Friday, August 31, 2007

Good Question

Granville Sewall poses a simple yet telling question to Darwinists:

In any debate on Intelligent Design, there is a question I have long wished to see posed to ID opponents: "If we DID discover some biological feature that was irreducibly complex, to your satisfication and to the satisfaction of all reasonable observers, would that justify the design inference?" (Of course, I believe we have found thousands of such features, but never mind that.)

If the answer is yes, we just haven't found any such thing yet, then all the constantly-repeated philosophical arguments that "ID is not science" immediately fall. If the answer is no, then at least the lay observer will be able to understand what is going on here, that Darwinism is not grounded on empirical evidence but a philosophy.

The "ID is not science" arguments would fall because if the answer is yes then there is a test to which ID can be put and have the theory confirmed. At the same time such a find would falsify the Darwinian view that only physical processes are at work in producing biological structures.

If the Darwinist answers no then he is acknowledging that no amount of evidence would ever count against his theory. If that's the case then the theory is simply not subject to being falsified and is a metaphysical, rather than a scientific, hypothesis.

I'm sure that were this question posed to the critics of ID they'd try to duck it somehow rather than answer it forthrightly. They'd pretty much have to.


Hypocrisy and Senator Craig

Like you, probably, I've heard a number of people criticize Sen. Larry Craig for his homosexual advances in an airport restroom, not on the basis of their homosexual nature or of the sleaziness of soliciting anonymous sex in a public restroom but because, they allege, Craig is a "hypocrite."

The charge of hypocrisy is levelled on the grounds that Craig, though presumably gay or bisexual, is politically opposed to both gay marriage and gays serving in the military.

I guess what I'm having trouble with is figuring out why his opposition to these policies is hypocritical just because he himself is gay. Lots of women oppose having women serve in the military. Does that make them hypocritical? Lots of blacks oppose affirmative action for blacks. Are they hypocrites? Indeed, there are open gays who oppose gay marriage, and no one calls them hypocrites.

Just because someone is gay how does it follow that he's being inconsistent if he opposes a policy that purportedly benefits gays? Lots of people who smoke or drink tell their children it's wrong to do it, and we say that it's good that they try to persuade their children not to follow their example.

Having said this I do think that Craig may qualify as a hypocrite but not for his opposition to either gay marriage or gay soldiers.

A hypocrite is someone who condemns or criticizes others for doing what he himself does. Craig took some public shots at President Clinton back in the 90's for his illicit dalliance with Monica Lewinsky while the Senator was allegedly unfaithful to his own wife with other men. If so, that's hypocritical, but let's have no more of this talk that just because someone is gay they must as a matter of logical necessity favor whatever rights other gays demand.


Of Pit Bulls and Gamecocks

A student of mine raises an interesting question. Is there a significant moral difference between dog-fighting, such as Michael Vick was involved in, and cockfighting which is still legal in some American states? I know dogs are mammals and gamecocks are birds, but is that a significant difference?

Would there have been the same outrage expressed over the Vick episode had he been fighting roosters instead of dogs?

And if cockfighting is just as reprehensible as dog-fighting doesn't it seem at least a little odd that Michael Vick will pay for the rest of his life for dog-fighting while the University of South Carolina glorifies cockfighting by adopting the gamecock as its mascot?

I'm not sure I know the answers to these questions. I'm just asking them.


Battle for the Belts

Bill Roggio provides a helpful update for us on the fighting in the belts around Baghdad in Iraq.


Thursday, August 30, 2007

God's Warriors and Pink Elephants

Nathaniel Peters at First Things comments on CNN's recent three part series titled God's Warriors hosted by Christiane Amanpour. The hype for the series suggested that the three monotheistic religions, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity shared a common desire to impose a theocracy by whatever means necessary, but if that was their intent the producers must have been at a loss as to what to do with footage like this described by Peters:

Toward the end of the final segment of God's Warriors, Christiane Amanpour speaks to Mindy Peterson, a teenage organizer for Teen Mania, the evangelical organization that hosted the BattleCry rally against which the San Francisco protestors railed [see the opening paragraph of Peter's essay]. Peterson is, she says, the product of an affair between her mother and an abortionist who wanted to have her aborted. Arguments over abortion, therefore, are more than political theory for Mindy Peterson.

After the San Francisco protest, Peterson told Amanpour, "These people think that our war is against other people. They think that our war is against man. And our war isn't. Our war's against . . . the pain in teenagers' hearts, like depression, alcoholism. Those things that-that are, like, tearing our teenagers apart."

Mindy Peterson's words suggest that it means something very different to be God's warrior for Christians in the United States. In the Middle East, the war is against flesh and blood; in America, the war is against principalities and powers.

Indeed. Despite the stereotype promoted by the left of militant, violent Christians it's amazingly hard to actually find a specimen of one. Most Christians believe that the best way to change society is through changing people's hearts, not by lopping off their heads.

Someday, perhaps, the secular media will realize that they have been duped by their own propaganda and that the ubiquitous theocratic Christian boogeymen of their imaginations are in fact about as common as pink elephants.


Scandalous Deviancy

The New York Times is calling Republican Senator Larry Craig's foot-tapping and hand waving solicitations in an airport rest room a sex "scandal," and liberal talk host Chris Matthews, perhaps inadvertently letting his true feelings rise to the fore, labeled the Senator a "sexual deviant."

Now I agree with both of these assessments, Craig's behavior is both scandalous and deviant. What I can't figure out, though, is why liberal papers like the Times and liberal commentators like Matthews would use such descriptors. According to the liberal catechism the only sexual acts that are out of bounds or scandalous are those which are nonconsensual and Craig's clearly didn't meet that criterion.

Moreover, liberals like Matthews aren't supposed to be so narrow-minded, intolerant and judgmental as to think that gay sexual behavior is deviant. It's enough to make one think that perhaps the attitudes of at least some liberals concerning homosexual beahvior are really just a hypocritical pose.

Of course, Craig is a Republican so perhaps that makes his behavior "deviant" even though it wouldn't be deviant if it were engaged in by someone like, say, Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank. One has to keep in mind that much depends upon whether there is an R or a D after a politician's name in deciding these matters.

At any rate, I wonder if Matthews will stand by his assessment that common homosexual practice is deviant after he gets the memo instructing him to reread the catechism and to recant his heresy.


Atheism's Top Five

John Wilson at Christianity Today offers up his top five books on atheism. Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and the rest aren't on it.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

No-Risk Borrowing

A lot of Americans live in modest homes because that's all they can afford. They've chosen to live within their means and to be financially responsible, but a lot of other Americans have chosen instead to go into serious debt to buy homes they couldn't really afford. They signed on to variable rate mortgages, knowing full well that the rates they were paying were going to go up. As the New York Times put it:

Banks and mortgage lending companies developed an array of subprime mortgages for people with poor credit and exotic loans that allowed people to borrow without putting any money down, or to qualify for mortgages without documenting their incomes.

When the inevitable happened and the rates were raised the borrowers found themselves unable to meet their payments and the lending institutions that made the risky loans have been forced to foreclose and are take the houses.

Now Congressional Democrats and others are demanding that taxpayers bail these people out. Those who chose to live within their means all their lives are being told that they should essentially pay for the houses of those who live above their means, many of whom should never have been permitted to buy a house, or at least not one as expensive as they did buy, in the first place.

This may be the sort of thing Democrats do, but it's hard to see the justice in it. It's as if your neighbor overextended himself on his credit card and is now going house to house demanding that everyone else pay off his debt.

Michelle Malkin has details here.


Plan of Attack

A pair of Brits have written the most extensive analysis of American preparations for a war against Iran that I have seen. Here are some of the chief points:

Any attack is likely to be on a massive multi-front scale but avoiding a ground invasion. Attacks focused on WMD facilities would leave Iran too many retaliatory options, leave President Bush open to the charge of using too little force and leave the regime intact.

US bombers and long range missiles are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours.

US ground, air and marine forces already in the Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan can devastate Iranian forces, the regime and the state at short notice.

Some form of low level US and possibly UK military action as well as armed popular resistance appear underway inside the Iranian provinces or ethnic areas of the Azeri, Balujistan, Kurdistan and Khuzestan. Iran was unable to prevent sabotage of its offshore-to-shore crude oil pipelines in 2005.

Nuclear weapons are ready, but most unlikely, to be used by the US, the UK and Israel. The human, political and environmental effects would be devastating, while their military value is limited.

Israel is determined to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons yet has the conventional military capability only to wound Iran's WMD programmes.

The attitude of the UK is uncertain, with the Brown government and public opinion opposed psychologically to more war, yet, were Brown to support an attack he would probably carry a vote in Parliament. The UK is adamant that Iran must not acquire the bomb.

The US is not publicising the scale of these preparations to deter Iran, tending to make confrontation more likely. The US retains the option of avoiding war, but using its forces as part of an overall strategy of shaping Iran's actions.

There's much more to the article than this and those interested in our relations with Iran should read the whole thing.

Other sources have added another layer of intigue to the above scenario by suggesting that an American attack against Iran may be coupled with an Israeli attack against Syria.

There's an enormous risk of catastrophe in such plans. Yet the risk of allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons is even worse. Yet, the world sits by refusing to do anything much to punish Iran for its nuclear weapons program. If diplomacy fails and Iran doesn't stand down, as Libya and perhaps North Korea have done, if the only alternative to allowing Iran to have nuclear weapons is to take out their weapons facilities along with their military and their government, the U.S. will surely be seen as the bad guy for doing attempting it. Even so, the fault will lie not with us but with the Iranians, and the Russians, Chinese, and Europeans who tried to profit from the Iranian quest for military power. These nations all put financial gain above doing what was necessary for stability and peace and they will have deserved the opprobrium of all civilized people.


Alberto Gonzalez

Paul Mirgenhoff at Power Line articulates my thoughts on the resignation of Alberto Gonzales:

I've never been a fan of Gonzales, but I can't help feeling sorry for him. The "scandal" that led to his demise -- the firing of the U.S. attorneys -- appears to involve no wrongdoing on his part. Moreover, the underlying decisions and process appear to have been the product of the White House, not Gonzales. His defense of the decisions was hardly stellar, but if I'm correct, he was handicapped by the fact that they were not really his decisions.

Gonzales's only real offense seems to have been mediocrity. But mediocrity in an Attorney General is nothing new (think Janet Reno), and any blame for this occurrence properly attaches to the White House.

Often the biggest favor a president can do for a friend is to not appoint him or her to very high office.

I didn't care for Gonzales because he really didn't seem enthusiastic about controlling our borders. His justice department was tougher on border patrol officers than it was on illegal aliens. Even so, the firing of the District Attorneys, the offense for which he was hounded by Democrats, struck us as a tempest in a teapot given that Pres. Clinton fired ninety three DAs and no one made much fuss. Clinton's Attorney General, Janet Reno, gave the go-ahead to assault the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas resulting in the immolation of dozens of women and children, and even then Democrats were relatively mute. She then ordered the seizure and deportation to Cuba of Elian Gonzalez a child immigrant who should have been allowed to stay in this country if anyone should, and again the Democrats were silent.

It took the firing of nine District Attorneys by a Republican AG to rouse their outrage.

Gonzales, a former real-estate attorney, never should have been appointed to the office he held, but the Democratic obsession with tarnishing the careers and reputations of everyone they can in the Bush administration really does make them look small.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Gender-Neutral Loos

Jason sends us word that the University of Vermont is providing gender neutral bathrooms for its students and staff:

[These are designed] to accommodate transgendered people, as well as those with some disabilities. The four single bathrooms in the new Dudley H. Davis Center - each with a toilet, sink, shower and lockable door - cost about $2,500 a piece to build. Their wall signs identify each as "gender neutral restroom."

"It's about inclusivity and accessibility and the importance of meeting all people's needs, not just a few," said Annie Stevens, assistant vice president for student and campus life.

"Not just a few"? I would think that 98% of the students on campus would be adequately accommodated by traditional rest rooms.

What's next, we wonder. Perhaps separate bathrooms for the obese who find the usual facilities a bit too confining would be a good idea, and maybe, if it's about "inclusivity," the University might also consider luxury accommodations for those who are accustomed to them and standard facilities for those who are not.

It's easy to poke fun at the things the politically correct deem important, but seriously - does the University really suppose that gay and lesbian students who are not "out" will want to be seen using the new facilities? If they're reluctant to use them, and they doubtless would be if they're keeping their orientation secret, how many transgendered students on Vermont's campus will ultimately benefit from these $2500 rest rooms?


Inside Job

Byron passes along this excellent piece of analysis by Peter Beinart at The New Republic of the left-wing blogosphere's relationship to the Democratic party. It's an important read for anyone interested in how the left has morphed from political "outsiders" back in the sixties to political "insiders" today and how it exerts its considerable influence on the Democratic party.


Amusing Irony

Who do you suppose wrote the following:

"I have a hankering after what is actually true.

"We are confronted by those who deny the evidence of the real world and instead bend reality around a dogmatic belief system handed down by tradition.

"Sceptical rational enquiry is always the best approach. We don't have to follow the herd, ... instead we can think independently and be truly open minded. That means asking questions, being open to real corroborated evidence."

Sounds like it was written by an Intelligent Design advocate calling upon people to 1) Value truth above blind adherence to a materialist methodology; 2) To consider evidence rather than reflexively bowing to Darwinian dogma handed down by teachers who often don't themselves really know the evidence against the theory; 3) Urging people to think for themselves and not allow themselves to be herded into the corral of naturalism by their materialist professors, and 4) Encouraging skepticism and criticism of the established order.

That's what it sounds like, but in fact, it was written by the one man who does more to stifle and suppress all of these worthy aspirations than perhaps anyone else in the Western world: Richard Dawkins.

HT:Uncommon Descent.

Pretty funny.


Assault on Academic Freedom

Here's more on the upcoming film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. The film is a documentary that reveals the extent of the Darwinian inquisition against any and all heretics, no matter how slight their deviation from the materialist orthodoxy. It also reveals, apparently, how Darwinism, alone among all intellectual disciplines, is slowly gaining state sanction and protection from any and all challenges.


Monday, August 27, 2007

Moral Equivalence and Michael Vick

Forthwith some questions raised by the Michael Vick situation:

How does the abhorrent torture of dogs for pleasure differ in any significant moral way from a late-term abortion or from certain types of animal hunting? If Vick had set the dogs loose on his property, and he and his friends hunted them down and killed them, what would the moral distinction be between that and hunting, say, a bear? If there is no significant distinction then what's the distinction between killing dogs in a hunt and killing them in a dogfight?

Perhaps, someone might reply, the difference lies in the brutality to which the unfortunate dogs were subjected, but then what's the moral difference between what was done to these animals and ripping the limbs from an unborn baby and crushing its skull? Why do people who think abortion should be legal gasp in horror that Michael Vick and his friends would be so barbaric as to force dogs to fight each other and to brutally kill the ones which lose.

Is it because they think the unborn baby is not a person? Neither is the dog. Is it because the woman's body is her property and she has the right to do with her property as she pleases? Vick was on his property, doesn't he have the right to entertain himself as he sees fit as long as no one else is harmed?

I'm not defending Vick. I'm just wondering why people who condone violence against the unborn and big-game animals are so sickened by what Vick is charged with doing. If any of our readers can explain this to me, I'd be grateful.


P.Z. Myers and Academic Fascism

Atheistic biologist P.Z. Myers is evidently being sued for some unkind reviews of a book on evolutionary biology he posted on his web site. The suit seems frivolous, but in response to the news of it Myers said this:

I still stand by my review, and now I'm a bit disturbed that someone would think criticism of a scientific hypothesis must be defended by silencing its critics.

Hmm. Myers thinks it disturbing that someone would want to silence critics of a scientific hypothesis, yet Myers is the same guy who exclaimed that he wanted to fire any teacher who's critical of Darwinism in the classroom. Here are his words:

"Please don't try to tell me that you object to the tone of our complaints. Our only problem is that we aren't martial enough, or vigorous enough, or loud enough, or angry enough. The only appropriate responses should involve some form of righteous fury, much butt-kicking, and the public firing and humiliation of some teachers, many schoolboard members, and vast numbers of sleazy far-right politicians.

"I say, screw the polite words and careful rhetoric. It's time for scientists to break out the steel-toed boots and brass knuckles, and get out there and hammer on the lunatics and idiots. If you don't care enough for the truth to fight for it, then get out of the way."

We learn here what we might call the P.Z. Principle of scientific theory review. It can be stated thus: Criticism of scientific theories should never be prohibited or constrained unless it is one's own favorite theory which is being criticized. In that case the critic should be severely punished by the academic storm troopers.

Intellectual fascism is alive and well among the Darwinians and the sound of breaking glass fills the air.


Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sunday Column

The fifth in a series of columns I've been invited to do for our local Sunday paper appeared yesterday. I wrote on why many Americans have grown suspicious of their Muslim neighbors and what Muslims might do to allay those suspicions. Here's the column:

Muslims are understandably annoyed and offended that since 9/11 they've been subjected to suspicion and scrutiny in airports and elsewhere, a treatment they perceive as unjust.

It goes without saying that in a nation founded on toleration of religious difference we must not impute to all members of Islam the guilt of a minority, even if it's a large minority, who commit acts of terrorism. No doubt there are in the United States and Europe many Muslims who feel their religion is compatible with the principles of freedom and equality upon which Western nations have been built and to which much of their success is owed. No doubt there are many Muslims who wish for nothing more than to live in peace with their non-Muslim neighbors.

That having been said, there are a lot of non-Muslims, people of good will, who would dearly love to hear more young Muslims unequivocally affirm those principles and distance themselves from those who wish to supplant them, by whatever means necessary, with Islamic law.

Mark Steyn, in his book America Alone, observes that it's only a relative few Muslims who blow up trains and airplanes but that guilt extends far beyond the relatively small circle of killers.

Around the murderers, he writes, are others who form a series of concentric rings:

"...the terrorist bent on devastation and destruction prowls the streets, while around him are a significant number of people urging him on, and around them is a larger group of young male co-religionists gleefully celebrating mass murder, and around them a much larger group of "moderates" who stand silent at the acts committed in their name, and around them a mesh of religious and community leaders openly inciting treason against the state, and around them another mesh of religious and community leaders who serve as apologists for the inciters, and around them a network of professional identity-group grievance-mongers adamant that they're the real victims, and around them a vast mass of elite opinion in the media ... too squeamish about ethno-cultural matters to confront reality, and around them a political establishment desperate to pretend this is just a managerial problem that can be finessed away with a few new laws and a bit of community outreach. It's these insulating circles ... that bulk up the loser death-cult and make it a potent force."

Beyond these circles, one hopes, there is another ring of Muslims who deplore the practice of killing apostates, beating women, executing homosexuals, calling Jews pigs and monkeys, and resorting to violence to spread Islam. But how large is that circle and who's in it?

Some months prior to 9/11 I attended a talk given by an imam in a neighboring county. He was an affable and impressive fellow, and I was taken with his enthusiasm for the work of his mosque. During the Q&A I asked him this: If it ever came to pass that Muslims were in the political majority in this country would our Constitution and Bill of Rights be in jeopardy? The eloquence he had displayed throughout his lecture suddenly fled him, and he seemed at a loss for a reply. Most of the members of my group got the distinct impression that with all his hemming, hawing, qualifications and obfuscations he was trying to find a way to say "no" without lying.

Theocracy, state control of both religion and the press, inequality based on religion and gender, cruel punishments, extreme intolerance, hatred of non-Muslims, religious war and so on, are all enjoined by the Koran, many of its devotees tell us, but they're all proscribed by the laws and values which have evolved in this nation since the 17th century.

It's because so many of us who would like to live harmoniously with Muslims in our communities are afraid that what those Muslims themselves want is to be altogether rid of us and our way of life that we can't help feel uneasy in their presence. It's because we wonder what went through their minds when they saw the World Trade Towers fall that we sometimes experience a twinge of concern about their democratic bona fides.

So, here's a question many Americans wish to ask of our Muslim neighbors: "Do you sympathize with efforts, whether peaceful or otherwise, to abrogate the Bill of Rights and establish in their stead Koranic law?"

To the extent American Muslims are silent or ambiguous on this question, they'll continue to attract the suspicions of other Americans.

No doubt many Muslims will think this unfair, and perhaps it is, but they shouldn't blame us. They should blame instead their co-religionists who claim to speak on behalf of the True Faith and who desire to see every infidel, and his children, dead.

That, too, is a little unfair.


Mother Teresa's Crisis of Faith

When I started reading David Van Biema's essay in Time on Mother Teresa titled "Crisis of Faith" I confess I expected the worst. Here, I feared, was a hit piece that would expose the sainted Teresa as a spiritual fraud and hypocrite. I was happy to discover about half way into it that it was really no such thing. It was, on the contrary, a portrait of a deeply committed, but deeply anguished, human being.

Here's a summary: Letters have come to light that Teresa wrote to spiritual mentors and confessors throughout her life which reveal that beginning shortly after she initiated her ministry to the poor in India she was beset by a sense of the absence of God. She longed to feel God's presence in her life and work, but almost never did. Instead she experienced for almost her entire adult life a persistent spiritual dryness, emptiness, and doubt.

Nevertheless, she persevered for over fifty years right to her death. She resolved to live her life for God whether she felt His presence or not. She learned from her experience and from her correspondents that faith isn't a feeling. It's not a matter of living moment by moment with God's presence manifest in our hearts. It's living with, and for, God regardless of how, or what, we feel. Faith is a commitment, it's not a feeling.

For Teresa that meant a lifetime of anguish and perplexity as she puzzled over why God seemed so remote and inaccessible. Like Christ on the cross she felt that God had forsaken her, yet she refused to let her feelings rule her will. She lived for Christ and hoped and trusted that all would someday become clear.

Every believer experiences what she experienced although perhaps not so acutely or for so long. It was, perhaps, her particular cross. That's part of what made her such a remarkable woman and what made her faith such a marvelous example for the rest of us. Faith based on a constant feeling of God's presence is not faith at all. It's not trust at all. It's a kind of infatuation. The true "knights of faith," as Kierkegaard called them, are people who live as God wants them to live regardless of how they feel.

Everyone who aspires to understand the idea of "faith" should read Van Biema's article to the end. It's worth the time.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Shut Up and Sing

Ted Nugent, the libertarian rocker, debases our politics with vile rants like this one. One of our biggest political problems is that people on opposite sides of the ideological divide don't just disagree, they don't just dislike each other, they don't respect each other either. If we're ever going to solve the problems we face as a nation we have to be able to work with those we don't like, and that means we have to treat each other with some respect.

People like Nugent, with their disgusting name-calling and thinly veiled threats simply inflame hatred and divide us even further. What he says on the video is much worse than what the Dixie Chicks said and that was bad enough. I know he's just a rocker, but Nugent's brand of political discourse has no place in a civil society.


Sojourners on Iran

Jessica Wilbanks of Sojourners offers her thoughts on U.S./Iranian relations. She is, like all of us, eager to avoid war with Iran, but her essay seems to ignore the real problem, which is that Iran is not particularly eager to avoid war with us. In fact, they're already engaged in it. Ms Wilbank's key passage is this:

Last February, 13 representatives of national religious groups and denominations, led by the Mennonite Central Committee and the American Friends Service Committee, journeyed to Iran in an effort to build bridges of understanding between our two nations. Rather than approaching Iran as the "axis of evil," they met with Muslim and Christian leaders, government officials, and Iranians from many walks of life. Through listening and sharing their own stories, they returned from Tehran with new hope for an easing of tensions between Iran and the U.S. Specifically, they call on the two countries to take the following steps:

  • immediately engage in direct, face-to-face talks;
  • cease using language that defines the other using "enemy" images;
  • and
  • promote more people-to-people exchanges, including among religious leaders, members of Parliament/Congress, and civil society.

While in Iran with the ecumenical delegation, Sojourners/Call to Renewal representative Jeff Carr was struck by the dramatically different narratives Iranians and Americans told of the history between the two nations: the CIA's overthrow of Iran's democratically elected leader, the installation of the shah, the 1979 revolution, the ensuing hostage crisis, and the current nuclear standoff....The first step to reconciling the tension between the U.S. and Iran is to learn one another's stories.

Dramatically different stories, indeed, but I'm not sure why Ms Wilbanks leaves so much out of the Iranian "story." Perhaps it's because she suspects that were the American people to "learn the Iranian story" they'd be far less hopeful that anything short of military action will be of any avail. Ms Wilbanks makes no mention, for instance, of Iran's substantial support for and control of Hamas, Hezbollah and other terrorist groups around the world. She makes no mention of Iran's manifest commitment to building nuclear weapons, nor does she mention Iran's repeated threats to use those nukes against Israel. She makes no mention of Iran's hope that they will hasten the coming of the 13th imam by precipitating a military cataclysm in the Mideast, and she makes no mention of Iran's complicity in destabilizing Iraq and in the deaths of American soldiers.

The three recommendations of the ecumenical delegation amount to merely talking our differences to death while Iran continues to prepare for nuclear war or at least nuclear blackmail. If the ecumenical delegation wishes to expunge the language of enemy images from the discourse of international affairs then they should prevail upon Iran to stop training Iraqi insurgents and sending them back to Iraq to kill Americans and Iraqi civilians. They should prevail upon Iran to stop sending deadly IED's and other weapons into Iraq. They should prevail upon Iranian leaders to cease calling for the obliteration of Israel. In short, they should demand that Iran cease acting like an enemy and then maybe we can cease thinking of Iran as an enemy.

I have no problem with talks and cultural exchanges. They have their place, but they are no substitute for clearly and concisely identifying the evils we face in the world, nor are they a substitute for the use of force if force should become necessary.

I have just one question for Ms Wilbanks, and it is absolutely crucial for her credibility that she and others who hold her views answer it forthrightly: If sending religious leaders and scholars to Iran does nothing to dissuade them from their nuclear program, as it almost surely will not, should the world, nevertheless, stand by and allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons, or should they not?

This is really the only question that needs to be answered. Of course we should try diplomacy to resolve our difficulties. Of course we should turn to the U.N. to try in its characteristically feckless way to disarm Iran. To say this is simply to state the obvious, but, if all these fail, then what? What is the last resort? That's the question, Ms Wilbanks.


Simply Sick

If we gave out a "scum of the earth" prize this guy would certainly be eligible. He's an American Muslim who considers the beheadings of the young Korean missionaries by the Afghan Taliban a delightful prospect. They were, in his opinion, instrumental in the conversion of Muslim children to Christianity and thus deserve a grisly death.

Some Muslims have so little confidence in the ability of their religion to compete against Christianity on the field of ideas that their only recourse is to employ violence, threats and intimidation. That's bad enough, but to anticipate with glee the slaughter of these young Koreans, most of whom are young women who came to Afghanistan as angels of mercy to the suffering and deprived Afghan people, is simply sick.

I'm sure we'll soon be hearing loud denunciations of this creature from the moderate Muslim community. Or not.

Parenthetically, it's important, perhaps, to note the difference we see illustrated in this tragic episode between Christian martyrs and Muslim martyrs. Most, if not all, Christian martyrs are people who who did no harm to anyone else and who are killed by others because of their faith in Christ. Muslim martyrs are people who die in the act of savagely murdering others on behalf of Allah. The difference is as the difference between heaven and hell.


Friday, August 24, 2007

Re: Pressing His Luck

According to Strategy Page the cause of the explosion in the video we linked to a couple of days ago was a premature detonation of the mortar. We had speculated that it might have been return artillery fire, but not having any military experience whatsoever, we'd be better off not speculating about such things.


Lousy Leadership

John Gibson interviews Pastor Juan Gray of Jacksonville who "argues" that black witnesses to crime should refuse to cooperate with police because the police are racists.

Gray is still living in the 1950's, and he sounds almost completely detached from rationality in this interview. Almost nothing he says makes any sense. In Gray's world it's better to have thugs and murderers preying upon the innocent than to help the police put them in jail.

Unfortunately, with leaders like this man in their communities, African-Americans will continue to comprise a significant portion of the American underclass for a long time to come.


Ben Stein Is Bad to the Bone

A new movie is coming out in February that promises to toss the Darwinians into a tizzy. Go here to view the trailers for Expelled.

HT: Uncommon Descent


Standing Tall

Nicholas Sarkozy is in the process of leading France in an about-face on its relations with the U.S. The administration's critics have been telling us for four years or more how George Bush has been the cause of an erosion of respect for the U.S. in Europe, but both France and Germany have nevertheless elected leaders who want to be much closer to Bush than did their predecessors.

The fact is that most people respect strength, though they may not like it, and despise weakness. Bush has stood firm, most prominently on Iraq and Afghanistan, and even if the Euros don't like the war many of them respect Bush, if only grudgingly, for the strength of his resolve.

The cut-and-runners may be more to the Euros' liking because they affirm their own inclinations, but no one is going to respect them. People always respect firmness even when that firmness is put to evil purposes, as it was by Hitler and Stalin, and they always disdain weakness even when the weakness conforms to what people themselves would want to see done.

In the twentieth century people like Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John II were all deeply respected for their resolve and courage even if they were deeply disdained for their politics. On the other hand, the Neville Chamberlains of the world live on in ignominy even though they were widely praised in their day for their appeasements and capitulations. Quitters are never admired, even by those who call upon them to quit.

George Bush is not right about everything, but he is steadfast and determined, and those who think that that discredits America in the eyes of the world either don't understand human psychology or they're simply indulging in wishful thinking.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Unspeakable Evil

Is this the sort of barbaric evil that awaits all the people of Iraq as soon as we pull out?

Five-year-old Youssif is scarred for life, his once beautiful smile turned into a grotesquely disfigured face -- the face of a horrifying act by masked men. They grabbed him on a January day outside his central Baghdad home, doused him with gas and set him ablaze. It's an act incomprehensibly savage, even by Iraq's standards today. No one has been arrested and the motive remains unknown.

In a war-ravaged city torn by sectarian violence and marked by acts of vengeance, this attack's apparent randomness stands out as an example of what life has become in a place where brutality -- even against young children -- is a constant.

"They dumped gasoline, burned me, and ran," Youssif told CNN, pointing down the street with his scarred hands where his attackers fled.

As he sucked his thumb, he repeated, "I was burning." He tried to put the flames out himself. It looks as though this boy's face melted and then froze into rivers cutting through swollen hard flesh. It's hard to see the energetic outgoing child his parents describe beneath the sullen demeanor that defines Youssif today.

"He's become spiteful, I am not sure why," said his mother, Zainab. "He is jealous of everyone. If I say the slightest thing to him, he cries. He's sensitive." Even things like eating have become a chore. His face contorts when he tries to shovel rice into his mouth, carefully angling the spoon and then using his fingers to push the little grains through lips he can no longer fully open.

He has also become jealous of the baby sister he used to dote on. "I sit sometimes at night and cry," Zainab said, her voice heavy with guilt. "If only I hadn't let him go outside, if only I hadn't let him play."

It was on January 15 that masked men attacked her boy, their identities still unknown. Zainab said she was upstairs at the time.

"I heard screaming. I thought someone was fighting or something," she said.

She ran downstairs, saw her son and fainted. When she came to, she barely recognized her child. "His head was so swollen, you couldn't see his eyes, and his nose was pushed in."

"There was blood," she added, shuddering slightly. "The skin was melted off."

He spent two months in the hospital recovering from the severe burns. These days Youssif spends most of his time indoors, in front of the computer. It's only then that traces of the 5-year-old in him emerge. "He can't play outside with the other kids," Zainab said. "The other day they were playing, and he came in crying. I asked him, 'What's wrong?' and he said, 'They won't play with me because I am burned.'"

She said he once wanted to be a doctor and he loved kindergarten. "He used to be the one who would wake me up every morning, saying let's go to school," Zainab recalled. She coaxed him to tell me the few words he knows in English. "Girl, boy, window, fan," he said, his voice barely audible, the words barely intelligible. Doctors told the family there is little more they can do to help Youssif. The family can't afford care outside Iraq.

So Zainab has taken a massive risk by telling her story to the world. Her husband works as a security guard, and it's too dangerous for him to talk to the media. "I'd prefer death than seeing my son like this," Zainab said.

All she wants is for someone to help her little boy smile again.

Update: A charity has offered to pay all the costs for reconstructive surgery for Youssif. You might have thought that the charity was an Islamic organization since little Youssif is a Muslim, but you would have been mistaken. The charity is the Children's Burn Foundation. See Hot Air for the details.


Positive Review of <i>The Edge</i>

The Philadelphia Inquirer has just insured that it will be henceforth the object of much calumny and opprobrium from the Darwinian establishment. It has published a review of Michael Behe's book The Edge of Evolution that actually takes the book seriously enough to explain what Behe's argument is and, what's more, praises it.

Here's the crux of science writer Cameron Wybrow's review:

Behe's new book, The Edge of Evolution, provides some hard numbers, coupled with an ingenious argument. The key to determining the exact powers of Darwinian evolution, says Behe, lies with fast-reproducing microbes. Some, such as malaria, HIV, and E. coli, reproduce so quickly that within a few decades, or at most a few millennia, they generate as many mutations as a larger, slower-breeding animal would in millions of years. By observing how far these creatures have evolved in recent times, we can estimate the creative limits of random mutation.

In the case of malaria, the creative limits appear quite low. Over the last few thousand years, several thousand billion billion malarial cells have been unable to develop an evolutionary response to the sickle-cell mutation, which protects its human bearers from malaria. On the other hand, malaria has proved able to develop Darwinian resistance to the antibiotic chloroquine. This resistance is based upon two simultaneous mutations affecting a malarial protein.

Yet this rare double mutation has occurred fewer than 10 times since chloroquine was introduced 50 years ago, during which time a hundred billion billion malarial cells have been born. If this indicates the typical rate of occurrence of double mutations, then the Darwinian transformation of our pre-chimp ancestor into homo sapiens, which would have required at least some double mutations, would have taken at least a thousand trillion years, a time span greater than the age of the universe....

The response to Behe has been predictable. The editors of the major print media have assigned known enemies of ID to trash the book - Richard Dawkins for the New York Times; Coyne for the New Republic; Miller for Nature; Ruse for Toronto's Globe & Mail. A large part of each review is ad hominem, concerned with Behe's alleged religious agenda, his minority status among biologists, and other irrelevant matters. In Dawkins' review, the science is barely touched, and it's not clear from Ruse's review that he has even opened the cover of the book. Behe deserves better. The Edge of Evolution makes a serious, quantitative argument about the limits of Darwinian evolution. Evolutionary biology cannot honestly ignore it.

Read the rest of Wybrow's review here.


An Atheist's Plea to Atheists

Well-known skeptic writer Michael Shermer has penned an open letter to the more militant of his atheist brethren imploring them to adopt a less strident, more tolerant tone. The letter is interesting although I'm not suure what it's doing in Scientific American.


Israeli Missile Defense

According to Strategy Page,

Israel is going ahead with installing the Iron Dome anti-rocket system. This is a defensive system with a unique twist. Iron Dome radars (there are two of them) quickly calculate the trajectory of the incoming rocket (Palestinian Kassams from Gaza, or Russian and Iranian designs favored by Hizbollah in Lebanon) and do nothing if the rocket trajectory indicates it is going to land in an uninhabited area. But if the computers predict a rocket coming down in an inhabited area, a $40,000 guided missile is fired to intercept the rocket. This makes the system cost-effective. That's because Hizbollah fired 4,000 rockets last year, and Palestinian terrorists in Gaza have fired over six thousand Kassam rockets in the past six years. But over 90 percent of these rockets landed in uninhabited areas.

Very clever, those Israelis.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Pressing His Luck

I don't know how this made it onto YouTube, but it's a slow-motion video clip of a jihadi paying the ultimate price for trying to kill people with a mortar.

There's no explanation of what happens, but I suspect that his initial round was tracked by computerized artillery and the return fire was deadly accurate. He should have taken off after he shot the first round, but he evidently wanted to increase the chances that he maimed or killed someone.


Academic Re-education Camps

Science welcomes eccentrics and heretics, those whose opinions and theories shake established orthodoxies. Well, at least it used to. That was until the orthodoxies concerning women, homosexuality and transgenderedness, race, religion and evolution all came under the aegis of secular leftism. Now one challenges those orthodoxies at considerable peril to one's professional and personal well-being.

Ask, for example, Lawrence Summers about what happens when one transgresses the leftist dogmas about gender. Ask Charles Murray about what happens when one flouts the dogmas concerning race. Ask Richard Sternberg what happens when one violates the dogmas concerning Darwin or Guillermo Gonzalez about what happens when metaphysical materialism is called into question.

Now J. Michael Bailey is feeling the force of academic intimidation and character assassination that accompanies any hypothesis that wanders too close to the barbed wire perimeters of the leftist gulag:

In his book, Bailey argued that some people born male who want to cross genders are driven primarily by an erotic fascination with themselves as women. This idea runs counter to the belief, held by many men who decide to live as women, that they are the victims of a biological mistake - in essence, women trapped in men's bodies. Dr. Bailey described the alternate theory, which is based on Canadian studies done in the 1980s and 1990s, in part by telling the stories of several transgender women he met through a mutual acquaintance. In the book, he gave them pseudonyms, like "Alma" and "Juanita."

Other scientists praised the book as a compelling explanation of the science. The Lambda Literary Foundation, an organization that promotes gay, bisexual and transgender literature, nominated the book for an award.

But then the roof caved in. Read the story for the details of the ordeal to which Bailey is being forced to undergo.

The left-wing python is slowly squeezing the life out of academic research. By insisting that all findings conform to what is ideologically acceptable and punishing those who dissent our universities have undergone a sex change of their own, so to speak. They have exchanged their traditional role as marketplaces of ideas for more "progressive" roles as institutions of indoctrination for our young and re-education camps for those unfortunate souls so foolish as to deviate from the party line.


For What It's Worth

Breitbart has the story of an AP-Ipsos poll which found that 22 percent of liberals and moderates said they had not read a book within the past year, compared with 34 percent of conservatives:

Among those who had read at least one book, liberals typically read nine books in the year, with half reading more than that and half less. Conservatives typically read eight, moderates five.

By slightly wider margins, Democrats tended to read more books than Republicans and independents. There were no differences by political party in the percentage of those who said they had not read at least one book.

I wonder if the disparity between liberals and conservatives has something to do with the fact that liberals are often academics and conservatives are often businessmen. The former might be expected to read more than the latter.

In any event, I don't think we can draw any significance from these numbers without knowing what sorts of books are being read by the two groups. If one group reads a lot of novels and another reads a lot of history chances are the former is going to read more books in a year than the latter.

What is troubling, though, is that:

One in four adults say they read no books at all in the past year. Of those who did read, women and seniors were most avid, and religious works and popular fiction were the top choices.

The survey reveals a nation whose book readers, on the whole, can hardly be called ravenous. The typical person claimed to have read four books in the last year - half read more and half read fewer. Excluding those who hadn't read any, the usual number read was seven.

"I just get sleepy when I read," said Richard Bustos of Dallas, a habit with which millions of Americans can doubtless identify. Bustos, a 34-year-old project manager for a telecommunications company, said he had not read any books in the last year and would rather spend time in his backyard pool.

Twenty-five percent of us don't read at all, and those who do - assuming that by "religious works" is meant stuff like the Left Behind series - read mostly to be entertained. Sadly it appears that Americans do not hold the gifts of language, literacy, and learning in very high esteem.

I was reminded by this survey that both Karl Rove and George Bush read a book or two a week, and Bush's reading is not just light entertainment (see the link for a sample). His reading evinces an intellectual curiosity far above that of most Americans and probably beyond that of most of those who criticize him for being mentally obtuse.


Artificial Life

So, according to this AP story scientists are within a couple of years of producing a living cell from the chemical constituents of life:

Around the world, a handful of scientists are trying to create life from scratch and they're getting closer. Experts expect an announcement within three to 10 years from someone in the now little-known field of "wet artificial life."

"It's going to be a big deal and everybody's going to know about it," said Mark Bedau, chief operating officer of ProtoLife of Venice, Italy, one of those in the race. "We're talking about a technology that could change our world in pretty fundamental ways-in fact, in ways that are impossible to predict."

One of the leaders in the field, Jack Szostak at Harvard Medical School, predicts that within the next six months, scientists will report evidence that the first step-creating a cell membrane-is "not a big problem." Scientists are using fatty acids in that effort.

Szostak is also optimistic about the next step-getting nucleotides, the building blocks of DNA, to form a working genetic system.

His idea is that once the container is made, if scientists add nucleotides in the right proportions, then Darwinian evolution could simply take over.

"We aren't smart enough to design things, we just let evolution do the hard work and then we figure out what happened," Szostak said.

This is a very odd statement. Szostak is saying that blind, random chance is more ingenious than human intelligence. He'd have us believe that unguided, unintelligent accident is a better engineer than human minds.

Anyway, they may be successful in manufacturing a functional cell - who knows - but if so, then the only observed case of life having appeared from non-living precursors will be one in which the development was guided by an intelligent agent. We will then have actual experience of life being produced by intelligent designers, but we will still have had no experience of life being formed by purely unintelligent processes. We will, in other words, have empirical reason to believe that biogenesis can be effected by minds but no empirical reason to believe that it can be effected apart from minds.

What, then, will be the most reasonable inference - that life probably appeared through physical processes alone or that it is at least partly the result of intelligent action?What scientific, as opposed to philosophical, grounds will anyone have for insisting upon a purely physicalist explanation for the origin of life?


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Why Did They Have to Die?

The refusal to treat illegal immigrants like they are illegal is putting all Americans at risk says Mark Steyn in this very good column about the Newark murders.


Limits of Atheism

Suppose a controversy erupted among scientists and philosophers over, say, the ability of the Big Bang to account for certain cosmological facts about the world, or suppose the controversy swirled around whether the theory of quantum mechanics was correct. How many people outside the relevant disciplines would take much of an interest? Probably very few. Why then do so many non-scientists react so vigorously to challenges to traditional Darwinism?

This is the question that David Warren asks in a column in the Ottawa Citizen titled The Limits of Atheism. He concludes that the reason is because it's not the scientific convictions of the non-scientists that are under assault by the skeptics of Darwinism, it's their religious beliefs.

Most non-scientists who hold fervently to the Darwinian view of life do so not because they're convinced by the evidence, indeed, they often know little about the evidence. Rather they cling tenaciously to the theory because it's a necessary prop for their atheism. Atheism demands a naturalistic explanation of life and the cosmos, and if Darwinism is cast into doubt then so are the religious convictions it undergirds.

It should be pointed out that many non-scientists are hostile to Darwinism for the same reason. Darwinism, many of its opponents realize, is antagonistic to belief in a creator God, and so they reject it reflexively quite apart from the evidence for or against it. The difference is this latter group freely acknowledges their motive for doubting Darwin whereas the former group does not.


Slipping Toward Revolution?

All is not well in Ahmadinejad's Iran. This article provides the details.


Monday, August 20, 2007

The Chinese and the Taliban

Strategy Page has a somewhat surprising piece on growing hostilities between the Taliban and the communist Chinese in Pakistan:

Currently, 7,000 Pakistani military and police personnel protect Chinese working inside Pakistan. In addition, there are a small, but growing, number of Chinese security personnel. The Chinese security detachment works with the Chinese community in Pakistan, to make sure there are no misunderstandings about the need for tight security. The Chinese security personnel also advise the Pakistanis on Chinese security needs, and help get needed technical equipment brought in from China. The major danger to Chinese in Pakistan is Islamic terrorists. Most of these are al Qaeda, and local Islamic radicals (mostly Taliban) who want Pakistan run by a religious dictatorship.

Since China has come down hard on real, or perceived, Islamic radicalism at home, China is seen by Pakistani Islamic radicals as "foreign devils" and "enemies of Islam." The Islamic radicals recognize that China is crucial to maintaining Pakistani military and police power, and keeping the current government in power. So there are more attacks on Chinese by Pakistani Islamic radicals....

....All this Chinese counter-terror work is done very quietly, and covertly. That may keep it out of the Western press, but the Chinese are increasingly tagged as major bad guys by the Islamic media, especially the outlets that are pro-radical.

I certainly don't wish to see innocent Chinese civilians suffer the outrages of terrorism, but part of me wonders if it wouldn't at least be interesting to see what China would do if the Taliban began targeting them in earnest.


Don't Confuse Him with the Facts

"Regardless of what they say, we need a change in direction." So says Sen. Bob Casey (D, PA) while talking about the upcoming Petraeus-Crocker report.

The Senator is telling us that even if the September report is unsullied good news - even if Gen. Petraeus informs us that the surge is minimizing the killing and chaos, that the Maliki government is getting its house in order, that al Qaida is on the run and the Sunnis and Shia are cooperating to end the insurgency - the Senator will still call for a "change in direction." He makes it difficult to take him seriously.

Which direction would the Senator suggest we move in? He doesn't say, of course, because this would require serious thought about the consequences of whatever proposal he comes up with, and I suspect that he realizes that if he engages in that thinking any resulting proposal would look very much like what Bush is already doing.

His insistence that we'll need a change in direction in Iraq regardless of what Gen. Petraeus has to say makes one wonder about the depth of his concern for the people of Iraq, not to mention his ability to see beyond the next couple of months.


And the Point Is?

There is perhaps in this photo a serious and profound symbolism - something that most of us simply cannot be expected to comprehend but that those with the requisite wisdom will discern. It has something to do, I suppose, with removing one's clothes to more effectively demonstrate one's committment to a cause. I confess, however, that I lack the necessary powers to see what lying en masse on a glacier in the altogether has to do with anything except perhaps one's emotional development.

It seems to me that people who think they must be nude in order to make some political point are not far removed from the people who walk down the street exposing themselves to passersby. They're both trying to say something by flashing their privates at people, and they're both in need, no doubt, of the services of a psychologist.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

No Dhimmitude for This Man

Pat Condell is antagonistic to all religion, a position about which I think he's just plain wrong, but in this short YouTube presentation he says many things which need to be said, particularly regarding European appeasement of Muslims.

It is this spirit of submission to which Condell takes such acerbic exception and which spawns such loopy proposals as that of Bishop Tiny Muskins of Netherlands who has urged Christians to begin referring to God as Allah so that Muslims won't be so hostile toward us (See, however, Byron's reply in our Feedback section for a different view of the Bishop's proposal).

Under Sharia Law non-Muslims, if they're permitted to live at all, must accept the authority of the Koran, the dominance of Islamic rule and live in abject servility as second or third class citizens. Such people are called dhimmis by Muslims, and it is to this status that many Europeans seem to aspire. Not, however, Pat Condell.

Too bad he doesn't understand Christianity as well as he understands the threat posed by contemporary Islam.


Iraq Update and Questions

Bill Roggio updates us on operations Phantom Thunder and Phantom Strike. Here are some excerpts:

In today's press briefing from Baghdad, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Commanding General of Multinational Corps - Iraq, provided an operational update on Operation Phantom Thunder and its successor, Phantom Strike.

Since Phantom Thunder began in mid-June, US and Iraqi security forces have killed 1,196 extremists, wounded 419, and detained 6,702 suspected insurgents, Odierno said. Of those killed or captured, 382 are considered high-value targets. Over the past two months, US and Iraqi security forces have found 1,113 weapons caches, 2,299 IEDs and disabled 52 car bombs. "The number of found-and-cleared IEDs, vehicle-borne IEDs and caches are approximately 50 percent higher than the same period last year, due in large part to effective tips provided by concerned Iraqi citizens," Odierno said.

Phantom Thunder has had a noticeable effect on the security situation in Baghdad and beyond. "Total attacks are on a month-long decline and are at their lowest levels since August of 2006," Odierno said. "Attacks against civilians are at a six-month low, IED attacks are a two-month decline and have a 45 percent found and cleared rate." Inside Baghdad, civilian deaths are at the lowest levels since February 2006, when al Qaeda in Iraq destroyed the dome of the Golden Mosque in Samarra...

Since the "surge" of five additional US combat brigades was completed at the beginning of June, US and Iraqi forces have persistently remained on the offensive against al Qaeda in Iraq and the Iranian-backed Shia terror groups. Al Qaeda in Iraq has not had time to regroup and reestablish itself as US and Iraqi forces maintain the pressure with rolling operations. Just as the push to clear Baghdad began to ramp up with the "surge," Phantom Thunder was launched in the major population centers in the Belts. Just as al Qaeda looks to move its operations into the less patrolled rural regions, Phantom Strike and Lightning Hammer were launched to tackle these regions.

This is a major difference from 2006, when Multinational Forces Iraq failed to conduct a cohesive battle plan to address al Qaeda and Sunni insurgency, while ceding large sections of Baghdad and portions of southern Iraq to the Mahdi Army. The attempt to secure Baghdad in 2006 failed as there was little effort to dislodge the terror groups from the Belts surrounding Baghdad.

Now all this raises a couple of questions. Here's one for Democrats in general: If this trend looks like it's continuing next month will you still be calling for withdrawal of American forces?

And here's one for Sen. Harry Reid and Congressman John Murtha in particular: Do you still maintain that the war in Iraq is a lost cause?

And finally, here's one for the MSM: What are the chances you guys will ask either of these questions?


Our Guy

Jim Geraghty at NRO has a piece on our guy Mike Huckabee. There are a lot of good horses in the Republican stable but Huck's beginning to look like a contender.

If Newt Gingrich were running he'd be another strong candidate, notwithstanding the personal baggage he's carrying (Who in this race isn't carrying baggage?). This brief clip of Newt gives the viewer a sense of why he'd be such an attractive candidate for conservatives.


Road to Dhimmiville

Here's a wonderful idea proposed by a Catholic bishop in the Netherlands: He suggests that in the interest of religious harmony Christians should call God Allah. This will please (and appease) Muslims, the bishop avers, and they'll be so much more agreeably disposed toward Christians because of it.

We here at Viewpoint think the prelate is on to something, so why stop at calling God Allah? There's much more Christians can do to mollify their Muslim neighbors and to persuade them of our good will. For instance, why not begin calling Mohammed the Messiah and start celebrating Ramadan? Think of the good feelings those two simple acts would engender among the faithful minions of Islam.

We also think it's high time Christian women got serious about modesty and started wearing the hijab, if not the burka, and what would be wrong with bowing five times a day toward Mecca? God, er, Allah, doesn't care which direction we face when we pray, so it may as well be toward Mecca as any other direction.

We are indebted to the good bishop for coming up with such a fertile idea, an idea certain to put us firmly on the road to universal religious peace and harmony. After all, why should Christians be all persnickety about holding on to their theological principles and traditions when peace can be so easily had by just giving them up?


Friday, August 17, 2007

Moral Darwinism

Byron passes along this piece by Ben Wiker on what evolution has to teach us about morality. The closing paragraphs, in particular, caught my eye:

While he didn't call for direct extermination of the weak, Darwin did believe that the unfit shouldn't be allowed to breed at all. As for the fit, "there should be open competition for all men; and the most able should not be prevented by laws or customs from succeeding best and rearing the largest number of offspring."

What does this mean? Forced sterilization? The end of monogamy? Breeding camps for the hyper-fit and concentration camps for the unfit? Darwin was purposely vague, but ended with the ominous remark: "All do good service who aid toward this end." Well, that's morality according to Darwin. Again, it ain't pretty, but all must agree on one thing. Darwin correctly drew the logical moral implications from his evolutionary theory. It's hard for the most adamant advocates of Darwin to recall the horrors of the 20th century-to bring to mind all those who thought they were doing "good service" by the eugenic elimination of the unfit-and not squirm a bit.

In his book, From Darwin to Hitler, Richard Weikart fleshes out the connections between the Nazi holocaust and the 19th century eugenics movement which was, as Weikert demonstrates, largely inspired by Darwin. Ideas have consequences and the consequences of Darwinism have not been particularly lovely.


Kirk on Conservatism

I came across a link recently to an essay by Russell Kirk in which he outlines ten key principles of philosophical conservativism. It's an excellent primer on what it means to be conservative in the tradition of Edmund Burke.

One of the best paragraphs in the essay is the conclusion wherein Kirk observes that:

The great line of demarcation in modern politics, Eric Voegelin used to point out, is not a division between liberals [i.e. classical liberals] on one side and totalitarians on the other. No, on one side of that line are all those men and women who fancy that the temporal order is the only order, and that material needs are their only needs, and that they may do as they like with the human patrimony. On the other side of that line are all those people who recognize an enduring moral order in the universe, a constant human nature, and high duties toward the order spiritual and the order temporal.

In other words, the great divide in modern politics, at least in the West, is between secular materialism which holds that man is nothing but a flesh and bone machine, and Judeo-Christian theism which holds that man has an inherent dignity and worth because he has been created by God in His image and is loved by Him. The implications of each of those views are immeasurable. The first leads to tyranny and totalitarianism while the second leads to freedom and human achievement.


The Speed of Light

An article in The U.K.Telegraph says that German scientists are claiming to have broken the speed of light barrier. If they have, it'll almost certainly throw much of our entire understanding of physics into disarray.

The article gives a couple of reasons why, but here's one. Increasing the speed of an object takes increasing amounts of energy and, according to relativity theory, as the object approaches the speed of light the energy it takes to make it go even faster begins to approach infinity. In other words, to accelerate an object beyond 186,000 miles per second would take all the energy in the universe. This seems impossible and so it had been thought that such speeds were impossible to attain.

If the German physicists have done it physics will never be the same and science fiction will theoretically no longer be fiction.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Interesting Fact

Bill Roggio, discussing operations related to Phantom Thunder in Iraq, notes that "The aggressive pace of operations since January has resulted in an explosion in the prison population. There are currently 42,000 detainees in Iraqi and Multinational Forces Iraq custody. Of those detained, 2,760 are foreign fighters as of August 8. This number includes over 800 Iranians."

Eight hundred Iranians!?


War Weary

Polls, we are told, show us that the American people are tired of the war and want it ended. This causes us to wonder. Why, or how, could anyone in the States, except for those and their families who have served in Iraq, possibly be tired of the war? What sacrifices have the rest of us made in the war effort? How has the war effected us? What burdens have we had to bear because of it?

Perhaps people don't mean that they themselves have been in any way inconvenienced by the conflict but that they're tired of young Americans dying in the struggle to stabilize Iraq. This doesn't seem quite plausible, though. It's true that the deaths of young Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan have been hard to bear, but if it's deaths of Americans that have caused so many to demand an end to the war why aren't they upset about the far greater number of Americans who are murdered each year on the streets of our cities?

More Pennsylvanians were murdered just in the city of Philadelphia last year than have been killed in Iraq since the war began (approx. 400 to 170), but no one is demanding that we do anything much about urban violence. It certainly hasn't become a dominant issue in the Presidential campaign.

Why aren't those who are upset about American deaths in Iraq also upset about the six thousand teenagers who are killed each year in automobile accidents? These deaths could be largely prevented simply by raising the driving age, but the concern over them apparently isn't strong enough to cause us to take such a relatively easy step. If we're not losing sleep over those deaths why do the casualties in Iraq upset us?

But if it's not American deaths per se which have people so war weary what exactly is it? Perhaps we're just tired of hearing about the war on the news and want it over with. If so, that's a reason which does little to flatter the common sense of the American people. Being tired of hearing about the struggle for the survival of millions of people, including perhaps, our own children, is about the very worst reason we could have for withdrawing our troops from Iraq.

Perhaps people just tell pollsters that they're tired of the war because they think that saying that they're not tired sounds somehow callous or indifferent. It would be like telling a pollster that of course we're fed up with the blood on our city streets, even if we've never given it a thought, because to say otherwise seems almost an endorsement of the violence.

But if this is the reason why polls show many Americans to be weary of the war then those poll results are completely meaningless. They tell us nothing about how Americans really feel about what's going on in Iraq.


Al Qaida in Iraq

Christopher Hitchens considers the argument sometimes made by anti-war folk that we created al Qaida in Iraq and that if we'd just leave they'd have no reason to continue their butcheries. According to advocates of this line of thinking, it's our fault that Iraqis are dying at the hands of murderous savages and if we'd simply abandon the war the bloodshed would stop.

In the pantheon of ludicrous arguments this one, in my opinion, occupies a privileged niche. Hitchens explains why.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Human Evolution

An interesting article by Seth Borenstein on a new discovery related to human evolution raises a fascinating question. The discovery is that two previously alleged ancestors to modern humans, Homo habilis and Homo erectus were actually contemporaries and lived in close geographical proximity to each other. Here are some excerpts from the story:

The discovery by Meave Leakey, a member of a famous family of paleontologists, shows that two species of early human ancestors lived at the same time in Kenya. That pokes holes in the chief theory of man's early evolution -- that one of those species evolved from the other.

Leakey's find suggests those two earlier species lived side-by-side about 1.5 million years ago in parts of Kenya for at least half a million years. She and her research colleagues report the discovery in a paper published in today's journal Nature.

The paper is based on fossilized bones found in 2000. The complete skull of Homo erectus was found within walking distance of an upper jaw of Homo habilis, and both dated from the same general time period. That makes it unlikely that Homo erectus evolved from Homo habilis, researchers said.

Here's the question: If all this is so how do we know that the two were different species? A species is defined as a population of organisms that can interbreed and produce fertile offspring. There's no way to determine whether habilis and erectus could or could not do that. The fact that they were geographically and chronologically close and that they are classified in the same genus makes it entirely possible that they were interfertile.

One of the study's authors, however, smells trouble brewing along these lines and seeks to discourage speculation that the two may have been a single species:

Study co-author Fred Spoor, a professor of evolutionary anatomy at the University College in London [says that] the two species lived near each other, but probably didn't interact, each having its own "ecological niche," Spoor said. Homo habilis was likely more vegetarian while Homo erectus ate some meat, he said. Like chimps and apes, "they'd just avoid each other, they don't feel comfortable in each other's company," he said.

Now I have no idea how professor Spoor knows what he claims to know. I'm sure there's no record among the fossils of one group complaining of discomfort in the presence of the other. For all I and Professor Spoor know these groups intermingled both socially and sexually. Indeed, the fact that isolated fossils were found in separate locations doesn't mean that every member of those groups lived at those locations. They may well have lived together as members of the same species.

"The more we know, the more complex the story gets," he said. Scientists used to think Homo sapiens evolved from Neanderthals, but now we know that both species lived during the same time period and that we did not come from Neanderthals. Now a similar discovery applies further back in time.

The same problem as mentioned above occurs here. Our own species was contemporary with Neanderthals so how do we know that they're really two different species? The skeletal structure appears different, to be sure, but skeletal structure is irrelevant. The skeletal structure of Great Danes and Chihuahuas differs significantly but they're still the same species. The criterion for distinct species is reproductive isolation - the inability to produce fertile offspring - not skeletal structure.

Susan Anton, a New York University anthropologist and co-author of the Leakey work, said she expects anti-evolution proponents to seize on the new research, but said it would be a mistake to try to use the new work to show flaws in evolution theory.

I don't know why it would be a mistake to use this to show the flaws of evolutionary theory. Generations of students have been taught that it's a demonstrated fact that our species is linearly descended from erectus which evolved from habilis. Students since the 19th century have been shown illustrations of the progressive evolution of modern man and have been assured by their teachers that the illustrations are reasonably accurate. Now we discover that they're not accurate at all.

Meanwhile, creationists of various types, most notably the Young Earth Creationists, have for sixty years been telling us that all hominids, despite their morphological differences, are the same species. They've been insisting that the conventional assumption of a linear evolutionary progression culminating in Homo sapiens is just wrong, that the evidence for it was very weak.

The Leakey discovery confirms the creationists' argument and refutes the traditional Darwinian view. I think the creationists have a right to point that out and to remind people that the evolutionists have been wrong about this aspect of their theory for over a century.

Anton then says this:

"This is not questioning the idea at all of evolution; it is refining some of the specific points," Anton said. "This is a great example of what science does and religion doesn't do. It's a continous self-testing process."

Of course. No Darwinian would ever think that any discovery, no matter how incompatible with their theory, would ever call that theory into question, but set that aside.

What does religion have to do with this discovery? The main question raised by the article is what reason is there for assuming that H. habilis and H. erectus - or Neanderthals and H. sapiens, for that matter - are all separate and distinct species? If it turns out that they're not that fact might have dramatic philosophical and religious implications, but to suggest, as Ms Anton seems to do, that simply questioning the Darwinian paradigm of human evolution is ipso facto religious is more than a little peculiar.



Hillary Clinton, who, to my knowledge, has never been to Afghanistan, says we're beginning to lose the fight there. Ann Marlowe, who has been there eight times, says that's horsepucky. Who's more credible? Read Marlowe's essay and decide for yourself.


Political Voldemort

Hmmm. What's the Great Satan up to? We don't mean the United States, we mean Karl Rove. The timing of his retirement is suspicious, don't you think? Of course, the timing of everything the Bush administration does is a matter of great anxiety for the paranoid minds of those suffering from BDS (Bush Derangement Syndrome,) but the timing of anything that Rove does is especially alarming.

Whatever nefarious business this political Voldemort has set afoot by announcing his retirement it can only work to the detriment of the poor and disenfranchised. No doubt he's plotting some insidious scheme that will short-circuit the will of the people in 2008, prevent Hillary from acceding to her rightful place on the throne, and further rob the people of even more of their constitutional rights.

Our guess is that he's plotting to somehow secure a third term for George Bush, perhaps by going to Pakistan to single-handedly apprehend Osama bin Laden. The acclaim he would win by such a dastardly trick would vault Bush into office for four more years despite the constitution's proscriptions of third terms. We don't put such treachery past either of them.

There are other possibilities, of course, and no one can anticipate the multiplicity of cabals and machinations of which this man is capable. Check out this site for additional speculations on Rove's plans to destroy the nation.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

An Iraqi's Thoughts

Michael J. Totten has a fascinating interview with an Iraqi interpreter. It's must reading for anyone who wishes to understand the problems of Iraq.


Pakistan's Terror Camps

Bill Roggio brings us grim news from Waziristan in Pakistan. The Taliban and al Qaida have emptied their camps in Wazaristan, having gotten wind from sympathizers in the Islamabad government that U.S. intelligence knew where they were, and now no one knows where they've gone or what they're up to.

One fear is that they know that a major attack is planned against the United States and they've fled to avoid certain reprisal. Another is that these cadres are preparing to mount a major offensive against Pervez Musharraf's military in hopes of toppling Musharraf and capturing his nuclear weapons.

Our question is if we knew where these camps - 29 of them - were, why didn't we hit them a long time ago? How serious can George Bush be about fighting the WOT if he's leaving it to Musharraf to deal with these killers?


A Free Man's Worship

We have been nothing if not persistent here at Viewpoint trying to make the case that if atheism is true human existence is an empty, pointless exercise in absurdity. But let's let an atheist speak for himself on the subject. Here's one of the most famous philosophers of the 20th century, Bertrand Russell, writing on A Free Man's Worship:

"Such in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the d�bris of a universe in ruins-all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built."

From Mysticism and Logic, Chapter 3, of "A Free Man's Worship" (1929)

HT: Denyse O'Leary

As for us we find it a little difficult to engage in a "worship" the logical consequence of which is despair and nihilism. This is hardly a view of life that a "free man" can rejoice in. Russell and his anti-theistic successors chain themselves to a worldview that oppresses and robs its votaries not only of meaning, but of hope. It's a worldview that makes suicide a logical, understandable way out. Some freedom that is.


Monday, August 13, 2007

Inexhaustible Oil

Well-known physicist Freeman Dyson of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study has a piece in Edge in which he challenges the conventional wisdom on global warming. Along the way he mentions a very interesting theory on the origin of hydrocarbons like oil and natural gas in the earth's crust. The conventional view, which always struck me as highly implausible, is that the oil we consume today was formed millions of years ago by the decomposition of organic matter, such as rafts of floating vegetation.

Some scientific heretics, like Immanuel Velikovsky, theorized back in the fifties that the petroleum actually rained down upon earth as the planet passed through the tails of hydrocarbon-rich comets. Dyson, however, leans toward a theory espoused by the late Thomas Gold. Here's what he writes:

Later in his life, Tommy Gold promoted another heretical idea, that the oil and natural gas in the ground come up from deep in the mantle of the earth and have nothing to do with biology. Again the experts are sure that he is wrong, and he did not live long enough to change their minds. Just a few weeks before he died, some chemists at the Carnegie Institution in Washington did a beautiful experiment in a diamond anvil cell, [Scott et al., 2004]. They mixed together tiny quantities of three things that we know exist in the mantle of the earth, and observed them at the pressure and temperature appropriate to the mantle about two hundred kilometers down. The three things were calcium carbonate which is sedimentary rock, iron oxide which is a component of igneous rock, and water.

These three things are certainly present when a slab of subducted ocean floor descends from a deep ocean trench into the mantle. The experiment showed that they react quickly to produce lots of methane, which is natural gas. Knowing the result of the experiment, we can be sure that big quantities of natural gas exist in the mantle two hundred kilometers down. We do not know how much of this natural gas pushes its way up through cracks and channels in the overlying rock to form the shallow reservoirs of natural gas that we are now burning. If the gas moves up rapidly enough, it will arrive intact in the cooler regions where the reservoirs are found. If it moves too slowly through the hot region, the methane may be reconverted to carbonate rock and water. The Carnegie Institute experiment shows that there is at least a possibility that Tommy Gold was right and the natural gas reservoirs are fed from deep below. The chemists sent an E-mail to Tommy Gold to tell him their result, and got back a message that he had died three days earlier. Now that he is dead, we need more heretics to take his place.

I don't know how this explains the deposits of oil, unless the conditions necessary to form natural gas also form oil, but if Gold was right we have an almost inexhaustible supply of the stuff just waiting for us to develop the technology to go down deep enough to get it.

Just an aside: It's ironic that Edge runs a piece extolling the role of heretics in science when most of their contributors are decidely uncongenial to the most sweeping "heresy" in modern times - the "heresy" of Intelligent Design.


Fatherlessness and Crime

Cities are struggling to find ways to prevent crime. Gunshot detection monitors, increased police presence, better school facilities, safe harbors for children, job programs, etc. are all being added to our communities to try to reduce the terrible violence which plagues our communities. These measures are all fine as short-term palliatives, but what none of them do is address the reason there is so much crime in our cities in the first place.

We have crime because the family, especially in the minority communities which are most heavily represented in urban areas, has all but disintegrated. Too many children are growing up feral with no parental supervision to speak of and especially no father to give guidance and discipline to young boys.

Consider these excerpts from a City Journal article by Steve Malanga who, in the wake of the recent murders of three college students in Newark, tells us this:

Behind Newark's persistent violence and deep social dysfunction is a profound cultural shift that has left many of the city's children growing up outside the two-parent family - and in particular, growing up without fathers. Decades of research tell us that such children are far likelier to fail in school and work and to fall into violence than those raised in two-parent families. In Newark, we are seeing what happens to a community when the traditional family comes close to disappearing.

According to 2005 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, only 32 percent of Newark children are being raised by their parents in a two-adult household. The rest are distributed among families led by grandparents, foster parents, and single parents-mostly mothers. An astonishing 60 percent of the city's kids are growing up without fathers. It isn't that traditional families are breaking up; they aren't even getting started. The city has one of the highest out-of-wedlock birthrates in the country, with about 65 percent of its children born to unmarried women. And 70 percent of those births are to women who are already poor, meaning that their kids are born directly into poverty.

3,750 kids are born every year into fatherless Newark families.

The economic consequences of these numbers are unsettling, since single parenthood is a road to lasting poverty in America today. In Newark, single parents head 83 percent of all families living below the poverty line. If you are a child born into a single-parent family in Newark, your chances of winding up in poverty are better than one in five, but if you are born into a two-parent family, those chances drop to just one in twelve.

And the social consequences are even more disturbing. Research conducted in the 1990s found that a child born out of wedlock was three times more likely to drop out of school than the average child, and far more likely to wind up on welfare as an adult. Studies have also found that about 70 percent of the long-term prisoners in our jails, those who have committed the most violent crimes, grew up without fathers.

The starkness of these statistics makes it astonishing that our politicians and policy makers ignore the subject of single parenthood, as if it were outside the realm of civic discourse. And our religious leaders, who once preached against such behavior, now also largely avoid the issue, even as they call for prayer vigils and organize stop-the-violence campaigns in Newark. Often, in this void, the only information that our teens and young adults get on the subject of marriage, children, and family life comes through media reports about the lifestyles of our celebrity entertainers and athletes, who have increasingly shunned matrimony and traditional families. Once, such news might have been considered scandalous; today, it is reported matter-of-factly, as if these pop icons' lives were the norm.

Until our society begins to address the real root cause of crime nothing else we do is going to make any significant difference, and our cities will continue to descend toward something like Fallujah in 2003.

So why don't we do something to reverse the course? In my opinion there are two reasons: First, the left would have to admit that its grand social revolution of the sixties and seventies was an abject failure. The relaxation of sexual restraint, no-fault divorce, the view that women don't need men to raise children, along with the corrosive effects of the welfare state all combined in a perfect storm to destroy the family. The left will never acknowledge that this is the root of the problem, but we'll never be able to neutralize the acids dissolving our social fabric until they do or until they are rendered politically irrelevant.

Second, any change would require not only a return to the social mores of the fifties, which seems very unlikely, but it would also require an official stress on the importance of personal morality which would entail making a concerted effort to restore religion to a place of prominence in peoples' lives. This a secular society is ill-prepared and even less willing to do.