Monday, June 26, 2017

Wrong About Everything

Matthew Continetti at The Washington Free Beacon has some sage advice for consumers of news in our hyper-politicized, hyper-partisan media culture.

He writes:
Events are turning me into a radical skeptic. I no longer believe what I read, unless what I am reading is an empirically verifiable account of the past. I no longer have confidence in polls, because it has become impossible to separate the signal from the noise. What I have heard from the media and political class over the last several years has been so spectacularly proven wrong by events, again and again, that I sometimes wonder why I continue to read two newspapers a day before spending time following journalists on Twitter. Habit, I guess. A sense of professional obligation, I suppose. Maybe boredom.

The fact is that almost the entirety of what one reads in the paper or on the web is speculation. The writer isn't telling you what happened, he is offering an interpretation of what happened, or offering a projection of the future. The best scenario is that these theories are novel, compelling, informed, and based on reporting and research. But that is rarely the case. More often the interpretations of current events, and prophesies of future ones, are merely the products of groupthink, or dogma, or emotions, or wish-casting, memos to friends written by 27-year-olds who, in the words of Ben Rhodes, "literally know nothing." There was a time when newspapers printed astrology columns. They no longer need to. The pseudoscience is on the front page.
There's much more of interest in Continetti's column at the link and I encourage you to read it. For my part, I think he's right, even though I suppose what he says could apply to Viewpoint as much as any other blog. The difference is, I think, that this blog is clearly a platform for opinions, not news, and I don't pretend it's anything else.

In any case, I don't think we should give up on trying to be informed by our media, but we do need to be very critical readers, viewers and listeners. This is especially the case if we get our information from cable news shows and talk radio. Not every show on either of these venues is overly biased, but both are populated with programming and personalities who are committed advocates of a particular ideology. Even when I think the people I'm listening to are correct in what they're saying I'm often dismayed by the manner in which they say it.

For just one example, hosts on both left and right on television and radio will make criticisms of their opponents (i.e. Trump or Obama) which could just as well apply to their preferred heroes (i.e. Trump or Obama) whom they wouldn't dream of criticizing. This is not only tendentious, it seriously diminishes their credibility, not to mention that it makes it extremely hard to refrain from turning them off in disgust.

On occasion hosts on one of these venues will have someone of a contrary viewpoint on their program, but they'll frequently step all over their guest, interrupting and talking over the guest, to prevent him or her from being heard. Chris Matthews at MSNBC and Sean Hannity at Fox are particularly egregious examples of the type.

It's probably a good rule of thumb whenever we read or hear some personality make a criticism of someone to ask oneself what evidence they're offering to buttress the criticism, and does the criticism they're making apply with equal force to their own political champions. If the answers to those questions are "not much" and "yes." then tune them out. They're not informing you, they're propagandizing you.

Continetti closes his piece with a quote from the late Michael Crichton: "Like a bearded nut in robes on the sidewalk proclaiming the end of the world is near, the media is just doing what makes it feel good, not reporting hard facts. We need to start seeing the media as a bearded nut on the sidewalk, shouting out false fears. It's not sensible to listen to it."

Sadly, for much of the media - not just cable and talk radio, either - this is very apt.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Powerful Indictment

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and founder of the AHA Foundation. Asra Q. Nomani, an author and former Wall Street Journal reporter, is a co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement.

Ali has written several books about her life as a female Somali refugee from Islam and its attendant horrors. She has been the target of credible death threats because she's been an outspoken and eloquent critic of sharia in particular and Muslim beliefs in general.

Ali and Ms Nomani were invited recently to testify as scholars before the U.S. Senate about Islamic ideology, but both of them were completely ignored by the feminist senators on the Intelligence Committee prompting them to write an op-ed in the New York Times about their experience. Here's the heart of their column:
Last week, Senator Kamala Harris, a Democrat from California, made headlines when Republican senators interrupted her at a hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee while she interrogated Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The clip of the exchange went viral; journalists, politicians and everyday Americans debated what the shushing signified about our still sexist culture.

[Nevertheless] the Democrats on the panel, including Senator Harris and three other Democratic female senators — North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp, New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan and Missouri’s Claire McCaskill — did not ask either of us a single question.

Just as we are invisible to the mullahs at the mosque, we were invisible to the Democratic women in the Senate.

How to explain this experience? Perhaps Senators Heitkamp, Harris, Hassan and McCaskill are simply uninterested in sexism and misogyny. But obviously, given their outspoken support of critical women’s issues, such as the kidnapping of girls in Nigeria and campus sexual assault, that’s far from the case.

No, what happened that day was emblematic of a deeply troubling trend among progressives when it comes to confronting the brutal reality of Islamist extremism and what it means for women in many Muslim communities here at home and around the world. When it comes to the pay gap, abortion access and workplace discrimination, progressives have much to say. But we’re still waiting for a march against honor killings, child marriages, polygamy, sex slavery or female genital mutilation.

Sitting before the senators that day were two women of color: Ayaan is from Somalia; Asra is from India. Both of us were born into deeply conservative Muslim families. Ayaan is a survivor of female genital mutilation and forced marriage. Asra defied Shariah by having a baby while unmarried. And we have both been threatened with death by jihadists for things we have said and done. Ayaan cannot appear in public without armed guards.

In other words, when we speak about Islamist oppression, we bring personal experience to the table in addition to our scholarly expertise. Yet the feminist mantra so popular when it comes to victims of sexual assault — believe women first — isn’t extended to us. Neither is the notion that the personal is political. Our political conclusions are dismissed as personal; our personal experiences dismissed as political.

That’s because in the rubric of identity politics, our status as women of color is canceled out by our ideas, which are labeled “conservative” — as if opposition to violent jihad, sex slavery, genital mutilation or child marriage were a matter of left or right. This not only silences us, it also puts beyond the pale of liberalism a basic concern for human rights and the individual rights of women abused in the name of Islam.

There is a real discomfort among progressives on the left with calling out Islamic extremism. Partly they fear offending members of a “minority” religion and being labeled racist, bigoted or Islamophobic. There is also the idea, which has tremendous strength on the left, that non-Western women don’t need “saving” — and that the suggestion that they do is patronizing at best. After all, the thinking goes, if women in America still earn less than men for equivalent work, who are we to criticize other cultures?

This is extreme moral relativism disguised as cultural sensitivity. And it leads good people to make excuses for the inexcusable. The silence of the Democratic senators is a reflection of contemporary cultural pressures. Call it identity politics, moral relativism or political correctness — it is shortsighted, dangerous and, ultimately, a betrayal of liberal values.

The hard truth is that there are fundamental conflicts between universal human rights and the principle of Shariah, or Islamic law, which holds that a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s; between freedom of religion and the Islamist idea that artists, writers, poets and bloggers should be subject to blasphemy laws; between secular governance and the Islamist goal of a caliphate; between United States law and Islamist promotion of polygamy, child marriage and marital rape; and between freedom of thought and the methods of indoctrination, or dawa, with which Islamists propagate their ideas.

Defending universal principles against Islamist ideology, not denying that these conflicts exist, is surely the first step in a fight whose natural leaders in Washington should be women like Kamala Harris and Claire McCaskill — both outspoken advocates for American women.
There may be reasons why progressives are reluctant to criticize a set of beliefs which, when espoused by other groups such as the Westboro Baptists, the KKK, male chauvinists, Christian fundamentalists, and others, they have no difficulty ridiculing and condemning in the harshest tones. Whatever those reasons may be, however, I doubt that any of them are good, and they're certainly not consistent with the liberal ideology they profess.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Sloppy Argument

John Zeigler at Mediaite has written a column castigating Donald Trump, a column so sloppily argued that it's hard to take it seriously. Zeigler is upset that more conservatives are not also upset that Trump "lied" about having taped his conversation in the Oval Office with James Comey.

He begins with some background:
To the shock of no one with a functioning and objective brain, it was finally revealed today that President Donald Trump, contrary to previous public statements, does NOT have any tapes of his conversations with then FBI Director James Comey. This official revelation should be a rather big deal, but much like nearly everything involving Trump, it likely won’t be.

Let’s be very clear about what really happened. After Trump suddenly fired Comey and was stunned by the backlash, word began to “leak” out about Comey’s version of their conversations. Trump then tweeted that Comey “better hope there are no tapes” of those discussions. We now know that Trump (unless he is a complete imbecile) knew when he made that pronouncement that no such tapes existed, and yet he waited several weeks, dodging many opportunities to clarify, before finally admitting that it was all just a bluff.
Zeigler then gives three reasons why Trump's tweet about the tapes is so outrageous:
First, there is the issue of Trump strongly suggesting something that he knew to be untrue and purposely allowing people, including Comey, to believe it for several weeks. I don’t know what that is called in this post-truth era, but where I come from that is still a lie. To a few people (I think/hope), lies by the President of the United States still matter, at least a little.
This is just silly. Trump didn't suggest that the tapes actually exist. That's an interpretation of his words that hostile interpreters have read into them. Nor is it a lie to say that "Comey better hope there are no tapes". A proposition, to be a lie, must be false, and there's no sensible reading of Trump's words that can turn them into a false proposition. If people have jumped to the conclusion that Trump was claiming that tapes definitely exist that's their fault, not Trump's.
....Even more nefariously, Trump was clearly trying to intimidate Comey, a likely key witness in a criminal investigation, into being afraid to offer specific details of their discussions because it might not match with tapes, which he was using the credibility of his office to strongly suggest existed. It is not hard to imagine that, in Trump’s mind (he didn’t know about Comey’s memos at that time) this would greatly chasten Comey in what he might say or testify to because he would fear being contradicted by audio evidence.
This is also silly, if not incoherent. What Trump was obviously doing was attempting to insure that Comey told the truth about their conversation. It'd hardly be helpful to Trump to frighten or intimidate Comey into saying anything that would be contradicted by tapes, if they existed. Why would Trump even raise the possibility of tapes unless he was trying to convince Comey of the need to be truthful in his statements about his conversations with the President?
Third, the practical impact of Trump shooting his mouth off about these non-existent tapes could end up being catastrophic to his presidency. Because of the “tapes” tweet, Comey let the cat out of the bag about his memos and, in turn, this helped provoke the naming of Robert Mueller as special counsel. Much like with his “Muslim Travel Ban,” it sure seems like Trump’s own words turn out to haunt him in the legal arena more than just about anything else possibly could.
This may or may not be correct, but it assumes that Comey would not have discussed his memos if Trump hadn't mentioned the possibility of tapes. How Zeigler knows that Comey would've kept the existence of the memos secret he doesn't say. An assertion like this should be supported with at least a little bit of evidence, but Zeigler gives us none.

One thing I agree with Zeigler on, though, is that Trump's tweets have often been unhelpful to his presidency, but in this instance the only reason to think that Trump did something that should arouse the ire of all decent persons is to impose on his tweet words and intentions that simply aren't there.

One need not be a Trump apologist to insist that weak, sloppy arguments against him - by those on both left and right - are not only unfair to the president but also diminish the credibility and stature of the people who make them.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Too Little Time

Ann Gauger, co-author of Science and Human Origins, and senior scientist at the Biologic Institute, argues in this video, and in her book, that the time necessary to fix the number of mutations necessary to evolve a human from a chimp-like predecessor is greater than the age of the universe.

In other words, even if it were possible to coordinate the needed mutations so that they would bring about the desired effect, it would take billions of years for these mutations to occur in just the right sequence, at least if they were to occur by chance.

Gauger is not saying that man did not arise from an ape-like ancestor, but rather that if he did, it is astronomically improbable that his evolution was driven solely by physical mechanisms like chance mutations, genetic drift, and natural selection. In order to make such an evolution plausible there must be something else, something in addition to the physical processes, that can drive biological change toward a goal, something that has foresight and engineering genius. A mind.

Apart from a mind behind the process, or something like mind, there's very little reason to think that Darwinian evolution is anything more than a materialist fairy tale.

Gauger's book is a good read and very informative, especially her chapter in which she discusses all the changes that would need to take place to derive a human from an ancestral ape.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Where's the Beef?

Readers of a certain age will recall that back in the 1980s the Wendy's hamburger chain ran a television ad in which they challenged their competitors to compare the amount of beef in their burgers to the amount in Wendy's. Their question to their competitors, "Where's the beef?" became a pop culture slogan for implying that something lacked any real substance.

David Brooks at the New York Times has implicitly raised that question of the Democrats in a recent column in which he called attention to a fact that a lot of people have been wondering about for some time. Despite all the talk about President Trump having colluded with the Russians to swing last November's election his way there's been almost zero evidence adduced by anyone to substantiate that any such collusion has taken place.

It's interesting that Brooks would highlight this little detail since it runs counter to his employer's (i.e. the NYT) obsessions, and it's never a good thing to challenge one's employers nor their obsessions.

In any case, Jack Crowe at The Daily Caller quotes from Brooks' column:
New York Times columnist David Brooks challenged the paper’s dominant narrative in a Tuesday op-ed in which he cautioned critics of President Donald Trump to show restraint in light of the absence of evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

“There may be a giant revelation still to come. But as the Trump-Russia story has evolved, it is striking how little evidence there is that any underlying crime occurred — that there was any actual collusion between the Donald Trump campaign and the Russians,” Brooks wrote.

Brooks’ explicit admission that there is no evidence to suggest the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials to interfere in the 2016 presidential election represents a significant departure from what has been the New York Times editorial position since the multiple ongoing investigations began.

Brooks examines one of the central arguments that Trump’s critics, his own New York Times colleagues among them, have introduced in an effort to implicate him in nefarious activity and quickly dismisses it.

“There were some meetings between Trump officials and some Russians,” Brooks wrote. “But so far no more than you’d expect from a campaign that was publicly and proudly pro-Putin. And so far nothing we know of these meetings proves or even indicates collusion.”

He goes on to admit Trump has made a number of missteps, including firing former FBI director James Comey and subsequently crafting an ill advised tweet hinting at the existence of recordings of his conversations with Comey.

While he says firing Comey was a mistake, he pushes back against the claim that the firing is evidence of obstruction on Trump’s part, pointing out that if a “democratically unsupervised, infinitely financed team of prosecutors” was unleashed on “a paragon of modern presidents,” like Abraham Lincoln, even he might be tempted to fight back.
The Democrats' reasoning seems to be that Hillary couldn't possibly have lost the election unless it were rigged. Trump is a despicable character and must therefore have rigged the election. Thus, the fact that there's no evidence of collusion means we just have to dig deeper because it must be there since Trump must have rigged the election.

So, like Ahab insanely pursuing Moby Dick to the detriment of all aboard The Pequod the Democrats refuse to be diverted from their monomaniacal pursuit of Donald Trump despite what that pursuit does to the credibility of their party or to the well-being of the nation.

Trump tweeted that "They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice"
“Unless there is some new revelation, that may turn out to be pretty accurate commentary,” Brooks wrote referring to Trump’s tweet.
One wonders what the Democrats will come up with if and when the obstruction of justice investigation also comes up empty. At some point the Democrats have to choose between the good of the country and their manic pursuit of Moby Trump.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

What's the Difference?

Here are three or four questions to ponder today:

1. Should a doctor who believes that it's immoral to perform a surgery on someone who insists she wants to be crippled because she doesn't want to be guilty of "ableism" be required to perform the surgery? Should the doctor be subject to a lawsuit or fine if he or she refuses to perform the surgery to deliberately cripple the patient?

2. Should a doctor who believes it's a form of child abuse to mutilate a young girl in what's called female circumcision nevertheless be required to provide the service? Should the doctor be subject to a lawsuit or fine if he or she refuses to perform the surgery to deliberately desensitize the girl?

3. Should a doctor who believes abortion is immoral nevertheless be required to perform the procedure on a woman who demands that he do so? Should the doctor be subject to a lawsuit or fine if he or she refuses to perform the procedure?

If the reader answers any of these questions "yes" then it's fair to say that the reader doesn't hold individual freedom and freedom of conscience in very high regard.

If the reader answers any of these questions "no" then that raises a fourth question:

4. Why should bakers and florists be required to provide a service that they believe would be immoral? Should these businesspersons be subject to a lawsuit or fine if they refuse to participate in, say, a gay wedding?

There may be a good answer to this question, but I'm not sure what it would be, at least not if the reader answered "no" to any of the first three questions. What's the salient difference, after all, between #4 and #1-3?

Monday, June 19, 2017

Why Fathers Matter

When David Blankenhorn's Fatherless America came out in 1995 it became an instant classic on the importance of men to the well-being of the American family. Blankenhorn said so many things in that book that needed to be said after our society had suffered through two decades of radical feminism with its relentless downplaying of the need for traditional two-parent families, and even though the book came out over two decades ago, what he said in 1995 needs saying as much today as it did then. Recall Gloria Steinem's aphorism that "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." It turned out that women and children both need men, at least fathers, as much as a fish needs water.

Yesterday was Father's Day so today might be a good time to remind ourselves of some of the key points Blankenhorn illuminates in Fatherless America.

He tells us, for instance, that men need to be fathers. Fatherhood is society's most important role for men. More than any other activity it helps men become good men. Fathers are more likely to obey the law, to be good citizens, and to care about the needs of others. Men who remain single are more likely than those who marry to die young, or commit crimes, or both (This is a point also made by George Gilder in his equally fine 1986 book Men and Marriage which I heartily recommend).

Children need fathers as protectors. Eighty-four percent of all cases of non-parental child abuse occur in single parent homes and of these cases, 64% of them occur at the hands of mom's boyfriend. Statistically speaking, teenage girls are far safer in the company of their father than in the company of any other man.

Children need fathers as providers. Fatherlessness is the single most powerful determinant of childhood poverty. Regardless of how poverty is measured, single women with children are the poorest of all demographic groups. Children who come from two-parent families are much more likely to inherit wealth from paternal grandparents, much more likely to get financial support at an age when they're going to school, buying a home, or starting their own families than children from single parent homes.

The economic fault line in this country doesn't run between races, it runs between those families in which fathers are present and those in which they are not.

Children need fathers as role models. Boys raised by a traditionally masculine father are much less likely to commit crimes, whereas boys raised without a father are much more likely to do poorly in school and wind up in prison or dead.

Valuing fatherhood has to be instilled in boys from a young age by a masculine father. Commitment to one woman and to their children is not something that comes naturally to men. It's almost impossible, for instance, to find a culture in which women voluntarily abandon their children in large numbers, but to find a culture in which men in large numbers voluntarily abandon their children all one need do is look around.

Boys who grow up without fathers are statistically more likely to become louts, misogynistic, abusive, authoritarian, and violent. Girls who grow up without fathers are more likely to become promiscuous. A society in which a father is little more than a sperm donor is a society of fourteen year-old girls with babies and fourteen year-old boys with guns.

Stepfathers and boyfriends (Blankenhorn calls them "nearby guys") cannot replace the biological father. For stepfathers and boyfriends the main object of desire and commitment, to the extent these exist, is the mother, not the child. For the married father this distinction hardly exists. The married father says "My mate, my child". The stepfather and boyfriend must say "My mate, the other guy's child".

Children are a glue for biological parents that serves to hold them together, but they're a wedge between non-biological parents, tending to be a source of tension which pushes them apart.

Fatherhood means fathers teaching children a way of life, which is the heart of what it is to be a father. More than providing for their material needs, or shielding them from harm, or even caring for them and showing them affection, paternal sponsorship means cultural transmission - endowing children with competence and character by showing them how to live a certain kind of life.

One wishes every man - and woman - would read Blankenhorn's Fatherless America. It's loaded with great insight.