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.