Friday, February 29, 2008

Obama's Defense Strategy

Senator Obama tells us why we shouldn't vote for him to be President in November:

He will end the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. To understand why this would be exceedingly reckless go here.

He'll set a goal of eliminating nuclear weapons from the world. This is empty rhetoric. How, exactly, does he propose to disarm the rest of the world including Israel, India, Pakistan, China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia?

He'll work for a global ban on fissile material. This would mean that nuclear power plants, the only feasible alternative to coal burning power plants, would be taken off the table not jut in the U.S. but around the world.

He'll end our missile defense program. This is the prgram that currently gives us hope that we'll one day be able to shoot down an incoming nuclear-tipped ICBM. Why would he want to deprive us of a technology that could one day save millions of American lives?

He'll take our ICBMs off hair trigger alert, but I didn't think, though I could be wrong about this, that they were on one.

In any event, the Senator simply doesn't sound to me like he's really thought through what he's saying. His strategy for a strong defense seems to be not to have one. It's disturbing to think that someone of his views may be our next Commander-in-chief.


Badgering Rape Victims carries a deeply troubling story about a twelve year old girl who was raped, but when the case went to trial the defense attorney badgered the young girl, damaging the credibility of her testimony to the point where the rapist, an adult against whom there was considerable evidence, got off on a reduced charge.

This is outrageous enough but the story takes on a surreal aspect when we learn that the lawyer, despite her aggressiveness toward the young victim and her lack of sympathy for the ordeal the girl was going through, is a prominent champion of women's rights.

The story becomes almost incredible when we learn that the lawyer was Hillary Clinton:

Hillary Rodham Clinton often invokes her "35 years of experience making change" on the campaign trail, recounting her work in the 1970s on behalf of battered and neglected children and impoverished legal-aid clients.

But there is a little-known episode Clinton doesn't mention in her standard campaign speech in which those two principles collided. In 1975, a 27-year-old Hillary Rodham, acting as a court-appointed attorney, attacked the credibility of a 12-year-old girl in mounting an aggressive defense for an indigent client accused of rape in Arkansas - using her child development background to help the defendant.

In May 1975, Washington County prosecutor Mahlon Gibson called Rodham, who had taken over the law clinic months earlier, to tell her she'd been appointed to represent a hard-drinking factory worker named Thomas Alfred Taylor, who had requested a female attorney.

In her 2003 autobiography "Living History," Clinton writes that she initially balked at the assignment, but eventually secured a lenient plea deal for Taylor after a New York-based forensics expert she hired "cast doubt on the evidentiary value of semen and blood samples collected by the sheriff's office."

However, that account leaves out a significant aspect of her defense strategy - attempting to impugn the credibility of the victim, according to a Newsday examination of court and investigative files and interviews with witnesses, law enforcement officials and the victim.

Rodham, records show, questioned the sixth grader's honesty and claimed she had made false accusations in the past. She implied that the girl often fantasized and sought out "older men" like Taylor, according to a July 1975 affidavit signed "Hillary D. Rodham" in compact cursive.

Rodham, legal and child welfare experts say, did nothing unethical by attacking the child's credibility - although they consider her defense of Taylor to be aggressive.

"She was vigorously advocating for her client. What she did was appropriate," said Andrew Schepard, director of Hofstra Law School's Center for Children, Families and the Law. "He was lucky to have her as a lawyer ... In terms of what's good for the little girl? It would have been hell on the victim. But that wasn't Hillary's problem."

And that's the point. Hillary was able to suppress her feminist principles in order to win the case, even if it meant browbeating and confusing a sixth grade rape victim so that the child's testimony was discredited.

The victim, now 46, told Newsday that she was raped by Taylor, denied that she wanted any relationship with him and blamed him for contributing to three decades of severe depression and other personal problems.

"It's not true, I never sought out older men - I was raped," the woman said in an interview in the fall. Newsday is withholding her name as the victim of a sex crime.

Questions: What difference does it make if the girl did seek out older men? Does that justify the rape? Don't feminists like Ms Clinton remind us that sexual provocations on the part of women never justify sexual assault? Is anyone in the MSM ever going to ask her about her tactics in this case?

Answers: None, no, perpetually, be serious.


Interview With Timothy Keller

Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhatten and author of the very popular (currently #18 on the New York Times best-seller list) The Reason for God, is interviewed by Anthony Sacramone at First Things.

In answer to a question about how thinking has changed between the 1940s when C.S. Lewis was writing books on Christian apologetics and the current era Keller replies:

Lewis definitely lived at a time in which people were more certain across the board that empirical, straight-line rationality was the way you decided what truth was, and there's just not as much of a certainty now. Also, when Lewis was writing, people were able to follow sustained arguments that had a number of points that built on one another. I guess I should say we actually have a kind of rationality-attention-deficit disorder now. You can make a reasonable argument, you can use logic, but it really has to be relatively transparent. You have to get to your point pretty quickly.

In New York City, these are pretty smart people, very educated people, but even by the mid-nineties I had found that the average young person found Mere Christianity-it just didn't keep their attention, because they really couldn't follow the arguments. They took too long. This long chain of syllogistic reasoning wasn't something that they were trained in doing. I don't think they're irrational, they are as rational, but they want something of a mixture of logic and personal appeal.

Another question tries to pin down how Keller would describe the church of which he is the pastor. Sacramone says: I've heard you refer to Redeemer as a seeker church. Do you see Redeemer as part of the emerging church phenomenon, and what does that mean?

No, no, no, no. The words "seeker church" now I think mean Willow Creek to most people, which is a service that is strictly-Willow Creek branded that term, so I probably can't use it anymore.


Yeah, well the seeker church is a church in which you have sort of low participation, there's a talk, there's good music-but it's not really a worship service. You're not trying to get people engaged. You are targeting nonbelieving, skeptical people as the audience. That's considered a seeker church. And I would have always said that Redeemer is the kind of church in which we're trying to speak-it's a worship service, but we're trying to speak in the vernacular. We're trying to speak in a way that doesn't confuse or turn off nonbelievers. We want nonbelievers to be there. I think that a lot of ministers would never say, "We expect nonbelievers to be constantly there, lots of them there, incubating in the services." And we do. We do expect that. In that sense we'd be a seeker church. But now I'm afraid I don't think it's a good word to use, because when people hear "seeker church" they're thinking something else.

I found that if you define megachurch as anything over two thousand people, then yes, then we are. But here's four ways in which we're not a megachurch, or we don't do things people associate with megachurches. One is, we do no advertising or publicity of any sort, except I'm trying to get the book out there so people read it and have their lives changed by it, but Redeemer's never advertised or publicized. And the reason is, if a person walks in off the street just because they've heard about Redeemer through advertising, and they have questions or they want to get involved, there's almost no way to do it unless you have all kinds of complicated programs, places where they can go. But if they come with a friend who already goes there, their questions are answered naturally, the next steps happen organically, the connections they want to make happen naturally . . . We do not want a crowd of spectators. We want a community.

Secondly, we do almost no technology. We don't have laser-light shows, we don't have Jumbotrons, we don't have overheard projectors, we don't have screens. We don't have anything like that. Thirdly, we have a lot of classical music, chamber music-we are not hip at all. We don't go out of our way to be hip.

There's much more on the interview at the link.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Three Cheers for Cultural Chauvinism

Lawrence Harrison of Tufts University and author of The Central Liberal Truth: How Politics Can Change a Culture and Save It From Itself looks at the assumptions of our nation's multicultural moment and finds much not to like. In an essay in Christian Science Monitor Harrison observes that:

Since the 1960s, multiculturalism has become a dominant feature of the political and intellectual landscape of the West. But multiculturalism rests on a frail foundation: cultural relativism, the notion that no culture is better or worse than any other - it is merely different.

When it comes to democratic continuity, social justice, and prosperity, some cultures do far better than others. Research at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, summarized in my book, makes this clear.

Extensive data suggest that the champions of progress are the Nordic countries - Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden - where, for example, universal literacy was a substantial reality in the 19th century. By contrast, no Arab country today is democratic, and female illiteracy in some Arab countries exceeds 50 percent.

Culture isn't about genes or race; it's about values, beliefs, and attitudes. Culture matters because it influences a society's receptivity to democracy, justice, entrepreneurship, and free-market institutions.

A key component of a successful democratic transition is trust, a particularly important cultural factor for social justice and prosperity. Trust in others reduces the cost of economic transactions, and democratic stability depends on it.

Trust is periodically measured in 80-odd countries by the World Values Survey. The Nordic countries enjoy very high levels of trust: 58 to67 percent of respondents in four of these countries believe that most people can be trusted, compared with 11 percent of Algerians and 3 percent of Brazilians.

The high levels of identification and trust in Nordic societies reflect their homogeneity; common Lutheran antecedents, including a rigorous ethical code and heavy emphasis on education; and a consequent sense of the nation as one big family imbued with the golden rule.

Again, culture matters - race doesn't. The ethnic roots of both Haiti and Barbados lie in the Dahomey region of West Africa. The history of Haiti, independent in 1804 in the wake of a slave uprising against the French colonists, is one of corrupt, incompetent leadership; illiteracy; and poverty. Barbados, which gained its independence from the British in 1966, is today a prosperous democracy of "Afro-Saxons."

In other words, all cultures are not equally good, and some are clearly superior to others. Harrison draws important and doleful conclusions from this fact concerning our efforts in Iraq and our failure to get a handle on immigration. Read the rest of his piece at the link.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Next Holocaust

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizbollah, a terrorist organization supported by Iran and Syria and operating in Lebanon, declares that they will destroy Israel to avenge the death of Imad Mughniyeh, a murderous terrorist assassinated recently under mysterious circumstances:

The Hizballah leader, in his most vituperative speech against Israel ever, said Friday, Feb. 22: "Arab opposition, including Syria, and popular opposition will eliminate Israel; its armed forces will be defeated and Israel will be left with no army. We will fight as we have never fought before, confronting the Israeli army with a type of combat it has never before experienced." Nasrallah pledged "Mughniyeh's blood would not go unpunished, declaring," He was killed in a pre-emptive Israeli strike, an open war."

Israeli chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi indicated Hizballah planned to seize on an Israeli ground offensive against Gazan missiles to launch a revenge attack in the north and force Israel to fight on two fronts. He told graduating IDF officers: "It is up to us to achieve a quick victory in every confrontation."

What is the rest of the world, particularly the United Nations, doing to see that Nasrallah's prediction doesn't come to pass? The same thing it did during the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s? The same thing it has been doing to stop the systematic slaughter of non-Arabs in Darfur? If the past is any indication of U.N. resolve and dependability they are likely to be doing very little to prevent another war against Israel.

Three relatively recent films give the viewer a clear picture of the utter uselessness and fecklessness of the United Nation's attempts at peace-keeping: No Man's Land, Beyond the Gates, and Hotel Rwanda. Watch any of these and you'll wonder why the U.S. even belongs to this organization and why we help fund it. When Hezbollah launches its war of extermination against Israel we have no reason to think that the U.N. will be of any more help in saving Israeli and Lebanese lives than it was in saving the Tutsis from the Hutus in Rwanda or in preventing the genocide in Sudan.


Dualism vs. Materialism

Materialist neuroscientist Dr. Steven Novella, in a post that reflects the sour, dyspeptic rhetorical style typical of materialists who are unaccustomed to having their worldview challenged, makes several claims about what we should expect in the relationship of mind and brain if materialism is true. He states:

If the mind is completely a product of the material function of the brain then:

  • There will be no mental phenomena without brain function.
  • As brain function is altered, the mind will be altered.
  • If the brain is damaged, then mental function will be damaged.
  • Brain development will correlate with mental development.
  • We will be able to correlate brain activity with mental activity - no matter how we choose to look at it.

He is arguing, for example, that damage to the brain will produce impaired mental function and that this is strong warrant for the belief that the mental world is completely reducible to material processes. Dr. Novella is simply wrong about this.

If the mind and brain work in tandem to produce mental phenomena something like a television signal works with a tv set to produce an image on the screen, then nothing really follows from Dr. Novella's claims. In other words, substitute "screen image" for "mental phenomena" in the above claims and substitute "television set" for "brain".

It's true, then, that there will be no screen image without a properly functioning television set, but that doesn't mean that the set is all there is to the production of the image. The signal is a necessary part of the production of the image even though its presence is not apparent to the person viewing the set.

It's true, too, that as the television's settings are altered, the image will be altered, but it doesn't follow that the set is all that's controlling the image.

Moreover, if the set is damaged the image will be disrupted, but it doesn't follow from this that the set is all that's involved in generating the image. In other words, it is one thing to say that the brain, like the tv, is necessary for mental experience, but it is quite another to say, as Dr. Novella does, that it is also sufficient to account for that experience. Neither he nor anyone else has ever come anyhere close to demonstrating that.

Dr. Michael Egnor replies to Novella's argument in a different and interesting way. He cites a 2006 study done on a woman in a persistent vegetative state who had seriously impaired brain function, but whose mental function, as assessed by MRI tests, was indistinguishable from that of subjects who had no impairment.

Egnor's discussion of this study is fascinating and his reply to Novella is very strong. I urge readers interested in the mind/brain controversies in general and the relationship of consciousness to matter in particular to check it out.


Another Candidate at Risk

Yesterday we talked of fears in some quarters for Barack Obama's safety. Here's another presidential candidate whose safety may be in jeopardy:

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader, blamed by many Democrats for their loss of the White House in the 2000 election, said on Sunday he is launching another independent campaign for the White House.

Nader called Washington "corporate occupied territory" that turns the government against the interests of the people. "In that context, I have decided to run for president," he said.

If Nader pulls enough votes away from the Democratic candidate in one or two very closely contested states resulting in another Republican victory like 2000, the left will explode. This would be ironic since Nader would be their hero were he not a political cipher. As it is, he can only earn their hatred by costing them another election. If he does well enough in November to make a difference in the outcome he would be wise to add kevlar to his wardrobe.


William F. Buckley (1925-2008)

In November of 2005, on the occasion of William F. Buckley's 80th birthday, I wrote the post below as a way of honoring a man who was as influential in my life, especially during the decades of the 70s and 80s, as anyone I can think of. Bill Buckley passed away last night, and I think it appropriate to reprise what I wrote on his birthday:

Anyone who looks back on his life and seeks to identify the influences which led him to the place he presently finds himself will probably be able to point to a half dozen or so people, in addition to his parents, who exerted a strong push on his life in at least one of its aspects.

There are those who help shape one's character, one's ambitions, one's religious, philosophical, and political views, and so on. In my own life there have been several such men, some I knew personally and others whom I never formally met but whose influence I nevertheless soaked up through their written work like leaves soak up sunshine.

One example of the latter is William F. Buckley. When I was fresh out of college in 1969 I stumbled across Mr. Buckley's Firing Line television show. I was just beginning to develop an interest in political affairs, having somehow managed to scoot through college in the ideologically charged 60's with hardly a political thought in my head to show for it.

I was impressed with all the things about Buckley that impress everyone who watches him - his wit, his breadth of knowledge, his mastery of the language, his ability to articulate conservative ideas with an eloquence and charm that disarmed his opponents - but most of all I was impressed with his demeanor. He was never rude or overbearing. He never got nasty or raised his voice. His colloquies with his guests were always marked with courtesy, good humor, and unfailing graciousness (except in his famous debate with Gore Vidal). In those early years of my adulthood he was an exemplar of how political disagreements should be navigated and how discourse should be conducted.

Although I possessed none of his gifts, I subliminally decided that I wanted to be like him anyway, to the extent that I could. I read his books and National Review, the magazine he founded in the 1950s, and found myself wishing to learn all the things I should have learned in college but was too busy being a jock to trouble myself with. I regretted, having fallen under his sway, that I had squandered so many years and opportunities that could have been devoted to the cultivation of a fuller intellectual life.

Eventually, my interests evolved in various directions and followed channels not closely related to politics, but those other pursuits were always in some sense a product of the appetite he had stimulated in me for learning. He had given my appreciation for what Hannah Arendt calls "the life of the mind" a spark, a sturdy kick start, and I have always been grateful for the richness that that has added to my life.

I heard Bill Buckley give a lecture a few years back, and I wanted to tell him after his talk how much he has meant to me, but he was surrounded by adoring fans and besides, I thought, he probably hears stories similar to mine all the time anyway. I've regretted not taking the opportunity then, and I thought I'd write him and tell him what I wanted to tell him that night, but I somehow never got to it. I suppose I assumed that WFB has always been around and always will be. There'll be other opportunities.

Now I see that his 80th birthday is the 24th of this month, and I realize that if I don't do it soon it might never happen. That would be an omission I would deeply regret, so as Mr. Buckley approaches this milestone in his life I've resolved to contact him and tell him what he has meant in mine.

Happy birthday, Bill.

I did send him this post after I had written it, but I don't know if he ever saw it. I hope he did. The AP has an overview of the man and his accomplishments here.

We are deeply saddened at the loss of this great man, but heaven is rejoicing at their great gain.

UPDATE: See National Review Online for their farewell to Bill Buckley.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Government-Run Health Care

My friend Jason D. links us to this short video which should be required viewing for anyone who thinks that the health care proposals of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are a good idea:

This is an illustration of what happens when people turn enterprises like health care over to the government. We certainly need insurance reform and tort reform, but we don't need socialized medical care, not if we want to be able to get the care we need when we need it.


Dancer, Farmer, Bottle

Bilbo at Telic Thoughts has an interesting post on the nature of God's action in creation. Bilbo dislikes the idea that God intervenes at intervals throughout history to tinker with things. This seems to him to be inelegant and so he offers a couple of alternative analogies:

The idea of a God continuing to intervene in the universe in a nonsensical hodgepodge repels our sense of the way things should be. That is why in the past I offered an analogy that might help make aesthetic sense of God as designer: a duet. I proposed that we see it as a dance between God and Nature, where God is Fred Astaire, and Nature is Ginger Rogers. Most of the time, Ginger dances on her own two feet, and God merely leads her, invisible to the probing eyes of science. But just as occasionally Fred might pick up Ginger and twirl her around, so might God do the same with Nature, when designing organisms. It's an analogy that might help us make more aesthetic sense of what might be God's relationship with the universe.

But there may be another analogy that might make even more sense of God's action: the image of a farmer planting seeds. In this case, maybe only two or three seeds. The first seed would have been the universe itself, which we are told started out as a very small thing, much smaller than a mustard seed. Yet it has grown into a giant tree, that all the stars and planets can find shelter in. The second seed would be the first microorganisms planted on our planet, billions of years ago. If Mike Gene's hypothesis of front-loaded evolution turns out to be correct, this is all the direct design intervention that may have been necessary. And from this tiny seed grew the huge tree of life that we see around us today.

On the other hand, there may be ways to think of God's relationship with creation which illustrate a more continuous involvement of God in the world. Perhaps we can think of God as a vessel, a bottle, and the world as a liquid that gradually fills the bottle. As the liquid pours into the vessel it takes the shape the container imposes upon it. God, by virtue of His intimate contact with the creation, impresses upon the world the pattern of its development, or unfolding, continuously as the creation moves through time. The biological and physical "shape" or structure of the world, in other words, is a perpetual moment by moment expression of God's intention and immanence, not an episodic phenomenon or a once-and-done event. God, in this view, is the template upon which the world evolves.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Obama's Safety

The Associated Press, whether intentionally or not, perpetuates the notion that America is irredeemably racist by running an article publicizing the fear of some African Americans that Senator Obama's success has placed him in mortal jeopardy. Their concern is that a black man calling for "change" is going to be the target of an assassin's bullet just like Medgar Evans or Martin Luther King.

Perhaps the fear is legitimate, although we should note that we have to reach back forty years to find precedents. Even so, I don't recall similar articles expressing concern about George Bush's safety when he took on Islamic terrorism, nor was there a lot of concern about his father's safety despite his humiliation of Saddam Hussein in 1991 and the thwarted attempt on his life after he had left the presidency. Nor do we read of concerns for John McCain's safety even though he will undoubtedly continue, if elected, to prosecute the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and target Muslim terrorists around the globe.

In our world, every president and presidential candidate has a bullseye on his chest, and for the AP to suggest that Obama's bullseye is bigger than others just because he's black is to accuse white America of a racism that is presumably, given their lack of concern about the safety of the Bushes and McCain, much more virulent, violent and dangerous than is Islamic terrorism.

Nevertheless, despite the shortcomings of the AP's article there may indeed be good reason to fear for Obama's safety. Consider the startling number of people associated with the Clintons who have came a cropper either by murder, "suicide", or mysterious accident. Of course, it may all be coincidence that the Clintons must spend half their waking hours attending viewings for acquaintances who have passed on prematurely, or maybe there's some kind of voodoo curse on the couple, but even so, if people are concerned about the Senator's safety they may try urging him to not ask Hillary to be his Veep. No sense tempting voodoo.


Prairie falcon

A western species of falcon, almost never found in the east, has turned up within an hour's drive of my home and thus made a trip to see it yesterday irresistable. The bird is a Prairie falcon, and it's been hanging around some fields and a quarry just north of Shippensburg, PA. The Prairie falcon is about the size of a crow and a much faster flier. There are more strikingly plumaged raptors than this one, but watching him in flight was quite a treat.


Vantage Point

Debbie Schlussel loves the new movie thriller Vantage Point:

Hollywood is finally giving us true terrorists who are unsympathetic. Hollywood is finally giving us good guys who are good and bad guys who are Islamic terrorists without an excuse or any redeeming value.

In "Vantage Point," out [last] Friday, the terrorists are Islamic, and they are evil, cold-blooded killers. Finally, Hollywood is giving us "truth-in-terrorism." And it's an exciting thriller.

Boy was I ever wrong about "Vantage Point." And boy am I glad I was. As readers will recall, I wrote on this site that the trailer for this movie made it look like this was, yet again, another movie in which Muslims were not actually the terrorists, but good and victimized people mistaken for terrorists--yet another movie in which the Westerners are the bad guys.

But it was the exact opposite. The President (William Hurt) and the U.S. Secret Service Agent (Dennis Quaid) who is the hero in this movie are, without reservation, the good guys. The terrorists are Muslim and they are the bad guys. There is nothing presented in this movie to justify the mass carnage they produce.

There's much more about the movie and its plot at the link. Schlussel criticizes it for taking too long to get going, but, like a roller coaster, once it climbs to the top the rest of the ride is an adrenalin rush. Here's the trailer:

Actually, this isn't the first good movie to treat terrorism in a realistic fashion. If you can't wait for Vantage Point try The Kingdom with Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, and Jason Bateman. It, too, is very good and very believable though it is R-rated so you might not want to sit down to it with the children.

But Schlussel's point is well-taken. So many movies and shows like 24 sacrifice credibility by adopting the politically correct but totally implausible story line that terrorists are disaffected Europeans, CIA renegades, or corporate megalomaniacs motivated by little more than revenge or greed. That may have worked in the 1970s when European terrorism was a serious problem, or in a movie about Ireland's "troubles", but the intelligent viewer simply loses interest in any movie today about global terrorism that features non-Muslims in the role of the terrorist.

It's as if we're being asked to ignore what everyone knows to be true and believe that the naked emperor is actually arrayed in fine raiment simply for the sake of not offending the very people who are trying to kill us. The Kingdom doesn't do this and neither, apparently, does Vantage Point.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Evolving Sex

The International Herald Tribune has an interesting article on parthenogenesis in Komodo dragons and other species. Parthenogenesis occurs when an ovum produces offspring without benefit of male fertilization, making the offspring a genetic clone of the mother. In other words, it's a form of virgin birth.

Here's one passage of several from the article which caught my attention:

The big question these virgin births raise is this: If some females can get along without males, why does any species have males? The reason is simple. With virgin birth, hatchlings are simply genetic duplicates of the mother. In a world of clones, there would not be enough variation for populations to adapt. Virgin birth, then, is a great stopgap measure to ensure the survival of a species, but works against it in the long haul.

Ah, so easy. Sexual reproduction is necessary to produce genetic diversity, diversity helps a species survive, therefore sexual reproduction evolved through the blind, purposeless processes of natural selection and genetic mutation. This is what some scientists and philosophers refer to as a wave of the wand explanation. It tells us why sexual reproduction evolved while glossing over the much more intractable question of how such a process evolved.

Think of all the changes that have to occur, most of them simultaneously, in order to produce two different sexes of the same species. The evolution of meiosis and the production of gametes in both males and females (before males and females ever evolved), the means of getting the gametes from the male to the female, the entire complex of reactions which occurs when a male gamete encounters the female ovum allowing the male's DNA to penetrate to the nucleus of the ovum, the synchronization of the two sets of chromosomes, the coordination of embryonic development and the entire panoply of anatomical structures and behaviors which need to evolve in order to facilitate the process, along with the physiological and biochemical adaptations which must also be in place. It's no wonder that evolutionary treatments of sex almost always focus on the advantage that sexual reproduction affords, they almost never address the problem of how sex evolved. The problems are staggeringly difficult.

Consider, too, how rare it is that mutations occur that are beneficial to an organism, much less simultaneous beneficial mutations occurring in the same populations of the proto-sexes. Each of these mutations had to confer a survival advantage even before sexual reproduction was possible. Moreover, since both plants and animals reproduce sexually we can assume that this ability evolved pretty early on in the evolutionary process, so it must have unfolded with comparative rapidity.

Well, maybe it all did happen, but the more one learns about the extremely complex series of events and the sheer number of adaptations that must have occured in order to produce fertilization in all sexual species the more skeptical one becomes that chance and nature could, with no conscious intention, produce such a breathtaking process.

The Darwinian, perhaps, can trace out a long, elaborate hypothetical scheme which results in the emergence of sexual reproduction among protists and conclude that, since it is logically possible that it could have happened that way, that therefore it's plausible that it did happen, and since it's plausible then it's probable that it indeed happened because, after all, here we are, and we're sexual creatures.

But logical possibility is hardly a sufficient condition for plausibility, much less probability. Whether evolution produced sexual reproduction, I don't know, but I am quite certain that if it did, it was not the blind, unguided evolution of the Darwinian materialists. Their story of the evolution of sex is a fairy tale of magic wands and pixie dust.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Global Swelling

The consensus among scientists today is that the earth's continents have drifted apart over the ages due to the spreading of the sea floor caused by the introduction into the crust of new rock from deep in the earth's mantle. This new rock, the theory goes, is exuded through crevices in the mid-ocean ridges and pushes the continents away from each other. The continents then slide under each other along contact faults in a process called subduction. This returns rock back to the mantle where it's melted.

There is a minority view, however, which holds that continental drift is not a result of sea-floor spreading and subduction but rather is caused by an expanding globe. According to this theory (see video) the earth is inflating like a balloon, and it's this expansion which pushes the tectonic plates(continents)apart. The earth's crust was originally a solid shell, the story goes, and over vast time the planet grew in size forcing the crust to fracture and spread. There are various hypotheses as to the causes of the expansion, but that it happened the narrator of the video, Neal Adams, is quite convinced:

Wait until the global warming people here about this. They'll be hurling themselves off of bridges.

HT: Jonah @ NRO


The Russian Bear Is Stirring

Recent statements and provocations by the Russian leadership and military suggest to some that Vladimir Putin wishes to initiate a new cold war with the United States by rebuilding Russia's military to a state of parity with American forces. Strategy Page thinks a rebuild of the Russian military is highly unlikely, however:

The government is making a lot of noise about rebuilding the armed forces, and another Cold War with the U.S., but this is all talk, to make the government appear like it's doing something. The military would need massive amounts of money (over $100 billion a year, for a decade or more) to restore any meaningful amount of military power. Nothing near that amount is forthcoming. The government is trying to get the population stirred up so there is less resistance to the purchase of many expensive warplanes and ships.

A lot of this is necessary because China is buying less and starting to offer their own stuff, often containing stolen Russian military technology, on the world market. China is threatening to offer its copy of the Su-27 (the J-11). Currently, half of Russian weapons export sales are Su-27s. The Chinese ignore Russian complaints about the stolen technology. To keep Russian weapons manufacturers in business, the Russian military has to buy more, to make up for the lost Chinese sales. Western firms are also going after the lucrative Indian arms market, which Russia has dominated for decades. Last year, Russia sold $7 billion worth of weapons overseas, and may have a hard time topping that this year.

In other words, the talk of a new military aggressiveness on the part of the Russians is all bluster. They haven't the resource base or the economic power to sustain the kind of program that would be necessary to catch up. The real problem they pose is that out of resentment toward western superiority they may provide assistance to those, like the Chinese and the Islamists who intend to,and can, hurt us.


Reforming Education

Sol Stern has an article in City Journal that should be read by everyone pursuing or contemplating a career in education or who cares about the issue of educating our children. Stern breaks education reformers into two camps, the incentivists who want to increase competition and rewards for success and the instructionists who believe that the best way to improve our schools is to impose rigorous curricula K-12.

Stern himself used to be an incentivist and acknowledges that they still dominate the reform movement, but he cites three reasons why he's moving away from it. First, alternatives to failing urban public schools are diminishing. Catholic schools, for example, are closing their doors. In Detroit only one Catholic school is still operating in the city. There's no place else for public school students to go even if they had vouchers and tax incentives to leave the schools they're in.

The second problem is that incentives like vouchers simply haven't won the allegiance of most voters and their proponents cannot compete in referenda into which the NEA can pump money and volunteers that choice advocates simply can't match.

The third reason he's reconsidering his position is Massachusetts:

...where something close to an education miracle has occurred. In the past several years, Massachusetts has improved more than almost every other state on the NAEP tests. In 2007, it scored first in the nation in fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading. The state's average scale scores on all four tests have also improved at far higher rates than most other states have seen over the past 15 years.

The improvement had nothing to do with market incentives. Massachusetts has no vouchers, no tuition tax credits, very few charter schools, and no market incentives for principals and teachers. The state owes its amazing improvement in student performance to a few key former education leaders, including state education board chairman John Silber, assistant commissioner Sandra Stotsky, and board member (and Manhattan Institute fellow) Abigail Thernstrom.

Starting a decade ago, these instructionists pushed the state's board of education to mandate a rigorous curriculum for all grades, created demanding tests linked to the curriculum standards, and insisted that all high school graduates pass a comprehensive exit exam. In its English Language Arts curriculum framework, the board even dared to say that reading instruction in the early grades should include systematic and explicit phonics. Now a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas, Stotsky sums up: "The lesson from Massachusetts is that a strong content-based curriculum, together with upgraded certification regulations and teacher licensure tests that require teacher preparation programs to address that content, can be the best recipe for improving students' academic achievement."

In other words, those who have been advocating that schools teach what and how they did two generations ago are being vindicated in, of all places, Massachusetts. It remains now for courts and legislatures to wake up and facilitate the removal from middle and high schools those students whose behavior acts as a drag on the rest of the student population. Combine the academic rigor which our schools used to demand of our students along with the behavioral expectations that once prevailed in our schools and our educational crisis will be largely solved. And it won't cost a dime of taxpayer money.

Stern goes on to say that:

The Massachusetts miracle doesn't prove that a standard curriculum and a focus on effective instruction will always produce academic progress. Nor does the flawed New York City experiment in competition mean that we should cast aside all market incentives in education. But what has transpired in these two places provides an important lesson: education reformers ought to resist unreflective support for elegant-sounding theories, derived from the study of economic activity, that don't produce verifiable results in the classroom. After all, children's lives are at stake.

Read the whole essay at the link. There's a lot of discussion on it at Tuesday's Corner blog at NRO.


Friday, February 22, 2008

Battling Cancer

Tony Snow, former press secretary to President Bush, talks about his battle with cancer. It's pretty inspirational:

He's an amazing guy.


Why Do People Believe?

According to a Fox News story Oxford University is going to spend $3.7 million to try to determine why it is that people believe in God. Is belief, the academics wonder, an evolutionary adaptation that conferred upon early man a survival advantage or is it something that we absorb from our environment:

Academics have been given a grant to try to find out whether belief in a deity is a matter of nature or nurture. They will not attempt to solve the question of whether God exists but they will examine evidence to try to prove whether belief in God conferred an evolutionary advantage to mankind.

They will also consider the possibility that faith developed as a by-product of other human characteristics, such as sociability.

I know it will sound presumptuous to suggest, but could it be that people believe in God because essentially there are only two options, belief or nihilism, and most people don't care much for nihilism. Now, it's true, I suppose, that the majority of people don't think this way, but it's really pretty hard to escape the conclusion that if God doesn't exist then life is a pointless exercise in futility and most people want to believe in something that makes their lives matter. Belief that there is a God, in other words, makes much more sense of our existential experience of the world than does belief that there is no God and most people intuitively recognize this even if they aren't able to articulate it.

I seek to defend this claim, by the way, in a paper that I've posted here. Maybe if the Oxford dons checked it out they could save themselves a considerable sum of money and use it instead to buy pints all around at the local pub.


That's a Problem

Even his supporters can't say what Senator Obama has actually done to qualify him for the presidency. Here's Texas state senator Kirk Watson being interviewed by Chris Matthews:

It matters not that Sen. Obama is all hat and no cattle, as they say in Texas. The ladies swoon at his campaign events, he inspires in the multitude "hope" of "change", and he promises, essentially, to convert a few loaves and fishes into food for everyone. What other qualifications does a president need?

Thanks to Jeff C. for the link.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Satellite Shootdown

Last night the U.S. Navy shot down an errant spy satellite about the size of a bus which threatened to dump toxic fuel in inhabited areas as it plummeted to earth. It also contained classified technology which the U.S. does not want to fall into the hands of people like the Chinese who have had difficulty obtaining American military technology secrets since the Clinton administration left office.

The shootdown is an impressive feat. The satellite and the kill vehicle collided at a combined speed of 22,000 mph about 130 miles above Earth's surface at 10:50 p.m. EST.

Hot Air has video.

No doubt this success has chagrined those around the world who would like to threaten us with nuclear missiles and also those here in the U.S. who have been for decades deriding the hope that we would one day be able to shoot down ICBMs with missiles. Hitting the satellite is not as difficult as hitting a missile but the fact that we were able to do it at all means we're well on the way to silencing those who say that ballistic missile defense is technologically out of reach.


Long Life

There's a lot of information in this NYT story, but the key graphs are these:

Living past 90, and living well, may be more than a matter of good genes and good luck. Five behaviors in elderly men are associated not only with living into extreme old age, a new study has found, but also with good health and independent functioning.

The behaviors are abstaining from smoking, weight management, blood pressure control, regular exercise and avoiding diabetes. The study reports that all are significantly correlated with healthy survival after 90.

While it is hardly astonishing that choices like not smoking are associated with longer life, it is significant that these behaviors in the early elderly years - all of them modifiable - so strongly predict survival into extreme old age.

Details can be found at the link. If only science could come up with an easy and painless way to do all of this.


Fourteen Challenges

This is strange. A BBC article lists fourteen challenges facing humanity in the next several decades, but omits the one challenge that must be met in order for any of the others to have a chance of being realized. Here are the fourteen:

  • Make solar energy affordable
  • Provide energy from fusion
  • Develop carbon sequestration
  • Manage the nitrogen cycle
  • Provide access to clean water
  • Reverse engineer the brain
  • Prevent nuclear terror
  • Secure cyberspace
  • Enhance virtual reality
  • Improve urban infrastructure
  • Advance health informatics
  • Engineer better medicines
  • Advance personalised learning
  • Explore natural frontiers

Some of these don't strike me as particularly urgent (e.g. advancing personalized learning), but in any event, none of them will be possible at all unless the West neutralizes the menace posed by radical Islam. Islamic imperialism is the paramount threat to the Western world and it needs to be defeated in each of three domains: the military battlefield, cyberspace, and the realm of ideas. If this challenge is not met, and it doesn't seem as if we're even addressing the third domain, none of the others in the list is going to matter much.

It's curious that this paramount and crucial challenge would be omitted from consideration by the contributors to the BBC's list. Perhaps the reason is that were it included it would be seen as at least a partial affirmation of the worldview of George W. Bush and that would be unacceptable company for sophisticated people to place themselves in.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Religion of Peace

The Danish cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard, responsible for this cartoon was targeted for death by Danish Muslims.

Police have made five arrests in the case. No doubt Islamists around the world will be apoplectic that the Danish police prevented the execution of the infidel cartoonist.

These kinds of people know deep down that they cannot prevail in a contest of ideas so they resort to intimidation, fear, and terror to protect their religion. Maybe someday a light will go off in their head, and they'll realize that if their beliefs by themselves have no persuasive power then perhaps there's something terribly wrong with their beliefs.

Or maybe the light will never go off. After all, Muslims have been living like this since the 7th century, why should we think they'll change now?


No Pride

Hillary's campaign has been trying to make a mountain out of a molehill by accusing Obama of using words plagiarized from Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick in his speeches. The charge, in my opinion, simply reveals the level of desperation of the Clinton campaign.

If they want to hit Obama for something legitimate, however, they could do well to chastise his wife Michelle for her fatuous remark yesterday that for the first time in her adult life she's proud of her country. It's hard to believe that any intelligent person not warped by left-wing bitterness could seriously make this remark, but it does tell us a lot about the Obamas and the left in general. Notice that when she utters this comment people applaud her. It's pretty depressing:

Mrs. Obama has been an adult for almost thirty years. During that time the U.S. has brought an end to the cold war, catalyzed the fall of the Berlin wall, rescued Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo from genocide, led the world in delivering aid to the victims of the Christmas tsunami in Indonesia two years ago (as well as many lesser disasters), worked persistently to maintain peace in Israel and Palestine, done more to help the world's poor in Africa than any nation in history, liberated 25 million Muslims from the terror of the Taliban in Afghanistan, undertaken to build Iraq into a modern nation and a haven from Islamic extremism, improved the lot of many of the poor in the Western hemisphere through free trade agreements with our southern neighbors, continued to provide more opportunity for African-Americans than any country in the world (Mrs. Obama has herself graduated from Princeton and Harvard Law school), and probably lots else that I can't think of at the moment.

Perhaps the Obamas don't take any pride in these national accomplishments, perhaps the only thing that makes them proud is that they have a shot at political power, but the rest of us surely can be proud of what this country has achieved, and we can show it by rejecting at the ballot box those like the Obamas who hold those accomplishments in contempt.

Here's some advice for the media: At the next opportunity somebody please ask Senator Obama if he feels as his wife does or if he disagrees with the implication of her remark that there's nothing about the America of the last twenty five years of which to be proud.

HT: Michelle Malkin


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

At Last

After 50 years of murderous, oppressive rule, 81 year-old Fidel Castro is finally relinquishing power in Cuba. His brother Raul, 76, is taking over, but he will probably not last more than a couple of years so maybe the long-suffering people of Cuba can finally catch a glimpse of shore after their long ordeal at sea.

During the course of his dictatorship Castro executed tens of thousands of political opponents and tortured and imprisoned thousands more. It's ironic that our "progressive" media have given him a pass on these crimes, but have been apoplectic over our imprisonment of terrorists at Guantanamo Bay. There are thousands of prisoners in Cuba who would give anything to be transferred to that American facility, which they would doubtless regard as a tropical paradise compared to their current accomodations, but the plight of these wretched people is not something the liberal media troubles itself over. It makes one wonder about the sincerity of their concern for human rights.

To get an idea of what life has been like for political opponents of Castro read Jeff Jacoby's Boston Globe essay on Oscar Biscet or, if you have time, read Armando Valladares' horrifying account of his suffering in Castro's prisons in Against All Hope.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Curious Vote

The Senate voted last Wednesday to ban waterboarding as a means of interrogation of detainees in the war on terror. The vote was 51 to 45 and went pretty much along party lines, but the strange thing is that one of the chief opponents of waterboarding voted against the ban. Senator John McCain, perhaps feeling the heat from conservatives, voted against the position he has held for decades. Very curious. His sidekick Senator Lindsey Graham did not vote. Nor did Senators Clinton or Obama.

Our thoughts on the subject of torture can be found by using our search function. Just type the word "torture" in the text box or click on "The NAE on Torture" in the Hall of Fame on the left side of this page.


The New Cigarette

Another study has shown a link between cell-phone use and health problems:

An Israeli scientist, Dr. Siegal Sadetzki, has found a link between cell phone usage and the development of tumors. Dr. Sadetzki, a physician, epidemiologist and lecturer at Tel Aviv University, published the results of a study recently in the American Journal of Epidemiology, in which she and her colleagues found that heavy cell phone users were subject to a higher risk of benign and malignant tumors of the salivary gland.

Those who used a cell phone heavily on the side of the head where the tumor developed were found to have an increased risk of about 50% for developing a tumor of the main salivary gland (parotid), compared to those who did not use cell phones.

The rest of the article can be read at the link. Are cell-phones the new cigarette - an addictive pleasure that'll wind up shortening your life? I'm hoping that restaurants will soon have cell-free sections just like they have smoke-free areas. I know I'll sound like a curmudgeon, but it's an annoyance when someone across the room carries on a phone conversation at an amplitude ten decibels higher than were they talking to the person sitting across the table from them. I think I'd almost rather be assaulted by cigarette smoke.


Re: Endocrine Disruptors

A couple of weeks ago we did a post on some research involving the chemical BPA found in plastic bottles. The studies showed that BPA leaches out of the plastic when exposed to high temperatures and that it can interfere with the endocrine system of test animals. The implications for humans are, of course, important since these bottles are used to contain all sorts of liquids that people consume.

A reader who works for a company that makes these plastics has written in response to the post and her very well-informed thoughts are posted on our Feedback page.


The Three Worst

Yesterday we posted a piece on the ten best presidents in American history. Ari Kauffman at The American Thinker opines on who he thinks are the three worst. Hint: Two of them served since 1960.


Chauncey Obama

Bob Gorrell comments on the politics of saying nothing with Barackian panache:


More on Muggy's Demise

The assassination in Damascus of the mass murderer Imad Mughniyeh (even his name is ugly) continues to ramify. DEBKAfile reports on a number of developments including a theory being put forth in the West that the hit was really a charade:

An intriguing conspiracy theory emanating unexpectedly from Western sources was suggested by the veteran CNN correspondent Jim Clancy. In his view, Mughniyeh, the consummate master of deception, may still be alive. Others took the theory further and suggested his death may have been fabricated to provide Iran, Syria and Hizballah with a strong casus belli to attack Israel without further delay, and so repeat the Arabs' Yom Kippur success 35 years ago in catching Israel unawares.

Others say Mughniyeh was indeed killed and that whoever did it did more damage than has been heretofore reported:

Not only was Mughniyeh killed by the bomb planted in his car but also some of his bodyguards and senior Hizballah operatives. Syria's secret services have fallen down completely in guarding Iranian officials and officers resident or visiting their capital.

There's much more at the link.


Presidents' Day Ten Best

On this Presidents' Day we feature a Harris poll of Americans which produced a ranking of the top ten presidents in American history. The list has some surprises. Seven of the ten are understandable, I suppose, but John Kennedy at #4, and Bill Clinton at #6 are hard to justify. What did either man do to rate so high? Kennedy served for less than three years, pretty much punted on civil rights, got us into Vietnam, and betrayed the Cubans at the Bay of Pigs.

It's true that he got the Soviets to remove their missiles from Cuba, but only by removing ours from Turkey. In other words, the Soviets actually won the showdown over the "Cuban Missile Crisis". It's hard to think of any accomplishments JFK may have had to offset these liabilities unless one counts managing to carry on an affair with Marilyn Monroe as an achievement worthy of placing him among America's greatest presidents.

Bill Clinton's rank is equally hard to fathom. His only accomplishment as president was to surf along on the crest of an economic boom that was really the result of Reagan's tax policy. He did sign welfare reform, but this was a GOP initiative, not his. Meanwhile, his laxity toward world terrorism, his refusal to support our soldiers in Mogudishu, and his reluctance to enforce the 1991 cease-fire agreement with Saddam Hussein set the stage for 9/11. Clinton served two terms, but will be remembered primarily for his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky and an administration that limped from one crisis of their own making to another, squandering the opportunity history offered him to achieve genuine greatness.

The third surprise is that George Bush is ranked #10. I'm surprised he made the list at all, given the popular perception of the man as an utter failure, but, as I've argued before on Viewpoint (Do a search for the phrase "50 million people" to find some of our previous posts), I think he deserves to be ranked even higher, certainly above Clinton and JFK. His administration has been filled with achievements of historical significance.

He has, for example, secured the liberation of 50 million people from oppression in Afghanistan and Iraq, induced several terrorist states to give up, or at least suspend, their plans to develop nuclear weapons, successfully (so far) prevented another terrorist attack on our soil, presided over an economic recovery in very difficult circumstances (inheriting a recession, 9/11, and several very costly natural disasters), and has appointed two extremely competent jurists to the Supreme Court.

He has also done more to relieve the suffering of the poor in Africa than any president in history and has done more to put minorities and women in positions of power than any president before him. He has accomplished all this despite constant, vicious calumnies from his political opponents without ever returning their fire in kind. He has shown far more grace, virtue and class than have the carping, vitriolic, ankle-biters who, out of sheer hatred, attack every move he has made.

Few presidents have accomplished even a fraction of what George Bush has achieved, especially in the face of such relentless and withering opposition, and surely his predecessor did not. I'm not a historian, but given what he has achieved, I believe he deserves to be ranked in the top three on the Harris list. I also believe that a couple of decades from now fair-minded historians who don't have an ideological axe to grind will put him there.


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Governor Barkley

Charles Barkley, the former NBA star, tells CNN's Wolf Blitzer that he's pro-choice, pro-gay marriage and that he's running for governor of Alabama in 2014. Good luck. I'm sure those will be very popular positions among the Alabaman electorate.

Mr. Barkley also calls Christians hypocrites for opposing abortion and gay marriage. The word conservative, he attests, makes him sick in his tummy. After all, Christians, according to Mr. Barkley, aren't supposed to judge others.

Well, this is as wrong-headed an opinion as it is widespread. Set aside that Mr. Barkley is doing to Christians and conservatives exactly what he condemns them for doing, he's just wrong about Christians violating their creed when they pass judgment on the moral conduct of others. In fact, Christians are among the few groups of people who have any basis at all for making moral judgments.

If people do wrong why is it wrong to point that out? Indeed, it's a sign of a morally vigorous society that it's people recognize the difference between right and wrong, and it's a symptom of moral decrepitude if they cannot.

There's nothing wrong with making moral judgments. What is wrong is to make those judgments without knowing or caring about the relevant facts. That's judgmentalism and that's what Christians are proscribed from doing, but there's no reason to think that opposition to abortion or gay marriage is due to an ignorance of the critical facts.

To say that because someone is a Christian they shouldn't assess the conduct of others is absurd. It would mean that Christians could never condemn the holocaust or slavery or child abuse or anything else. Christians might be mistaken in their opposition to abortion and gay marriage, but Barkley doesn't offer any reason for thinking that they are. He only suggests that they're hypocrites for doing so, and he leaves us with the impression that his definition of a hypocrite is someone who disagrees with him.

It seems that Barkley is not himself a Christian, I don't know, but if that is so, I wonder on what grounds he bases his own belief that judging other people's behavior is wrong. If he's not a theist of some sort then his own judgments are rooted in nothing other than his subjective likes and dislikes. A non-theist, as we have pointed out at this site on numerous occasions, has no grounds whatsoever for saying that anything anyone does is wrong in a moral sense. So when Barkley criticizes Christians and conservatives all he's saying is that they make him sick because they don't hold the same views he does, which is a pretty silly position.

In a world without God there is no moral right and wrong. There are only things one likes and things one doesn't. There are things which work and things which don't. Whatever one has the power to do one can do and nothing one does is "wrong."

It is only the theist, or in the context of the present discussion, the Christian, who has any moral constraints placed upon his will and his power. Those constraints are placed there by God who desires not that we refrain from judging but that we always judge with justice and compassion. There are no such constraints acting in the lives of those who do not believe that they're obligated to God or anything else. For them, if they were consistent, the only ethic would be might makes right.

But consistency is probably not something Charles Barkley worries himself about very much. Nor can he afford to. He aspires, after all, to be a politician.


Saving Conservatism

Joe Carter is doing a series of posts on how to save the conservative movement in America, and he says a lot of good stuff. The first of the four posts on the topic can be read here and the others can be found here, here,and here.

If you're interested in politics, and especially if you incline toward conservative politics, you'll find Carter's suggestions very interesting.


Just Not Serious

Last night at midnight the Protect America Act expired. The PAA enabled us to maintain surveillance of terrorists in foreign countries who were using our communications networks. A 2 to 1 bipartisan consensus in the Senate agreed that it was crucial to our national security that it be renewed and voted to do so last week. President Bush thought it so important that he yielded on a number of points that Democrat senators insisted on in order to get their votes. All that was left was for the House of Representatives to follow suit. Our national security depended upon it.

What the security of your children and mine were subordinated to, however, were Nancy Pelosi's vacation plans. Ms Pelosi refused to bring the bill to the floor where it would have passed overwhelmingly. Instead she adjourned the House for a week's vacation.

As a result there are gaping holes as of midnight last night in our ability to monitor the machinations of those who wish to perpetrate another 9/11. Ms Pelosi demonstrates yet again why it is imperative that Democrats not be entrusted with our national security. They're just not serious about it. Indeed, the Democrats spent hours of the people's time this week harrasing former administration officials over a matter that nobody but the zealots at cares about (the firing of Department of Justice attorneys) and hounding a major league baseball pitcher over allegations that he used steroids, but to enhance the safety of our children the House leadership could not find a few extra minutes to take a crucial vote before running out to begin their tax-payer funded vacations.

Andrew McCarthy explains this abrogation of responsibility at NRO.

One important point that McCarthy doesn't mention is that:

[O]ne of the signal virtues of the PAA is the fact that it provides liability protection to private companies, like telecoms, who cooperate with the government and aid surveillance efforts. Companies like AT&T already face multibillion dollar lawsuits from leftist activist groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who charge that the companies broke the law by assisting government efforts to prevent terrorist attack. With the expiration of the PAA, these companies will lose their legal protections. In the current litigious climate, it is more than likely that they will simply stop aiding the government in its intelligence work....[T]he most likely consequence of the PAA's lapse is that, starting this Saturday, the country will be more vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

How do these people keep getting elected to public office?


Friday, February 15, 2008

Police Brutality

You've no doubt by now caught wind of the firestorm of outrage sweeping the nation over the story out of Florida of an unbelievable act of police brutality and racism. Apparently a white male police officer grabbed the wheelchair of a black female quadriplegic, dumped her out of the chair onto the floor, and then frisked her while she lay helpless on the lineoleum. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are reportedly enroute to Florida to lead massive protest demonstrations against the insidious racism underlying this atrocity and others like it.

You haven't heard about any of this, you say? Well, here's the video:

Oops. I got the races and genders mixed up. I guess maybe that's why you haven't heard anything from Jesse and Al.


How to Destroy America

Several years ago former Colorado governor Richard Lamm gave a speech on his plan to destroy America. It's worth revisiting today. He begins this way:

I have a secret plan to destroy America. If you believe, as many do, that America is too smug, too white bread, too self-satisfied, too rich, let's destroy America. It is not that hard to do. History shows that nations are more fragile than their citizens think. No nation in history has survived the ravages of time. Arnold Toynbee observed that all great civilizations rise and they all fall, and that "an autopsy of history would show that all great nations commit suicide." Here is my plan:

1. We must first make America a bilingual-bicultural country. History shows, in my opinion, that no nation can survive the tension, conflict and antagonism of two competing languages and cultures. It is a blessing for an individual to be bilingual; it is a curse for a society to be bilingual. One scholar, Seymour Martin Lipset, put it this way: "The histories of bilingual and bicultural societies that do not assimilate are histories of turmoil, tension and tragedy. Canada, Belgium, Malaysia, Lebanon all face crises of national existence in which minorities press for autonomy, if not independence. Pakistan and Cyprus have divided. Nigeria suppressed an ethnic rebellion. France faces difficulties with its Basques, Bretons and Corsicans."

2. I would then invent "multiculturalism" and encourage immigrants to maintain their own culture. I would make it an article of belief that all cultures are equal: that there are no cultural differences that are important. I would declare it an article of faith that the black and Hispanic dropout rate is only due to prejudice and discrimination by the majority. Every other explanation is out-of-bounds.

There are eight points altogether. You can read the rest of them at Michelle's.


The Conscious Mind

David Chalmers, one of the foremost researchers on the nature of consciousness, writes in his book, The Conscious Mind, that:

"Consciousness is a surprising feature of our universe. Our grounds for belief in consciousness derive solely from our experience of it. Even if we know every last detail about the physics of the universe-the configuration, causation, and evolution among all the fields and particles in the spatial temporal manifold-that information would not lead us to postulate the existence of conscious experience. My knowledge of consciousness in the first instance comes from my own case, not from any external observation. It is my first-person experience of consciousness that forces the problem on me." (pp. 101,102)

What Chalmers is saying is that the materialist view that everything that exists can be reduced to matter and energy still leaves consciousness unexplained. No matter how far we reduce the processes of the brain to their constituent chemicals and reactions we can find nothing that accounts for self-awareness or sensations like greenness. Nor can we begin to explain how a feeling like guilt, or a belief, or an intention could be described in terms of chemical processes occuring in neurons.

Consciousness seems to be sui generis, unique. There's nothing else like it in the universe, and what it is and how it could have evolved are complete mysteries.


The Other War

For those readers interested in how progress in Afghanistan stands at the moment an essay in The New York Post by Ann Marlowe provides an excellent overview.

The short version is that things are much better than many media reports would have us believe, but that should come as no surprise.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Who Was Imad Mugniyeh?

Terrorism expert Kenneth Timmerman is interviewed at FrontPage mag on the significance of the recent assassination of Imad Mugniyeh. In the course of the interview we learn something of who this man was and why his death leaves the earth a safer place. Here are some highlights from the interview:

Before 9/11, Mugniyeh was the world's most wanted terrorist, for the simple reason that he had killed more Americans than anyone else. The CIA has said he was behind the April 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 63 people. Later that year, he orchestrated the bombing of a U.S. military barracks in Beirut that killed 241 U.S. Marines. The very next year, he kidnapped, tortured, and murdered the CIA station chief in Beirut, William Buckley, and carried out another attack on the U.S. embassy in Beirut. In 1985, he hijacked TWA flight 847 in a famous standoff in Beirut, where he and his accomplices brutally murdered U.S. Navy diver Robbie Stethem and threw his body out onto the tarmac. He kidnapped reporter Terry Anderson and others in Lebanon, then moved to Argentina in the 1990s, car-bombing the Israeli embassy there in 1992 and the AMIA Jewish center in 1994. And that's just his more famous attacks.

There is absolutely no doubt that Mugniyeh and his masters in Iran were directly and materially involved in the 9/11 plot.

First, there is the evidence discovered very late in the day by the 9/11 Commission, which I describe in detail in Countdown to Crisis. What is astonishing is that this information has not been widely publicized. I spoke again just yesterday with one of the top investigators involved in reviewing the highly-classified U.S. intelligence reports on Mugniyeh's involvement in convoying 9/11 hijackers in and out of Iran prior to 9/11. He was astonished when I told him that few people were yet aware of this. "That's like saying you didn't know that Jesse James was a crook," he said.

The Iranians were terrified on the day of 9/11 and for the next month that the United States would "connect the dots" and discover their involvement to the 9/11 plot, as I reported in Countdown to Crisis.

Senior Iranian government officials were making desperate phone calls to relatives in the United States, asking them to rent apartments for family members so they could get out of Tehran before what they assumed would be a massive retaliatory U.S. military strike.

Of course, as we know now, that U.S. retaliatory strike never occurred - because the CIA and other U.S. government agencies succeeded in burying the information they had collected (or the case of our technical agencies, that they had siphoned up).

I believe when Americans realize the full extent of the Iranian government involvement in the 9/11 plot, they will demand action from their president - no matter what party affiliation that president may have.

You can read the rest of the interview at the link.


Your Rebate Check

President Bush signed the bill yesterday that will start rebate checks flowing in May. How much can you expect to get?

Singles earning $3,000-$75,000: $300-$600; partial rebates for singles earning up to $87,000.

Couples earning less than $150,000: $1,200; partial rebates for couples earning up to $174,000.

Parents will receive an additional $300 per child.

Spend it wisely.


Being There

A lot of people are remarking how Barack Obama has become the Chauncey Gardener of American politics. Chauncey Gardener was the character played by Peter Sellars in the 1979 movie Being There. Gardener was a complete naif, somewhat dim and totally innocent. It's not these traits, however, which invite the comparison to Obama, but rather the fact that in the movie Gardener finds himself, for a number of reasons, in the public spotlight, and every time he opens his mouth, no matter how vacuous or irrelevant whatever comes out may be, the public goes wild with admiration for his wisdom and insight. Chauncey can say nothing that is not taken by his listeners as profound and trenchant. At the end of the movie Gardener even walks on water.

This is exactly parallel to the Obama phenomenon, and it must be driving Hillary's people nuts. Indeed, the movie was based on a novel by Jerzy Kosinski whose purpose was to highlight the foolish way people eagerly accept whatever the media and our political figures serve up, no matter how inane. Obama gives speeches that cause people to swoon, but when one digs through the words there's nothing there other than platitudes, political cliches and resounding nullities. Obama can speak for twenty minutes and say nothing, but he says it so seductively that everyone in his audience leaves the room determined to vote for him.

Being There is a funny movie and with the ascendancy of "Chauncey" Obama you might wish to watch it. Unless Obama starts to put some content into his speeches you'll probably hear it referred to more than once in the coming months.


Refusing to Protect a Hero

Hot Air asks the right question, which I will paraphrase: Why, in a country that is so compassionate that we open our hospital doors to illegal aliens who need emergency care and provide all manner of other services for those who are here illegally, can we not find it within ourselves to fund emergency protection for a genuine hero in the war against terrorism who is (was) here in this country legally?

The ultimate disgrace is that because the United States would not finance her security, Hirsi Ali has been forced to turn to .... France, and the French, if you can believe it, may even provide it. The shame of it all.

To learn more about who Hirsi Ali is click on our search button and type her name in the search field.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Another Killer Sent to Allah

It took twenty five years but another terrorist leader and vicious killer has been dispatched to Allah to receive whatever reward Allah dispenses to bloodthirsty thugs:

Imad Mughniyeh, a senior but shadowy Hezbollah commander accused by the United States and Israel of masterminding suicide bombings, hijackings and hostage-taking that spanned 25 years, was killed by a car bomb in the Syrian capital of Damascus, the Shiite Muslim group and other officials said Wednesday.

Hezbollah accused Israel of carrying out the attack on Mughniyeh. A spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Mark Regev, said Olmert's office had no comment.

The elusiveness of Mughniyeh, the target of several assassination attempts and kidnappings by the United States and Israel, rivaled only that of Osama bin Laden and stretched over many more years. Until Sept. 11, 2001, the attacks for which the United States blamed him represented some of the deadliest strikes against Americans. Along with bin Laden, he was included on the list of 22 "most wanted terrorists" released by President Bush a month after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Although Hezbollah has always denied a role, the United States said he orchestrated two bombings of the U.S. embassy in Beirut -- in 1983 and 1984 -- killing 72 people, including the CIA's then top Middle East expert, Robert Ames. Even more devastating were the suicide truck bombings organized against U.S. Marines and French paratroopers in Beirut in October 1983. Together, those attacks killed 300 men.

Israel accused Mughniyeh, 45, of masterminding the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires that killed 87 people and of a role in a 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in the Argentine capital that killed 28. He was wanted by the authorities there.

See Hot Air for more on Mughniyeh. Some think his killing was an inside job.


Of Pro Bowls and Nematodes

Mike Metzger at The Clapham Commentary asks why no one really watches the NFL's Pro Bowl. He suggests that it's because it's not a competitive event and therefore there's little interest in it. He uses this as context for stitching a silver lining into the dark cloud of the exclusion of religious ideas from university campuses. Putting the best face on this sad phenomenon he suggests that it may be a good thing that universities are attempting to create a monopoly for materialist explanations of life and the world by banishing all competitors. Monopolies, Metzger notes, are not competitive and, like the Pro Bowl, there's little interest generated by them.

I think there's merit to this view, but I'd like to look at his idea from a slightly different angle. The Pro Bowl is not competitive because it doesn't mean anything. Nothing comes of it. This I think is the fundamental problem for the materialist hegemony on campus.

Materialism, the belief that matter is all there is, strips life of any real meaning. Nothing comes of it. If all we are is a pile of atoms then death is the complete and utter end of our existence, and there's nothing about life that makes it in any way purposeful. When people realize this, when they realize that only through the categories of traditional religion can there be any real meaning to their lives, then it won't matter whether materialism is the only metaphysics on offer on campus. It will be rejected root and branch by those looking for something to make their existence, their work, and their loves significant. And perhaps they will then see that significance can only be achieved if physical death is not the end of our being. If it were, then, sub specie aeternitatis (as Spinoza would say), our lives really would be no more meaningful than the life of a nematode.

Thanks to Byron for the tip on Metzger's essay.


Quitters Never Win

A diary belonging to a top al Qaeda leader was recently seized by US forces in Balad and a communiqu� from al Qaeda in Iraq's leader was intercepted by US intelligence. Together they paint a bleak picture of the terror groups' ability to conduct operations in former strongholds.

The diary was found during a raid on a safe house in Balad in early November. It was written by Abu Tariq, the emir, or leader, of the region near the city of Balad in northern Salahadin province. Tariq's diary meticulously documents the terror group's decline, the desertion of its fighters, and logistical problems incurred in the wake of the surge. The diary is also an intelligence coup for US forces, as Tariq names current members of the groups and companies and individuals used in al Qaeda's support network in the region.

You can read some of what was in the diary at The Fourth Rail.

There's a lesson in the way things have gone in Iraq since last summer. When things looked bad last spring a lot of people were calling for us to pull out, including some Republicans. A withdrawal then would have been a calamity. The lesson is that quitters never win, and winnners never quit. It's a lesson many of our politicians could learn from our military and our President.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Admiring Evil

Here's a pic taken from a Fox news clip that briefly showed an Obama campaign office. Notice anything odd? Anything that would tell you something about the sort of people who find Obama's candidacy the fulfillment of their dreams and hopes?

If you're over forty you'll recognize the poster on the wall as bearing the image of Che Guevara, one of the most murderous of the communist revolutionaries to have plagued the Western hemisphere in the 20th century, but a man who nevertheless achieved iconic status among the left simply because he was a "revolutionary".

Eugene Volokh describes the man whose image adorns the walls of these Obama supporters:

Recent books by Humberto Fontova and Alvaro Vargas Llosa describe the real Che, and will hopefully cut down the number of his admirers. In those accounts we learn that:

1. Che was responsible for the execution of thousands of political prisoners in Cuba (most of them purely for their opposition to Castro's communist policies, or for no reason at all).

2. Che enjoyed torturing and abusing the prisoners, including children.

3. Che was instrumental in setting up the Castro regime's massive forced labor camps and secret police apparatus.

4. Che tried to organize campaigns of terrorism against civilians in the US and elsewhere (though he largely failed in these efforts).

5. Far from being merely a Third World nationalist or pragmatic leftist, he was a committed, hard-line Stalinist, even going so far as to call himself "Stalin II" early in his career.

However, as Vargas Llosa points out in a New Republic article, Che was no uncritical admirer of the Soviet Union. To the contrary, he thought the Soviets had not taken communist totalitarianism far enough. In his travels through the Soviet bloc, Che was, by his own account, most impressed with North Korea - not coincidentally also the most oppressively totalitarian of all communist states at the time. Later, as Vargas notes, he criticized the Soviets for giving the private sector too much scope, and for their unwillingness to take even greater risks of touching off a nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

As Fontova points out, during the 1960s alone, the regime Che helped set up executed over 100,000 people, and incarcerated some 350,000 political prisoners out of a Cuban population that numbered only 6.3 million in 1960 (for more detailed figures, see the chapter on Cuba in the thorough Black Book of Communism). Undoubtedly, there would have been even more executions and political prisoners if not for the fact that so many Cubans were able to flee to the nearby United States.

It would be unthinkable, today, for hip college students to wear T-shirts praising a functionary from a right-wing authoritarian military regime, even though few if any such governments committed crimes on the same scale as Castro's. One small step towards putting the crimes of communism in proper perspective would be to finally consign Che to the ignominy he so richly deserves.

This is the man these Obama workers wish to honor. What does that tell us about what they see in Obama? What conclusions would we draw about John McCain if people who worked on his behalf had posters of David Duke or Adolf Hitler on their office walls?


Another Sharia Outrage

Iranian Muslims commit another atrocity and outrage against justice:

Two sisters - identified only as Zohreh and Azar - have been convicted of adultery in Iran. They have now been sentenced to be stoned to death.

Adultery is a crime punishable by death in the Islamic Republic of Iran, in accordance with the canons of Islamic Sharia law. The Iranian Supreme Court has upheld the stoning sentence.

As horrifying as this is here's the paragraph that reveals the depth of the depravity of Iranian system of Islamic justice:

Zohreh and Azar have already received 99 lashes for "illegal relations." Yet they were tried again for the same crime, and convicted of adultery on the evidence of videotape that showed them in the presence of other men while their husbands were absent. The video does not show either of them engaging in any sexual activity at all (emphasis mine).

Their crime is non-existent, their trials a miscarriage of justice, and their sentencing a barbarity. All those who believe in human rights and human dignity should protest against this sentence.

But, the article goes on to note, thus far the American left in general, and feminists in particular, even those who promote feminist concerns globally, have remained silent about this case, as they have with others like it. Now, whether they've actually been mute in this instance, I cannot say. I certainly haven't seen anything about it in the news or on the left-wing websites I sometimes visit. If the left has suddenly lost its voice then maybe it's just a temporary condition, but surely if something as savage as this had happened in Israel they would have been in immediate full-throated fury. Why does there seem to be a reluctance on the left to speak out against the brutality perpetrated against women in the Arab/Islamic world?

I think that perhaps there are several reasons:

  • The worse the rest of the world appears the better American society looks by comparison. This is unacceptably incompatible with much of leftist ideology which teaches that America and American capitalism is the source of most of the evil in the world.
  • The left doesn't want to say anything that would incite or justify American hostility toward others because they're afraid it may contribute to a bellicosity which might lead to war.
  • To condemn Iranian society would implicitly conflict with the cultural relativism accepted on the left which holds as a fundamental axiom that all cultures are equally noble.

So, rather than risk making American society and culture look superior to another or risk weakening the reluctance among the American people to engage in another conflict in the Middle East, they simply set aside their principles concerning human dignity and human rights and tacitly acknowledge that those principles are superficially, and tendentiously, held.