Wednesday, August 20, 2014

It's Not Over

President Obama declared mission accomplished in northern Iraq proclaiming that the Yazidi's had been rescued, a humanitarian disaster averted and that American forces would be withdrawn from the region before his leftist base gets too outraged by American use of force. However, according to a Reuters report the crisis created by ISIS's genocidal terror against religious minorities continues apace. Hot Air's Noah Rothman summarizes:
Just minutes after Obama spoke, however, independent relief organizations and even the United Nations warned that the Yazidis’ ordeal was not yet over. Several thousand remained trapped on Mt. Sinjar and those who had managed to escape were far from safe.

Less than a week after the conclusion of that mission, Reuters reported that many Yazidis still face the threat of ISIS’s horrors. Reporters related stories of militants digging graves in which they would bury civilians alive, women and children executed en mass for refusing to undergo religious conversion, and a general sense of hopelessness among those who have been abandoned by their countrymen and the world.

“They put women and children under the ground. They were alive. I still hear their screams,” one 26-year-old Iraqi Yazidi told Reuters reporters. “They were trying to keep their heads up to keep breathing.”

“They tied the hands of one woman to the back of a car and her legs to another car and they split her into two,” another said. “Have you seen anything like this? This is all because she is not Muslim and did not want to be converted.”

Other reports indicate that the Islamic State has captured up to 3,000 Yazidi women and children, all of whom will be sold or are to be forced to serve as servants and wives to their captors.

“She said she is going to be sold as a slave this afternoon, for $10,” one Yazidi man said of his captured daughter last week. “The world needs to know that is where our women are, where they are being enslaved, young and old alike.”
Will the man whom Hot Air has dubbed our "semi-retired president" try to stop this barbarism or will he tear himself away from the golf course only when the plight of these people is so much in the news that he can no longer ignore it without appearing cold and insensitive?

One thing that the Western world needs to understand. This threat will not go away. These people are determined to visit these very same atrocities on us and our children, and unless we stop them they will eventually succeed, just as the surf eventually succeeds in wearing down the rock against which again and again it hurls itself.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Simplifying the Complexity

A friend questioned whether I was not missing the complexity of black dysfunction in a recent post titled Blaming the Victim? Yes. He felt that the causes of the dearth of stores and businesses in predominately black communities was a complicated matter which I over-simplified by attributing it to the reluctance of businessmen to invest in high crime areas.

I guess the reason I simplified this and the larger issue of black dysfunction is that I think the cause of the latter is, at bottom, fairly simple. I explain why in my reply to my friend which went something like this slightly edited version:

At the risk of sounding simplistic I don't think the problems in the black community are all that complex. I think they stem from government policies and cultural influences that have led to the disintegration of the black family. I don't think racism has played anything more than a minor role. The black crime rate, for instance was far lower in the 1950s than it is today, but surely racism was more virulent fifty years ago than it is today. The salient difference between then and now is that back then there were far fewer blacks growing up in fatherless homes and far fewer welfare programs providing disincentives for parents to stay together.

In fact, I think the reason the media has blown the events in Ferguson into a wall-to-wall coverage event is that they (at least the liberal media) are desperate to find a case of white on black crime that confirms the narrative of ubiquitous white racism. It's actually very hard to find a significant example of white racism that's more than just someone saying something insensitive that a black overhears. The overwhelming majority of interracial crime is black-on-white and the overwhelming majority of murders in which the victim is black are perpetrated by other blacks.

Given that the facts belie the liberal narrative, cases like the Zimmerman/Martin shooting or the one in Ferguson are magnified out of all proportion to their actual significance and are portrayed, whether the evidence supports it or not, as a confirmation that America is still a virulently racist country.

And the reason this is done is to somehow excuse the failure of the mass of blacks which, having been given historically unprecedented opportunities to better themselves, still languish in poverty. If that failure can be blamed on racism then blacks can be absolved of responsibility for their predicament. If racism is not a significant factor then blacks are at fault, and this leads to the conclusion that maybe there's something wrong, either with black people themselves, or with the welfare state and its effect on the character of people who live under it.

Neither alternative is appealing to liberals so they're desperate to avoid having to face either of them. Their best option, they've apparently concluded, is to show that blacks still suffer from white hatred and oppression and that all of their problems stem from white contempt rather than any inherent flaw either in the black psyche or with the welfare state that white liberals have promoted for the last fifty years.

As long as they cling to this myth, the situation of black people in this country will continue to stagnate because we'll never adequately address the real cause of the problems in black communities.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Should We Use Violence Against ISIS?

An essay in by Derek Flood Sojourners titled Is There a Non-Violent Response to ISIS? holds out the promise of an answer to the question posed in the title.

I have enormous respect for many of the people who share Flood's desire for a non-violent world because many of them practice what they preach and are deeply committed to living a life of peace-making and non-violence. So what I hoped for in Flood's piece was some insight by an advocate of non-violence into what should be done right now about the plight of the Yazidis on Mt. Sinjar and Christians everywhere in Northern Iraq.

I thus found Mr. Flood's column disappointing since his answer to the question posed in the title of this post was "no, but maybe."

Mr. Flood delayed an answer to whether violence should be used to stop the horrors perpetrated by ISIS in Iraq (and Syria) till near the end. Most of his essay was given to urging policy-makers to think long term and plan for 40 to 50 years down the road.

This is sound but trivial advice that any American foreign policy-maker should heed, but it doesn't answer the question what we should do at this moment about the genocidal threat that ISIS presents to the Middle East in the immediate future.

Here's an excerpt from the Sojourners article:
Let me therefore begin by saying that I agree that we cannot stand by and do nothing. The practice of nonviolence and enemy-love cannot entail accepting abuse. It cannot entail neglecting to protect ourselves or our loved ones from harm. This is where we must begin. The goal of nonviolence is to stop violence and abuse, not tolerate it.
Okay, but how do we stop it in the specific case of a terror army beheading, crucifying, and burying religious minorities alive? Mr. Flood offers us nothing concrete:
What's crucial to understand is that nonviolence is not simply a refusal to add to harm (whether that harm is physical or spiritual/emotional), but more importantly it involves acting to restore, heal, and make things right. So in the case of the Islamic State, the question we need to ask is: What can we do to make things right? What can we do to protect the vulnerable? What can we do to stop the violence?

Jeremy Courtney, who started the hashtag #WeAreN — which became a symbol rallying cry worldwide expressing solidarity with their brothers and sisters in suffering Iraq — had this to say in an interview with with Huffington Post's religion editor Paul Rauschenbush:
We need a long-term plan, not just a short-term fix. There are agencies helping Christians, Yezidis, Turkmen, Shabak and others, and those services are necessary. But this isn't only about what Obama or Maliki must do now. The Christian church needs to reconsider its relationship with violence; that is part of what has landed us and others in this dire situation. We cannot carp about Christian persecution and not talk about violence and our use of violent solutions. We need a 40- to 50-year plan so that when the time comes to overthrow the next dictator, we are not as blind to our own complicity and stuck with short-term gains.
Yes, but telling this to the people hiding their children from ISIS is to tell them, in essence, that they're on their own. I'm sure that neither Mr. Flood or Mr. Courtney would state it this way because it sounds pretty callous, but that's what their counsel amounts to.

Mr. Flood then persists in avoiding the central issue:
The fact is, there may not be a good short-term solution to a situation that has gotten so out of hand that people are describing it in terms of Frankenstein monster, but what we need to face is our complicity in creating that monster. The fact is, violence has not only failed to create stability, in many ways it has acted to exacerbate the situation of instability and injustice which fuels terrorism. Violence does not stop violence, instead it causes it to escalate like a wildfire burning out of control.
This last sentence is simply silly. It was the violence employed against the Japanese and Germans in WWII that stopped the violence they were perpetrating on the Chinese and the Jews. It's the violence employed by armed citizens and police officers against would-be mass murderers who stop the violence of these psychopaths. It's absurd to say that violence does not stop violence. Surely what Mr. Flood intended to say is that violence does not always stop violence, but then this would be to acknowledge that there are some uses of violence that are warranted and proper, an acknowledgement which Mr. Flood is doubtless loath to make.
So what can we do?... If we truly wish to find a way out of the escalating cycle of violence we are caught in, we need to start at the roots and we need to think long term. We need to deal with our complicity in creating the mess and work toward making it right — not with bombs and drone strikes, but by working long term toward humanitarian goals such healthcare, poverty, and education, which work to create stable and safe societies.
Yes, yes, but what do we do now? While ISIS continues their gruesome slaughters we need to work on long term peace-making? Are we to say that those who are fleeing for their lives even as you read this are simply out of luck and shouldn't look to us for help because we deplore the use of violence to save innocent people's lives?

Mr. Flood persists in ignoring the crisis at hand and continues his focus on the long term by urging that we adopt the following three "commonsense pathways" to long-term peace:
So thinking long term, what can we do to prevent the next ISIS or al Qaeda from being born out of the soil of violence? Erin Niemela proposes these three commonsense pathways to peace:

1) Immediately stop sending funds and weapons to all involved parties.
Another way of saying this is, stop giving the Kurds and others the ability to defend themselves against those who will butcher their children, sell their women into sex slavery, and behead and crucify them. I'm certain Mr. Flood is not so cold as to stand by while such horrors happen and tell the victims that we can't rescue them because we have to make things more peaceful a century from now, but, on the other hand, that's what he is saying.
2) Fully invest in social and economic development initiatives in any region in which terrorist groups are engaged.
What social and economic development initiatives in northern Iraq should we be investing in? How can we do any investing at all while ISIS is murdering every non-Sunni who shows himself? Moreover, we can get an idea of how economic aid is put to use by these people by looking at how Hamas used their social and economic development aid in Gaza. Forty percent of it was spent on building tunnels into Israel and most of the rest was spent on weapons. Giving aid to people like this doesn't seem to be an effective way to promote peace.
3) Fully support any and all nonviolent civil society resistance movements. Whoever is left - give them whatever support is needed the most.
I wonder if the editors at Sojourners just missed the terrifying irony of this statement. "Whoever is left"?! Is the non-violent response to wait until the genocide is over and then move in and offer any survivors the promise of our full support? This sounds like something from a Monty Python skit.

Flood goes on to quote from a study that shows that from 1900 to 2006 non-violent resistance campaigns were nearly twice as successful as their violent counterparts. He links to the study in his column, and although I haven't read the study I wonder how many of the successful exercises of non-violent resistance it cites occurred in situations where the oppressing government was that of a Western nation with a long Christian tradition of democratic tolerance and human rights (like the civil rights movement in America, or Ghandi's pacifist resistance to the British in British-run India) and how many of them took place in countries where the oppressing power embraced a vicious genocidal ideology like Naziism or a mutant form of Islam. It makes a difference, I should think.

At any rate, having said all of this, having avoided the relevant question which is what to do in the short term, Mr. Flood one vague bow toward the question almost in passing. He writes:
This is not to categorically rule out the use of violence in the short term, although we certainly do need to be careful that in using violence we do not act to make things worse than they are.
He doesn't seem to realize that that one sentence completely undoes everything else he has said. The gravamen of his piece is what non-violent people should do about ISIS now. His answer appears to be: Maybe they should use violence.

What a reader might have been hoping for was a treatment of the principles governing when a fundamentally non-violent person would be justified in using violence, or answers to questions like: What makes the use of violence acceptable in this situation and not, say, in 2003 when Saddam Hussein was seeking to exterminate the Kurds and his own people? Or, would it be acceptable to supply weapons to the Ukrainian military? Or, is it acceptable to use violence in Africa where non-Muslims are being exterminated? Or, if force is justifiable against ISIS to what extent should it be used? Or, should we seek to totally eradicate this plague? Or, what if American bombing kills a couple thousand ISIS fighters and no Americans are killed, will the people at Sojourners complain about the disproportionality of the casualties?

These are questions that anyone who adopts the non-violent stance, a stance I would sincerely wish to be sympathetic to, needs to answer. Mr. Flood's decision to avoid addressing them in an essay whose title implies that they would be answered is disappointingly unhelpful. It's also a tacit admission that absolute non-violence is an unrealistic aspiration for those who choose to live in the modern world.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Blaming the Victim? Yes.

From time to time we hear the lament that our inner cities are food deserts because grocery stores have abandoned the area, we're also told that there are no job opportunities for young people in our urban areas because businesses won't open in African-American communities. The lack of stores and jobs are both attributed, of course, to white racism.

Perhaps a better explanation is to be found in the dysfunctional community that is Ferguson, MO which might be viewed as a general type that's all too common in the U.S.

A store owner is robbed by an African-American thug, the robber is subsequently shot by police in what are still murky circumstances, the other young thugs in the town seize upon the episode as a pretext for rioting and proceed to burn and trash dozens of shops in the neighborhood.

If you were a businessman trying to eke out a living would you want to open a business in this neighborhood? Of course not. So more stores, including food stores, will decide it's just not worth the risks one must incur to operate in such places, and urban blight and abandonment metastasize.

And, we may count on it, the cause of the exodus of businesses from the neighborhood will be said by such luminaries as Al Sharpton to be the racism of whites who don't want to live and do business in black neighborhoods. Maybe it would be good for African-Americans to stop blaming whitey, to ignore the demagogues, to reject the liberal nostrums which have gotten the mass of blacks nowhere in the last fifty years, and start looking at themselves for the source of their problems and for the solutions to them.

Liberals will say - they always do - that this is just blaming the victim. Perhaps, but sometimes the "victim" is truly at fault, and sometimes the victim is victimized by himself.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Blurred Line

The consensus among conservative pundits is that the police in Ferguson, Missouri have conducted themselves abysmally since the shooting by an officer of an unarmed black teenager. I don't know the facts on the shooting, so I have no opinion on it.

The point is that no one else in the country knows the facts either, including the African American community in Ferguson, which makes the violent disturbances there, as opposed to the peaceful demonstrations, intolerably thuggish.

I do agree, however, with the column in Time written by Rand Paul, the Republican junior senator from Kentucky, in which he raises a very disquieting concern. He (and many others) are very troubled about the increasing militarization of our local police forces. Police are not supposed to be military units, and as they evolve into that the specter of a tyrannical, totalitarian police state looms more ominously in our future.

Here are some excerpts from Paul's column:
The outrage in Ferguson is understandable—though there is never an excuse for rioting or looting. There is a legitimate role for the police to keep the peace, but there should be a difference between a police response and a military response. The images and scenes we continue to see in Ferguson resemble war more than traditional police action.

The Cato Institute’s Walter Olson observed this week how the rising militarization of law enforcement is currently playing out in Ferguson:
Why armored vehicles in a Midwestern inner suburb? Why would cops wear camouflage gear against a terrain patterned by convenience stores and beauty parlors? Why are the authorities in Ferguson, Mo. so given to quasi-martial crowd control methods (such as bans on walking on the street) and, per the reporting of Riverfront Times, the firing of tear gas at people in their own yards? (“‘This my property!’ he shouted, prompting police to fire a tear gas canister directly at his face.”) Why would someone identifying himself as an 82nd Airborne Army veteran, observing the Ferguson police scene, comment that “We rolled lighter than that in an actual warzone”?
Olson added, “the dominant visual aspect of the story, however, has been the sight of overpowering police forces confronting unarmed protesters who are seen waving signs or just their hands.”

How did this happen?

Not surprisingly, big government has been at the heart of the problem. Washington has incentivized the militarization of local police precincts by using federal dollars to help municipal governments build what are essentially small armies—where police departments compete to acquire military gear that goes far beyond what most of Americans think of as law enforcement.

This is usually done in the name of fighting the war on drugs or terrorism. The Heritage Foundation’s Evan Bernick wrote in 2013 that, “the Department of Homeland Security has handed out anti-terrorism grants to cities and towns across the country, enabling them to buy armored vehicles, guns, armor, aircraft, and other equipment.”

When you couple this militarization of law enforcement with an erosion of civil liberties and due process that allows the police to become judge and jury—national security letters, no-knock searches, broad general warrants, pre-conviction forfeiture—we begin to have a very serious problem on our hands.

The militarization of our law enforcement is due to an unprecedented expansion of government power in this realm. It is one thing for federal officials to work in conjunction with local authorities to reduce or solve crime. It is quite another for them to subsidize it.
Hot Air also has a good piece on this topic which can be read here. Burgeoning government such as is envisioned by liberals need not necessarily entail militarized police forces, I suppose, but it certainly seems that as our government becomes increasingly more expansive, our police are becoming increasingly more like our Marines and the line between them has been blurred. I don't think that's good for communities nor for the relationship of the police to the citizenry. It's certainly not good for our liberties and rights.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Understanding and Belief

Keith Blanchard (who apparently has no particular expertise in biology) has written a column for The Week that has gained some attention.

The ostensible purpose of his article is to exhort people to embrace evolution as science and not as a matter of faith. As Blanchard says, we should understand evolution, not believe in it. If his point is simply that we can grasp the basic points of evolutionary theory without making a doxastic commitment to them ourselves, well, then that seems a little banal. If his point is that if you understand those points you will presumably believe them then his point is manifestly, glaringly false.

Moreover, it's misleading. Most people who reject evolution are not so much hostile to the idea of some kind of universal relationship of living things. What they object to is the way naturalistic metaphysics is smuggled in with the less innocuous aspects of the evolutionary package.

I might add that I have no quarrel with evolution. It may be true for all I know. My quarrel is with naturalism and naturalistic views of evolution which tell us that evolution is a blind, unguided, completely natural process. That's a claim that goes well beyond the empirical evidence. In other words, we may have arrived here through some sort of descent through modification, but if so, there's much reason to believe that there was more to our existence as a species than purely unintentional, unintelligent, physical processes like mutation and natural selection.

At any rate, Blanchard offers a summary of the basic claims of evolutionary theory which, were they correct, could apply to any kind of biological evolution, naturalistic or intelligently directed. The problem is, Blanchard's summary describes evolutionary theory as it stood about fifty years ago. Few evolutionists accept Blanchard's view today as anything more than a heuristic for elementary school children.

Here's his summary with a few comments. For a much more extensive critique of Blanchard's essay go here.

Blanchard writes:
  • Genes, stored in every cell, are the body's blueprints; they code for traits like eye color, disease susceptibility, and a bazillion other things that make you you.
No doubt our genes code for many aspects of our physical body, but Blanchard does not say that they code for everything that makes us us and for good reason. There's no genetic explanation for some our most important traits. It's a mystery, for example, how genes could possibly produce human consciousness, or many behaviors in the animal kingdom. How, after all, does something like an immaterial mind arise from material interactions of chemical compounds? Not only do we have no explanation for how conscious experience arises in individual persons, we have no explanation for how such a thing could ever have evolved by physical processes.

The same is true of behaviors. All birds of any particular species behave similarly, but how do genes, which code for proteins which in turn form structures or catalyze chemical reactions, produce a behavior? It's no more clear how molecules of DNA can produce behavior than it is how molecules of sucrose can produce the sensation of sweet.
  • Reproduction involves copying and recombining these blueprints, which is complicated, and errors happen.
Yes, they do and those errors are almost always dysgenic. They detract from fitness not enhance it. Just as an error in copying computer code is much more likely to cause a system to crash than it it is to cause it to work better.
  • Errors are passed along in the code to future generations, the way a smudge on a photocopy will exist on all subsequent copies.
As I said above, a smudge is a flaw. As similar "smudges" accumulate the result is not a new and different picture of high quality, it's an increasingly weaker and useless representation of the old.
  • This modified code can (but doesn't always) produce new traits in successive generations: an extra finger, sickle-celled blood, increased tolerance for Miley Cyrus shenanigans.
These examples, particularly the last, are dysgenic to human beings. Polydactyly may not be dysgenic but neither does it confer a survival advantage. If it did it would spread through the population, but it hasn't.
  • When these new traits are advantageous (longer legs in gazelles), organisms survive and replicate at a higher rate than average, and when disadvantageous (brittle skulls in woodpeckers), they survive and replicate at a lower rate.
This is the selectionist theory of evolution, i.e. that natural selection, acting on genetic mutations, drives evolution. It is held today by few biologists because it's fraught with empirical difficulties. In order to finesse these difficulties biologists have adduced other mechanisms such as genetic drift to do the heavy lifting in evolution.

In fact, as Michael Behe pointed out in his book The Edge of Evolution, any theory based on fortuitous mutations defies probability. Many traits require more than one specific mutation occurring fairly rapidly in an organism, and the chances of this happening are astronomically poor.

I repeat, this might have happened through a long evolutionary process, but to say that the process was completely natural (a claim Blanchard doesn't make, by the way) is to go beyond empirical science and enter the realm of faith and metaphysics, and even the belief that it happened at all requires a considerable amount of faith.

We can understand the basic hypothesized lineaments of the process, but that doesn't mean that it's not something that it's inappropriate to believe in. To believe in it is to have faith that the theory is the true explanation for how we got to be here. There are people who understand the theory and who believe in it's truth. There are people who understand the theory and don't believe in it, and there are many who understand it and are agnostic, believing that the scientific evidence often conflicts with the theory as Stephen Meyer has so powerfully shown in his two books Signature in the Cell and Darwin's Doubt.

In my opinion, a humble agnosticism with respect to the means by which life originated and diversified is the most intellectually prudent course. I'm far more confident, however, in the truth of the claim that however we came to be it was the result of the purposeful agency of an engineering genius than that blind chance can accomplish the equivalent of producing a library entirely unintentionally.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Working Conditions in Gaza

I recall reading years ago that the ancient Egyptians, having completed the construction of a pyramid, would kill the workers who built it so that they couldn't reveal the labyrinth of tunnels leading to the tombs of the kings and the treasure therein.

Things haven't changed much in the last 7000 years in that part of the world. The Times of Israel has a story relating how the very same fate may have awaited those who dug the tunnels for Hamas:
Hamas executed dozens of diggers responsible for its extensive tunnel system in past weeks, fearing the workers would reveal the site locations to Israel, a report on the Mako website’s army blog said.

The tunnelers, many of whom constructed the tunnels over the course of months, would dig for 8-12 hours a day, and received a monthly wage of $150-$300, according to the blog.
And low-skilled workers in the U.S. think they have it bad because they only get $7.25 an hour to cook french fries, and their bosses aren't threatening to kill them when their shift is over. One wonders why these poor tunnel diggers didn't unionize.
Sources in Gaza told the website that Hamas took a series of precautions to prevent information from reaching Israel. The terror organization would reportedly blindfold the excavators enroute to the sites and back, to prevent them from recognizing the locations. The tunnels were strictly supervised by Hamas members, and civilians were kept far from the sites.

M., a former tunnel digger and Israeli collaborator, told the website that Hamas would strip search the workers to ensure they had no recording devices or cameras hidden on them.

After the tunnels were completed, dozens were reportedly executed to prevent intelligence leaks to Israel. “Anyone they suspected might transfer information to Israel on the tunnels was killed by the military wing,” a different source said. “They were very cruel.”
Yes, of course they're cruel, but not nearly as cruel as Israelis, we're told by the leftist media, who kill Palestinians when they take out Hamas' rocket launchers which Hamas places on the roofs of the Palestinian's houses.

Reading further we learn that the Palestinian equivalent of OSHA is really fumbling the ball:
In 2012, a Journal of Palestine Studies article claimed 160 Palestinian children were killed while working on Hamas’s tunnel system.
One hundred sixty children killed in the first two years of constructing tunnels to enable Hamas to kill Israeli children. How many have died in the last two years? And there's been not a peep about this from those in the world community standing atop the lofty Moral High Ground hurling imprecations at the Israelis for accidentally killing other children Hamas deliberately placed in harm's way. We see no news footage of bereaved parents of the child tunnel diggers wailing at their child's funeral because, presumably, such scenes are newsworthy only if the Israelis can be blamed for the children's deaths.

And note this:
The digging of tunnels began four years ago and has demanded 40 percent of Hamas’s budget, The Times of Israel has learned.

Tunnel diggers have been using electric or pneumatic jackhammers, advancing 4-5 meters a day. The tunnels found were reportedly mostly dug 18-25 meters (60-82 feet) underground, though one was discovered at a depth of 35 meters (115 feet). “That’s like a 10-story building underground,” one expert said.
The Palestinian people live in penury, allegedly because of the evil Israelis, yet over the last four years 40% of their government's economic resources, not to mention the human lives, have been squandered on building tunnels constructed for no purpose other than to kill Israelis.

Not only is it absurd to try to draw some kind of moral equivalence between Hamas and the Israelis, as is done in the West every time open conflict breaks out, it's obscene.