Monday, March 31, 2008

Bad Cells

This video is an animation of the chain of events that occurs when the body rids itself of a diseased cell. It happens in our bodies millions of times every day. Mike Gene has a step by step description of what you're seeing here at Telic Thoughts.

It's remarkable what unguided evolution can accomplish. Imagine how complex and sophisticated a process like this would be were it intentionally designed.


Rappin' with Dicky Dawkins

Richard Dawkins raps on how we need to purge all unbelievers and heretics from the citadels of learning. Daniel Dennett, Eugenie Scott, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, P.Z. Myers and even Charles Darwin himself join in the fun. We're even shown historical footage of William Jennings Bryan KO'ing Clarence Darrow in the Scopes trial, though Bryan's victory was pyrrhic.

Who thinks of this stuff?

HT: Uncommon Descent


Open Letter to the Religious Right

Joe Carter is about seven for nine in this open letter to the Religious Right. The letter could have used a little proof-reading, but it's otherwise both entertaining and wise, although I'd want to dissent from a couple of things he says.

In any event, here are the first three of his nine pieces of advice to religious conservatives:

One-- As a matter of political liberty I believe it is important that we support such issues as prayer in schools and public displays of religious symbols. But I can't imagine that on the Day of Judgment I'll hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant--you have faithfully fought to keep the Ten Commandments in the courthouse." More likely we'll all be asked why we didn't spend more time concerned about our neighbors in Darfur or fighting the pandemic of AIDS. Perhaps we should rethink our priorities and put the first things first.

Two -- Being Right doesn't mean we are always right. I know we claim we understand that but it would probably help if we acted like we believed it as well.

Three -- We have ideological enemies (such as Islamo-fascists) and we ideological opponents (such as secular liberals). While our ideological opponents want us to lose elections; our ideological enemies want us to lose our lives. That's a crucial distinction that we should always keep in mind. While we have to love them all, we shouldn't lump them all together.

Some of the comments are pretty good as well.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

What's Happening in Iraq?

Reading the newspaper reports of the current flare-up in Iraq and watching the evening news gives the impression that Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi army is clobbering the Iraqi military and police and that things are falling apart in that woeful country.

But then we read someone like Bill Roggio who has done outstanding reporting all through the war, and a quite different picture emerges.

Here are several important facts gleaned from Roggio's Long War Journal:

-- Close to 1000 Mahdi fighters have been killed, wounded, or captured in the last four or five days. This amounts to between 1% and 2% of their fighting force, which is a heavy attrition rate.

-- Despite media palpitations over Iraqi security personnel defecting, the number of such defections in Baghdad is about 15 out of a force of about 50,000. There may have been more in Basra but the numbers are unknown.

-- People in some of the affected towns feel secure enough at this point to demonstrate in support of the government's crackdown on the Mahdi army, and the governing coalition in Baghdad supports it as well.

-- American involvement seems limited. It consists mostly of embedded advisors in Iraqi units, scattered special forces operations, and air strikes.

-- Al Sadr is calling for a cease-fire. Why would he do that unless he realizes that if this battle continues he's going to soon be left without a functioning fighting force and is going to have to take off for Iran again to avoid arrest or worse?

Here's a good rule of thumb: Things are usually not nearly as bad as the Old Media makes them appear to be.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Surprising Truth Is No Surprise

Most of my adult life I've heard people stereotype conservatives as rich, greedy, and hard-hearted. The portrayal started with professors I had in college, some of whom I was personally close to, and continued among my professional colleagues during my early years in education. I continue to find the charge laid at conservatives' feet by liberal columnists and bloggers today.

But, like a lot of things I heard from my professors in college, this turned out to be quite the opposite of the truth. George Will explains why in this excellent article in the Washington Post to which my friend Byron called my attention.

Will quotes from a book by Arthur Brooks which we discussed at Viewpoint about a year and a half ago. Here's part of his column:

Sixteen months ago, Arthur C. Brooks, a professor at Syracuse University, published "Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism." The surprise is that liberals are markedly less charitable than conservatives.

If many conservatives are liberals who have been mugged by reality, Brooks, a registered independent, is, as a reviewer of his book said, a social scientist who has been mugged by data. They include these findings:

-- Although liberal families' incomes average 6 percent higher than those of conservative families, conservative-headed households give, on average, 30 percent more to charity than the average liberal-headed household ($1,600 per year vs. $1,227).

-- Conservatives also donate more time and give more blood.

-- Residents of the states that voted for John Kerry in 2004 gave smaller percentages of their incomes to charity than did residents of states that voted for George Bush.

-- Bush carried 24 of the 25 states where charitable giving was above average.

-- In the 10 reddest states, in which Bush got more than 60 percent majorities, the average percentage of personal income donated to charity was 3.5. Residents of the bluest states, which gave Bush less than 40 percent, donated just 1.9 percent.

-- People who reject the idea that "government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality" give an average of four times more than people who accept that proposition.

Brooks demonstrates a correlation between charitable behavior and "the values that lie beneath" liberal and conservative labels. Two influences on charitable behavior are religion and attitudes about the proper role of government .... The single biggest predictor of someone's altruism ... is religion. It increasingly correlates with conservative political affiliations because, as Brooks' book says, "the percentage of self-described Democrats who say they have 'no religion' has more than quadrupled since the early 1970s." America is largely divided between religious givers and secular nongivers, and the former are disproportionately conservative.

As we noted in the earlier post, none of this should be understood to mean that conservatives are more generous than liberals. Both groups are generous, but the difference is that conservatives are generous with their own money whereas liberals are generous with other people's money.


Intramural War

Bill Roggio at The Long War Journal summarizes the fighting taking place in Iraq. It appears that media reports that the Iraqi army is falling apart are grossly over-stated.

Fighting in Basrah, Baghdad, and throughout much of the South continues as Iraqi security Forces and Multinational Forces Iraq press the fight against the Mahdi Army and other Iranian-backed terror groups. The Iraqi Army has moved additional forces to Basrah as the US and Iraqi military have conducted significant engagements in Shia areas of Baghdad. The Mahdi Army has taken significant casualties. The US military has denied the Mahdi Army has taken control of checkpoints in Baghdad.

Several hundred Iraqis are reported to have been killed during the fighting since the operation began on March 25. A large majority of them are Mahdi Army fighters, according to the press reports. The US and Iraqi military have killed more than 70 Mahdi Army fighters in Shia neighborhood in Baghdad alone over the past three days.

The Times Online claimed the Iraqi Army and police have abandoned checkpoints in Baghdad, but the US military denied the Mahdi Army is in control of police and Army checkpoints in Baghdad.

"All checkpoints and ISF [Iraqi security forces] buildings are in ISF and/or Coalition control. No checkpoint is in enemy control," said Lieutenant Colonel Steve Stover, the Public Affairs Officer for the 4th Infantry Division and Multinational Division Baghdad in an email response to questions from The Long War Journal. "There were several cases where the ISF needed our assistance (and more often than not - did not) and either CF 9 (Coalition forces) ground or air responded and either reinforced or took back in a couple instances the CP or IP (Iraqi Police) building - none of that happened today."

The Mahdi army, actually a militia, is a Shiite group being trained and influenced by Iran and vying for control of the government. The Iraqi forces under the authority of the Shiite-dominated Maliki government are inflicting heavy casualties. This is an intra-mural fight among Shia that everyone pretty much knew was inevitable, but it has little to do with the coalition surge despite claims by some in the media that it casts doubt on the surge's success.

There's more on the conflict at the link.


Friday, March 28, 2008

<i>Fitna</i> Update

The outfit hosting the movie Fitna received serious threats and decided to remove the video. It can, however, be seen here.


Amateur Atheists

Theologian John Haught makes the New Atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens look like the gang that couldn't shoot straight in an essay which appears in the February 26th issue of The Christian Century.

Haught writes:

For many years I taught an introductory theology course for undergraduates titled "The Problem of God." My fellow instructors and I were convinced that our students should be exposed to the most erudite of the unbelievers. Our rationale was that any mature commitment that intelligent young people might make to a religious faith should be critically tested by the very best opponents.

The recent books by Richard Dawkins, Samuel Harris and Christopher Hitchens would never have made the required-reading list. Their tirades would simply reinforce students' ignorance not only of religion but also of atheism. The new atheists do little more than provide a fresh catalogue of the evils wrought by members of the theistic faiths.

It's true that when reading their books one gets the feeling that the authors believe if they can just discredit religion in the eyes of their readers they will have disproven the existence of God. It's not very sophisticated polemics, but there you have it.

Anyway, Haught offers a number of reasons supporting his conclusion that the New Atheists are philosophical incompetents, and it makes for very entertaining reading.


Lyme Vaccine

One of the most insidious maladies afflicting those who live in the northeastern U.S. is Lyme disease. Approximately 20,000 cases a year. It's both puzzling and irritating that one hears during the summer months daily news reports about the number of cases of West Nile virus, but rarely is the far more prevalent, dangerous and debilitating Lyme disease ever mentioned.

Anyway, it looks now as if a vaccine for the spirochete that causes the disease is on the near horizon. Read about it here.


Thursday, March 27, 2008


We recently posted about the courage of Geert Wilders, the Dutch member of parliament, who has put together a 15 minute video titled Fitna that exposes the horrors of Islamic extremism. Wilders film has somehow managed to get onto the internet even though a lot of services declined to host it. I couldn't embed it, but it can be viewed here. Much of the footage will be familiar to those who've been getting their information from the blogosphere for the last couple of years, but for those still relying on the old media much of it will be new.

Be advised that some of what you'll see is very rough, but it's important that every citizen of this country be aware of the nature of the struggle we're engaged in and that every citizen, therefore, watch it. It may well cost Wilders his life to have brought it to you.

UPDATE: The outfit hosting the movie Fitna received serious threats and decided to remove the video. It can, however, be seen here.


The Wright Stuff

I know this may upset some faithful readers, but I have to confess that I weary of talk radio hosts like Sean Hannity battering his listeners with the details of the Jeremiah Wright imbroglio for three hours every day for weeks. Wright's ravings are certainly significant and they do tell us something important about Obama, but Hannity seems obsessed with making sure we get the message and refuses to let go of our lapels until we nod obligingly that we have indeed absorbed the lesson.

It's almost enough to make me hope that I never hear another word on the subject, but then along comes a trio of essays by three of the best writers in contemporary journalism, and I'm hooked. I have to read them each to the end. So should you.

The first is by Mark Steyn at NRO. Steyn is a deft and funny writer whose wordcraft is a delectation. Steyn commences his skewering of Obama's defense of Wright with this:

"I'm sure," said Barack Obama in that sonorous baritone that makes his drive-thru order for a Big Mac, fries, and strawberry shake sound profound, "many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed."

Well, yes. But not many of us have heard remarks from our pastors, priests, or rabbis that are stark, staring, out-of-his-tree, flown-the-coop nuts. Unlike Bill Clinton, whose legions of "spiritual advisers" at the height of his Monica troubles outnumbered the U.S. diplomatic corps, Senator Obama has had just one spiritual adviser his entire adult life: the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, two-decade pastor to the president presumptive. The Reverend Wright believes that AIDs was created by the government of the United States - and not as a cure for the common cold that went tragically awry and had to be covered up by Karl Rove, but for the explicit purpose of killing millions of its own citizens. The government has never come clean about this, but the Reverend Wright knows the truth. "The government lied," he told his flock, "about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color. The government lied."

Does he really believe this? If so, he's crazy, and no sane person would sit through his gibberish, certainly not for 20 years.

Or is he just saying it? In which case, he's profoundly wicked. If you understand that AIDs is spread by sexual promiscuity and drug use, you'll know that it's within your power to protect yourself from the disease. If you're told that it's just whitey's latest cunning plot to stick it to you, well, hey, it's out of your hands, nothing to do with you or your behavior.

Read the whole thing. It's worth a week of Sean Hannity.

Christopher Hitchens doesn't hold back about much and his feelings toward Barack Obama are no exception. He concludes his essay at Slate with this:

To have accepted Obama's smooth apologetics is to have lowered one's own pre-existing standards for what might constitute a post-racial or a post-racist future. It is to have put that quite sober and realistic hope, meanwhile, into untrustworthy and unscrupulous hands. And it is to have done this, furthermore, in the service of blind faith. Mark my words: This disappointment is only the first of many that are still to come.

Read the rest of it, if for no other reason than to enjoy the honey-like flow of Hitchens' prose.

Perhaps the most important of the three is penned by Pat Buchanan, another man not celebrated for pulling punches and prettifying the unpretty. Thus when he turbned his journalistic gaze toward Barack Obama's defense of Jeremiah Wright it was a foregone conclusion that there would be a lot of politically inconvenient truths contained in the result:

Barack says we need to have a conversation about race in America.

Fair enough. But this time, it has to be a two-way conversation. White America needs to be heard from, not just lectured to.

This time, the Silent Majority needs to have its convictions, grievances and demands heard. And among them are these:

First, America has been the best country on earth for black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known.

Wright ought to go down on his knees and thank God he is an American.

Second, no people anywhere has done more to lift up blacks than white Americans. Untold trillions have been spent since the '60s on welfare, food stamps, rent supplements, Section 8 housing, Pell grants, student loans, legal services, Medicaid, Earned Income Tax Credits and poverty programs designed to bring the African-American community into the mainstream.

Governments, businesses and colleges have engaged in discrimination against white folks - with affirmative action, contract set-asides and quotas - to advance black applicants over white applicants.

Churches, foundations, civic groups, schools and individuals all over America have donated time and money to support soup kitchens, adult education, day care, retirement and nursing homes for blacks.

We hear the grievances. Where is the gratitude?

Barack talks about new "ladders of opportunity" for blacks.

Let him go to Altoona and Johnstown, and ask the white kids in Catholic schools how many were visited lately by Ivy League recruiters handing out scholarships for "deserving" white kids.

Is white America really responsible for the fact that the crime and incarceration rates for African-Americans are seven times those of white America? Is it really white America's fault that illegitimacy in the African-American community has hit 70 percent and the black dropout rate from high schools in some cities has reached 50 percent?

Is that the fault of white America or, first and foremost, a failure of the black community itself?

As for racism, its ugliest manifestation is in interracial crime, and especially interracial crimes of violence. Is Barack Obama aware that while white criminals choose black victims 3 percent of the time, black criminals choose white victims 45 percent of the time?

Is Barack aware that black-on-white rapes are 100 times more common than the reverse, that black-on-white robberies were 139 times as common in the first three years of this decade as the reverse?

All three of these columns are not only good reading, they're important reading. Turn off talk radio and take twenty minutes to digest them.


Dire Outlook for the NORKs

Strategy Page gives us an update on the situation in communist North Korea. It's pretty grim, especially now that a number of countries have decided to stop the flow of food aid which only went to feed the military and the government anyway:

March 20, 2008: In the north, destitution is the rule. South Korean economists have downgraded their estimates of per capita income in North Korea. It's now believed to be under $1,000 a year (it's over $25,000 in the south). Power and food shortages have left many farms unable to work on the Spring planting.

As seen from space, North Korea is dark at night, while South Korea is lit up. The newly elected, conservative, president of South Korea has told the north that food aid would no longer be automatically sent. The north would have to be more cooperative in areas of economic development and nuclear disarmament. The new South Korean government further irritated the North Korean officials by increasing radio broadcasts to the north that told people up there about why more free food and fuel was not going to arrive until the North Korean government kept its earlier promises to South Korea.

To back up this, South Korea released photos it had taken (with special long range cameras) near the DMZ, clearly showing Red Cross food aid being transferred to the military in 2006 and 2007. The previous South Korean government, following a decade long "sunshine policy" had discussed these photos privately with North Korean officials. There was never any response. So the new South Korean government released the photos.

The north has been caught diverting food aid to the military dozens of times since 2003, and has ignored foreign criticism of this. As a result, many nations will not contribute food aid to North Korea any more. The food shortage is so severe this Winter that lower ranking government officials had their food rations cut. This had never happened before.

The North Korean armed forces have lost the power struggle with the "economic reformers" in the government. Many senior generals have been forced to retire in the past few months. The military has been stripped of many of its economic assets, mainly because of mismanagement and corruption. The police have been given the power to arrest military personnel for "economic crimes" and corruption. Meanwhile, the growing use of narcotics in the north (by those getting rich in the black market and along the Chinese border) has resulted in harsher penalties. From now on, anyone caught with more than a quarter pound of narcotics will be executed.

The North Korea military has been declining for over a decade, and the government has apparently concluded that there's no point in putting a lot of money into the military when the economic situation is so dire.

On the Chinese border, North Koreans are so desperate to get out that they are selling themselves into slavery (or, rather, indentured servitude, where they work for free for a period of time to work off the money used to get them past the border guards). North Korean refugees are increasingly suffering from stress related disorders. This is the result of increasing police activity back home.

North Korea has entered into a trade deal with Uganda. North Korea will supply weapons and training for Ugandan police, while the African nation will export food and silk. More importantly, North Korea announced new economic reforms. The government is giving in to Chinese demands that economic reforms, like those that made China rich in the last three decades, be implemented in North Korea. Meanwhile, North Korea continues to delay providing proof that it has halted its nuclear weapons program. The new reforms will take at least a year to show some results, and in the meantime, the food, corruption and public order situations will get worse.

What a bleak picture. It almost makes you think Strategy Page is describing the misery of African Americans in Jeremiah Wright's America.

If Marx were alive today to survey the fruits of his life's work he'd probably burn all his books. Marxism has been applied in the Soviet Union, Cuba, Africa, North Korea, Eastern Europe, and China. In every case either Marxism had to be abandoned or the country languishes in poverty and squalor. The only people left today who still have hope that Marxism is an answer to the world's problems are people, like American college professors, who've never lived under it.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Arrested Development

The rule of thumb for some people, even some who are chronologically older than twelve, is that when they don't have an argument, or worse, when their argument is completely incoherent, the best course is to conceal the fact by piling on the personal invective. Darwinian Larry Moran is evidently a good example of the type.

Michael Egnor tells us a little bit about Professor Moran's style:

University of Toronto biochemistry professor Larry Moran takes issue with my characterization of his vicious personal attacks on Dr. Jonathan Wells. Dr. Wells has pointed out that superb recent research on bacterial resistance to antibiotics was independent of Darwin's theory. Dr. Moran said of Dr. Wells:

"...the right people hate IDiots...Wells makes a virtue out of lying for Jesus...He should be an embarrassment to the intelligent design creationist cult except that the members of that cult are all incapable of separating fact from fiction when it comes to science...When I first saw the Wells article I seriously wondered whether Jonathan Wells was mentally stable..."

Dr. Moran has a low view of people who question his evolutionary views from the perspective of design. In 2006 he said of students who support the inference to design in biology:

"Flunk the IDiots...40% of the freshman class [at UCSD] reject Darwinism... the university has become alarmed at the stupidity of its freshman class and has offered remedial instruction for those who believe in Intelligent Design Creationism...UCSD should not have required their uneducated students to attend remedial classes. Instead, they should never have admitted them in the first place...[T]he University should just flunk the lot of them and make room for smart students who have a chance of benefiting from a high quality education."

In fairness to Dr. Moran, though, he no doubt feels threatened. His life's work and credibility, everything he's ever said to his students, is under assault, and he feels bitter toward those responsible. So he lashes out, flailing ineffectually and incoherently, at the perceived cause of his distress. The man's world is collapsing all around him so we shouldn't judge his juvenile screed too harshly.


Defining Our Terms

Jonathan Wells takes the occasion of a nasty dispute involving some vitriolic Darwinians to clarify the meaning of key terms in the contemporary debate over origins. Wells succinctly clears up the difference between Darwinian evolution, Darwinism, microevolution and macroevolution. Confusion often reigns in the popular media over these terms, largely because the first, Darwinian evolution, is often used a synonym for each of the others even though each of the others means something entirely different.


Inside the Bridge

The March 12 missile attack on Taliban leadership gathered in a house in Pakistan was orchestrated from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Phil Peterson was at the command center (called the Bridge) and describes the operation as he witnessed it there:

The March 12 strike originated from intelligence gathered on the ground from a subordinate unit seeking information on the Haqqani Network. After full-motion video and other "special intelligent collection capabilities" were performed, the Bridge confirmed this particular compound was indeed a safe house for insurgents. Analysts continued to scrutinize the area looking for any signs of life, the presence of women or children, and activity in neighboring structures. Other disciplines, such as law and weapons, are consulted as well.

In this case, intelligence assets reported no presence of civilians in the area over the previous five days, making the decision to launch a strike urgent. Full-motion video captured and projected on to the center projection screen -- known as "Kill TV" -- several individuals performing sentry duty in and around the Haqqani Network compound's boundaries.

At 9:40 PM local time, Coalition forces declared an imminent threat from the compound and gathered in the Bridge to discuss the possibility of striking the compound. Due to its location inside Pakistan, the proposal was sent up the chain of command to US Central Command and ISAF (International Security Assistance Force). After discussing the latest intelligence reports, rechecking and confirming their accuracy, the commanding general ordered the strike.

While everyone was working the "pre-strike," they gathered in groups of 2-3 people, larger groups at times, and in the minutes leading up to the strike, everyone was working to make sure their data and intelligence was correct. In the final seconds, all eyes were on Kill TV, some people were sitting while others were standing, to see the real time video of the impending strike.

There was no cheering or high fives; only a hushed "ohhh" from a few people when the strike was made.

The strike was completed and work resumed as usual. Personnel returned to their workstations and the designated section began the process of contacting Pakistan officials to let them know about the strike. Analysts continued studying the streaming video images looking for signs of life in and around the area while other teams at offsite locations were doing the same and then feeding their conclusions to the Bridge commander.

There's more at the link.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Four Questions

The media continues to trivialize our politics by treating the presidential campaign as though it were a board game in which gaffes, scandals, missteps and debate zingers all get tallied up to delight the talking heads and newspaper columnists. Meanwhile, the voting public wishes they'd grow up and start doing their job. They can begin by pressing the candidates to answer some urgent questions and holding their feet to the fire until they do. Here are four questions with which each candidate should be confronted at the earliest opportunity, and they should be badgered with these questions every time they make a public appearance until they answer them:

1) The National Intelligence Estimate notwithstanding, the consensus seems to be that Iran is still engaged in the production of a nuclear device. The Iranians have threatened to use such a weapon against Israel once they have it. What will you do if Iran (or North Korea, for that matter) persists in pursuing a nuclear weapon? Please do not answer that you will sit down and talk with their leaders. The question presupposes that all such diplomatic efforts have failed. How far are you prepared to go to stop Iran or North Korea from obtaining a nuclear weapon?

2) The sub-prime mortgage crisis and the falling dollar have placed us on the verge of a global economic recession. What, precisely, will you do about the crisis we are facing? Please don't answer with platitudes about "hope" and "change" and "yes, we can". What measures will you take, that the Bush administration has not taken, to fix the problem?

3) Illegal immigrants are flooding into this country and placing enormous burdens upon our schools, hospitals, justice system, and welfare system. What, if anything, do you propose to do to stop the flow of illegal immigration? Please be specific. Telling us that we must secure our border is vague and unhelpful. Please state exactly what you propose to do, if anything, to secure the border.

4) Please name a Supreme Court justice, current or former, who would be most similar to a nominee that you would select for the court or federal bench should the opportunity arise during your presidency.

If the media neglect to ask these questions and to demand answers they will have failed to meet their responsibility to the public. If the questions are asked, but the candidates refuse to give clear answers then the candidates will have failed the voters, who will be given little upon which to base a responsible vote.


Al Gore, Call Your Office

There's a scientific tsunami welling up on the horizon and it bodes ill for those who've been for the last several years forecasting impending doom due to global warming. The data seem to show that for the last decade, even though greenhouse gas emissions have increased, global temperatures have not. In fact, they appear to be declining according to this piece in The Australian:

Catastrophic predictions of global warming usually conjure a notion of a tipping point, a point of no return.

Last Monday - on ABC Radio National, of all places - there was a tipping point of a different kind in the debate on climate change. It was a remarkable interview involving the co-host of Counterpoint, Michael Duffy and Jennifer Marohasy, a biologist and senior fellow of Melbourne-based think tank the Institute of Public Affairs. Anyone in public life who takes a position on the greenhouse gas hypothesis will ignore it at their peril.

Duffy asked Marohasy: "Is the Earth still warming?"

She replied: "No, actually, there has been cooling, if you take 1998 as your point of reference. If you take 2002 as your point of reference, then temperatures have plateaued. This is certainly not what you'd expect if carbon dioxide is driving temperature because carbon dioxide levels have been increasing but temperatures have actually been coming down over the last 10 years."

Duffy: "Is this a matter of any controversy?"

Marohasy: "Actually, no. The head of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has actually acknowledged it. He talks about the apparent plateau in temperatures so far this century. So he recognises that in this century, over the past eight years, temperatures have plateaued ... This is not what you'd expect, as I said, because if carbon dioxide is driving temperature then you'd expect that, given carbon dioxide levels have been continuing to increase, temperatures should be going up ... So (it's) very unexpected, not something that's being discussed. It should be being discussed, though, because it's very significant."

Duffy: "It's not only that it's not discussed. We never hear it, do we? Whenever there's any sort of weather event that can be linked into the global warming orthodoxy, it's put on the front page. But a fact like that, which is that global warming stopped a decade ago, is virtually never reported, which is extraordinary."

Duffy then turned to the question of how the proponents of the greenhouse gas hypothesis deal with data that doesn't support their case. "People like Kevin Rudd and Ross Garnaut are speaking as though the Earth is still warming at an alarming rate, but what is the argument from the other side? What would people associated with the IPCC say to explain the (temperature) dip?"

Marohasy: "Well, the head of the IPCC has suggested natural factors are compensating for the increasing carbon dioxide levels and I guess, to some extent, that's what sceptics have been saying for some time: that, yes, carbon dioxide will give you some warming but there are a whole lot of other factors that may compensate or that may augment the warming from elevated levels of carbon dioxide.

"There's been a lot of talk about the impact of the sun and that maybe we're going to go through or are entering a period of less intense solar activity and this could be contributing to the current cooling."

There's much more to this story at the link, including an interesting discussion of the impact this news is going to have when it finally sinks in. You read it here first.


A Dutch Hero

Stephen Brown writes an encomium to one of the bravest men in the Western world and certainly in Europe. The man is Dutch Minister of parliament Geert Wilders who has been living for two years under the threat of death from Islamists who want to kill him because he refuses to submit to the dhimmi status that most of his colleagues have accepted.

Wilders has produced a 15 minute film about Islam which no European venue will show for fear of Muslim retaliation. Wilders is determined, nonetheless, that people see it and will probably put it on the internet. Read about this man's courageous efforts in Brown's essay.

UPDATE: Apparently even some United States based internet hosting companies are getting cold feet. The Jawa Report posts a conversation with Network Solutions about why they refused to host Wilders film.



Here's a stunning revelation: Senator Clinton's memory of events on her trip to Bosnia in the 90s is completely at variance with what actually happened.

Why didn't she just say, "I have no recollection of that"? After all, she's had considerable experience with that semantic construction.

In any case, incoming sniper fire is not the sort of thing one would be likely have a hazy memory of, I shouldn't think. Half the Democratic party is excited about the prospect of four, or even eight, more years of such prevarications from the Clintons, and probably 90% of the party would vote for her in November if she were nominated. It makes one wonder.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Personal Jesus offers up a somewhat unnerving video of Barack Obama set to Depeche Mode's Personal Jesus:

Check out the site. It's a little spooky to see how people are responding to Obama's candidacy. Maybe it's time to dust off your copy of Eric Hoffer's classic analysis of mass movements titled True Believer.

HT: Michelle Malkin


Sunday, March 23, 2008

It's All in the Mindset

Those interested in the racial "discussions" triggered by the video of Jeremiah Wright's angry tirades against white America will find an essay by Ed Kaitz at The American Thinker a very important contribution. It starts with this:

Back in the late 1980s I was on a plane flying out of New Orleans and sitting next to me was a rather interesting and, according to Barack Obama, unusual black man. Friendly, gregarious, and wise beyond his years, we immediately hit it off. I had been working on Vietnamese commercial fishing boats for a few years based in southern Louisiana. The boats were owned by the recent wave of Vietnamese refugees who flooded into the familiar tropical environment after the war. Floating in calm seas out in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, I would hear tearful songs and tales from ex-paratroopers about losing brothers, sisters, parents, children, lovers, and beautiful Vietnam itself to the communists.

In Bayou country I lived on boats and in doublewide trailers, and like the rest of the Vietnamese refugees, I shopped at Wal-Mart and ate a lot of rice. When they arrived in Louisiana the refugees had no money (the money that they had was used to bribe their way out of Vietnam and into refugee camps in Thailand), few friends, and a mostly unfriendly and suspicious local population.

They did however have strong families, a strong work ethic, and the "Audacity of Hope." Within a generation, with little or no knowledge of English, the Vietnamese had achieved dominance in the fishing industry there and their children were already achieving the top SAT scores in the state.

While I had been fishing my new black friend had been working as a prison psychologist in Missouri, and he was pursuing a higher degree in psychology. He was interested in my story, and after about an hour getting to know each other I asked him point blank why these Vietnamese refugees, with no money, friends, or knowledge of the language could be, within a generation, so successful. I also asked him why it was so difficult to convince young black men to abandon the streets and take advantage of the same kinds of opportunities that the Vietnamese had recently embraced.

His answer, only a few words, not only floored me but became sort of a razor that has allowed me ever since to slice through all of the rhetoric regarding race relations that Democrats shovel our way during election season ....

Follow the link and read the rest. It's really very good.


Breaching the Wall of Separation

Apparently one California high school teacher thinks that religion has no place in the public school classroom unless it's to serve as an object of criticism and ridicule. One of his students, however, has decided he isn't going to put up with this breach of religious neutrality and is taking the self-appointed de-programmer to court:

Capistrano Valley High School sophomore Chad Farnan sued his Advanced Placement European history teacher, James Corbett in December. Corbet, a San Clemente resident and 35-year educator, is accused of fostering hostility toward Christians and promoted "irreligion over religion," therefore violating the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages and attorney fees, says that Corbett typically spent "a large portion of class time propagating his personal views to a captive audience." He railed against Christianity and traditional Christian viewpoints on topics such as birth control, teenage sex, homosexuality and erectile dysfunction, according to the lawsuit.

Court papers cite statements tape-recorded by Farnan such as "Conservatives don't want women to avoid pregnancies - that's interfering with God's work" and "When you put on your Jesus glasses, you can't see the truth." The Christian legal group that filed the lawsuit, Murrieta-based Advocates for Faith and Freedom, released additional quotes Monday attributed to Corbett, including "When you pray for divine intervention, you're hoping that the spaghetti monster will help you get what you want."

The complete audiotapes, however, have not been released for independent review. Corbett's attorney said the statements were taken out of context.

I'm sure. Corbett is a 61 year-old who teaches AP European history and AP art history. He's also faculty adviser to the Free Thinking Atheist and Agnostic Kinship student club, whatever that is.


Typical White Person

Barack Obama has taken some heat for referring to his grandmother as "a typical white person" because she felt threatened by a black man in what was in fact a threatening situation. Even so, I think too much is being made of Obama's choice of words, and I urge the Senator's critics to dial back the outrage. It seems to me to be making mountains out of molehills.

Nevertheless, if Barack's Texas grandparents' attitudes are typical of white people in general, I think Obama is handing whites, perhaps unintentionally, a compliment. Consider this excerpt from Obama's book reported by Judith Apter Klinghoffer:

. . At a bank where she worked [in the early '60s], Toot (his grandmother's nickname) made the acquaintance of the janitor, a tall and dignified black World War II vet she remembers only as Mr. Reed. While the two of them chatted in the hallways one day, a secretary in the office stormed up and hissed that Tood should never, ever, "call no nigger 'Mister.'" Not long afterworlds, Toot would find Mr. Reed in a corner of the building weeping quietly to himself. . . .

They (grandparents) decided Toot would keep calling Mr. Reed "Mister," . . . . Gramps began to decline invitations from coworkers to go out for a beer, telling them he had to get home to keep the wife happy.

Klinghoffer writes that Obama goes on in the book to tell a story about his 11 year old mother who played in the front yard with a young Black girl. Neighborhood Children gathered outside the picket fence shouting: "Nigger lover!" and "Dirty Yankee!" The grandmother tried to get them into the house. The grandfather went further:

Gramps was beside himself when he heard what had happened. He interrogated my mother, wrote down names. The next day he took the morning off from work to visit the school principal. He personally called the parents of some of the offending children to give them a piece of his mind.

No, his grandfather did not say that he could no more disown racist whites than disown the white community. The grandmother, he dismisses as a "typical white (racist) person" explained their attitudes thus:

Your grandfather and I just figured we should treat people decently, Bar. That's all."

Obama's grandparents weren't typical of whites in Texas in the early sixties, but I think it something of which whites should be proud to be told by the Senator that the attitudes his grandparents had then are typical of the attitudes most whites have now.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Resurrection Narratives

One of the arguments against the belief that on the first Easter Jesus actually did rise from the dead is that the records of that alleged event (the New Testament gospels) were written much later, perhaps a hundred years or so after the event was supposed to have happened. The greater the temporal distance between the event and when it was written down, the thinking goes, the less reliable the written testimony is considered to be.

There are lots of reasons for rejecting this argument, but I came across one recently while reading Anglican theologian N.T. Wright's Surprised by Hope that I don't remember ever hearing before, although I'm sure others have.

Wright points out that throughout the gospel narratives the authors constantly cite Old Testament precedents and prophecies and tie them to the life of Jesus. This indicates that some time had elapsed after Jesus' death during which the community of believers was able to reflect on the events of his life before those events were written down. This reading back into the Old Testament runs right up through the crucifixion narratives. Thus we may surmise that these stories about Jesus were put into the form we have them in today some time after Jesus' death.

But then a striking thing happens. Once the accounts move on to the events surrounding Jesus' resurrection there are no references to Old Testament sources, prophecies and fulfillments. Their absence strongly suggests, Wright maintains, that the accounts of the resurrection were written down or otherwise fixed even before the accounts of the rest of Jesus' life. It suggests, too, that the resurrection narratives were established soon after the event and before the community of disciples had the opportunity to search the texts for prophetic allusions and echoes.

Here is what Wright says:

This is all the more remarkable when we note that from as early as Paul, the common creedal formula declared that the resurrection, too, was "according to the scriptures," and Paul himself joins the rest of the early church in ransacking the psalms and prophets to find texts to explain what just happened and set it within, and as the climax to, the long story of God and Israel. Why do the gospel resurrection narratives not do the same? It would be easy for Matthew to refer to one or two scriptural prophecies that were being fulfilled, but he doesn't. John tells us that the disciples did not yet know the scriptural teaching that the Messiah would rise again, but he doesn't quote the texts he has in mind.

These accounts were fixed very early, it appears, and then later, when the gospels were being written, attached to those narratives in order to form a more complete picture of who Jesus was. If this is so, they should be granted a much greater reliability than some critics have been willing to give them.

Have a wonderful Resurrection Day.


Jesus for President

Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw (henceforth C&H) are, from everything I can tell, two wonderful young men deeply committed to living as consistently as possible with what they believe to be the Biblical mandates. The pair have co-authored a book titled Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals (henceforth JfP), which I recently finished reading. Inspiring in places, their book is also informative, but as much as I admire C&H for the work they do and their determination to live out their convictions, I think their book is deeply flawed.

For C&H the ideal we should all strive for is to live pretty much like the Amish. The authors are deeply committed to pacifism, opposed to capitalism, and in favor of getting by with as little in the way of material goods as possible.

The book is published in a cut and paste format that makes it seem like the authors are trying too hard to be "edgy." Some pages have little contrast between the text and the paper which makes it very difficult for older folks to read (Does this betoken an insensitivity to old people?). In some places the type size is so small that I just gave up, but these are comparative quibbles.

My real complaint is with the content. Much of the first half of the book is a summary of the Biblical narrative, the most interesting part of which, perhaps, was their comparison of the triumphal processions of the Romans to Jesus' "triumphal" entry into Jerusalem (p.126f). I also benefited from their interpretation of Jesus' words about the gates of hell not prevailing against the church. I had always interpreted this text to mean that the forces of evil will not extinguish the church nor stop its work, but C&H put a different twist on the passage. They argue that the church is to storm hell (an unfortunate military metaphor, perhaps) and the gates of hell will not withstand the assault. I like it.

Notwithstanding such little gems, there was much more that I found uncongenial.

On page 95, for example, we find the authors oddly quoting with approval Woody Guthrie's quip that: "If Jesus preached in New York what He preached in Galilee, we'd lay Him in His grave again." I say "odd" because there are a lot of people preaching in New York pretty much what Jesus preached in Galilee, surely C&H believe they are, and no one is threatening to lay them in the grave, are they? So why recycle this quote?

The authors make a lot of other assertions for which they offer neither explanation nor support. For instance:

"[A]s we are liberated from the yoke of global capitalism our sisters and brothers in Guatemala, Liberia, Iraq and Sri Lanka will also be liberated....they, too, need to be liberated from the [American] empire's yoke of slavery (p.113), but in what sense are these people enslaved by the U.S.? The authors don't say. They, like the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, are too busy getting on to the next provocation to answer questions about the last one.

C&H urge us to consider the Mosaic practices of abolition of interest, land redistribution, debt forgiveness, open borders, gleaning fields for the poor, caring for the elderly (presumably by the family), honest business practices, and helping one's enemies (p.151). Americans practice each of these (regrettably, in the case of open borders) except the first two so it's hard to see what their point is. It's hard to think them serious, moreover, when they propose the abolition of interest. How would people own a home or much of anything else were they not able to get credit, and what motivation does anyone have to loan money on credit if they cannot earn a profit from it? Even the Amish own their own homes.

They call free market capitalism a "filthy, rotten system," which Americans don't criticize because we believe it to be essential (p.153), but they never lay out a plausible alternative that would work for 300 million people. Nor do they really say why our system is filthy and rotten.

"How is it possible to support a president while also following Jesus?" they ask (p.166). "Jesus tells us to love our enemies, while the president says to kill them. Jesus admonishes us to forgive debts while the president praises capitalism and the economics of competition." We should follow the example of first century Christians, they advise, and go to the lions rather than kill our enemies.

We could spend a week's worth of posts analyzing these four sentences, but for the sake of brevity let me point out first that, as paradoxical as it sounds, killing someone is not necessarily incompatible with loving them. Second, it is only when a nation has a strong engine of wealth production that it is able to forgive debt. Largely under George Bush's leadership the U.S. has done more than any nation in history to help alleviate the economic misery of Africa, but C&H seem unaware of the fact. Third, by adjuring us to be willing to die rather than take another's life they seem to make an idol out of human life. Surely life is sacred, but suggesting that we should give our life to save that of our enemy seems to me to miss the point. The question is why we should sacrifice our children's lives rather than that of the ones who plot to murder them? Why is the murderer's life more valuable than that of our children?

They deplore that people hear proclamations from the pulpit urging us to "We will have no mercy on the evil-doers" (p.168), yet, though it may be that I don't get to enough different churches, I've never heard anything remotely like this in any church I've ever been in. Nor have I ever seen words like this attributed to any preacher with whom I am familiar. It's too bad they didn't footnote this.

Ronald Reagan defended the U.S. as a militant and unaccountable maverick in the world, they allege on page 172, but Reagan did no such thing. If anything Reagan was loath to use force around the world. When 200 Marines were killed in a bomb attack in Lebanon he pulled our troops out rather than risk a wider war and more bloodshed. C&H play off a left-wing stereotype of Reagan-as-gunslinging-cowboy that is historically unsupportable.

C&H also assert that the Puritans sought to establish a state based on power and violence (p.173), but they offer no support for this rather counterintuitive claim.

The authors hint darkly that Martin Luther King was killed by sinister forces and "not without reason" (p.179), implying an Oliver Stone caliber conspiracy, but the do no more than insinuate that the nefarious reason was that King spoke out against American "imperialism". No need to defend or explain accustaions everybody knows to be true, I guess. On the same page they criticize the U.S. for seizing lands "far and wide" as if they were taken by force from their original inhabitants. Yet their examples were Alaska (which we purchased), Puerto Rico (which is hardly "far" from the U.S.), Hawaii (which petitioned for statehood), Guam, and Guantanamo Bay (which we lease from Cuba).

They go on to fault the U.S. for selling weapons abroad (p.180) which are used to kill poor people, but it's not American weapons which are killing people in the third world. The weapons preferred by the murderous thugs around the globe, or at least most of them, are manufactured in Russia, eastern Europe, Iran, and China.

C&H repeatedly compare the U.S. to Rome and see us as the modern version of the Roman empire (see p. 182), but we have not waged a war of conquest, nor kept land taken in war, nor enslaved anyone for over a hundred and fifty years. This is not how empires behave. I would have liked for them to have fleshed out the sense in which they believe the U.S. is an empire.

As with Rome, they analogize, where war was "omnipresent, normative, nihilistically acceptable" (p.183), so too, with the U.S. This comparison, however, overlooks the fact that Rome waged war to conquer and rule. America's wars have been to defend and/or to liberate. Surely there's a significant difference.

The authors condemn our economic system for our alleged exploitation of cheap labor abroad (p.188), but they never explore the terrible predicament many foreign workers would be in if, in protest against their miserable working conditions, we were to stop buying their products. Once we boycotted their exports the penurious laborers would have no job at all. It's not the consumer who's responsible for the sad plight of the sweatshop worker, it's their own government whose economic policies stifle innovation, advancement, and wealth production.

The economic naivete of which JfP has more than a fair share is nowhere more evident than on page 189 where C&H urge us to "make poverty history" by "making affluence history." Nothing would plunge the entire earth into third world status quicker than the elimination of wealth. C&H seem to think that wealth is like air, of which there's a fixed amount and enough to go around for everyone if only some people weren't hogging it. Unfortunately, wealth is not like that. Wealth is produced by people motivated by the wish to be affluent. Take away the possibility of fulfilling that ambition and you take away the incentive to produce wealth. Take away the incentive and pretty soon everyone will be living at a subsistence level and writing books about how we could help the world's poor if only we weren't so poor ourselves.

We can't follow Jesus and buy from the master who oppresses his workers, JfP instructs (p.189), but, again, what happens to those workers in China and India when the master's business dries up because Americans following Jesus refuse to buy his merchandise? Is it following Jesus to deprive those workers of their only means of staving off starvation? C&H never seem to consider this question.

They also condemn our exploitation of migrant workers (p.190), but what is their solution? We can buy cheap tomatoes, they argue, only because the poor Honduran or Mexican laborers breaking their backs in the fields work for such a pittance. Well, yes, but these people come here to work because there are no jobs at all in their home countries. If their American employers raise their wages the price of tomatoes would also rise. More expensive tomatoes would result in fewer tomatoes being purchased and thus fewer workers would be needed to pick them. So they'd all go back home and sit around and contemplate how much better off they were picking tomatoes for peanuts.

On page 192 they make the puzzling claim that we (Americans) haven't advanced morally. I'm not sure what they're talking about, since we no longer have slavery, we're committed to equal rights for all citizens, we have a higher view of women than a century ago, we are at pains to follow just war theory both ad bellum and in bello, we are careful about degrading our natural environment, and so on. None of these things were the case in 1850 and only slavery was not the case as late as 1950. I agree with JfP that in some important respects we have indeed declined morally, but to say categorically that there has been no moral advance, as if we were still living in 1st century Rome, is to completely ignore our history.

The use of force is always wrong in the eyes of C&H, even in a place like Darfur. Saving the innocent, they argue, doesn't justify the use of violence. Peter, after all, was wrong to try to save Jesus' life with the sword. (p. 202). Well, yes, but Jesus' sacrificial death was intentional. It was for a cosmic purpose. What purpose is served by piously standing by while children are being slaughtered and enslaved by gangs of knuckledragging, doped up paramiltaries? Why is the life of a Sudanese Janjaweed more sacred than the lives of the millions of children they are systematically starving, butchering or selling into slavery?

On page 203 C&H construct for us an absolutely incoherent argument for pacifism. As near as I can make it out the attempt to kill Hitler was wrong because it failed. Not only that, but it was the fault of those who tried to kill Hitler that the Fuehrer went on to kill six million Jews. Presumably, if they hadn't attempted to assassinate him he never would have launched the holocaust. That, at least, is what the authors appear to be saying.

They also claim that violence "inevitably" ends in misery and suicide (p. 204), and as evidence they cite the cases of Judas, Nero, various school killers, and the 9/11 terrorists. This is an interesting argument. Find a half dozen examples of violent men who committed suicide and then claim that violence inevitably leads to self-destruction. This is what rhetoricians call an illicit process: Because some mass murderers kill themselves therefore suicide is the inevitable fate of all violent men.

People who resort to violence, they maintain, feel the image of God dying inside them, and this leads to despair and self-murder. But if the death of the imago dei leads one to kill oneself why then do not militant atheists have sky-high suicide rates?

The U.S. retaliation for 9/11 is blamed in JfP for the deaths of 654,965 innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq (p. 281), but not only is this number greatly inflated (see here and here) it gives the impression that these deaths were all at the hands of coalition forces when, in fact, most of them were the result of Taliban and al Qaeda terrorism.

They insist that we falsely think that we can effectively change the course of history through force (p.284), but I don't know why we should think this a false belief. The Revolutionary War certainly changed the course of history, as did the Civil War. World War II ended one of the worst tyrannies in history, and the threat of force during the cold war ended another. The war in Afghanistan brought a halt to the cruel reign of the Taliban and liberated 25 million people while the invasion of Iraq concluded the horrors Saddam Hussein and his twisted offspring had inflicted on the Iraqi people and their neighbors and liberated 25 million more of the world's wretched. All of these wars altered the subsequent history of our nation and of the world, and I would argue that the world is, on balance, a much better place because of them.

C&H plead that Jesus, who should be our example in such things, didn't take charge by force (p.285). True enough, but then Jesus didn't really take charge at all. He didn't come to take charge, he came to die. When he does finally take control of this world, if the testimony of John the Evangelist is any indication, it will indeed be by force.

On page 288 the authors endorse excommunication for Christians who have chosen to live in ways which have hurt themselves or others. Again, they fail to address the tough questions: Suppose a brother decides to be a policeman or join the military, should he be excommunicated? Suppose he manages, or just works for, a store like Wal-Mart which some believe to exploit workers overseas, should he be excommunicated? What if he works for a corporation or an industry which produces environmental pollutants, like the steel or coal industry. Or suppose he works for the gaming industry or as a restaurateur, encouraging people to spend more money than they should on entertainment and food. What then? There are no answers to questions like these in the pages of JfP.

There's much not to like about the authors' social activism as well. They boast of prevailing in a legal struggle to secure for the homeless the right to sprawl on sidewalks, sleep in public parks, and in general use public spaces as their personal latrine (p. 294). The resources spent on fighting for these rights in court, however, may have been better spent securing appropriate shelter for these sad people. Instead their actions guaranteed that the quality of life for everyone else who uses public streets and facilities would be degraded.

On page 299 they inexplicably imply that Harriet Tubman was the subject of the movie Hotel Rwanda.

Despite having condemned market capitalism throughout the book they rejoice (p. 312) in how they were able to use money that had been earned in the stock market to help an indigent friend get medical care, but they fail to see the irony of that. The best way to raise people out of poverty is to produce a society that generates wealth. Two sources of hope to which the poor cling is that someone with resources will help them or that some employer will be able to give them a job. To abjure the greatest wealth generator in the history of the world, free markets, and live like monks is to insure that neither of those hopes will ever be realized. An impoverished United States would mean that billions of poor people throughout the world would be consigned to utter hopelessness. To take one example, if everyone in this country lived like C&H suggest, how would the victims of the Indonesian tsunami have ever found relief from their misery? Who would have come to their aid? Haiti?

There's more to say about Jesus for President, but perhaps you get the picture. The book is not a well-reasoned argument for abandoning contemporary American life and embracing the simple life-style of the Amish. Rather it's 355 pages of bumper stickers - empty assertions in which we are urged to place our confidence but for which few good reasons are provided us for so doing.


Friday, March 21, 2008

Out of the Closet

Confirming rumors that had circulated during the eighties, Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Communist leader of the Soviet Union, has acknowledged his Christian faith for the first time, paying a surprise visit to pray at the tomb of St Francis of Assisi.

According to the UK Telegraph Mr Gorbachev, accompanied by his daughter Irina, spent half an hour on his knees in silent prayer at the tomb.

There's more on this at the link. Word has it that Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and the rest of the New Atheist crowd, are not happy with the news.


A Man For All Seasons

The actor who played Sir Thomas More in the 1966 Academy Award winning film A Man for All Seasons has passed away at 86. A Man for All Seasons was about the conflict between More and Henry VIII over the king's authority over the church. It was a powerful film and Scofield was a powerful actor. It was good historical drama excellently performed. I encourage you to mark the passing of a great actor by viewing Scofield's signature performance if you get the chance.

There's an informative piece article about Scofield here.


What Is Truth?

This Good Friday offers an opportunity to reflect on Pilate's question to Jesus: What is truth? Jesus, you recall, had just told the Roman official that he had come into the world to bear witness to the truth and that everyone who loves truth hears His voice.

Pilate's question is still echoing through the halls of academe today. The notion of an objective truth-for-everyone has come under unprecedented assault in the last thirty years. Many people no longer believe that there is any such thing as a truth that's true for everyone. Truth is whatever has "purchase" with you, whatever the consensus of your community believes. Your truth is not necessarily my truth and vice versa. The late Richard Rorty once remarked that truth is whatever your peers will let you get away with saying, but, as Alvin Plantinga noted, a lot of Rorty's peers didn't let him get away with saying that.

In such an intellectual ambience Jesus's claim that He is the way, the truth, and the life is revised to mean that he is a way, a truth for those who wish him to be but for those who don't he's pretty much irrelevant.

The fact is, though, that truth is not simply a matter of one's own subjectivity. If Jesus was indeed God incarnated as a man then he was so whether anyone believes it or not, and if His death on the cross on that first Good Friday was an atonement for the sins of mankind it was so whether anyone believes it was or not.

In the bewildering kaleidoscopic flux that is post-modernism the incarnation and the cross are epistemological lifelines. They're truths we can believe in and they're true for everyone.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Astonishing Cephalopods

My friend Justin sent along this wonderful video. Keep in mind as you watch it that despite any doubts you may have, these creatures evolved these marvelous abilities purely by undirected random accident. It's important to remember this lest you fall prey to those nefarious Intelligent Design people who are always trying to convince us of the silly idea that the living world, as well as the physical cosmos, is chock full of evidence of purpose and intention:


Most Hated Man in America

Polls show John McCain in a statistical dead heat with either of the Democrat candidates. If the election were held today it would be a tie.

The odd thing is that I have seen no mention of the impact on these numbers of the entry into the race of Ralph Nader. Nader has been getting about 5% of the vote most of which is surely being pulled away from the Democrats. If a state like Ohio or Florida is close in November and Nader gets 5% of the vote there it would swing the election to the GOP and Nader would replace Bush as the most hated man in America.


Damage Control

Planned Parenthood of Idaho tries to control the damage from the hoax perpetrated upon them by a UCLA student newspaper called The Advocate. It looks like there may be more audio on the way of similar calls made to PP affiliates in Ohio and several other states.



Somehow, I can't see John McCain inspiring a song like this, but who knows?

AllahPundit at Hot Air, to whom we owe thanks for pointing us to this video, says that after watching it:

I'm thinking of voting for him now, but I have this theory that 9/11 was an inside job perpetrated by the U.S. government and "the Jew" to reestablish their hold over the white power structure and I'm not sure if I'd be welcome in the tent. Oh, I would? Oh, cool. Cool.

Whether he'd be welcome in Obama's "tent" I can't say, but with views like that he'd sure be welcome at Obama's church.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Saddam's Terrorist Connections

Well, this is odd. ABC is reporting that the Bush administration is trying to cover up a report released last week by the Pentagon on Iraq's ties to al Qaeda because the report says there were none. Yet if you read the Executive Summary of the report they link to it's clear that Saddam was indeed up to his jockey shorts in terrorist activity, that he was funding terrorist groups at home and abroad, and that he clearly intended to use terrorism to strike at American interests until he fled from Baghdad.

The ES does not say that there were no ties to terrorism, only that a direct connection to this particular terrorist organization, al Qaeda, was not found. Based on this flimsy platform, the New York Times performs a feat of logical acrobatics and concludes that "Oh, by the way, there was no al Qaeda link." The Times is so heavily invested in the meme that Bush had no justification for invading Iraq that it's apparently willing to make itself look stupid rather than admit they were wrong.

Absence of evidence for a direct link to al Qaeda is not proof of the non-existence of the link. But that aside, whether Saddam was in bed with terrorists who called themselves "al Qaeda" or not is completely irrelevant. The question is whether Saddam was engaged in extra-territorial terrorism, and no one, not even someone who works for the Times or ABC, can read the report and not see that he was.

If these good folks had actually taken the trouble to read the very document they link to they may have been more circumspect, even about their claims that there was no connection to al Qaeda. For instance, about al Qaeda the report says this:

Saddam and bin Laden often found a common enemy in the United States....Saddam's security organizations and bin Laden's terrorist network operated with similar aims, at least for the short term. Considerable operational overlap was inevitable when monitoring, contacting, financing, and training the regional groups involved in terrorism. Saddam provided training and motivation to revolutionary pan-Arab nationalists in the region. Osama bin Laden provided training and motivation for violent revolutionary Islamists in the region. They were recruiting within the same demographic, spouting much the same rhetoric, and promoting a common historical narrative that promised a return to a glorious past. That these movements (pan-Arab and pan-Islamic) had many similarities and strategic parallels does not mean they saw themselves in that light. Nevertheless, these similarities created more than just the appearance of cooperation. (page 41, emphasis mine)

Saddam's interest in, and support for, non-Iraqi non-state actors was spread across a wide variety of revolutionary, liberation, nationalist, and Islamic terrorist organizations. For years, Saddam maintained training camps for foreign "fighters" drawn from these diverse groups. In some cases, particularly for Palestinians, Saddam was also a strong financial supporter. Saddam supported groups that either associated directly with al Qaeda (such as the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, led at one time by bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri) or that generally shared al Qaeda's stated goals and objectives. (page 42, emphasis mine)

Some aspects of the indirect cooperation between Saddam's regional terror enterprise and al Qaeda's more global one are somewhat analogous to the Cali and Medellin drug cartels. Both drug cartels (actually loose collections of families and criminal gangs) were serious national security concerns to the United States. Both cartels competed for a share of the illegal drug market. However, neither cartel was reluctant to cooperate with the other when it came to the pursuit of a common objective - expanding and facilitating their illicit trade. (page 43, emphasis mine)

The report is titled Saddam and Terrorism: Emerging Insights from Captured Iraqi Documents, and it's chock full of information about Saddam's use of, and ties to, terrorism, both internal and international. To suggest, as some in the media evidently want to do, that unless it can be proven that the terrorists actually called themselves al Qaeda they don't really count as terrorists is unbecoming anyone with more than a third grade education.


The Real Obama

Barack Obama tried yesterday to dissociate himself from his pastor's hateful remarks without dissociating himself from his pastor. In many ways his speech was outstanding, but in the end it seems as if he's extending Pastor Wright a grace that he withholds from others. When asked a year ago about what should happen to Don Imus for the remarks he made about the Rutgers women basketball players that subsequently got him into so much trouble, he makes it clear that he thinks Imus should should be fired:

Ultimately, Senator Obama failed in his speech to do what he was trying to do, which is to somehow help us understand why he continued for twenty years to sit at the feet of a man filled with anger, bitterness, and racism. To explain that there are residual bad feelings prevalent among blacks of Wright's generation seemed somewhat beside the point and unhelpful. There was nothing stopping Obama from seeking out a church pastored by someone whose views were more in line with his own. Besides, those parishioners in the pews who were enthusiastically applauding Wright's nonsense were not septuagenarians.

There seem to be two Obamas. There's the Obama who wanted to punish Imus for his offensive racial remarks and there's the Obama who wants us to understand Pastor Wright. There's the Obama who wants to transcend race and there's the Obama who takes his children to hear the ravings of a race hater.

Perhaps as time goes on it'll become a little easier to discern exactly who the real Obama is. Meanwhile, the media have chosen to ignore the obvious conflict of church and state they're so vexed about when conservative pastors preach politics. Nor are they asking themselves what their reaction would be were a Republican candidate associated so intimately with a pastor like, say, the execrable Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church, whose parishioners picket funerals of slain servicemen to emphasize Phelps' belief that their deaths are God's judgment for our tolerance of homosexuality.

The most eloquent speech since Demosthenes wouldn't save a GOP candidate from the media whipping post if the candidate had shown such poor judgment as to associate with Phelps, or even with the relatively innocuous Pat Robertson.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Ugly American

The Daily Kos is a major liberal web log, perhaps the biggest blog in the country in terms of traffic. Thus we can learn much about the liberal mind set as well as the Democratic party, which is strongly influenced by the Kos site, from what is posted there. What we find is often not very pretty. One of the diarists recently posted a piece in which he argues that America is no longer a compassionate nation and that what we need is to be invaded and occupied, to have our children slaughtered, and then maybe we'll wake up.

You might think that this was taken from a left-wing version of a Three Stooges script, but you can check it out yourself. This is the sort of thing many in the mainstream left believe:

As a nation the United States no longer has the remotest idea about what it really feels like to be part of a war zone. Americans have lost the empathy that is necessary to make an informed, meaningful, compassionate decision about whether or not war should be waged. While candidates fight over who has the required experience to properly oversee our republic's international interests, none realize that none of them have ever felt what it is like to have war waged in their neighborhood and occupied by intruders. While they may claim to know when to wage wars and to know the horrors of war, they only know them intellectually. They can't claim that they have emotionally felt them. No one who was born and raised in the United States can claim that and none can really feel it. We have allowed a Congress and an administration to encourage hate and to hi-jack our compassion. In fact, as a nation we have lost our compassion.

Unfortunately, America is at a point that to be able to really feel again, to regain that compassion, it needs to be invaded and occupied in the same way that we have invaded and occupied Iraq. Then there might be a greater chance that Americans will be more reluctant to accept the invasion of another country. Maybe seeing and feeling the same level of destruction that we have inflicted on Iraq, at least the American public will understand why invading another country is unconscionable except in the most dire circumstances - which means after that country has directly attacked the United States. And that has not happened since World War II.

Talk about a lack of compassion. Unfortunately, compassion isn't the only thing this guy lacks. Reading this does help us, though, to understand how Barack Obama could sit under the tutelage of Rev. Jeremiah Wright for twenty years. To a man of the left, like Obama, Wright probably sounded pretty moderate.

Maybe somebody should invite the Kos diarist, and Rev. Wright, for that matter, to read this piece by lefty rocker Bob Geldof. It'd teach them something about American compassion.


Man in a Hole

The Easter season seems a good time to note that courses in comparative religions sometimes go an entire semester without pointing out the essential difference between Christianity and all the other belief systems on offer. This video does it in three minutes:

Too bad one of the passersby wasn't an atheistic materialist. It would have been interesting to hear what he would have to say to the man in trapped man. Perhaps it would've been something like: "Sorry you're trapped, but life's tough and there's really no hope. Good luck."


Second Amendment

"Today the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the most significant gun-rights case of our lifetime," writes the Washington Times. The Times goes on to say that:

District of Columbia vs. Heller promises to settle the constitutionality of the District's handgun ban and others like it, laws which we've long considered to be unduly restrictive. Here are the 27 words of the oft-interpreted, and oft-misinterpreted, Second Amendment: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

The editorial concludes with these words:

In practical terms, it is a signal injustice that the District of Columbia has deprived law-abiding citizens of gun rights as the drug wars raged and as violence escalated before, during and after the D.C. gun ban's imposition.

D.C. residents should resist the more fevered predictions of mayhem in the event that District law is overturned. The court is not ruling on the wisdom of background checks, the prohibition of arms possession by dangerous persons or restrictions on certain very dangerous types of arms. The court would merely be ruling that a municipality may not strip its law-abiding citizens of an inalienable right. Since 1976, this law also has served to deprive those citizens of appreciable means of self defense while murderers and other criminals simply disobey. The Supreme Court must step in to protect their rights.

I'm not sure when the decision will be handed down but it will surely be front page news when it is.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Moral Absolutes

A former student taking a grad course in Old Testament ethics asks this question (slightly edited):

What do you think about the idea of non-conflicting absolutes? With regards to moral laws, for example, do you think it is correct to claim that there are moral absolutes that never conflict? Do you think there may be exceptions intrinsic to the absolute, which allow for a "non conflicting scenario" to take place...?

Here's my reply:

Good questions, Jeremy. No, I don't think moral absolutes never conflict. Nor do I think there are exceptions to an absolute. Absolutes may certainly be in conflict with each other, and if there were exceptions to them they wouldn't be absolutes.

In my view there are only two moral absolutes (unless we count our duty to love God with our whole self as a moral absolute): Do justice and do compassion. These two could be conflated into a single absolute as Jesus does in Matthew 22:39, i.e. Love others, but for the sake of this discussion I think we are commanded to always do what is just and do what is compassionate. These may sometimes conflict, however, and that creates a tension. For example in the matter of war, criminal punishment, or even disciplining a child, it may be that the demands of justice and the command of compassion seem to tug us in opposite directions.

It's part of our responsibility as free and thinking Christians to find in any situation the best balance between the two. It's as if they sometimes reside at either end of a see-saw and we need to find the center of gravity at which point they're in balance. Thus, in a particular situation we may have to punish to satisfy justice, but our punishment should be tempered with compassion. We should not punish someone who tortured someone to death by doing the same thing to him. Whether the fulcrum is closer to the justice end of the see-saw or the compassion end may depend upon the details of the case.

It's a consequence of living in a fallen world that moral decisions are often not as neat and clear as we'd like them to be. There are situations in life where we have no specific rules to guide us, only the principles of compassion and justice. In those situations we must decide what to do, it is our existential burden, but our decisions must be informed by those two absolute principles and a desire to maximize both to the extent possible.


Public Opinion of the War

David Paul Kuhn has an interesting piece at on public perception of the surge:

American public support for the military effort in Iraq has reached a high point unseen since the summer of 2006, a development that promises to reshape the political landscape.

According to late February polling conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 53 percent of Americans - a slim majority - now believe "the U.S. will ultimately succeed in achieving its goals" in Iraq. That figure is up from 42 percent in September 2007.

The percentage of those who believe the war in Iraq is going "very well" or "fairly well" is also up, from 30 percent in February 2007 to 48 percent today.

Views of the war in Iraq have long varied depending upon party affiliation, unlike during the Vietnam War. Although even Democratic discontent has ebbed for the first time in more than a year - 29 percent now support keeping troops in, an increase of 8 percentage points since last summer - foreign policy advisers to both candidates dispute the idea that Democrats are in the unenviable position of disagreeing with the majority of Americans over whether the war in Iraq can succeed.

There's more on this at the Politico link.

The trend lines here explain why the media has suddenly lost its voice on Iraq and why the war has almost ceased to be an issue for Democrats. The poll results are certainly good news for Republicans, especially John McCain who was an early advocate of the surge and has been a steady supporter in the Senate of the need to win both militarily and politically in Iraq.

We have argued in the past that to yield to the Democrats' call for withdrawal would be a calamty for the region, the U.S. and the whole world. Any candidate for president who says he or she would pullout of Iraq before the country has been secured demonstrates a myopia that ipso facto disqualifies him or her from the office. We give our reasons here.


Friday, March 14, 2008

Looking at the Veep

Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard runs through all the potential Vice-Presidential picks on offer to McCain and concludes that his best prospect is Mitt Romney. Maybe so, but one person Barnes doesn't mention who would surely enhance the ticket in the minds of the conservative GOP base McCain must reconcile with is Rick Santorum.

It isn't likely to happen, however, since Santorum dislikes McCain and has been outspoken in his opposition to him, especially early in the campaign. No doubt the feeling is mutual.

Even so, since Santorum is despised by the left for all the right reasons he'd would be a boffo selection at the GOP convention. His only real drawback, other than the personal issues with McCain, is that he's never been a governor, which, in my mind, is crucial preparation for the office of President. Other than that he'd be an excellent selection.

Perhaps the two could reconcile their differences, shake hands, and form a dynamite ticket.


Dispelling Darkness

Wafa Sultan, an Arab-American psychologist speaks truth to power in this video of a "debate" with an Egyptian Islamist:

Go here for more videos featuring Wafa Sultan. This one in particular is worth watching. One gets the feeling that her opponents in these debates are like high schoolers competing against a pro:


Remembering Sarah

David Horowitz has written a beautiful and very moving eulogy for his daughter who passed away last week at the age of 44.

Horowitz was a leftist radical in the 1960s who eventually came to believe that the left had no answers to our national problems so he became a conservative. His daughter, on the other hand, was a very liberal Obama campaign volunteer. The tension that existed between them and the gracious way she handled it and all the difficulties which life imposed upon her makes the father's remembrance all the sweeter.


Lonesome Dove

C.S. Lewis writes that man was created to be infinitely happy, and I believe this to be true, but I sometimes wonder whether happiness is really possible this side of heaven. Indeed, the area of life which should bring us our greatest happiness, our relationships with others, is really an existential minefield.

I was reminded of this over the last couple of nights as I sat down to watch the old television mini-series Lonesome Dove. I don't know what the main theme of the story was supposed to be, but the lesson that was driven home to me in every segment of the series is that our relationships with other people are inherently tragic. Every relationship in the film, there are about a half dozen major relationships and several lesser ones, is marred either by an inability to connect with the other or by heart-breaking tragedy.

Alienation, heartbreak and grief. It's the human condition, and Lonesome Dove artfully and dramatically reminds us that man's fallenness ripples across the span of our lives, isolating us from each other, even those we love, fracturing our relationships and robbing us of the intimacy and union we crave. Our fallenness places each of us in a bubble that prevents us from getting close to others, and sooner or later it causes each of us to suffer the loss of those who are the source of our greatest contentment and joy.

There are some who write of Christian hedonism, a provocative term designed, I suppose, to get our attention, and which denotes the idea that Christians are, or should be, the happiest people around. Maybe they should, but I'm not convinced.

We are called by Christ to empathize with others, to share in their suffering and pain. How can we look at all the sorrow and hurt all around us, if not in our own lives then in those of our neighbors - how can we pick up the newspaper and read of the myriad tragedies and horrors experienced every day by everyday people - and say that, even so, I'm happy.

It seems to me that the only way we can be happy in the face of so much human suffering is to shut ourselves off from the pain and heartache which surrounds us, to close our eyes to it and simply be egoists. If we are Christians, however, that option isn't open to us. We're obligated to carry on our shoulders not only our own cross but the crosses of others, and crosses don't conduce to happiness. As far as I know, Jesus promised us crosses in this life, but He never promised us happiness, not in this world, at least.

So, what then, someone will ask, is the advantage of being a Christian if it means that we must forego happiness? This is an odd question in a way. We should be Christians, not because it confers some advantage, but because we believe Christianity is true.

Beyond that, though, Christianity does confer an important advantage. In the midst of the hurt and alienation, in the midst of our loneliness and grief, we have an assurance that life won't always be like this. There will be a day when suffering and pain will afflict us no more, and genuine happiness, that infinite happiness Lewis talked about, will be attainable. It's a hope that those without God don't have, and it's the only thing that makes any sense out of our suffering now. It's the only thing that redeems life from being nothing more than a cruel and absurd joke.