Wednesday, January 31, 2007

He's Not the Only One

Readers who are fans of the Beatles may be interested in this video of a 1995 appearance of John Lennon singing his famous "Imagine." Only the small-minded will quibble that Lennon had in fact died fifteen years earlier.

Actually, the message of his song is much more sophisticated in this later rendition than in the 1970's version.

Click on the video to play the song and scroll down to read the lyrics.

Thanks to Byron for the tip.



A white blood cell chases down an invading bacterium in this fascinating video clip. We might pause to marvel at all the systems and structures which need to be present in this microscopic cell in order for it to carry out its function as a seek and destroy mechanism to guard the body against infection.

It has to have an apparatus that enables it to detect the presence of an invading microbe, it has to be able to distinguish the invader from other cells in the blood stream, and it has to have an apparatus that enables it to home in on its prey and to pursue and ingest it. All of these systems are doubtless very complex, requiring many specialized proteins, all of which require assembly mechanisms and instructions. That assembly, in turn, requires other structures to coordinate the timing and location of the necessary proteins, and all of these things arose blindly and purely by accident, according to the Darwinian narrative.

Well, maybe, but we can hardly help being skeptical. Our credulity can grant to chance and purposeless processes only so much capability before it collapses under the enormous weight the Darwinian view places upon its shoulders. After a while it just seems like we're being asked to believe in a fairy tale.


Heather Mac

Gene Expression poses ten questions to Heather Mac Donald, a conservative writer who has become something of a curiosity since she came out and declared herself an atheist in The American Conservative last summer.

MacDonald is always interesting, even when I think her to be mistaken, and the Gene Expression piece does not disappoint. Give it a look.

We examined the support Ms MacDonald gives for her atheism in the American Conservative essay here and here.


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Some Friend

Nick Bromell, a childhood friend of Scooter Libby, tells us more about himself than he probably intended and also something about his idea of what it means to be a modern liberal. Little of what he says is flattering to either himself or liberalism. Here are some excerpts from a much longer essay:

So, for six years I've been obsessed with Scooter. Every time I read a newspaper, I see Scooter and me hunched over a game of Stratego (which he usually won), or I see him faking right before hooking left so I can hit him with a pass in the end zone. Walking my dog through the woods around our house, I chant the mantra of questions I literally ache to ask him: How could you work for an administration that denies global warming and supports tax breaks for large SUVs? How could you work for an administration that cuts funding for birth control to the poorest people in our country and the world? How could you so brazenly exaggerate the threat of Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction, and how could you so foolishly imagine that American troops would be welcomed in Baghdad with cheers and flowers?

In my hotter moments-I have fewer and fewer cool moments these days-I ask Scooter whether his political identification with homophobia is distinguishable from a political identification with racism or anti-Semitism. And convinced that it is not, I sit down at my desk to do it: to write the letter telling Scooter that I can no longer be his friend, not even in the rather distant way we have been friends for all these years.

You'd think that as friends Bromell would at least extend Libby the benefit of the doubt on these issues rather than portraying them so unfairly. No one, for example, denies global warming. What is questioned is the cause, the importance, and the permanence of the rise in the earth's temperature. No one, not even the censorious Mr. Bromell, knows the answers to these questions.

Nor is it homophobia to oppose gay marriage. To compare opposition to gay marriage to racism and anti-semitism is either ignorant, foolish, or dishonest.

Today, my old friend is under indictment for obstructing justice by lying about his knowledge of the Valerie Plame affair. Unless his lawyers manage to engineer a miracle, he will be tried in court early in 2007. There he will face the distinct possibility of public disgrace and a career-terminating jail sentence. So what should I hope for, I ask myself: my old friend's acquittal or his conviction?

Why wouldn't any decent human being hope that his friend would be innocent of the chages and thus acquitted? Why isn't hoping for his friend's acquittal a no-brainer for Mr. Bromell? Is it that punishing people one disagrees with politically is a higher priority for this self-described liberal than the obligations of friendship?

A liberal, as I use the term, is someone who never gives up trying to see the other person's point of view. A liberal never stops doubting himself, for self-doubt is precisely what allows us to make room in our minds for someone else's views and to keep the possibility of communication between us alive. A fundamentalist, on the other hand, is someone to whom the very idea of point of view is immaterial, or worse-the foundation of relativism. A warrior who pledges fealty to the god of one Truth, a fundamentalist searches for personal conviction, not mutual understanding.

By his own definitions I'd say Mr. Bromell shows himself to be more of a fundamentalist than a liberal. He's not making much of an effort in this article to see Scooter Libby's point of view. His description of a fundamentalist, in fact, sounds very much like a description of his own tone in the first two paragraphs above.

What I want to ask Scooter today is how the United States can shape "the international security order in line with American principles and interests" if those principles include-as the document implies-the right of a nation to seek preeminence. After all, if we aim to shape the world in accordance with that principle, aren't we inviting the other nations of the world to emulate us and thereby to seek preeminence themselves?

For Mr. Bromell it is nefarious for nations to strive for greatness. It's chauvinistic to think that one's principles are superior to those of others. Mr. Bromell would apparently prefer that all nations remain equal in their shared mediocrity. Rather than getting out in front and pulling others along in our slipstream, if people like Mr. Bromell had their way all nations would be stalled at the same level of achievement as the most laggard third world economic basket case.

In my own experience, this pernicious trend resolves itself finally into the matter of whether I should remain Scooter's friend and what verdict I should hope for at his trial. There's a part of me that wants to see him get nailed. There's a part of me that wants to end the endless imagined conversations I've been having with him, that wants to stop peppering him with "How can you?" questions, that wants to arrive at the Zen clarity of the warrior who focuses on one thing only: victory.

But there's another part of me-call it the lingering liberal part-that tries to be fair to Scooter's point of view, that doesn't want to consign him to the camp of "the enemy," that wants to keep lines of communication open.

Would remaining Scooter's friend be the surest way I have of remaining true to the principles of liberalism, as I understand that word? Or would it just be an excuse for my failure to face a difficult situation, and one that makes me a sucker as well? Would recognizing Scooter as my enemy be the honest thing to do, and the only thing he would truly respect?

In other words, rather than loving his friend unconditionally, he agonizes over whether his liberal principles might require him to hope his friend's life is ruined. This makes liberalism sound more like a fringe fundamentalist religion than a set of political principles.

I know that terrorists aren't out to grab American assets. What they hate is a certain image of America, America as a cultural chauvinist trying to impose its principles and interests on the rest of the world.

This is remarkably naive. What terrorists hate about America is the fact that we are not Muslim and that we protect Israel. They hate us, too, because our success, in spite of our being infidels, is an indictment of their own ineptitude and of the religion that has stultified their progress for a thousand years.

If I .... [am] correct, then the best way for the United States to combat the religious fundamentalism that underwrites terrorism is to remain a liberal state guided by liberal principles. The worst thing we can do is precisely what the Bush administration has promoted: become a fundamentalist nation that mirrors bin Laden's fantasies back to him and thus confirms them.

Presumably one of those liberal principles is to treat Islamo-terrorists as criminals rather than as a military foe whose aim is to utterly destroy us and our way of life. How long would our liberal principles last if we refused to fight against this threat?

And Cheney would be right. We liberals do want to hold onto the word true because we know that behind our policy proposals lurks a deep sense of right and wrong, a deep instinct about what makes life valuable and meaningful. But we do not fully articulate these beliefs, and we seldom even admit that we have them. Because they rest at bottom on conviction, not reason, and therefore cannot be justified without circularity, we hesitate to bring them into the open. We are nervous about admitting that in this sense our politics are as faith-based as those of any fundamentalist.

I'm not sure what he's getting at in the preceding paragraph except to admit that liberal principles rest on little more than a subjective preference. If that's what he's saying it's quite an admission. It is an acknowledgement that at bottom liberalism is a non-rational choice that people make simply because it makes them feel good.

While I want the Bush administration to be held accountable for its blunders and its lies, I also want my friend Scooter to be proven innocent and to go home to his family. In short, I want things both ways.

Well, then. Why all the anguish over what he ultimately wants. And how would convicting a minor figure really be punishing the Bush administration anyway? Mr. Bromell sounds like a very mean-spirited and vindictive man who comes close to being willing to sacrifice his friend if it will, even in small measure, somehow hurt Bush.

I wonder if his sense of justice wants Bill Clinton's administration held accountable for its blunders and lies? Does he, for example, insist that Sandy Berger be prosecuted for stealing documents from the National Archives and destroying them? Or is that crime justified because it served the interest of Democrats?

If this attitude involves me in self-contradiction, so be it. The risk of a seeming inconsistency is one that liberals must take if we are to meet the complexities of the world as we know it. But we should undertake this risk agonizingly, not flippantly, taking the full measure of what is at stake as we make up our minds.

Mr. Bromell makes here another confession. Liberalism, at least as he understands it, is inconsistent with the way the world is. The inconsistency, however, is mostly within himself. He wants to see anyone associated with the Bush administration destroyed, but he can't reconcile that with his obligation to love his friend. The problem is more with Mr. Bromell's character, perhaps, than with his ideology.

How is it inconsistent, whether one is a liberal or a conservative, to desire to see justice done while hoping that one's friend is innocent? Mr. Bromell is so blinded by his hatred for Bush that any twinge of human sentiment and common sense that interferes with his desire for punishment seems to him to raise the specter of a contradiction.

Most of the liberals I know are good, kind people who are not at all the obsessed, vindictive Captain Ahabs Mr. Bromell paints himself as being. They would have no trouble loving their friend and praying for his acquittal, even if they disagreed in every neuron in their bodies with the Bush administration's policies. But the liberalism Mr. Bromell displays really is something very ugly.


The Battle at Najaf

Bill Roggio has more than has been reported in the MSM on the recent battle between Iraqi forces and a large insurgent force near Najaf that cost the insurgents at least 250-300 killed and hundreds wounded and captured.


Monday, January 29, 2007

The Inner Life of a Cell

We linked to this video a couple of months ago, but it's worth doing again for our newer readers. The next time you hear someone insist that life is solely the product of chance and physical law, that it arose through purely mechanical processes acting blindly through trial and error, think of this computer representation of just a couple of the processes that occur constantly in every cell of every human being. Then ask yourself whether the engineering and complexity of these systems is something that could plausibly result from sheer accident, as the Darwinian true believers would have it.

You can read about the technical aspects of producing the video here.


Rejoice and Be Glad

A Pew Survey of "Generation Nexters" (18-25 yr. olds) reveals that 81% of them believe that getting rich is either the highest or second highest priority of their generation. Fifty one percent rated getting famous as the highest or second highest goal.

The good news in this otherwise depressing result is that if the Nexters are successful in achieving their goals us aging boomers won't have to worry about social security running out. With Democrats in power taxes on the rich are bound to go up, especially those taxes designed to underwrite entitlements like SS and Medicare.

Some reports of distressing shallowness among the young can indeed be cause for rejoicing.


Myths About Atheism (Pt. VIII)

We've been offering our thoughts on an article by anti-theist Sam Harris at Edge in which he seeks to persuade us that most of what people believe about atheists and atheism isn't true. He discusses in the piece ten "myths" about atheism that he wants to debunk. In this post we'll respond to what he says about myth number 8:

Atheists believe that there is nothing beyond human life and human understanding.

Atheists are free to admit the limits of human understanding in a way that religious people are not. It is obvious that we do not fully understand the universe; but it is even more obvious that neither the Bible nor the Koran reflects our best understanding of it. We do not know whether there is complex life elsewhere in the cosmos, but there might be. If there is, such beings could have developed an understanding of nature's laws that vastly exceeds our own. Atheists can freely entertain such possibilities. They also can admit that if brilliant extraterrestrials exist, the contents of the Bible and the Koran will be even less impressive to them than they are to human atheists.

From the atheist point of view, the world's religions utterly trivialize the real beauty and immensity of the universe. One doesn't have to accept anything on insufficient evidence to make such an observation.

When people state that atheists believe that there is nothing beyond human life and human understanding they are not talking about belief in extraterrestrials. This is a rather droll way to construe the claim. They mean, of course, that atheists believe that there is no existence beyond this one and that there is no reality beyond the material world in which we live. This is the only way to interpret the "myth" that makes any sense, and there is surely no atheist who would deny these assertions.

But the irrelevance of what Harris says aside, how does he know that brilliant extraterrestrials would find the contents of the Bible unimpressive? How could Harris know such a thing unless he knows the Bible is completely false in its claims about God, and how could he, or anyone, know that? It takes surpassing arrogance to claim to know that there is no God and, having insisted earlier in his essay that atheists aren't arrogant, he probably should think better of implying that he's in possession of such knowledge.

Finally, we're left to wonder how, or in what way, Christianity trivializes the beauty and immensity of the universe. Harris enjoys making remarkable claims like this which are apropos of nothing in particular and which he leaves hang in mid-air, unsupported by any evidence or argument. He gives the back of his hand to believers for accepting religious claims on insufficient evidence, but he apparently expects his readers to accept his own claims without the benefit of any evidence whatsoever.


Saturday, January 27, 2007

Flatland, the Movie

Suppose that reality actually consists of more dimensions than just the three (four, counting time) that our minds are structured to experience. If so, then the world is, in fact, totally different than it appears to us since we are only perceiving a fraction of a multi-dimensional reality.

In the novel Flatland, written in 1884, Edwin Abbott explored what a two dimensional world would look like to its inhabitants and what three dimensional objects would look like if they invaded a two dimensional world.

The novel helps stretch our imaginations and became a classic. Now it's being made into a movie, the trailer for which can be viewed here.

Woody Allen depicted something similar in Purple Rose of Cairo, in which a character (Jeff Daniels) in the two dimensional world of a film on the movie screen suddenly steps out of the screen and into the three dimensional world of a woman (Mia Farrow) viewing the movie all alone in the theater.

Maybe our existence is like that of the characters on the screen. We think that what we perceive is all there is, while all around us there is a wider world of additional dimensions in which people live, and move, and have their being, and we're totally unaware of it because our minds are unable to apprehend those dimensions.

Perhaps at death we, like Jeff Daniels in the Purple Rose of Cairo, step off the three dimensional screen of this world and into a multidimensional reality that we could no more imagine before we experienced it than a child in the womb could imagine the world that it would be entering when it's born.

Perhaps we are surrounded by, and embedded in, a reality which is so much richer than that which we can experience, but we are totally oblivious to it until we take on a "body" with the senses to perceive it.

As Hamlet says to his companion: "There are more things in heaven and on earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Perhaps so.


The Attack at Karbala

Bill Roggio surmises that the attack on American soldiers at Karbala in Iraq was carried out by Iranian commandos. If he's right then the new directive giving American troops the green light to kill or capture any Iranians found in Iraq makes even more sense:

On January 20th, a team of twelve men disguised as U.S. soldiers entered the Provincial Joint Coordination Center in Karbala, where U.S. soldiers conducted a meeting with local officials, and attacked and killed five soldiers, and wounded another three. The initial reports indicated the five were killed in the Karbala JCC, however the U.S. military has reported that four of those killed were actually removed from the center, handcuffed, and murdered.

The American Forces Information Service provides the details of the attack in Karbala. Based on the sophisticated nature of the raid, as well as the response, or cryptic non-responses, from multiple military and intelligence sources, this raid appears to have been directed and executed by the Qods Force branch of the Iranian Republican Guard Corps.

Read the rest of the details that have been made public about this attack at the link.


Important Work of Science

Michael Shermer, in reviewing Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion in the journal Science Magazine, closes his review with these surprising words:

"Dawkins' latest book deserves multiple readings, not just as an important work of science, but as a great work of literature."

What a very odd thing to say of a book which is devoted completely to debunking theism. In what sense is this a book of science? And why is a journal devoted to science publishing a review of what is essentially a book on religion?

Mike Gene at wonders:

Isn't it odd how a popular anti-religious book, which reports no new experiments or data, and was not peer-reviewed, has become an Important Work of Science?

Gene sees in Shermer's essay the germ of a trend to expand the definition of science to include anti-religious efforts. The irony of this, of course, is that some of the same people who blanched at allowing Intelligent Design to be taught in public schools because "it's religion, not science" are now calling books on atheism "important works of science."

As Gene says:

Now, science apparently CAN address supernatural causes. Now, science and evolution apparently DO lead to atheism. Now, there is apparently NO difference between methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism.

I'm sure that the next time the ACLU goes to court to smack down some school's effort to teach students that not every scholar is convinced that mechanical processes are sufficient to explain the complexity of life, Shermer's essay will be presented as evidence by the defense. When the ACLU witnesses testify that ID is not science they'll have a hard time explaining why a book which seeks to promote atheism is considered science by reputable science magazines.

See here for yet another example of a journal ostensibly devoted to genes and chromosomes publishing an article in which the author indulges in amateurish theologizing. Apparently religious articles are suitable for publication in scientific magazines and journals when they argue against the existence of a cosmic designer. If they argue for the existence of a designer then they are completely out of bounds. The Important Work of Science seems now to consist of trying to prove that there is no God.


Friday, January 26, 2007

The Hitchens Plan

Christopher Hitchens at City Journal reviews and builds upon the fine work of Mark Steyn in his book America Alone and concludes his column by offering an eight point plan of his own for dealing with Islamo-fascism. His eight points are these:

1. An end to one-way multiculturalism and to the cultural masochism that goes with it. The Koran does not mandate the wearing of veils or genital mutilation, and until recently only those who apostasized from Islam faced the threat of punishment by death. Now, though, all manner of antisocial practices find themselves validated in the name of religion, and mullahs have begun to issue threats even against non-Muslims for criticism of Islam. This creeping Islamism must cease at once, and those responsible must feel the full weight of the law. Meanwhile, we should insist on reciprocity at all times. We should not allow a single Saudi dollar to pay for propaganda within the U.S., for example, until Saudi Arabia also permits Jewish and Christian and secular practices. No Wahhabi-printed Korans anywhere in our prison system. No Salafist imams in our armed forces.

2. A strong, open alliance with India on all fronts, from the military to the political and economic, backed by an extensive cultural exchange program, to demonstrate solidarity with the other great multiethnic democracy under attack from Muslim fascism. A hugely enlarged quota for qualified Indian immigrants and a reduction in quotas from Pakistan and other nations where fundamentalism dominates.

3. A similarly forward approach to Nigeria, S�o Tom� and Pr�ncipe, and the other countries of Western Africa that are under attack by jihadists and are also the location of vast potential oil reserves, whose proper development could help emancipate the local populations from poverty and ourselves from dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

4. A declaration at the UN of our solidarity with the right of the Kurdish people of Iraq and elsewhere to self-determination as well as a further declaration by Congress that in no circumstance will Muslim forces who have fought on our side, from the Kurds to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, find themselves friendless, unarmed, or abandoned. Partition in Iraq would be defeat under another name (and as with past partitions, would lead to yet further partitions and micro-wars over these very subdivisions). But if it has to come, we cannot even consider abandoning the one part of the country that did seize the opportunity of modernization, development, and democracy.

5. Energetic support for all the opposition forces in Iran and in the Iranian diaspora. A public offer from the United States, disseminated widely in the Persian language, of help for a reformed Iran on all matters, including peaceful nuclear energy, and of assistance in protecting Iran from the catastrophic earthquake that seismologists predict in its immediate future. Millions of lives might be lost in a few moments, and we would also have to worry about the fate of secret underground nuclear facilities. When a quake leveled the Iranian city of Bam three years ago, the performance of American rescue teams was so impressive that their popularity embarrassed the regime. Iran's neighbors would need to pay attention, too: a crisis in Iran's nuclear underground facilities-an Iranian Chernobyl-would not be an internal affair. These concerns might help shift the currently ossified terms of the argument and put us again on the side of an internal reform movement within Iran and its large and talented diaspora.

6. Unconditional solidarity, backed with force and the relevant UN resolutions, with an independent and multi-confessional Lebanon.

7. A commitment to buy Afghanistan's opium crop and to keep the profits out of the hands of the warlords and Talibanists, until such time as the country's agriculture- especially its once-famous vines-has been replanted and restored. We can use the product in the interim for the manufacture of much-needed analgesics for our own market and apply the profits to the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

8. We should, of course, be scrupulous on principle about stirring up interethnic tensions. But we should remind those states that are less scrupulous-Iran, Pakistan, and Syria swiftly come to mind-that we know that they, too, have restless minorities and that they should not make trouble in Afghanistan, Lebanon, or Iraq without bearing this in mind. Some years ago, the Pakistani government announced that it would break the international embargo on the unrecognized and illegal Turkish separatist state in Cyprus and would appoint an ambassador to it, out of "Islamic solidarity." Cyprus is a small democracy with no armed forces to speak of, but its then-foreign minister told me the following story. He sought a meeting with the Pakistani authorities and told them privately that if they recognized the breakaway Turkish colony, his government would immediately supply funds and arms to one of the secessionist movements-such as the Baluchis-within Pakistan itself. Pakistan never appointed an ambassador to Turkish Cyprus.

Good ideas all. Let's hope that people in the White House and State Department have also thought of them or are at least reading Hitchens and Steyn.


Harris vs. Sullivan

Anti-theist Sam Harris, whose Ten Myths About Atheism we have been weighing in the balance here at Viewpoint, and Andrew Sullivan, have been having a debate about religion at BeliefNet. I wish Harris were debating someone a little less hostile to traditional forms of Christianity than Sullivan, but their exchange is interesting nonetheless.


The Cost of an Education

Parents and their student children know that college isn't getting any cheaper, but at many private schools the tuition alone is more than many parents' annual income. Here are some highlights from an article at which discusses the reasons for the high costs:

Experts cite strong competition for faculty, student demand for state-of-the-art classrooms and facilities, and a decline in federal support for research facilities as the big cost drivers. Basically, classrooms are nicer, registration no longer means standing in line and professors make more money. But there's no real evidence that students are learning more, even as their parents fork over more money.

George Washington University leads the nation with tuition costs of $37,820. This is 82% of the entire median annual family income of $46,326. And that's just tuition.

Nationwide, the median tuition at a four-year school was $7,490 for the 2006-07 academic year, a 2.3% increase over a year ago, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. But that includes many state-run universities, where in-state residents are charged a pittance. The median tuition at private schools was more than twice that amount, weighing in at $15,900, up 3.4% over a year ago. And that figure doesn't come close to the nation's most expensive colleges--121 of them charged more than $30,000 this past year. Add room and board and other assorted fees, and the bill climbs beyond $40,000.

The most expensive public school for in-state residents is Miami University in Ohio, which charged local residents $22,997 apiece this past year. The heftiest bill for out-of-staters comes from the University of Michigan, which hits up non-Wolverines for $29,131 to come to Ann Arbor.

The cheapest four-year school in America? That distinction goes to Northern New Mexico College, which charges only $1,030 a year to in-state residents (outsiders pay $2,206). Still, even that rate is up from $771 at the beginning of the decade, a 34% increase.

See here for a listing of the ten most expensive schools.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Iraq Strategy

Cox and Forkum wonder what the Democrats' strategy for winning in Iraq might be:

This isn't quite fair. They actually do have a strategy which is to bash Bush's strategy every chance they get.


The Mystery of Consciousness

Steven Pinker has written an interesting, if rather lengthy, essay on the nature of consciousness and the problems researchers in the field are seeking to solve. Pinker is a substance monist, a materialist, who believes that consciousness is explicable purely in terms of brain function. I think he's probably wrong about that but his article is worth reading for the insight it gives into the controversy. Here are a few early paragraphs:

What remains is not one problem about consciousness but two, which the philosopher David Chalmers has dubbed the Easy Problem and the Hard Problem. Calling the first one easy is an in-joke: it is easy in the sense that curing cancer or sending someone to Mars is easy. That is, scientists more or less know what to look for, and with enough brainpower and funding, they would probably crack it in this century.

What exactly is the Easy Problem? It's the one that Freud made famous, the difference between conscious and unconscious thoughts. Some kinds of information in the brain--such as the surfaces in front of you, your daydreams, your plans for the day, your pleasures and peeves--are conscious. You can ponder them, discuss them and let them guide your behavior. Other kinds, like the control of your heart rate, the rules that order the words as you speak and the sequence of muscle contractions that allow you to hold a pencil, are unconscious. They must be in the brain somewhere because you couldn't walk and talk and see without them, but they are sealed off from your planning and reasoning circuits, and you can't say a thing about them.

The Easy Problem, then, is to distinguish conscious from unconscious mental computation, identify its correlates in the brain and explain why it evolved.

The Hard Problem, on the other hand, is why it feels like something to have a conscious process going on in one's head--why there is first-person, subjective experience. Not only does a green thing look different from a red thing, remind us of other green things and inspire us to say, "That's green" (the Easy Problem), but it also actually looks green: it produces an experience of sheer greenness that isn't reducible to anything else. As Louis Armstrong said in response to a request to define jazz, "When you got to ask what it is, you never get to know."

The Hard Problem is explaining how subjective experience arises from neural computation. The problem is hard because no one knows what a solution might look like or even whether it is a genuine scientific problem in the first place. And not surprisingly, everyone agrees that the hard problem (if it is a problem) remains a mystery.

Toward the end he lays his materialist cards on the table:

Whatever the solutions to the Easy and Hard problems turn out to be, few scientists doubt that they will locate consciousness in the activity of the brain. For many nonscientists, this is a terrifying prospect. Not only does it strangle the hope that we might survive the death of our bodies, but it also seems to undermine the notion that we are free agents responsible for our choices--not just in this lifetime but also in a life to come. In his millennial essay "Sorry, but Your Soul Just Died," Tom Wolfe worried that when science has killed the soul, "the lurid carnival that will ensue may make the phrase 'the total eclipse of all values' seem tame."

Having written six pages he apparently gets a little giddy, and allows himself to make the ludicrous suggestion that recognizing that other people have brains like ours makes for a better basis for morality than does belief in eternal life.

We'll have more to say about the last page of Pinker's article tomorrow.


On Christian Ethics

One of the books listed by George Weigel as among the five best books for understanding Christianity was The Sources of Christian Ethics by Servais Pinckaers, O.P. (Catholic University of America, 1995). Weigel says this about Pinckaers' book:

Christianity--classic Christian morality in particular--is frequently pilloried as dour and nay-saying. Father Servais Pinckaers offers a different, more humane and more accurate perspective: the Christian moral life as a process of growing in "freedom for excellence," the freedom to choose the good as a matter of habit.

Weigel is, of course, correct about the perception of Christian ethics as dour and negative, but I think this is a stereotype due largely to the fact that too many people have not really thought about Christian ethics beyond a simple perusal of the Ten Commandments.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 22 that the whole ethical teaching of Scripture is summed up in two positive imperatives: We are to love God (Commandments 1-4) and love our fellow man (Commandments 5-10). What can be more affirmative, liberating, and upbeat than that?

Some people object that the Biblical emphasis on sin is negative and oppressive, but this opinion is, I think, based on a faulty view of what sin is. Because we are enjoined by Christ to love, to fail to do so is a moral fault. Any act which is harmful to oneself or another is wrong, or "sin," because it violates the command to love. The Biblical text simply elaborates on all the ways that people do harm and enjoins us to avoid those. It also gives us the "Golden Rule" as a guideline for knowing whether a particular act is just or compassionate.

Thus, so far from being dour and negative, the moral teaching of the Bible is extremely positive. The command to love others expresses itself in at least two ways: The Old Testament emphasizes the need to love by doing justice to others, and the New Testament emphasizes the need to love by showing compassion to others.

Of course, it's not always easy to know the right thing to do in a given situation, and even when we know what's right, it's often not easy to do it. Christian ethics, as laid out in the Bible, is not a strait jacket or a code of law. It's a simple guideline, and it's our responsibility to try to apply that guideline in our existential circumstance as honestly as we can.

It's also often difficult to discern how we can best balance the need for justice with the imperative to be compassionate. Sometimes it seems as if the two conflict and one of the moral responsibilities of the Christians community is to work out how best to resolve that conflict in a particular case. Even so, despite the difficulties, together these two imperatives form an ethical system unsurpassed for its simplicity and beauty.


Transitioning to the White House

Could this be the portrait of our next president?


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Political Complexion

College freshman are becoming slightly more ideological according to this study which finds that conservatism, while still not the majority stance among college undergrads, is embraced by more freshmen today than at any time in the history of the survey:

When asked to characterize their political views, 43.3 percent of college freshmen identified as "middle-of-the-road," dropping 1.7 percentage points from 2005 to the lowest value since this was first measured by the CIRP in 1970. Both "liberal" (28.4 percent) and "conservative" (23.9 percent) each increased by 1.3 percentage points from 2005 (an increase of 16,900 students nationally). Not only is the percentage of students identifying as "liberal" at the highest level since 1975 (30.7 percent), but the percentage identifying as "conservative" is at the highest point in the history of the Freshman Survey. This indicates that freshmen are moving away from a moderate position in their political viewpoints.

For the students' answers to specific questions see the study at the link.


The Second Holocaust

Benny Morris tells us what he believes the intermediate future will be for Jews in Israel:

The second Holocaust will not be like the first. The Nazis, of course, industrialized mass murder. But still, the perpetrators had one-on-one contact with the victims. They may have dehumanized them, over months and years of appalling debasement and in their minds, before the actual killing. But, still, they were in eye- and ear-contact, sometimes in tactile contact, with their victims.

The second Holocaust will be quite different. One bright morning, in five or 10 years' time, perhaps during a regional crisis, perhaps out of the blue, a day or a year or five years after Iran's acquisition of the bomb, the mullahs in Qom will convoke in secret session, under a portrait of the steely-eyed Ayatollah Khomeini, and give President Ahmadinejad, by then in his second or third term, the go ahead.

The orders will go out, and the Shihab III and IV missiles will take off for Tel Aviv, Beersheba, Haifa, and Jerusalem, and probably some military sites, including Israel's half-dozen air and alleged nuclear missile bases. Some of the Shihabs will be nuclear-tipped, perhaps even with multiple warheads. Others will be dupes, packed merely with biological or chemical agents, or old newspapers, to draw off or confuse Israel's anti-missile batteries and Home Guard units.

With a country the size and shape of Israel, an elongated 8,000 square miles, probably four or five hits will suffice: no more Israel. A million or more Israelis, in the greater Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem areas, will die immediately. Millions will be seriously irradiated. Israel has about 7 million inhabitants. No Iranian will see or touch an Israeli. It will be quite impersonal.

Read the rest of Morris' piece at the link.

And of course it's not just Israel which is at grave risk. Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is now threatening to destroy the U.S. and he's working on the nuclear weapons that will give him the capability to do it. If the belief that Saddam had WMD was sufficient reason for the Democrats to vote to topple the leadership in Iraq, how much more convinced must they be that Iran must be dealt with similarly?


On Love

Gideon Strauss has a lovely little meditation on love at Comment. For those who enjoy reading love stories will also enjoy reading Anne Dayton's essay on stories she loves.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Hillary and Hardball on SNL

Saturday Night Live spoofs Hillary Clinton and Hardball's Chris Matthews. It's a funny and revealing bit since it captures so well the idiosyncracies and personalities of both of them. It's a bit surprising, though, that SNL would poke fun at Hillary, who is something of a liberal icon, but maybe the parody is indicative of the displeasure of the left-wing base with Hillary's persistant refusal to disavow her vote for the Iraq war.

At any rate, be advised that the SNL skit does not elide or ignore Hillary's (alleged) legendary temper or uninhibited use of vulgarity.


Ten Myths About Atheism (Pt. VII)

Sam Harris' seventh of what he considers to be myths about atheism is the belief that:

Atheists are closed to spiritual experience.

Harris explains, sort of, that:

There is nothing that prevents an atheist from experiencing love, ecstasy, rapture and awe; atheists can value these experiences and seek them regularly. What atheists don't tend to do is make unjustified (and unjustifiable) claims about the nature of reality on the basis of such experiences. There is no question that some Christians have transformed their lives for the better by reading the Bible and praying to Jesus. What does this prove? It proves that certain disciplines of attention and codes of conduct can have a profound effect upon the human mind. Do the positive experiences of Christians suggest that Jesus is the sole savior of humanity? Not even remotely - because Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and even atheists regularly have similar experiences.

There is, in fact, not a Christian on this Earth who can be certain that Jesus even wore a beard, much less that he was born of a virgin or rose from the dead. These are just not the sort of claims that spiritual experience can authenticate.

Of all of Harris' alleged myths this is perhaps the strangest.

First, he apparently confuses emotional experience with spiritual experience. Spiritual experience is based upon an encounter with the transcendent, not upon our biochemistry. Atheists deny any transcendent reality beyond nature and therefore ab defino deny the possibility of spiritual experience.

Second, I don't know anyone who has given the matter any thought who believes that a transformed life proves that Jesus is the "sole savior of humanity." There are many who believe that their experience confirms Jesus' reality and his love for them as individuals. There are many for whom their encounter with Christ has been convincing evidence that they are saved from spiritual death, but His status as the unique savior of humanity is information most Christians glean only from Biblical revelation, not from spiritual experience.

Third, of course no one can be logically certain that Jesus rose from the dead. Indeed, no one can be certain of much of anything other than the Cartesian certainty of their own existence. Spiritual experience, however, may give the individual a kind of psychological assurance that Jesus still, in some sense, lives and that assurance exists in a state of mutual reinforcement with the historical testimony concerning the events surrounding Jesus' death and subsequent resurrection.

But, more to the point, what does any of what Harris writes have to do with refuting the claim that atheists are closed to spiritual experience? Harris seems to simply deny the myth and then spend his time criticizing unrelated Christian beliefs.

For our previous posts on Harris' "myths" see part I, II, III, IV, and V and VI.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Sandy Berger, Secret Agent Man

This'll make you laugh. PowerLine has the winner of Bill Bennett's "Sandy Berger Lies" song parody contest. Go here, scroll to the bottom and click on the audio. It's pretty funny.


Trashing Dawkins

H. Allen Orr has a lengthy and very thorough review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion in the New York Review of Books. Like every reviewer of this book that I've read, Orr pretty much trashes Dawkins' effort:

Despite my admiration for much of Dawkins's work, I'm afraid that I'm among those scientists who must part company with him here. Indeed, The God Delusion seems to me badly flawed. Though I once labeled Dawkins a professional atheist, I'm forced, after reading his new book, to conclude he's actually more an amateur. I don't pretend to know whether there's more to the world than meets the eye and, for all I know, Dawkins's general conclusion is right. But his book makes a far from convincing case.

Orr explains his particular objections in the review. Check it out if Dawkins' ideas are of interest to you.


Whatever Works

Philosopher Philip Quinn of Notre Dame argues that it's morally permissable to lie to defeat the creationists as long as one feels a twinge of conscience while doing it. I know, you're skeptical that a philosopher would actually promote such a morally dubious strategy. Well, read what he says for yourself at Telic Thoughts and tell me if there is any other plausible interpretation of his words.

The link to Stephen Jones that you'll find at Telic Thoughts is also revealing. Jones argues that several prominent scientists deliberately misled the court in the Dover Intelligent Design trial when they testified that ID is not science. It is common knowledge among scientists and philosophers that what constitutes science, i.e. the demarcation question, is an unresolved, and probably unresolvable, problem. Thus, to testify that ID is not science, or not even good science, was to do precisely what Quinn condones.

It seems that the Darwinian strategy for combating ID is to do whatever it takes to win. If their arguments aren't persuasive enough to carry the day then just make stuff up.


Sunday, January 21, 2007

Making Iraq Work

There is no more fertile a mind in politics than Newt Gingrich's and no politician with a more scintillating record for achieving success in governing in difficult circumstances than Rudy Guiliani. The two team up to present what they think to be the recipe for standing Iraq on its economic feet.


Ten Myths About Atheism (Pt. V and VI)

We continue our critique of Sam Harris' Ten Myths About Atheism with a look today at numbers 5 and 6. Harris claims that the following assertion is a myth:

5) Atheism has no connection to science.

Although it is possible to be a scientist and still believe in God - as some scientists seem to manage it - there is no question that an engagement with scientific thinking tends to erode, rather than support, religious faith. Taking the U.S. population as an example: Most polls show that about 90% of the general public believes in a personal God; yet 93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences do not. This suggests that there are few modes of thinking less congenial to religious faith than science is.

Harris words this myth rather tendentiously. Of course, there is a connection between atheism and science because science employs a methodology which assumes naturalism. It is thus easy for someone already disinclined to believe in a personal God to have that disinclination continually reinforced in his/her work. The point is that there is no logical nexus between atheism and science. One can be a scientist without having to forfeit one's theistic beliefs. We could just ask Newton, Galileo, Kepler, Faraday, Boyle or dozens of other great thinkers from the classical era of science.

Harris also disputes the following:

6) Atheists are arrogant.

When scientists don't know something - like why the universe came into being or how the first self-replicating molecules formed - they admit it. Pretending to know things one doesn't know is a profound liability in science. And yet it is the life-blood of faith-based religion. One of the monumental ironies of religious discourse can be found in the frequency with which people of faith praise themselves for their humility, while claiming to know facts about cosmology, chemistry and biology that no scientist knows. When considering questions about the nature of the cosmos and our place within it, atheists tend to draw their opinions from science. This isn't arrogance; it is intellectual honesty.

Well, I don't think this is quite true. From which fact of science, after all, do atheists draw their opinion that there is no God, that the cosmos is not designed by an intelligent creator, or that we are not made in the image of God? When Harris claims that scientists don't pretend to know things that can't be known he creates a problem for himself inasmuch as a lot of scientists and people like himself who write on science pretend to know that there is no purpose to the universe's existence, that those first self-replicating molecules he mentions arose through purely naturalistic processes, and that there is no God, but none of these are things that can be known.

If Harris really wants to demonstrate his intellectual honesty and lack of arrogance, he could start by admitting that he really has no idea whether the universe has a purpose or not, or whether an intelligence was behind the emergence of the first bio-molecules, or whether God exists or not. He could admit that his atheism is not based upon any clincher of an argument but is actually based upon little more than his preference that God not exist.

Such admissions would be a gratifying display of both honesty and humility, but I don't expect that we'll hear those words pass his lips anytime soon.

For our discussion of his first four "myths" go here and follow the links.


Knowing God

I came across this interesting and challenging observation in Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament by Christopher J.H. Wright.

The people of God as a whole will be characterized as a community who know Him. Now if we go on to ask what it means to know God, Jeremiah allows us no sentimental feelings of private spiritual piety. He is absolutely clear. To know God is to delight in faithful love, justice and righteousness, as God himself does (9:24). More than that, it means not only to delight in such things, but actually to do righteousness and justice by defending the rights of the poor and needy - that is to know God. Jeremiah defines the knowledge of God in one of the most challenging verses in the Bible.

"Your father (i.e. Josiah) did what was right and just.
He defended the cause of the poor and needy and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?" declares the Lord. (Jer. 22:15-16)

Saturday, January 20, 2007


This is a Hubble photo of spiral galaxy M100 which is similar in form to our Milky Way. Our sun, and hence our earth, are located in one of the relatively clear spaces between the spiral arms. This, according to Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards in Privileged Planet, is extremely fortunate since were it not the case the heavens would have been obscured from view by the dust and consequently modern science, which was contingent to a large extent on astronomical observation, would probably never have developed.

It's also possible that had our planet been located almost anywhere else in the galaxy higher life forms could not have arisen. If earth were embedded in one of the arms of the spiral the amount of debris, radiation, and gravitational effects to which it would have been subjected would have created an extremely harsh environment for living things.

Read Privileged Planet or Rare Earth by Ward and Brownlee for more on the amazing fortuitousness of the location of the earth in space.


Journalistic Malfeasance?

You've no doubt heard the news that for the first time ever the majority of women are living without husbands. Pundits reflecting on the grim statistic either grieved or rejoiced at what they saw as a sign of the demise of the traditional family. Michael Medved, however, did a little digging and found that there was much less to the story than met the eye:

First, the truth - a truth that is easily accessible from the United States Census Bureau.

According to the most recent available figures (from 2005), a clear majority (56%) of all women over the age of 20 are currently married.

Moreover, nearly all women in this country will get married at one time or another. Among those above the age of 50 (a group that includes the celebrated Baby Boomers of the famously revolutionary '60's generation), an astonishing 94% have been married at one time or another and some 79% are either currently married or widowed.

Even including the younger, supposedly "post-marriage" generation, and considering all women above the age of 30, some 61% are currently married and another 12% are widowed. In other words, nearly three-fourths (73%, a crushing majority) of all women who have reached the tender age of 30 now occupy a traditional female role as either current wives or widows - avoiding the supposedly trendy status of divorced, separated, co-habiting or single.

How, then, could America's "Journal of Record," the New York Times, possibly peddle the ridiculously distorted story that most females now count as unattached?

Reporter Sam Roberts begins his tendentious account with the following declarations: "For what experts say is probably the first time, more American women are living without a husband than with one, according to a New York Times analysis of census results. In 2005, 51 percent of women said they were living without a spouse, up from 35 percent in 1950 and 49 percent in 2000."

So how could reporter Roberts read the same census figures that any American can view ("according to a New York Times analysis") and come up with such bizarre conclusions?

It's all based on a fundamentally dishonest decision that Roberts never acknowledges in the entire course of his lengthy article. It turns out that in his analysis he chose to count some 10,154,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 as "women." It should come as no surprise that this vast group of teenagers (yes, teenagers, most of whom live at home) are officially classified as "single." In fact, 97% of the 15 to 19 year olds identify themselves as "never married." The Census Bureau, by the way, doesn't call these youngsters "women" - it labels them "females" (a far more appropriate designation).

Yet even the ridiculous inclusion of his ten million unmarried teenagers couldn't give Sam Roberts the story he wanted to report - that most American "women" are now unmarried. As a matter of fact, the Census Bureau shows that among all females above 15 the majority (51%!) are still classified as "married."

So the New York Times required yet another sneaky distortion to shave off that last 2% from the married majority, though this bit of statistical sleight-of-hand Sam Roberts had the decency to acknowledge. "In a relatively small number of cases, the living arrangement is temporary, because the husbands are working out of town, are in the military, or are institutionalized," he writes. In other words, in his brave new majority of "women" without spouses, he includes all those thousands upon thousands of wives and mothers who are waiting and praying at home for the return of their husbands from Iraq or Afghanistan.

By arbitrarily removing this 2% of all females (2,400,000 individuals) who are classified as "married/spouse absent" from the ranks of the married, and then designating as "unmarried" his millions of middle school and high school girls who are living with their parents, together with some 9 million elderly widows who have devoted much of their lives to marriage and husbands (42% of all women over 65 are widows), Roberts can finally arrive at his desired but meaningless conclusion that "most women" now "are living without a husbands." Eureka!

There's much more to this story at the link. Medved argues that Roberts has an anti-marriage agenda, and that it was this that animated his original article.


Stifling Scientific Literacy

The ever-skeptical folks at Uncommon Descent cite an article which, contrary to all the fretting by Darwinians over how intelligent design and creationism will stifle scientific understanding in this country, shows that scientific literacy has actually shot up since 1995. The graph at the link tells pretty much the whole story.

Dave Scot at UD requests readers' assistance in trying to think of what sorts of things happened in the years prior to 1995 that would have caused this acceleration of scientific sophistication. We think it must have been the arrival in Washington of the Clinton administration.


Hoping We Fail

A recent Fox News Poll asked 900 people a series of questions about Iraq. The replies to question #19 were particularly disturbing. The question asked: Do you personally want the Iraq plan President Bush announced last week to succeed?

Only sixty three percent of respondents said yes, 22% said no, and 15% weren't sure. It's bad enough that one American in five actually wants the plan to fail, but among Democrats 34% said they do not want the plan to succeed and 15% were unsure. Among Republicans the numbers were 11% and 10%.

I confess I simply cannot understand how any American could possibly want the U.S. to fail to bring stability and peace to Iraq. People have tried to explain it to me, but their explanations seem tortured and unconvincing. I think the question whether we want to succeed in Iraq is the defining foreign policy question of our time, and anyone who answers no or unsure to that question, as do almost half of the Democrats in this country, inhabits a moral universe which is terra incognita to me. We simply have no common ground upon which we can carry on a fruitful conversation about this issue.


Friday, January 19, 2007

Nuclear Gateway

Telic Thoughts has a neat computer sim of the nuclear pore complex. These pores are the gateways through which materials pass into the nucleus of cells. They are much more than simple holes in the nuclear membrane as you'll see in the video.

Before you watch it, though, you must close your eyes real tight and repeat three times: "This is not designed. It happened by chance."


Hot News

Scott Ott at ScrappleFace breaks this developing story in the U.S. Senate:

(2007-01-18) - Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-NB, today introduced a bill with several of his Democrat colleagues that would cap the number of Republican Senators at current levels and begin negotiations with Democrats for a phased GOP withdrawal from the Senate.

The measure comes as the Senate prepares to debate a Hagel-sponsored resolution opposing President George Bush's move to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq.

"Just as sending more U.S. troops isn't the solution to defeating terrorists in Iraq," said Sen. Hagel, "more Republican senators won't accomplish the party's legislative goals here. Each additional GOP senator simply antagonizes the majority party and makes the Senate a worse quagmire than it already is."

New York Democrat Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton co-sponsored the so-called "cap and yank" measure.

"We admire Chuck Hagel," said Sen. Clinton, "because when he reaches across the aisle, it never seems like a stretch."

You can bet you won't hear about this from the MSM.


Recent Developments in the WOT

Bill Roggio updates us on progress in the Global War on Terrorists. Here's a summary:

Coalition forces have made some strides in degrading the leadership of the global Islamist movement. Two senior Taliban commanders were captured in Afghanistan, while the Philippine military continues to dismantle Abu Sayyaf's leadership on the island of Jolo. Kenyan officials believe the Islamic Courts' second in command was detained and another killed in an airstrike, while Pakistan is on the heels of an al-Qaeda leader who fled airstrikes in North Waziristan.

Read the details at The Fourth Rail.

Also, Captain Ed has some very interesting stuff on how things have changed of a sudden for the Mahdi army in Baghdad and for the Iranians in Iraq. Read the first post on al-Sadr's Mahdi army and then scroll down to the post on the task force that's been assigned to roll up Iranian operations in Iraq.


At Least Bush Wants to Win

Jonah Goldberg contrasts the President's plan with the Democrats' non-plan for victory. The Democrats' strategy for Iraq is to wait until Bush announces his plan and then bash it, even when he does what they've said he should do. Here are Jonah's key passages:

...when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid come to a fork in the road, they follow Yogi Berra's advice and take it. On the one hand, they tell the president that they want this war "brought to a close." On the other, they refuse to use their power of the purse to do exactly that, opting instead for a symbolic resolution. It may be the wisest political course for them, but it does a disservice to the nation by making the Iraq debate the equivalent of boxing with fog.

Here we have a president forthrightly trying to win a war, and the opposition -- which not long ago was in favor of increasing troops, when Bush was against that -- won't say what it wants. This is flatly immoral. If you believe the war can't be won and there's nothing to be gained by staying, then, to paraphrase Sen. John Kerry, you're asking more men to die for a mistake. You should demand withdrawal. But that might cost votes, so the Dems don't. And, of course, Kerry, Pelosi and other Democrats were in favor of more troops before they were against it.

In fact Harry Reid and others were actually criticizing the President as recently as a few months ago for not having enough troops in Iraq.

Another Democratic dodge is the incessant demand for a "political solution" in Iraq. "What is absolutely clear to me is there is no military solution to the problems in Iraq, that only political solutions are going to bring about some semblance of peace," Sen. Barack Obama declared. This is either childishly naive or reprehensibly dishonest. No serious person thinks that peace can be secured without a political solution. The question is how to get one. And nobody -- and I mean nobody -- has made a credible case that the Iraqis can get from A to B without more bloodshed, with or without American support.

Saying we need a political solution is as helpful as saying "give peace a chance." Peace requires more than such pie-eyed verbiage. In the real world, peace has no chance until the people who want to give death squads another shot have been dispatched from the scene. It reminds me of the liberal obsession in the 1980s with getting inner-city gangs to settle their differences with break-dance competitions. If only Muqtada Sadr would moonwalk to peace!

Bush came up with the "surge" plan. Will it work? Nobody knows. But the one thing the American people know about George W. Bush is that he wants to win the war. What the Democrats believe is anybody's guess.

For an example of exactly what Goldberg is talking about when he talks about the demand for a "political solution" in Iraq see Jim Wallis' piece at Sojourners.

Chuck Asay weighs in with his own comparison of Bush's plan and that of his political opponents:


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Double Illegals' Wages

Free Frank Warner has what is nothing short of a brilliant idea - double the minimum wage for illegal aliens:

Here's an idea that should appeal to left and right both. Double the minimum wage for all illegal immigrants in the United States.

That is, guarantee them double the minimum wage of American citizens. By setting the minimum wage for illegal immigrants at a handsome $14.50 an hour, several problems would be solved.

Read how this would solve the problems to which he refers at the link. I think he's at least half-serious.


Land of the Free

This is why people say that it requires constant vigilance to maintain our freedom. The totalitarian impulse is strong and apparently even afflicts meteorologists:

The Weather Channel's most prominent climatologist is advocating that broadcast meteorologists be stripped of their scientific certification if they express skepticism about predictions of manmade catastrophic global warming. This latest call to silence skeptics follows a year (2006) in which skeptics were compared to "Holocaust Deniers" and Nuremberg-style war crimes trials were advocated by several climate alarmists.

The Weather Channel's (TWC) Heidi Cullen, who hosts the weekly global warming program "The Climate Code," is advocating that the American Meteorological Society (AMS) revoke their "Seal of Approval" for any television weatherman who expresses skepticism that human activity is creating a climate catastrophe.

Read the rest of the article at the link. One would think that people who practice meteorology, of all disciplines, would have been chastened often enough by errant forecasts that they'd be a little less dogmatic and a little more humble than Heidi Cullen appears to be.

Next thing we'll be reading that those who doubt Darwinism should lose their Ph.D.s. (although I think that's already been suggested) and anyone who voted for Bush should have their citizenship suspended (which a lot of people probably already think but haven't yet made bold enough to say).

Anyway, will somebody please mail Ms Cullen a copy of John Stuart Mill's On Liberty? It's the best antidote for what ails her that I can think of.


The Great Uncommunicator

Dean Barnett at Hugh Hewitt's blog gets it exactly right. President Bush's biggest failure as a president is that he is a terrible communicator. He has failed to make the case for almost anything he's done since September of 2001. When he does address the American people he tends to speak in platitudes and threadbare formulations that no longer gain anyone's attention.

This is such a shame because what he's doing is so important that the American people must be with him on it, and yet the American people have largely given up on him and his agenda. This is as much our fault, in my opinion, as it is his - just because he doesn't make the case for what he does doesn't mean that what he does isn't the right thing to do. Nevertheless, it's still his fault and his greatest shortcoming as a president.

Anyway, read Barnett's essay. He says it much better than I can.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Better to Have it

Civilian Gun Defense blog carries all sorts of stories about how average citizens everyday use guns to save their lives and the lives of others. Here's a recent example (the permalinks aren't working but this story can be accessed by going to the above link and scrolling down):

An elderly wheelchair-bound man shot and critically wounded an intruder at his Orange Mound home Friday afternoon, Memphis police said.

Officers were called about 2 p.m. to the 2300 block of Zanone, where the unidentified homeowner "apparently heard a crash as if someone was coming in through the window and saw a male subject he did not know," said Det. Monique Martin.

The homeowner fired two shots and struck the home invasion suspect at least once. The wounded intruder was transported to the Regional Medical Center at Memphis in critical condition, Martin said.

Police say 84-year-old Willie Hancox called 911 around two Friday afternoon to say that he had shot an intruder.

Hancox says he fired two shots, hitting an intruder twice in the head.

Hancox says he is sick of the crime in his community.

"He said if they come in the door, I'm not gonna let them kill me and he meant that," says neighbor, Dorothy Dickerson.

Dickerson lives across the street and looks after Hancox.

Dickerson adds, "I say God is good, cause they had no business in there, and whoever did that got what they deserved. And, I say it in front of they face, not behind they back and I mean it."

Dickerson's sentiment is shared by most neighbors.

"He did the right thing," says neighbor, Markel Dickerson. "People that's law abiding people is getting tired of being pushed around by the thugs and thieves and dope dealers."

That's why Mr. Hancox had a gun, one his sons recently tried to take from him.

"We came over here that Saturday morning he said, hey, where's my gun, I need it back. I told him dad, you dont' really need a gun in this house." says Jake Hancox.

Jake Hancox says after speaking with his brother, the two decided to give the gun back to their father.

Now, both brothers are glad they listened. Jake Hancox says that the situation could have easily ended the other way around.

"Maybe somebody looks at the situation here and they might not do it," says Hancox.

It's a message homeowners hope criminals hear as loud and clear as a gunshot.

The intruder is listed in critical condition.

Mr. Hancox's neighbors sound as feisty as he does.

Anyway, somewhere in this story there's a lesson or two for those, like Barak Obama, for instance, who would have made it illegal for Mr. Hancox to possess that weapon.

One lesson, perhaps, is that it's always better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.


Church of Christ Without Christ

Damian Ference writes at First Things about the Church of Brunch. Ference tells us that The Church of Brunch is:

...a congregation of believers and atheists that leaves religion, deities, and dogma at the door and gather for a non-god-centered Sunday ceremony. Services begin an hour before noon as the community joins in song in order to stir fire into the hearts of the non-faithful. Any song will do so long as it is inspirational, nonreligious, and has the potential to invoke full, conscious, and active participation on the part of the assembly.

Here are some more excerpts:

Since this is an entirely nonreligious gathering, the Torah, the Qur'an, and the Bible are deemed offensive, but there is always a place for inspirational and thought-provoking readings.

Quiet contemplation comes next. After hearing the word and allowing it to be broken open within the community, silence is needed to allow the word to penetrate the hearts of the non-faithful.

Finally, the community is just about ready to approach the table of fellowship-but not until they first raise their heads and join together in a Johnny Cash number. Seeing that his most recent albums have been coated in religious imagery and metaphor, reaching back into the vault and flat-picking a hearty version of "Folsom Prison Blue" is deemed more appropriate. After the song, there is the traditional sign of peace, and then it's time to break bread.

There's nothing like singing "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die," sharing a sign of peace, and then sitting down to a vegan potluck with your brothers and sisters in Brunch.

Ference says that listening to a discussion of the Church of Brunch on NPR he thought of Flannery O'Connor's novel Wise Blood in which the main character starts his own church called the Church of Christ Without Christ. Reading Ference's description of the Church I thought at first that he was describing a mainline protestant congregation.


Internecine Warfare

NewsMax e-mailed (no link) this piece of analysis by former Clinton advisor Dick Morris predicting an impending civil war in the Democratic party. It looks to Morris like the party is set to do the 1960's all over again:

Iraq is not the only place that is threatening to dissolve into the anarchy and bloodletting of a civil war. It's about to happen to the Democratic Party.

Reacting to Bush's planned "surge" in troop strength, the Democratic leaders in Congress, savoring their victory, are contemplating taking only symbolic steps to protest Bush's war policies, a timidity that will highly displease their leftist boosters.

The liberal activists who funded and impelled the Democratic victory in 2006 did not focus on winning a congressional majority so that it would take merely symbolic action. Symbolic action would have been appropriate for a minority party, but the backers of a party in the majority expect something more.

So the Democrats are about to form their customary firing squad - a circular one - and begin again the battles that ripped their party apart in the late 1960s. The battle lines are the same: The new left vs. the party establishment. Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid are about to squander their credibility with their supporters on the left by failing to cut back, or cut off entirely, funding for the war.

The Democratic Party's left wing is not to be trifled with. It is a massive force, fully mobilized, and led by aggressive online organizations such as It has plenty of political leaders - like Ted Kennedy and John Kerry - who are more than willing to articulate fundamental differences with the party's congressional leadership and are not shy about doing so.

The congressional leaders' plan is to give Bush all the rope he needs to hang himself by increasing troop strength in Iraq. They are deeply skeptical about whether more soldiers will accomplish anything besides increasing casualties. But they are not about to take the rap in front of the American people for seeming to sell out our troops by cutting their funding and forcing the administration to retreat. Nor are they ready for a constitutional confrontation with the commander in chief over his wartime powers.

So, instead, they are going to hold hearings during which a parade of former generals will voice their misgivings and air their disagreements, past and present. It will be like one of Bob Woodward's books enacted on a congressional stage. But this theater is not going to appease the left.

They did not elect Democrats to Congress so they could hold hearings. They expect laws not shows. Their frustration will become increasingly apparent as the Cindy Sheehans of the world react to the increased troop commitment in Baghdad.

The left will launch campaigns of civil disobedience, public marches and protests, online petitions, and the like. It will be the 1960s all over again.

As long as the Democratic Party could be counted upon to represent the left on Iraq, protests against the war were channeled through the political process and were aimed at electing a Democratic Congress. But now that the Democratic leadership has, in the eyes of the leaders of the left, "betrayed" them, look for protest to overflow the bounds of partisan politics and go into the streets.

One can expect candidates in the Democratic primaries to run to the left seeking to capitalize on the frustration of peace activists at the passivity of the party's congressional leaders in the face of Bush's determination to add to troop strength committed to Iraq.

Moderate candidates like Barack Obama, John Edwards, and even Hillary Clinton may find themselves outflanked by those more willing to run to the left like Al Gore and John Kerry.

Until now, we have had a two-party system in our post 9/11 debates. Now a new entrant is in the field: the new left.

The result of the 1960's was that Democrats found themselves able to elect only two presidents (including Jimmy Carter who capitalized on the nation's ill-feeling about the Nixon years) in forty years. It will be interesting to see if the Democratic convention in Denver next year reprises the turbulence of Chicago in 1968.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Must-See TV

Yes, there are moderate Muslims. At least one accepts the theoretical possibility. But documentaries like this one which aired on British television cause one to wonder about the robustness of their numbers.

These really are disturbing videos. The sound in the first one may be out of synch, but, if so, stick with it and you'll get the gist of what's happening. This documentary is the sort of thing for which the term "must-see tv" was invented.


Jim Wallis on the Surge (Pt. II)

In this the second part of our look at Jim Wallis' response to Bush's proposal for an adjustment in our approach to Iraq, we'll examine Wallis' claim that the war in Iraq fails to meet the traditional criteria of a just war. Because the war is not just, in his reckoning, perpetuating it is therefore criminal.

Wallis writes:

There is absolutely no way that the American invasion of Iraq could be considered a "last resort" - one of the just war criteria. The inspections officers were working to find and contain any weapons of mass destruction Iraq might have had, and the Bush administration both misrepresented and manipulated the alleged threat from the weapons of mass destruction. The administration lied to start a war.

This is simply irresponsible of Wallis. The administration may have been mistaken about the WMD, but so was the entire rest of the world as well as the Clinton administration, all of whom believed Iraq had WMD. Our intelligence indicated they had them. Defectors claimed that he had them. Moreover, Saddam acted just as one would expect a man to act who was trying to hide the fact that he possessed those weapons. It's easy for arm-chair quarterbacks and people who harbor ill-will toward the president to say in hindsight that Bush lied, but it's incumbent on the one who makes that allegation to offer evidence that the president knew that Saddam didn't have WMD but deliberately led us to believe that he did. Wallis finds this simple courtesy too much to ask and offers nothing to substantiate the claim that the president deliberately deceived the American congress (who had access to the same intelligence the president did) and the American people.

Let us suppose, that a president has all the same facts at his disposal that Bush did - the testimony of defectors, the consensus of the world's intelligence community, the current and past behavior of Saddam, and so on. Suppose this president fears that Saddam is hiding his WMD program, but he lacks absolute proof. So he does not act. Subsequently, a WMD, traceable to Iraq, is unleashed on America. What would the Wallis' of the world say then? That the president did the right thing by ignoring all the evidence and refusing to assume the worst? That the president did the right thing by giving a known liar and mass murderer the benefit of the doubt? I don't think that's what they would say. I think they would demand that that president go down in history as having been criminally negligent in performing the duties of his office - and they'd be right to do so.

Wallis continues:

Over time, the brutal Saddam Hussein could have been isolated, undermined, and overthrown (a very worthy goal) from pressures internal and external, and serious proposals were on the table to do just that when Bush went to war. Instead, we bombed the children of Baghdad and then allowed the country to slide into bloody chaos.

Unfortunately, Wallis doesn't tell us what these serious proposals were or what they involved. We're just left to take his word that they existed and that they were feasible. If he wants us to grant him credibility on this he'll have to tell us what those alternatives were. I'm certainly not aware of any, and I don't think he is either.

Next he asserts that:

There was never adequate "authority" to wage this war (another criterion) - the United Nations, NATO, and the vast majority of the world's people and nations were against it. Only Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair thought this was a good idea, and their political legacies will be forever shaped by the worst foreign policy decision either country has made in decades.

Surely Wallis understands that the United States is a sovereign nation. It has the right and the authority to wage war when it feels threatened whether other nations join it in that endeavor or not. Just war theory states that war can only justly be waged by the proper authority, meaning the legitimate government of the nation. It doesn't mean that we must subordinate our sovereignty to a collection of tyrants, thugs, and corrupt nations whose foreign policy vis a vis Iraq was more profoundly shaped by the illegal profits they were making from Saddam than with any desire to do the "right" thing.

Wallis goes on to claim that:

Iraq also failed the tests of "proportionality" and "discrimination" with all the societal damage it was likely to cause (and has): the horrible number of innocents that have been lost through the tactics of "shock and awe," the resulting insurgency against American occupation, and now the civil war that has turned into ethnic cleansing.

Wallis must know that our military fought the most proportional and discriminating war in history in Iraq. If Wallis is correct that we failed to meet these criteria in Iraq then no war ever has been a just war and invoking just war criteria to criticize Operation Iraqi Freedom is disingenuous.

There was no carpet bombing. Mosques and cemetaries were safe havens. Soldiers often held their fire and put their own lives at risk rather than jeopardize civilians. As for the resulting insurgency and civil war, it is perverse to blame that on the U.S. rather than on the people responsible for it. Moreover, if, as Wallis wants, the U.S. were to pull out of Iraq now, the number of deaths would far exceed the carnage we see in that country today.

Wallis goes on to say that:

There was never an "imminent threat" from Saddam, there was no connection between Iraq and 9/11 (as we were told), and Bush's war in Iraq was not a central front in the international campaign against terrorism, but rather has turned out to be a serious distraction from it (though the war itself has now transformed Iraq into a haven and school for terrorism).

No one in the administration as, far as I'm aware, ever made a case that Iraq was an "imminent threat" so it is deceptive of Wallis to put the words in quotes as if he were quoting the administration. Nor did anyone argue that there was a connection between Saddam and the terrorists who perpetrated the 9/11 attack. The administration did claim that there was a connection between Saddam and Islamic terrorists and this connection is beyond dispute.

The war in Iraq was unjust; to continue it now is criminal, Wallis concludes, as if fighting to keep a nation from spiralling into a bloodbath and a humanitarian crisis of perhaps unprecedented proportions is a crime.

Wallis the pacifist assumes the role of military expert by warning that Bush's efforts in Iraq have distracted us from the real war against terrorists. He knows, somehow, that we have left ourselves vulnerable by diverting resources to Iraq. He says this notwithstanding the fact that there has been no successful terrorist attack on our soil since hostilities began against Afghanistan five years ago. One might ask Wallis what metric he is employing to assess our vulnerability. What information does he have that warrants this gloomy assessment?

In pondering all the things he says about which he could well be mistaken (and probably is) one wonders: If he is in fact wrong about anything in what he writes, does that make him a liar?


We Don't Need Another Hero

Sometimes it just seems that the political left is inordinately populated with people who haven't yet grown up and who still display the childish look-at-me narcissism and crudities associated with juveniles. A good example of this arrested development is freshman Wisconsin congressman Steve Kagen who regaled his admirers recently with this account of his bold and audacious exploits in the White House. Mr. Kagen, in his telling of the tale, is quite a hero:

While meeting last month with a group of area peace activists, then Congressman-elect Steve Kagen told a story of his first visit to the White House that shows a feisty and humorous side to our new man in Congress. He told the group one of the first lessons he learned in Washington is to never pass up a rest room because you don't know when you'll see one again.

He'd already had a long day of freshman orientation when he and his wife, Gail, were expected at the White House. Upon arrival, he asks a Marine where he can find a rest room, and is sent down a long flight of stairs, to another Marine, who directs him to a rest room.

"It's a small room �- two spots on the wall, one stall one sink. I see in the mirror the door opens, and who walks in, Karl Rove (Bush's deputy chief of staff who was charged with orchestrating strategies for the 2006 general election)."

After Rove washed his hands ("At least he's a hand washer," Kagen said), he attempted to leave, but Kagen prevented his departure by holding the door closed and said, "You're in the White House and you think your safe, huh? You recognize me? My name's Dr. Multimillionaire and I kicked your ass."

Kagen expected to make Rove squirm, but said he acted like it was a tennis match and simply said, 'Oh, congratulations.'

"We're walking up these long steps, I stopped him and said, 'Look, the race is over. We're here to do the people's business. I want you to join me on something, but you can't steal it, I've got the trademark, 'No patient left behind.' He goes, 'I like the sound of that.' We get to the top of the steps and there's Vice President Cheney with a glass of white wine and a hand in his pocket. So I wasn't going to miss this opportunity. Gail wasn't there to hold me back. 'Mr. Vice President, thank you for your service to the nation, and thank you so much for coming to Green Bay and campaigning against me. I couldn't have won without your help.'

He then asked Cheney to enunciate his vision for Iraq.

" 'Well, I'd like to see a stable government that could take care of itself and its people.' I said, 'at what price?' He said, 'I don't understand your point.' I walked away. Then we had an opportunity to take a picture with the president and his wife. I was feeling real good at this point.

"I said to my wife, 'Honey, just follow my lead.' She said, 'Steven, it's the president.' I said, 'Yeah, but he's not any taller than I am.' So the cameraman's here. We're introduced by a Marine. I said, 'Mr. President , thank you for coming to Green Bay. My name is Dr. Multimillionaire. That was before the race. Now they call me Doctor Thousandaire. I couldn't have won without you coming.'"

He said Bush gave one of his smiles and said, 'I've lost a lot of money in my life, too.' Then I go to his wife, 'Hi Barbara, how are ya?' I did that because I learned on the campaign that the meanest thing you can say to another gentlemen is, 'he's a fine fellow,' and you then refer to his spouse by a different name."

Expect this side of Kagen to show up when he appears on the "Colbert Report" in February.

So, this is what passes for humor in liberal precincts. It had us in stitches as we read it. It seems that all the class in this story was exhibited by Rove, Cheney, and Bush. Apparently there was none left over for the intrepid Dr. Multimillionaire.

UPDATE: Now it's looking as if Dr. Multimillionaire made the whole thing up. What a guy. Here's our advice to Dr. Kagen: Don't go on the Colbert show in February.


Monday, January 15, 2007


Here's a great video at Telic Thoughts that gives a molecule-eye view of DNA packaging and replication. The processes are truly astonishing. Please resist the temptation to think that what you see is all a product of intentional design by an intelligent designer. We know that the appearance of design is purely an illusion and that natural forces acting blindly managed to engineer...oops..., design...oops..., evolve this apparatus completely by accident. We know this because we know there is no intelligent designer, and we know there's no intelligent designer because we can't find an example of something in the natural world that's intelligently designed. Or something like that.


I Have a Dream

There have been many great speeches given throughout our history. Washington's Farewell, Lincoln's Second Inaugural and Gettysburg Address certainly come to mind, but none surpasses Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in August of 1963.

I can think of no better way to honor King's memory than to listen to that speech today.

It should be said, too, that it is a shame that we honor the man with a holiday but disregard much of what he said in this speech. His hope that one day his children would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character, seemed to have died with him, having given way to the racial politics and preferences of the next twenty five years.

At any rate, set aside some time today to listen to King's words, the eloquence with which he delivers them, and the power of their truth.

The speech can be both read and heard here.


Jimmy, We Hardly Knew Ye

Alan Dershowitz claims that Jimmy Carter has been bought and paid for by Arab money, a specially ironic allegation given that Carter has made similar allegations about the American media being heavily influenced toward pro-Israeli positions by their Jewish bosses. Here's Dershowitz's key passage:

At the bottom, Carter is saying that no objective journalist or politician could actually believe that America's support for Israel is based on moral and strategic considerations and not on their own financial self-interest. Such a charge is so insulting to every honest legislator and journalist in this country that I am amazed that Carter has been let off the hook so easily. Only the self-righteous Jimmy Carter is capable of telling the truth, because only he is free of financial pressures that might influence his positions.

It now turns out that the shoe is precisely on the other foot. Recent disclosures prove that it is Carter who has been bought and paid for by anti-Israel Arab and Islamic money.

Journalist Jacob Laksin has documented the tens of millions of dollars that the Carter Center has accepted from Saudi Arabian royalty and assorted other Middle Eastern sultans, who, in return, Carter dutifully praised as peaceful and tolerant (no matter how despotic the regime). And these are only the confirmed, public donations.

Carter has also accepted half a million dollars and an award from Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, saying in 2001: "This award has special significance for me because it is named for my personal friend, Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan." This is the same Zayed, the long-time ruler of the United Arab Emirates, whose $2.5 million gift to the Harvard Divinity School was returned in 2004 due to Zayed's rampant Jew-hatred. Zayed's personal foundation, the Zayed Center, claims that it was Zionists, rather than Nazis, who "were the people who killed the Jews in Europe" during the Holocaust. It has held lectures on the blood libel and conspiracy theories about Jews and America perpetrating Sept. 11.

Another journalist, Rachel Ehrenfeld, in a thorough and devastating article on "Carter's Arab Financiers," meticulously catalogues Carter's ties to Arab moneymen, from a Saudi bailout of his peanut farm in 1976, to funding for Carter's presidential library, to continued support for all manner of Carter's post-presidential activities. For instance, it was the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), founded in Pakistan and fronted by a Saudi billionaire, Gaith Pharaon, that helped Carter start up his beloved Carter Center.

Read the rest at the link, but be warned - it does not flatter the former president.

Meanwhile, fourteen members of the advisory board of the Carter Center resigned the other day because of what they called Carter's "malicious advocacy." In their letter they state that: "We can no longer endorse your strident and uncompromising position. This is not the Carter Center or Jimmy Carter we came to respect and support. Therefore it is with sadness and regret that we hereby tender our resignation from the Board of Councilors of the Carter Center effective immediately."

Tragically, Carter, who I persist in thinking is basically a good man, may exceed Nixon and Clinton in the amount of embarrassment and disgrace he ultimately brings upon himself. The difference is that they did it while still in office.