, and don’t explain how the man shot Faulkner, ran away, but left the murder weapon next to Mumia.

DONALDSON: … Then there are the defense eyewitnesses. Leonard Weinglass says four people saw the real killer running from the scene. But his number-one witness, William Singletary (ph), waited more than a decade before testifying to a story so bizarre even Weinglass has trouble defending it.
(on camera) He said the shooter emerged from the Volkswagen, yelling and screaming, shot Officer Faulkner in the head and ran away. Whereupon, according to Singletary, Abu-Jamal approached the scene and said, “Oh, my God, we don’t need this,” bent over Faulkner, who’d been shot between the eyes, and asked, “Is there anything I can do to help you?”
Whereupon, according to Singletary, Faulkner’s gun, which was in Faulkner’s lap, miraculously discharged, hitting Jamal in the chest. Now, that’s incredible.
LEONARD WEINGLASS: He might be wrong on some of his timing. There’s no doubt about that.
SAM DONALDSON: Timing? He’s telling a story here which, clearly from the forensic evidence, couldn’t have happened.
LEONARD WEINGLASS: This is my point. The jury should have heard from Singletary.
SAM DONALDSON (voice-over): Witness number two was a cab driver parked here, in plain view of the murder.
LEONARD WEINGLASS: As the police arrive, he told one of the arriving officers — I believe a captain, “The guy ran away.” Those were his first words.
SAM DONALDSON (voice-over): But the report from which Weinglass quotes goes on to say the shooter “didn’t get far, and then he fell.” And Weinglass’s third witness, high up in a hotel room one block away, actually insisted that police were already on the scene when she looked out her window. And…
(on camera) …she did not testify that she saw someone running away, simply that she saw someone running.
LEONARD WEINGLASS: Yes, which was different slightly than the statement she gave the police.
SAM DONALDSON (voice-over): Defense eyewitness number four was a prostitute standing on this corner two blocks away, who, after 14 years’ silence, claimed she saw two men jogging from the scene. She also admits to being, in drug lingo, “half a nickel bag high.”

The prosecution’s witnesses all were within 50 feet of the shooting, and their testimony was consistent. They gave essentially the same story to three different police officers within minutes of the shooting, and testified under oath during the trial. That’s more than Mumia’s own brother would do — the man who started the incident, William Cook. Despite a subpoena from his own brother, Cook refused to testify, and at the time of the 20/20 segment, had gone missing to avoid taking the stand.
The site Greg provided contains a number of rebuttals to the rest of the Mumia myths. Be sure to peruse it at length.
Incidentally, Shaun Mullen also has written about Mumia — and he knew Mumia Abu Jamal. He has no doubts about Mumia’s guilt, even though he does have doubts about the trial:

Beyond political postering and basking in the glow of international awards, among them being made an honorary citizen of Paris (sacré-freaking-bleu!), Abu-Jamal has been unable or perhaps has not even wanted to do the one thing that would seem to matter most — make a convincing argument for his own innocence.
He has refused to testify on his own behalf and has failed to produce his brother to testify. As perverse as it seems, Abu-Jamal may understand that the fame he has attained in prison would have eluded him on the street.

Be sure to read all of Shaun’s post, too. And don’t forget that I’ll have Maureen Faulkner as my guest on December 12 at Heading Right Radio. In the meantime, you can order Faulkner’s book, Murdered by Mumia: A Life Sentence of Loss, Pain, and Injustice, to get the entire story.

Evil Genes?

At some point in our lives, most of us will have a personal encounter with someone who seems innately evil or cruel. They go out of their way to hurt people, or at least appear not to care whether they do damage with their actions or words. Most of us will assume that the person had a miserable life or some traumatic incident that turned them into a misanthrope, and with luck will avoid their destructive wake. Barbara Oakley has a different theory, one backed by some scientific research into the cerebral structure of unpleasant people — and she believes it explains a lot about how Rome fell, Hitler rose, and her sister stole her mother’s boyfriend:

My sister stole my mother’s boyfriend. It wasn’t as if the boyfriend, Ted, was any great catch. At 85, he trundled about with a nose tube and oxygen tanks, hacking and snorting as he nursed his emphysema. Then there was the age gap — Ted was 40 years older than my sister. So what was the attraction? As it turned out, it was the gift Ted had planned for my mother — the Parisian vacation she had always dreamt of.
On hearing that my mother was planning a trip to Paris, my sister Carolyn suddenly realised that she, too, had always wanted to go to France. And what my sister wanted, she had a way of getting. When Carolyn clicked her spotlight on Mum’s boyfriend, he was dazzled. Soon, my sister was tucked beside Ted and his breathing apparatus en route to Paris. Après Paris, of course, Carolyn dropped Ted like a hot rock.
My mother withdrew, shamed and saddened by this ultimate humiliation. Not long after, she passed away.
Manipulative, hurtful people such as my sister can’t help but draw our wonder even as we agonise over the pain they cause. Perhaps we remember working for an arrogant, tyrannical supervisor — a charismatic man who wowed upper management with his flashy presentations and witty wordplay during golf. Or perhaps we never mention our pillar-of-the-community father — a kindly Santa Claus of a man who no one would believe had a sinister flip side. Or we learnt too late that a seemingly perfect wife is in reality a deceitful manipulator who has no qualms about using the children as tools to get her way.

These observations come directly from Oakley’s book, Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend. While title sounds quirky and overstated, Oakley takes the subject quite seriously. She goes beyond her own family to look at other case studies — Hitler, Slobodan Milosevic, Mao Zadong and more.
It raises more than just scientific curiosity. If the root of evil can be found in a corpus callosum or in the ratio of cerebral white matter, does this essentially end individual accountability? Can “evil” be diagnosed — and if so, what can and should society do with that information? Can a person predisposed to these factors still make the rational choices to do good?
Barbara Oakley will join me today on Heading Right Radio to discuss all of this, and more. In the meantime, her book can already be found at bookstores, or through the CapQ Bookshelf. Be sure to tune in and join our conversation.

Mumia Activists Protest Interview? Come On By!

Activists for the campaign to spring Mumia Abu-Jamal from Death Row for his murder of a Philadelphia police officer plan to protest outside Rockefeller Center Thursday morning. The widow of the victim has written a new book, Murdered by Mumia: A Life Sentence of Loss, Pain, and Injustice, and NBC will interview her on the Today show. The Free Mumia activists want “equal time” (via Michelle Malkin):

SUPPORTERS of cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal are threatening to storm the streets of Rockefeller Center Thursday morning to protest the “Today” show. The New York-based “Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition” is infuriated that Maureen Faulker [sic] – the widow of Philadelphia police office Daniel Faulker [sic], whom Abu-Jamal was convicted of murdering 25 years ago – is scheduled to appear on the show Thursday to promote her new book, “Murdered by Mumia: A Life Sentence of Pain, Loss and Injustice.” The activists – who claim on their Web site to have demanded “equal time” but “as of yet have gotten no agreement to that” -will protest outside.

The notion of equal time does not apply to book authors outside of electoral campaigns. The FMC has no particular legal or ethical basis on which to demand that NBC give them time to make their case. They could write their own book and present their evidence rationally, as Maureen Faulkner has done with Michael Smerconish. Nonetheless, it makes a good excuse to get their name in the paper and to hold a noisy event on behalf of a politically-correct murderer.
The book will come out on December 6th, but I have an advance copy of it. I have not yet read it — it just arrived last night — but I’m looking forward to my interview with Maureen Faulkner on the December 12th edition of Heading Right Radio. If the FMC wants to protest that interview, they can show up in the webchat to do it. In the meantime, readers can pre-order the book from Amazon at the link above or below.
ABC’s John Stossel had the definitive take-down of the Free Mumia movement a few years back. If anyone can find a link to that 20/20 segment, let me know.

On The Bookshelf: A Shattered Peace

This week on Heading Right Radio, we had the pleasure of interviewing two excellent authors, and this week, I received the book by the author I interviewed three weeks ago. A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today by David Andelman promises a much closer look at the Treaty of Versailles and its responsibility for the conflicts we face in the world today. My interview with Andelman can be found at BlogTalkRadio, and it was fascinating.
This week, we also spoke with Dinesh D’Souza, author of the excellent What’s So Great About Christianity, and the one-hour interview is here — one of the more intriguing interviews I’ve had on Heading Right Radio. Wednesday I spoke with Adrian Levy, author of Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons. That’s definitely worth a listen, even with all of the New York City street noise in the background, which crescendoed at the end of the interview.
I also forgot to add David Harsanyi’s Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and other Boneheaded Bureaucrats are Turning America into a Nation of Children to the Bookshelf, but it’s also a worthwhile choice for a read. My interview with Harsanyi was last week, and can be heard here.

Book Review: What’s So Great About Christianity?

BUMP: I’m bumping this to the top for today’s interview with Dinesh D’Souza on Heading Right Radio. It has a great comment thread, and I hope our participants listen to the show live today at 2 pm CT!
Last week, I received Dinesh D’Souza’s newest book, What’s So Great About Christianity?, and found it immediately intriguing. The atheist movement has gained tremendous strength and intellectual vitality in the past few decades, and now features such luminaries as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins among its rhetorical front line apologists. The apologetics of Christianity have had fewer bright lights, and certainly none as intellectually prepared as D’Souza in this comprehensive refutation of the atheist argument.
It would be impossible to offer a comprehensive recapitulation of the entirety of D’Souza’s argument in this space. In fact, that’s what has kept me from reviewing this book until now; the sheer breadth of D’Souza’s argument goes well beyond a blogpost or a newspaper review. He draws from a wide variety of resources from the sciences, philosophy, and apologetics, and derives an argument so interdependent and so solid that taking it a portion at a time diminishes the whole.
Some of the basics can be addressed. D’Souza argues that the scientific argument for atheism simply doesn’t address the entire human experience. First, he reviews the history of science and argues that reason only takes one so far. It never answers the question of why, not even in the human experience. Physics can explain, for example, the motion of a glass of water when struck by a human hand and predict the outcome, but it can’t answer for why the hand struck the glass.
Similarly, one can explain the Big Bang’s physics, but no one can answer for the why, which creates a large problem for atheists. The Big Bang and the implications of Einsteinian physics show that the universe had a beginning. Something with a beginning has to have a causative event — but if the universe is all that is, what caused the Big Bang? What caused it, and what lies outside of the universe that could have sparked it? Physics can explain the universe, which acts in very precise and predictable ways, but it can’t explain the why.
D’Souza also addresses the difference between evolution and Darwinism, at least as he perceives it. Like the Catholic Church, he sees no conflict between evolution and Christianity. In fact, he argues that the Book of Genesis actually aligns itself well with the Big Bang theory, offering that Light came first (the Big Bang initiating event) and that Day and Night came later (the formation of the Sun and the Moon). He decries the Darwinist movement in science which has at its basis an explicit bias against religion, and which therefore rejects any evidence of God or a metaphysical reality, and has a compelling argument for this from the mouths of the scientists themselves. In doing so, they have rejected the scientific method itself, D’Souza insists, turning Darwinism into a religion rather than relying on evolution as an explanation limited to the physical reality of our universe.
In this, D’Souza attempts to point out the fact that while the physical sciences can explain the universe, it can only explain the universe. He relies heavily on Immanuel Kant in this area by reminding us that science remains bound by human perception. Humans experience the universe with their five senses, and scientific exploration — conducted through experimentation — has the same limits. We cannot perceive the why, and being physical creatures in the universe, cannot use our physical senses to perceive anything beyond it. These are the limits of reason and science — certainly nearly boundless in a vast physical universe, but not limitless.
The book makes a fascinating counterargument to atheism, perhaps the best from the secular world I’ve yet heard. D’Souza does not remain satisfied to argue on his own intellectual turf in terms of religious doctrine, but instead boldly uses science and philosophy outside of religious territory to take the argument to the opponents’ home field. D’Souza provides a breath of fresh air to the faithful, and an accessible if complex support for religious belief.
Dinesh D’Souza will be my guest on Monday’s Heading Right Radio show. Don’t miss it!

New On The Bookshelf: Deception

Today, I received an advance copy of Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons, a new book by reporters Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark of the Guardian and the Sunday Times. It’s bound to be controversial, as it asserts that the United States knew that Pakistan had developed nuclear weapons and sold the technology to North Korea, Libya, and Iran, and the US said nothing. The past five administrations, the authors tell us, continued to portray Pakistan as an ally while they sold nuclear secrets to our enemies.
The book gets released at the end of the month. I’ll try to get the authors onto Heading Right Radio for an interview, if possible. I’ve still got to pick up Shadow Warriors at some point, which I put aside for Dinesh D’Souza’s What’s So Great About Christianity?. I will have a review of that book, hopefully tomorrow, and Dinesh D’Souza will be my guest on Monday’s Heading Right Radio.
I want to thank Captain’s Quarters readers who have used the Bookshelf and the search widget there and on my sidebar for their Amazon shopping. It has bolstered the tip jar and helped buy a few things for the blog and the family.
UPDATE: Hey, whoever bought the Garmin nüvi GPS Navigator through the Bookshelf — thanks!

New On The Bookshelf

For some reason, I received a glut of books this week, which I hope to be able to read while traveling. I’m adding them to the Bookshelf all at once, and hope to read through them in transit to and from the Conservative Leadership Conference.
I’ll probably focus first on Dinesh D’Souza’s book, What’s So Great About Christianity?, on the plane trips into and out of Reno. It comes out Monday, and it will no doubt generate controversy, as Dinesh D’Souza often does. Since I spend an inordinate amount of time in silent but fervent prayer on airplanes — especially my last trip — at least this goes with my thought process.
Don’t forget that you can shop through the Captain’s Quarters Bookshelf and the Search widgets for Amazon for any product at all, and a small percentage of the sale drops into my tip jar. Thanks in advance for the support!

Atlas Shrugged At 50

The Wall Street Journal notes the golden anniversary of that great polemical novel, in Michelle Malkin’s words, Atlas Shrugged. Ayn Rand’s signature epic on objectivism and the moral compass of unfettered capitalism remains as topical and controversial than ever, and David Kelley explains the fascination:

Businessmen are favorite villains in popular media, routinely featured as polluters, crooks and murderers in network TV dramas and first-run movies, not to mention novels. Oil company CEOs are hauled before congressional committees whenever fuel prices rise, to be harangued and publicly shamed for the sin of high profits. Genuine cases of wrongdoing like Enron set off witch hunts that drag in prominent achievers like Frank Quattrone and Martha Stewart.
By contrast, the heroes in “Atlas Shrugged” are businessmen — and women. Rand imbues them with heroic, larger-than-life stature in the Romantic mold, for their courage, integrity and ability to create wealth. They are not the exploiters but the exploited: victims of parasites and predators who want to wrap the producers in regulatory chains and expropriate their wealth.
Rand’s perspective is a welcome relief to people who more often see themselves portrayed as the bad guys, and so it is no wonder it has such enthusiastic fans in the upper echelons of business as Ed Snider (Comcast Spectacor, Philadelphia Flyers and 76ers), Fred Smith (Federal Express), John Mackey (Whole Foods), John A. Allison (BB&T), and Kevin O’Connor (DoubleClick) — not to mention thousands of others who pursue careers at every level in the private sector.
Yet the deeper reasons why the novel has proved so enduringly popular have to do with Rand’s moral defense of business and capitalism. Rejecting the centuries-old, and still conventional, piety that production and trade are just “materialistic,” she eloquently portrayed the spiritual heart of wealth creation through the lives of the characters now well known to many millions of readers.

I have to admit that I don’t necessarily share the enthusiasm for AS as many on the Right do. While agreeing with Rand on the underlying philosophy of the novel, I struggled to maintain interest in the book while I read it through to completion. I found the conflicts in the book contrived, the characters two-dimensional at best, and the stark good/evil perspective simplistic. I was glad to have read it when I finished, and just as glad to leave it on the shelf afterwards.
It’s good to have capitalist heroes, as Kelley writes in his review. Unfortunately, it’s better to have engaging and real characters in novels, and while Rand had unquestioned brilliance and a singular perspective on tyrrany that only George Orwell and Aldous Huxley match in modern literature, Atlas Shrugged didn’t provide many. Dagny Taggart may have come closest, but everyone else was an obvious straw man constructed for philosophical purposes instead of a representation of reality.
Kelley notes that even Rand saw the “producer’s strike” at the end of the novel as a fantasy sequence. In one sense, it was even contradictory, since it involved organizing for the good of a group (the producers) and not of the individuals, a contradiction that few note. However, it has unfortunate echoes in history, of groups that run off to the mountains to bide their time and deliver the next revolution in human society. The Islamists do that now, and even Charles Manson tried something similar. The notion that all of human enterprise would crash to a halt awaiting the gurus of capitalism/hippieness/Mohammed is at once a staggeringly arrogant and completely unconstructive notion. Changing human behavior requires engagement, not taking one’s ball and going home.
At least Rand tried serving the right notions in her less-than-engaging polemic. As Michelle says, we have had a drought of popular-culture defenses of capitalism and individualism. We need another Rand or perhaps someone even more talented, who can write a narrative that uses realistic situations and approachable characters to exemplify the virtues of economic liberty and the dangers of statist policies. We have plenty of examples from real life in the history of the past century, but few seem willing to mold them into the kind of literary icon that Atlas Shrugged truly is.
What did you think of Atlas Shrugged? The comments are open…

A Couple Fell Off The Bookshelf

Last week, I finally launched the Bookshelf, which shows the books I’m reading and/or recommend to Captain’s Quarters readers. It seems that a couple of tomes inadvertently fell off the shelf during the renovation, so I’m going to feature them in this post as I add them to the Bookshelf page. Don’t forget that purchasing items through my Amazon links (including anything purchased through the Search widget) gives me a few cents on the dollar, too.