Saturday, January 31, 2009

Serenity Under Fire

J.R. Dunn at The American Thinker writes an excellent reprise of the awful treatment George Bush's opponents sought to inflict upon him:

It can be stated without fear of serious argument that no previous president has been treated as brutally, viciously, and unfairly as George W. Bush.

Bush 43 endured a deliberate and planned assault on everything he stood for, everything he was involved in, everything he tried to accomplish. Those who worked with him suffered nearly as much (and some even more -- at least one, Scooter Libby, was convicted on utterly specious charges in what amounts to a show trial).

His detractors were willing to risk the country's safety, its economic health, and the very balance of the democratic system of government in order to get at him. They were out to bring him down at all costs, or at the very least destroy his personal and presidential reputation. At this they have been half successful, at a high price for the country and its government.

Although everyone insists on doing so, it is impossible to judge Bush, his achievements, or his failings, without taking these attacks into account. Before any serious analysis of the Bush presidency can be made, some attempt to encompass the campaign against him must be carried out. I hope no one is holding his breath.

Dunn goes on to discuss the reasons for this treatment, and comes to some interesting conclusions. He argues that a large part of it is ideological. The three most vilified presidents in recent history have been Republicans and, although Dunn doesn't say this, throughout the last two centuries, starting with the communists, indeed with Marx himself, people who gravitated to the far left have often been people who are personally vicious. It seems that a predilection for left-wing politics goes hand in hand, like linked genes, with a predilection for personal invective.

I've known people on the right to be uncivil, to be sure, but it seems to be almost a prerequisite for membership in the secular left. Check your local letters to the editor columns in the paper. The most unkind, churlish writers are almost always people whose politics are both secular and off on the left end of the political spectrum. Conservative writers may be angry, but the ones who are just mean are usually lefties.

For some reason that perhaps a psychologist could explain these folks often delight in the personal misfortunes of their political enemies and not infrequently hope that harm will befall those they oppose. Read Dunn's column. If you're new to the political battleground it'll be an eye-opener.


Redemption in the Movies

Christianity Today lists their ten most "redemptive" movies of 2008 plus a lot of honorable mentions. Winning top honors is Wall-E. How many of their ten have you seen?


Prevent Gonorrhea, Stimulate the Economy

Maybe this clip doesn't give Speaker Pelosi's full answer to the question of how $335 million in the unstimulus bill for STD prevention will actually stimulate the economy. At least I hope it doesn't because if it does then this country is in very deep trouble with such as Ms Pelosi at the helm:

I can't help but wonder what she said next. Perhaps it was that with fewer STD victims laid up there'd be more people out in the malls spending money to jumpstart the economy. Now, I take a backseat to no one when it comes to finding awful consequences of the sexual revolution, but it never occurred to me that one might be that it has resulted in a contraction of the marketplace.

There's just so much to learn from our political leaders. It's going to be a very edifying and exciting four years.


Friday, January 30, 2009

Why the Goose Might Get Cooked

If the people of this nation ever decide to kill the goose (capitalism) that has laid the golden eggs (American prosperity) it will be largely the result of two quite different influences. The first is the righteous anger provoked in people by the sheer greed and opulence flaunted by the modern captains of industry. Maureen Dowd gives voice to this execrable insensitivity in a recent New York Times column:

Despite losing $28.5 billion in the past 15 months and receiving $345 billion in government investments and guarantees the corporate Marie Antoinettes at Citigroup went through with plans to purchase a new $50 million corporate jet.

Real people are losing real jobs at Caterpillar, Home Depot and Sprint Nextel; these and other companies announced on Monday that they would cut more than 75,000 jobs in the U.S. and around the world, as consumer confidence and home prices swan-dived.

The former chief executive of Merrill Lynch, John Thain, handed out over $4 billion in bonuses as the failing firm was bought by Bank of America.

"If you don't pay your best people, you will destroy your franchise," Thain reasoned, "and they'll go elsewhere." So, these guys are rewarded by Thain with billions of dollars of investor's money for losing $15 billion in three months for their clients.

Meanwhile, Thain himself spent $1 million to renovate his office. Big-ticket items included curtains for $28,000, a pair of chairs for $87,000, fabric for a "Roman Shade" for $11,000, Regency chairs for $24,000, six wall sconces for $2,700, a $13,000 chandelier in the private dining room and six dining chairs for $37,000, a "custom coffee table" for $16,000, an antique commode "on legs" for $35,000, and a $1,400 "parchment waste can."

Socializing financial institutions and industries would be a terrible move, but the anger that causes people to no longer resist it is certainly understandable. The goose has brought it upon himself.

The other factor that will lead us to kill the goose is the fact that so many people in this country are the recipients of government largesse, and so few, relatively, provide it. When a large percentage of the population in a democracy really have nothing to lose by socializing the economy and much to gain they will eagerly favor more government largesse. What do they care if the people who have the wealth are squeezed if it means more benefits for themselves? Neither capitalism nor democracy will survive a large lower class comprised of poor, uneducated, unmotivated people living at the expense of those above them on the socio-economic ladder. The lower classes will always vote for those who'll provide more benefits and those who seek their votes will be only too willing to oblige them.

The GOP is looking for a Moses to lead them back to the political Promised Land. What they need is someone who has a plan for teaching the poor that they have a stake in capitalism and freedom and someone who can shame the corporate "Masters of the Universe," to use Tom Wolfe's phrase in Bonfire of the Vanities, into setting an example of frugality and modesty for the rest of the society which has bestowed such good fortune upon them.


Rush's Plan

Rush Limbaugh has a serious, and very interesting, plan to restart the American economy, and to underscore his seriousness he presents it in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. It's not only a genuine bipartisan compromise it's also a great empirical test of two conflicting philosophies on how best to deal with recessions. I suspect that it's going to attract a lot of attention from both the right and center left. A lot of honest people, not just among Republicans but also in the Democrat party, are dismayed by what they see as a welfare/pork barrel bill masquerading as an economic stimulus measure.

Here's the heart of Limbaugh's proposal:

Fifty-three percent of American voters voted for Barack Obama; 46% voted for John McCain, and 1% voted for wackos. Give that 1% to President Obama. Let's say the vote was 54% to 46%. As a way to bring the country together and at the same time determine the most effective way to deal with recessions, under the Obama-Limbaugh Stimulus Plan of 2009: 54% of the $900 billion -- $486 billion -- will be spent on infrastructure and pork as defined by Mr. Obama and the Democrats; 46% -- $414 billion -- will be directed toward tax cuts, as determined by me.

Then we compare. We see which stimulus actually works. This is bipartisanship! It would satisfy the American people's wishes, as polls currently note; and it would also serve as a measurable test as to which approach best stimulates job growth.

I say, cut the U.S. corporate tax rate -- at 35%, among the highest of all industrialized nations -- in half. Suspend the capital gains tax for a year to incentivize new investment, after which it would be reimposed at 10%. Then get out of the way! Once Wall Street starts ticking up 500 points a day, the rest of the private sector will follow. There's no reason to tell the American people their future is bleak. There's no reason, as the administration is doing, to depress their hopes. There's no reason to insist that recovery can't happen quickly, because it can.

In this new era of responsibility, let's use both Keynesians and supply-siders to responsibly determine which theory best stimulates our economy -- and if elements of both work, so much the better. The American people are made up of Republicans, Democrats, independents and moderates, but our economy doesn't know the difference. This is about jobs now.

I'd prefer we cut the pork and transfer payments out of the bill altogether, but that's not going to happen with the Democrats in control of everything. So, why not give Rush's plan a go and settle the question for the next three generations of whether it's better to inflate the currency and throw money around like we're frantically bailing water out of a sinking boat or to cut tax rates and let businesses and private citizens kickstart the economy by creating more wealth.


Winter Irruption

This winter has seen a major irruption of several boreal species of birds into the northeastern United States. One such species that's being seen at backyard bird feeders everywhere this winter is the pine siskin:

The yellow on the wing is distinctive and helps to distinguish the siskin from a lot of other brown birds with streaked breasts. The siskin feeds primarily on nyjer seed.

Another more unusual bird that has been seen almost everywhere there are stands of spruce trees with healthy cone crops is the White-winged crossbill. The mandibles of this unusual bird are crossed rather than parallel. This allows it to peel away the hard bracts of conifer cones to extract the seeds that lie at their base. A crossbill will eat up to 3000 seeds a day, which requires an awful lot of work.

I was lucky enough to see about a half-dozen of these lovely creatures yesterday morning in some spruces along the Susquehanna river in York County, Pennsylvania.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Wars Without End

Our question for today, class, is a little complex so listen carefully: With which of the following conflicts are you most acquainted: The war in the Congo? The war in Sudan? The conflict in Somalia? The war in Sri Lanka? You're not really familiar with any of these, you say?

How about the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians? Ah, yes. Now that we've heard a lot about over the years, haven't we? My church denominational office regularly passes resolutions condemning Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians. The media feature it daily and prominently. It's the defining struggle of our times. The most egregious slaughters, one might think, have been spawned by this conflict.

But actually, no. According to an article at Strategy Page the truth is otherwise and the numbers are shocking. Consider these gruesome statistics:

Throughout the last decade over five million people have died in the Congo from the effects of war in the eastern part of that country.

Sudan has produced over 300,000 dead, millions of refugees, and a thriving slave trade.

Somalia has suffered 16,000 dead in the last two years and more than twice that in the last twenty years. The media, however, seem fascinated only with the pirates in the north who kill hardly anyone, except some of the thousands of the refugees they try to smuggle into Yemen when they aren't trying to kidnap passing merchant ships and fishing boats.

Perhaps the distinction of hosting the most ignored war in the world goes to the island nation of Sri Lanka where civil strife has killed over 80,000 in the last 25 years (and about 10,000 in the last year alone). India suffers over 2,000 dead a year from terrorists (mostly tribal and communist). Neighboring Pakistan has suffered 14,000 dead from Islamic terrorism in the past six years, and Afghanistan has lost that number in the last three years.

Let those numbers sink in for a moment. Now reflect upon this: In the last decade there have been about 7000 deaths in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. This is about one one thousandth the toll in the Congo alone. Yet it is this conflict which captures almost the entirety of media attention. In fact, President Obama has named a peace envoy, George Mitchell, to the Middle East, but no such envoy is packing his bags for Africa.

Given the horrific casualty toll in the rest of the world, and the relatively minor toll in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, why is it that the West - its churches, its media, its universities, and its governments are all so fixated on what's happening in Israel? Why does the West so assiduously ferret out every Israeli injustice, real and imagined, that can be trumpeted from the front pages of our newspapers and evening newscasts? Where are the demonstrations in our city streets and university campuses demanding a cessation to the wars and tyrannies besetting the longsuffering African and Sri Lankan people? Why does the West get so exercised about Israel, but can scarcely be bothered with horrific news from the Congo or Zimbabwe? Why do Palestinian Arabs matter more to people in the West than do black Sudanese and Congolese? Why do we hold Israelis to a far higher standard of behavior than we expect of black Africans, Arabs, and Muslims?

Just asking.


John Galt

A friend passes along what I take to be a fictional memo from an employer to his employees which reads as if it were written by John Galt. Galt, you may recall, was a mysterious character in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged who, worn out by a government that made it impossible for men to achieve their dreams, led a revolt of the nation's producers who collectively chose to just stop working rather than be exploited any longer by a parasitic government:

To my Valued Employees:

There have been some rumblings around the office about the future of this company, and more specifically, your job. As you know, the economy has changed for the worse and presents many challenges. However, the good news is this: The economy doesn't pose a threat to your job. What does threaten your job however, is the changing political landscape in this country.

However, let me tell you some little tidbits of fact which might help you decide what is in your best interests.

First, while it is easy to spew rhetoric that pits employers against employees, you have to understand that for every business owner there is a back story. This back story is often neglected and overshadowed by what you see and hear. Sure, you see me park my Mercedes outside. You've seen my big home at last year's Christmas party. I'm sure all these flashy symbols of luxury conjure up some idealized thoughts about my life.

However, what you don't see is the back story.

I started this company 28 years ago. At that time, I lived in a 300 square foot studio apartment for 3 years. My entire living apartment was converted into an office so I could put forth 100% effort into building a company, which by the way, would eventually employ you.

My diet consisted of Ramen Pride noodles because every dollar I spent went back into this company. I drove a rusty Toyota Corolla with a defective transmission. I didn't have time to date. I usually stayed home on weekends while my friends went out drinking and partying. In fact, I was married to my business -- hard work, discipline, and sacrifice.

Meanwhile, my friends got jobs. They worked 40 hours a week and made a modest $50K a year and spent every dime they earned. They drove flashy cars, lived in expensive homes, and wore fancy designer clothes. Instead of hitting the Nordstrom's for the latest hot fashion item, I was trolling through the discount store extracting any clothing item that didn't look like it was birthed in the 70's. My friends refinanced their mortgages and lived a life of luxury. I, however, did not. I put my time, my money, and my life into a business with a vision that eventually, some day, I, too, will be able to afford these luxuries my friends seemed to have.

So, while you physically arrive at the office at 9am, mentally check in at about noon, and then leave at 5pm, I don't. There is no "off" button for me. When you leave the office you are done, and you have a weekend all to yourself. I, unfortunately, do not have that freedom. I eat and breathe this company every minute of the day. There is no rest. There is no weekend. There is no happy hour. Every day this business is attached to my hip like a 1 year-old special-needs child. You, of course, only see the fruits of that labor - the nice house, the Mercedes, the vacations... you never realize the back story and the sacrifices I've made.

Now the economy is falling apart and I, the guy that made all the right decisions and saved his money, have to bail-out all the people who didn't. The people that overspent their paychecks suddenly feel entitled to the same luxuries that I earned and sacrificed a decade of my life for.

Yes, business ownership has its benefits, but the price I've paid is steep and not without wounds.

Unfortunately, the cost of running this business and employing you is starting to eclipse the threshold of marginal benefit, and let me tell you why:

I am being taxed to death and the government thinks I don't pay enough. I have state taxes, federal taxes, property taxes, sales and use taxes, payroll taxes, workers compensation taxes, unemployment taxes, taxes on taxes. I have to hire a tax man to manage all these taxes and then I have to pay more taxes for employing him. Government mandates and regulations, and all the accounting that goes with them, now occupy most of my time. On Oct 15th, I wrote a check to the U.S. Treasury for $288,000 for quarterly taxes. You know what my "stimulus" check was? Zero. Nada. Zilch.

The question I have is this: Who is stimulating the economy? Me, the guy who has provided 14 people good paying jobs and serves over 2,200,000 people per year with a flourishing business? Or, the single mother sitting at home pregnant with her fourth child waiting for her next welfare check? Obviously, government feels the latter is the economic stimulus of this country.

The fact is, if I deducted (Read: Stole) 50% of your paycheck you'd quit and you wouldn't work here. I mean, why should you? That's nuts. Who wants to get rewarded for only 50% of their hard work? Well, I agree, which is why your job is in jeopardy.

Here's what many of you don't understand ... to stimulate the economy you need to stimulate what runs the economy. Had suddenly government mandated that I didn't need to pay taxes, instead of depositing that $288,000 into the Washington black-hole, I would have spent it, hired more employees, and generated substantial economic growth. My employees would have enjoyed the wealth of that tax cut in the form of promotions and better salaries. But you can forget it now.

When you have a comatose man on the verge of death, you don't defibrillate his thumb thinking that will bring him back to life, do you? You defibrillate his heart. Business is at the heart of America and always has been. To restart it, you must stimulate it, not kill it. Suddenly, the power brokers in Washington believe the poor of America are the essential drivers of the American economic engine. Nothing could be further from the truth.

So where am I going with all this? It's quite simple.

If any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, my reaction will be swift and simple. I will fire you. I will fire your co-workers. You can then plead with the government to pay for your mortgage, your SUV, and your child's future. Frankly, it won't be my problem anymore.

Then, I will close this company down, move to another country, and retire. You see, I'm done. I'm done with a country that penalizes the productive and gives to the unproductive. My motivation to work and to provide jobs will be destroyed, and with it, will be my citizenship.

So, if you lose your job, it won't be at the hands of the economy; it will be at the hands of a political hurricane that swept through this country, steam-rolled the constitution, and changed its landscape forever. If that happens, you can find me sitting on a beach, retired, and with no employees to worry about....

Your boss

A nation that punishes its producers and transfers their wealth to subsidize those who, for whatever reason, do not produce is a nation which will eventually and inevitably look a lot like Bulgaria in the 1950s. Somebody ought to forward this "memo" to President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.


Four Fears

Fred Barnes writes in The Weekly Standard that there are four fears people have about President Obama which, though they might not be justified, are not unreasonable:

Barack Obama is the apostle of hope. But he also arouses the flipside of hope--fear. And while the fear he stirs may turn out to be unfounded, it's not irrational. People don't know who Obama really is or where his ideological center of gravity rests, to the extent it rests anywhere. He was a liberal in the Senate and the campaign, a centrist in the transition, and who knows what he'll be as president. He's elusive.

I count four separate fears. Whether he's a crypto-Marxist is not one of them. Neither is the absurd fear that he's secretly a Muslim, even a closet jihadist. Nor is the groundless claim Obama was actually born outside the United States and isn't really an American citizen. Forget all those. They're nonstarters.

Barnes goes on to discuss the fear that Obama doesn't know what he's talking about, is too much of a pushover, will be too much like Jimmy Carter on foreign policy, and lacks the resolve necessary to make unpopular decisions. Read the article to understand Barnes' reasoning for each of these. It's pretty good.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What's Hate Got to Do With It?

Mary Eberstadt, the author of that wonderful collection of epistles from a newly-minted atheist to her much admired superiors titled The Loser Letters, addresses herself to the question how someone like her, someone who's quite averse to our modern infatuation with gayness, might respond to charges that she must be a homophobic hater.

She suggests deflecting such allegations by emulating, of all people, vegetarians. Eberstadt offers this hypothetical response to someone who has accused her of being a hater simply because she finds homosexual conduct to be not just distasteful but morally wrong:

A borrowing of the vegetarian's vocabulary might go something like this. "No, of course I don't hate sex/fun/gay people/love - any more than a vegetarian, say, hates people who eat beef/chicken/pork. In fact, let's explore that analogy a little more, because then maybe you'll understand where I'm coming from. And just as vegetarians don't hate meat-eaters, I don't hate people who do things I don't, or things that I think are wrong. But that doesn't mean that the matter ends there or that I'm saying that these things are a matter of taste only. Like the vegetarian, I think there are serious reasons for my aversion to what other people do. These reasons are moral. They also have to do with health. In general, I think it would be a better world if people didn't do these things, again as the vegetarian thinks. But please understand that hatred has nothing to do with it. Reason and information and a desire not to do harm - these things do."

This response, as correct and honest as it is clever, is offered in a larger essay in the current First Things which itself is very much worth reading. Unfortunately, this issue is available only by subscription until April.


The Unstimulus

The Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank, analyzes the Obama stimulus plan which Congress is voting on today and finds much not to like. In the first place, they tell us, the plan would be incredibly costly to taxpayers.

For instance, after Congress appropriates the 2009 omnibus bill, they will have spent over $1.4 trillion in less than one month. It'll be the largest spending orgy in the history of the country. If the cost of it were spread equally over every family in the U.S. each family would owe $10,520. What's worse, though, is that although the bill is touted as an "economic stimulus" bill, much of it has nothing to do with stimulating the economy and a lot to do with lining the pockets of those who supported the Democrats in the last election.

In addition to the earlier automobile bailout, which was essentially a gift to the UAW, over $142 billion dollars is slated for education, nearly double the total outlays for the Department of Education in 2007, making good on promises made by Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and candidate Obama to the NEA. Anyone who thinks that this windfall will actually result in kids learning more math and literature in school is deluding himself. Another $4.19 billion is provided for "neighborhood stabilization activities" which is code for organizations like ACORN which has been charged with widespread voter registration fraud in the last election, but which was instrumental in getting Democrats elected. The Democrats also tried to get several million dollars for birth control into the measure, which would have been a boon to Planned Parenthood, but Nancy Pelosi, apparently non-plussed by questions about exactly what it was she was trying to stimulate, decided to drop it.

In addition to these Blagojevich-like quid pro quos to Democratic constituencies there are a number of other provisions which may cause you to arch an eyebrow:

States that have squandered their own taxpayers' money and now find themselves unable to meet their medicaid obligations to their own citizens will receive from the rest of us an $87 billion dollar check to meet the shortfall. Taxpayers in Pennsylvania will be happy to know that they're paying the medicaid costs for people living in New York. The "stimulus" also gives the Department of Energy $35 billion dollars to work on such dubious projects as "green" alternative energy sources like windmills. The DOE's current annual budget is just under $24 billion. Billions more will be handed out as refundable tax credits to everyone who falls under a specified income level. This will include millions of people who never paid income taxes in the first place, which means it's not a tax refund at all, but a welfare payment, and its purpose is to buy the loyalty of a large number of voters to the Democratic party.

In addition, there are these items crucial, we are to believe, to the health of the national economy: Digital TV coupons ($650 million), government cars ($600 million), the National Endowment for the Arts ($50 million), repairs to National Mall ($200 million). This includes $21 million for sod so that on your next visit to the mall you can loll about in the grass and feel all tingly about how wisely your tax dollars are being spent by your beneficent congressional overlords.

But isn't all this spending going to create jobs, I hear you ask. Not according to House Tax Committee staff. Despite the promise by President Obama and Speaker Pelosi that three to four million new jobs will be created, the Committee has not been able to find even a single job that will be guaranteed to be created. Indeed, most of the money won't even be spent this year, so it's hard to see how this bill is a job generator.

If President Obama and the Democrats were really serious about creating jobs and getting the economy going - instead of just paying off the people who got them elected - they would simply lower as many taxes, both business and personal, as they could. This would immediately stimulate the economy by getting businesses investing and hiring and consumers spending. Unfortunately, the economic stimulus package is all about politics and power and not so much about jobs and prosperity.

Whatever happened to all that hope and change we were promised a couple of months ago?

President Obama has also promised us a transparent administration and Speaker of the House Pelosi has promised us the most ethical Congress ever. If they're serious about their rhetoric they could start to make good on their promises by declining to call this measure "economic stimulus" and calling it instead what it is: Political Payback. It's hard to see the difference between what the Democrats from Barack Obama on down are doing with this "stimulus" bill and what Rod Blagojevich got himself impeached for in Illinois.

UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal has an excellent editorial on the spending bill in which they calculate that only 12 cents of every dollar can be reasonably expected to go to stimulus and job creation. Much of it is just welfare payments to the poor.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Burying the Tree of Life

Comes word that another one of the pillars of Darwin's theory is being quietly buried by investigators convinced that the evidence is against it. I say "another one" because it was only recently that a conference was held to essentially eulogize the demise of natural selection as a major player in evolutionary change. Now it turns out the whole idea of a progression of development from simple forms to more complex, a progression Darwin illustrated by a "tree of life," is being called into question.

It's beginning to appear that the relationships between living things have the appearance more of a web than of a tree. If this is so, what are the implications for evolutionary theory? Perhaps one is that the concept of distinct species is becoming even more difficult to define than it was previously. Here's an excerpt from the link:

Some researchers are also convinced that hybridisation has been a major driving force in animal evolution and that the process is ongoing. "It is really common," says James Mallet, an evolutionary biologist at University College London. "Ten per cent of all animals regularly hybridise with other species." This is especially true in rapidly evolving lineages with lots of recently diverged species - including our own. There is evidence that early modern humans hybridised with our extinct relatives, such as Homo erectus and the Neanderthals.

If early man could interbreed with H. erectus and Neanderthals then what is the basis for treating these as separate species from H. sapiens? A species just is a population of organisms which can interbreed and produce fertile offspring. H. erectus and Neanderthals may have looked different than H. sapiens, but that doesn't make them different species. The dozens of breeds of dogs all look very different from each other, but they're all the same species.

[I]t is clear that the Darwinian tree is no longer an adequate description of how evolution in general works. "If you don't have a tree of life, what does it mean for evolutionary biology?" asks Bapteste. "At first it's very scary... but in the past couple of years people have begun to free their minds." Both he and Doolittle are at pains to stress that downgrading the tree of life doesn't mean that the theory of evolution is wrong - just that evolution is not as tidy as we would like to believe. Some evolutionary relationships are tree-like; many others are not. "We should relax a bit on this," says Doolittle. "We understand evolution pretty well - it's just that it is more complex than Darwin imagined. The tree isn't the only pattern."

In fact, it's not even the main pattern which means that the grand story of Darwinism - molecules to man progression - a story that had been supported by molecular studies that once showed similarities and thus relationships between the proteins of certain organisms, is now obsolete. More recent studies reveal a more chaotic interplay of genetic relationships. Thus:

Others, however, don't think it is time to relax. Instead, they see the uprooting of the tree of life as the start of something bigger. "It's part of a revolutionary change in biology," says Dupr�. "Our standard model of evolution is under enormous pressure. We're clearly going to see evolution as much more about mergers and collaboration than change within isolated lineages."

Rose goes even further. "The tree of life is being politely buried, we all know that," he says. "What's less accepted is that our whole fundamental view of biology needs to change." Biology is vastly more complex than we thought, he says, and facing up to this complexity will be as scary as the conceptual upheavals physicists had to take on board in the early 20th century.

If he is right, the tree concept could become biology's equivalent of Newtonian mechanics: revolutionary and hugely successful in its time, but ultimately too simplistic to deal with the messy real world. "The tree of life was useful," says Bapteste. "It helped us to understand that evolution was real. But now we know more about evolution, it's time to move on."

This is certainly ironic. Most of the arguments people like Darwin and others made to persuade us that macroevolution (molecules to man evolution)occured are being discarded, replaced by other arguments which may eventually suffer the same fate. Yet the truth of macroevolution is not to be questioned:

Syvanen recently compared 2000 genes that are common to humans, frogs, sea squirts, sea urchins, fruit flies and nematodes. In theory, he should have been able to use the gene sequences to construct an evolutionary tree showing the relationships between the six animals.

He failed. The problem was that different genes told contradictory evolutionary stories. This was especially true of sea-squirt genes.

Conventionally, sea squirts - also known as tunicates - are lumped together with frogs, humans and other vertebrates in the phylum Chordata, but the genes were sending mixed signals. Some genes did indeed cluster within the chordates, but others indicated that tunicates should be placed with sea urchins, which aren't chordates. "Roughly 50 per cent of its genes have one evolutionary history and 50 per cent another," Syvanen says.

In other words, all those studies which showed close relationships between different taxa based on genetic similarities and differences are rendered useless by these findings. The famous comparison of humans to chimps based on so much shared genetic material really means little in terms of actual evolutionary relationships.

If the idea of a tree of life is obsolete then the idea of descent through modification will have to be reassessed as will the idea that some organisms are more "primitive," both in time and in structure, than others. This is why the scientists quoted above talk in terms of a "revolution" in biology. Much that was thought to be true is being turned inside out, and it will almost be as if biologists will have to start all over again to piece together their story of how life got to where it is today.


Cosmic Sucking Sound

Some NASA scientists studying galactic clusters have come across a very weird phenomenon. The galaxies they're studying appear to be rushing toward a spot in space much like air rushing toward, and out of, a pinhole in a balloon:

Sasha Kashlinsky, a senior staff scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, has been studying how rebellious clusters of galaxies move against the backdrop of expanding space. He and colleagues have clocked galaxy clusters racing at up to 1000 kilometres per second - far faster than our best understanding of cosmology allows. Stranger still, every cluster seems to be rushing toward a small patch of sky between the constellations of Centaurus and Vela.

The implication of this is that these galaxies are pouring out of our universe through some sort of a rent in the cosmic horizon. They appear to be drawn by something beyond our space-time world. Is all the matter in our universe draining out? What, exactly, are these galaxies draining into? What sort of entity lies beyond the boundary of space and time?

No one knows. What we do know, what we seem to be learning anew with every fresh observation, is that the universe is a very strange place.


Monday, January 26, 2009

The Stock Boy and the Checkout Girl

A friend sent me this story which is evidently making the internet rounds. You may have read it before, but I hadn't, and it's especially pertinent this week:

In a supermarket, Kurtis the stock boy, was busily at work when a new voice came over the loud-speaker asking for a carry-out at register 4. Kurtis was almost finished, and wanted to get some fresh air, and decided to answer the call. As he approached the check-out stand a distant smile caught his eye, the new check-out girl was beautiful. She was an older woman (maybe 26, and he was only 22) and he fell in love.

Later that day, after his shift was over, he waited by the punch clock to find out her name. She came into the break room, smiled softly at him, took her card and punched out, then left. He looked at her card, BRENDA. He walked out only to see her start walking up the road. Next day, he waited outside as she left the supermarket, and offered her a ride home. He looked harmless enough, and she accepted. When he dropped her off, he asked if maybe he could see her again, outside of work. She simply said it wasn't possible.

He pressed, and she explained she had two children and couldn't afford a baby-sitter, so he offered to pay for the sitter. Reluctantly, she accepted his offer for a date for the following Saturday. On the appointed night he arrived at her door only to have her tell him that she was unable to go with him. The baby-sitter had called and canceled. To which Kurtis simply said, "Well, let's take the kids with us."

She tried to explain that taking the children was not an option, but again not taking no for an answer, he pressed. Finally Brenda brought him inside to meet her children. She had an older daughter who was just as cute as could be, Kurtis thought. Then Brenda brought out her son in a wheelchair. He was born a paraplegic with Down Syndrome.

Kurtis said to Brenda, "I still don't understand why the kids can't come with us." Brenda was amazed. Most men would run away from a woman with two kids, especially if one had disabilities - just like her first husband and father of her children had done. Kurtis was not ordinary - he had a different mindset.

That evening Kurtis and Brenda loaded up the kids and went to dinner and the movies. When her son needed anything Kurtis would take care of him. When he needed to use the restroom, he picked him up out of his wheelchair, took him to the men's room and brought him back. The kids loved Kurtis. At the end of the evening Brenda knew this was the man she was going to marry and spend the rest of her life with.

A year later, they were married and Kurtis adopted both of her children. Since then they've added two more kids.

So what happened to Kurtis the stock boy and Brenda the check-out girl? Well, Mr. & Mrs. Kurt Warner now live in Arizona , where he is currently employed as the quarterback of the National Football League Arizona Cardinals and has his Cardinals in the Super Bowl. It should be noted that he also quarterbacked the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. He has also been the NLF's Most Valuable Player twice and the Super Bowl's Most Valuable Player.

Warner's story almost makes me not mind that his Cardinals beat my Eagles last week.


Sloppy Mistake

It is almost universally agree that our financial crisis was caused in large part by, in Jonah Goldberg's words, "arrogant and greedy men who thought the rules didn't apply to them." It's also universally understood, if not appreciated, that in order to get out of the mess these men have put us in the Obama administration is going to make all of us pay more of our income in taxes. Meanwhile, the President is promising us high standards of public accountability, integrity and competence from him and his administration.

Very well, but who will be in charge of collecting those taxes? Who will be responsible for unfurling your fingers from around the last few dollars you've been saving for your child's education and ripping them from your grasp? None other than a man who is precisely the antithesis of everything Obama has promised us and who himself ducked paying almost $50,000 in taxes he owed up until the very moment he was to be nominated as Secretary of the Treasury.

President Obama pooh-poohed concerns that he was appointing a tax cheat to be the nation's chief tax collector, saying that Timothy Geithner's mistake was a common error. But it clearly wasn't a common error as Goldberg's column makes plain:

Timothy Geithner, President Obama's choice to be the next treasury secretary, quite clearly tried to defraud the government of tens of thousands in payroll taxes while working at the International Monetary Fund. The IMF does not withhold such taxes but does compensate American employees who must pay them out of pocket. Geithner took the compensation -- which involves considerable paperwork -- but then simply pocketed the money.

His explanations for his alleged oversight don't pass the smell test. When the IRS busted him for his mistakes in 2003 and 2004, he decided to take advantage of the statute of limitations and not pay the thousands of dollars he also failed to pay in 2001 and 2002. That is, until he was nominated to become treasury secretary.

Obama defends Geithner, saying that his was a "common mistake," that it is embarrassing but happens all the time. My National Review colleague Byron York reports that, at least according to the World Bank, Geithner's "mistakes" are actually quite rare. Indeed, it's almost impossible to believe that the man didn't know exactly what he was doing given that he would have had to sign documents, disregard warnings and all in all turn his brain off to make the same "mistake" year after year. And keep in mind, Geithner is supposed to run the IRS. So maybe sloppiness isn't that great a defense anyway.

Whether Geithner is dishonest, dumb, or just "sloppy" (sounds like the excuse Democrats made for Sandy Berger when he was caught with classified documents stuffed in his socks as he tried to smuggle them out of the National Archives) he should not be in charge of pulling us through the financial crisis. It is not to President Obama's credit that he's sticking by his appointment, nor does it do much to sustain our hope that Obama's not just another typical Chicago politican appointing foxes to guard the henhouse.


Profile in Pusillanimity

It is hard to find the words to describe the travesty of Western civilization that is the Netherlands. A former member of parliament is being put on trial because, almost alone among his countrymen, he has had the courage to sound the tocsin on the slow creep of Islam and Sharia Law across Dutch culture and society.

Geert Wilders made a short film last year titled Fitna (which can be viewed here)in which he documents the nature of the religion which seeks to engulf the world, and for the crime of telling the truth about Islam in this film he's being prosecuted in Amsterdam on charges of incitement to hatred and discrimination against Muslims. This is as absurd as it is craven. Bruce Bawer writes about the Dutch self-abasement in a fine article in City Journal:

But Wilders - who for years now has lived under 24 hour armed guard - would not be gagged. Thus the disgraceful decision to put him on trial. In Dutch Muslim schools and mosques, incendiary rhetoric about the Netherlands, America, Jews, gays, democracy, and sexual equality is routine; a generation of Dutch Muslims are being brought up with toxic attitudes toward the society in which they live. And no one is ever prosecuted for any of this. Instead, a court in the Netherlands - a nation once famous for being an oasis of free speech - has now decided to prosecute a member of the national legislature for speaking his mind. By doing so, it proves exactly what Wilders has argued all along: that fear and "sensitivity" to a religion of submission are destroying Dutch freedom.

Bawer recounts the history of other Dutch heroes and victims of Islamic terror in the Netherlands - Pym Fortuyn, Theo van Gogh, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali - and how each was silenced. His column will be an eye-opener to those who take for granted their freedom of speech. It's a must read. While you're at it watch Fitna.


Saturday, January 24, 2009


I have from time to time found myself in conversations with friends who argue that free trade with nations who have no laws protecting laborers, particularly children, actually encourages the exploitation of poor people abroad who find themselves working in sweatshops for pennies a day under awful conditions. My reply has been that the alternative is that without this meager employment these people will simply starve, which is, they would probably judge, a somewhat more awful condition.

When people are living at the subsistence level a few pennies a day is a Godsend, and even though their working conditions are ghastly the poor are certainly better off slaving in these manufaturing shops than not working at all.

Now comes a piece by Nicholas Kristoff in the New York Times which makes essentially the same point:

Before Barack Obama and his team act on their talk about "labor standards," I'd like to offer them a tour of the vast garbage dump here in Phnom Penh. This is a Dante-like vision of hell. It's a mountain of festering refuse, a half-hour hike across, emitting clouds of smoke from subterranean fires.

The miasma of toxic stink leaves you gasping, breezes batter you with filth, and even the rats look forlorn. Then the smoke parts and you come across a child ambling barefoot, searching for old plastic cups that recyclers will buy for five cents a pound. Many families actually live in shacks on this smoking garbage.

Mr. Obama and the Democrats who favor labor standards in trade agreements mean well, for they intend to fight back at oppressive sweatshops abroad. But while it shocks Americans to hear it, the central challenge in the poorest countries is not that sweatshops exploit too many people, but that they don't exploit enough.

Talk to these families in the dump, and a job in a sweatshop is a cherished dream, an escalator out of poverty, the kind of gauzy if probably unrealistic ambition that parents everywhere often have for their children.

President Obama wants to demand that countries with whom we do business enact child labor laws and other regulations that would in effect eliminate sweatshops, but like so many well-meaning measures it has tragic unintended consequences. Such laws would make many foreign businesses unprofitable and uncompetitive and force them to lay off workers. Where would these workers go? In many places around the world they'd go to the dumps and try their luck at scavenging. This is why Kristoff thinks that so far from trying to eliminate sweatshops we should be encouraging them.

If the Obama administration has its way they will actually increase, not alleviate, poverty and suffering in the poorest nations of the world. The irony is that people here want so much to do something to help the poor that they often don't give much thought to the actual impact their good intentions have on the people they want to help. One might have thought that our experuience over the last forty five years with the "War on Poverty" would have taught us better. Solutions that make us feel good are often the most counterproductive and fraught with unintended consequences.

If you're skeptical you really should read the whole essay and make it a point to watch the accompanying video.


How to Close Down Gitmo

Steven Hayward at No Left Turns has an idea that would in one stroke solve several problems that vex the left. First, our political port-siders want us to close down Gitmo. Second, they want us to either bring the detainees to trial or let them go. Third, they want us to end the embargo on Cuba. Hayward writes:

It appears already that the Obama Administration is going to have its hands full figuring out how to close down Guantanamo. Since no Congressperson wants a detainee sent to their district, and many countries of origin of these fine world citizens won't take them back, why don't we just cut a hole in the fence and set them loose in Fidel's island paradise? It would be a nice first step in lifting our obsolete embargo.

It would also make Fidel happy to have such rabid America-haters among his citizenry. This really is a grand idea, although it's not true, unfortunately, that no congressperson is willing to have detainees sent to their district. John "bribe me later" Murtha recently allowed as how he'd be happy to have them brought to his district in Pennsylvania. Of course, since he believes his constituents are largely just a bunch of racists, maybe bloodthirsty killers would fit right in.

The state slogan "You've got a friend in Pennsylvania" apparently applies even to terrorists, at least as long as John Murtha's in Congress.


It's Gillibrand

New York Governor David Paterson, a liberal Democrat, mind you, has picked Representative Kirsten Gillibrand to fill the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton. Gillibrand is a Democrat also, of course, but she's much more conservative than Clinton and indeed more conservative than most New York Democrats. She supports gun rights (she's endorsed by the NRA), opposes gay marriage, and opposes the TARP bailout. Consequently, many Democrats are quite angry with Paterson's selection.

Oddly, Gillibrand was heavily promoted by the very liberal New York senior senator Charles Schumer, who apparently thought that a conservative Democrat has the best chance of winning reelection in 2010 in New York.

We take our glimmers of hope where we can find them.


Friday, January 23, 2009


Strategy Page offers this post-operational assessment of the Israeli incursion into Gaza:

Hamas thought they were invulnerable to Israeli attack. By placing so many of their military and government facilities in densely populated residential neighborhoods, they believed any Israeli bombing or shelling would cause high, and politically unacceptable, civilian losses. But the Israelis used surprise, more precision than expected, and innovations like calling civilians in the target area and telling them to get out before the bombs hit nearby. As a result, most of the 1,300 Palestinian dead were Hamas personnel, and nearly all the damaged structures were those used by Hamas.

The Palestinians cranked up the spin machine anyway, and accused the Israelis of war crimes and genocide. But Israel responded with a media campaign featuring aerial videos of Hamas fighters setting up mortars and rockets next to schools and residential neighborhoods. This didn't stop the usual alliance of leftists, anti-Semites and Islamic radicals from calling Israel names, but the mud didn't stick nearly as much as in the past.

What dismayed Hamas the most was Israel finding the location of their officials. Even before the ceasefire took effect on the 18th, Hamas death squads were rounding up the usual suspects (members of rival Fatah, and anyone else unlucky enough to be a suspect) for torture and execution. The UN did not pay much attention to this, as it has been going on for over two years in Gaza. In that time, over 400 Fatah members have been killed by Hamas death squads, and many more Fatah (and any other Hamas rivals) tortured, wounded or jailed. Hamas apparently didn't realize that there were other ways to get target locations, besides informants on the ground. All they understood was informants...But the bombings continued.

Israel believes it has destroyed 60 percent of the 200 or so smuggling tunnels that bring weapons (particularly long range rockets for attacks on Israeli civilians) into Gaza. Israel wants Israeli or American sensors and technicians prowling the Egyptian border to detect all the tunnels, and for Egyptian border guards to destroy them. Hamas opposes this (as do many Egyptian officials, especially the ones who benefit from the bribes of the tunnel operators).

Ultimately, Hamas found that hiding their senior leadership in hospitals or orphanages offered the best protection from Israeli attack. Weapons and key items of military equipment could also be stored there. Hamas apparently exercised some restraint in the degree to which they took over these institutions for military purposes. Someone in Hamas began doing the math, and realized that, at a certain point, a hospital full of weapons and Hamas personnel stopped being a hospital to Israeli commanders, and became a prime target.

Israel believes that Hamas had about 3,000 rockets in late December, and that during the 22 day campaign, about 700 of those rockets were fired in the general direction of Israel, while Israeli air (mostly) and ground forces destroyed another 1,300. That leaves Hamas with about 1,000 rockets, and dozens of functioning smuggling tunnels to Egypt through which components for replacement rockets can be moved.

Hamas claimed that Israeli bombs and troops did $1.9 billion worth of damage. It was probably closer to a few hundred million dollars. There were only about a thousand smart bombs used, and many of these were small ones (like the new U.S. 250 pound SDB, which Israel recently received). Hamas claimed that 5,000 homes were destroyed (and 20,000 damaged), along with 16 government buildings and 20 mosques. There are about 147,000 buildings in Gaza. Israel may take another media shot at Hamas by releasing photos of what was actually destroyed, and let Hamas try to dance away from their lies. But that may not be necessary, as Hamas is already the growing target for ridicule in the Arab world. If Israel was trying to get Hamas exposed as a bunch of tyrants, genocidal liars and blowhards, they seem to have succeeded ....

Pray for the longsuffering Palestinian people who will be subjected to the same terror a year or so from now as their "leaders" rearm and prepare for yet another series of rocket attacks on Israel.


Smoking and Cancer

Studies in Massachusetts have found that smoking is responsible for more cancers than just cancers of the lung. In fact, according to this article in Science News 70% of all cancer deaths are smoking-related:

"This study provides support for the growing understanding among researchers that smoking is a cause of many more cancer deaths besides lung cancer," said lead author Bruce Leistikow, a UC Davis associate adjunct professor of public health sciences. "The full impacts of tobacco smoke, including secondhand smoke, have been overlooked in the rush to examine such potential cancer factors as diet and environmental contaminants. As it turns out, much of the answer was probably smoking all along."

I don't question this report, but the results seem at odds with my own personal experience. As I reflect on all the people I have known over the years who have had cancer, and the number is in the double digits, I can't think of a single one who was a smoker. It would be interesting to hear what our readers think about this. How many of the people you know who have had cancer of any kind were smokers?


Consolation Prize

Jonah Goldberg observes that just as the demise of communism was a blessing that nevertheless dissolved the glue that had long united conservatives so too might Obama's election be an event that deprives the left of one of its most powerful unifying themes - racism in America:

He has voiced an admirable disdain for the notion that academic excellence is nothing more than "acting white." His famous Father's Day speech in 2008 showed that Obama was willing to lend his voice to the effort to fight black illegitimacy and absentee fatherhood.

This puts Obama behind the two most important ingredients for black success, at least according to most conservatives: a rededication to the importance of education at an individual level, and the restoration of the black nuclear family.

At a more political level, a black president surely undermines the argument that American racism is so endemic that a system of racial quotas must remain a permanent fixture of the political and legal landscape.

Obama is most frequently compared to Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. But he also has compared himself to Ronald Reagan, saying he'd like to be a similarly transformative leader, albeit from a different ideological perspective. Only time will tell how successful he will be on that front.

But the analogy may be apt in ways that he and his supporters may not fully appreciate. By hastening the end of the Cold War, Reagan took away the defining cause of the conservative movement. The right had other issues, to be sure. But anti-communism was the coalitional glue. And while principled conservatives were happy to trade a live campaign issue for a dead Soviet Union, the damage to conservative cohesion was real.

If Obama lives up to the dreams of his supporters in writing a new, post-racial chapter for America, he will have at once done more for America than any Democratic president in generations. But he also will have cut the knot holding much of the left together. As an American and as a conservative, I certainly hope that's the case. He's already made a good start of it just by getting elected.

Goldberg observes elsewhere in the same essay that Obama wasn't his first choice for president, but even so, proof that this nation has surmounted its legacy of racism isn't a bad consolation prize. Neither, I might add, is depriving the left of one of the several clubs it uses to beat Americans over the head.

Obama's election makes racism a much less plausible card to play in any of the many venues in which people are fond of playing it. It will, for example, make it much harder for the race hustlers like Al Sharpton to use white racism as an excuse for black failure.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Do Your Job

Gilbert Meilander at First Things discusses a book by noted academic Stanley Fish titled Save the World on Your Own Time. In the book Fish argues that the attempts by teachers and college professors to make students into "good people" is misguided and in any event impossible:

...the book's entire polemical edge (and the point of its central second chapter, titled "Do Your Job") depends on the assumption that many college and university teachers are all too eager to use their classrooms for "partisan purposes." Rather than taking up ideas and arguments as objects for analysis, they offer them as "candidates for allegiance." Rather than doing what academics are trained to do-"passing on knowledge and conferring skills"-they commit themselves (with the full support of broad claims in the mission statements of their institutions) to turning students into people who are sensitive, tolerant, creative, and good (though, of course, globally minded) citizens.

In short, they seem to be in the business of offering a "character transplant" to students who thought they had "signed on for something more modest, to wit, a course of instruction."

What we can do in the classroom is, roughly, what Fish says we can (and should) attempt: impart knowledge and develop skills needed to analyze ideas. We can give training in critical reflection about how different individuals and traditions have proposed that we should live. We can, on our good days or good semesters, produce students who think more clearly, critically, and reflectively about such questions. And, if we've really done well, we may even produce students who realize that critical thought is by no means the whole of the moral life. It is what can be done in the classroom, what a college professor might be trained to do if he attempts not to save the world but to do his job.

If you're a teacher, or hoping to be a teacher, or have a child who is a student, this would be a good essay to read in its entirety.


What Will They Think of Next

The movie The Matrix popularized philosopher George Berkeley's idea that the world is simply a projection of our minds. The universe is fundamentally mental, according to people like Berkeley, it's not material at all. All that we experience when we observe an object are our ideas and ideas are in minds, they're not objectively real, so there actually is no world of solid matter.

Surprisingly, perhaps, a lot of physicists agree with the notion that the world is in large part the creation of our minds. Now, however, evidence is starting to point to the possibility that the world is really a hologram projected by some two-dimensional surface somewhere far away. A hologram, of course, is an image that gives the illusion of being substantial but which is really formed by light waves interacting with each other as they pass through, or reflect off, an image on a film. One of the bizarre properties of holograms is that every piece of the image contains the entire image. It's like a mosaic that's made of pieces every one of which contains the image of the entire mosaic.

If the universe is a hologram then it must be a reflection off a surface outside the universe which means that we must exist not only here, but also there. Moreover, our existence here is just an image, an illusion. Our real existence is there.

That the world is not really as it appears to us is something I'm quite convinced of. For me to accept that it's a hologram, however, is going to require a little more evidence, or maybe another good movie like the first Matrix.


Why Arabs Lose

Strategy Page points out that there's a reason why Arabs almost always lose in combat against Western militaries:

[T]here have been about 4,000 casualties from the fighting that began on December 27th. As with past battles between Israel and Arabs, most of the losses (in this case 98 percent) are Arab. This is worse than previous wars because Hamas has deliberately tried to get Palestinians killed, mainly for the propaganda value. The Israelis have developed new tactics that minimize their casualties and those of Palestinian civilians. The mass media is in the midst of their usual anti-Israel/pro-Hamas hysteria. But, as in the past, when the dust settles, it will be revealed (if not universally admitted) that Hamas was trying to get Palestinian civilians killed, and Israelis weren't. Israeli tactics have denied Hamas the bloodbath they hoped to achieve. The Hamas gunmen die quickly, and the Israeli troops are very difficult to hit ....

Arabs are dismayed by this disparity in [combatant] casualties, which has occurred whenever Arab and Westerners have fought in the last century or so. The reason for it is the corruption and inefficiency of Arab society. The Arabs have proved to be unable to rule themselves effectively, and a long list of bad habits makes it difficult for Arabs to create effective armed forces. Thus we end up with Hamas cynically using tactics that try to get more Palestinians killed, so the "victimhood" of Hamas will be enhanced by a world that averts their eyes when it comes to seeing Arab faults and the tragic results.

There is something sick about a government, in this case Hamas, which tries to win a war by getting as many of its own civilians killed as possible.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The First Four Minutes

One reason Hamas was unable to respond to the Israeli attack on Gaza with a massive rocket attack on Israel, as they had threatened, was that the Israeli Air Force had taken out almost their entire rocket supply in the first few minutes of the air assault:

The Israel air force demolished two key Hamas war systems in the first 4 minutes of its massive offensive on Gaza Saturday morning, Dec. 27, DEBKAfile's military sources report. The bombers destroyed six mosques in Gaza City which held the terrorists' biggest weapons arsenals and scores of "beehives" containing launchers primed for the simultaneous, automatic release of hundreds of powerful rockets against Israeli cities.

These launchers were rigged for precision-targeting in Israeli town centers. They were operated by a unit of 300 special Hamas operatives trained for their mission at Syrian military bases under the instruction of Hizballah rocket specialists.

The aerial offensive knocked out 80 percent of the rockets Hamas had prepared to launch and saved Israel's southern cities. The Palestinian Islamists were left only with inferior projectiles. Therefore, 98 percent of the hundreds of missiles they managed to fire in the 22-day war missed their targets and exploded in open ground.

Meanwhile, Egyptian and Israeli warships are searching the Red Sea for an Iranian freighter believed to be laden with a 60 ton resupply of rockets for Hamas. Hamas fighters have also broken the cease-fire by firing on Israeli soldiers.

It's difficult to understand what Israel thinks it has to gain by stopping its offensive before it has taken out all of Hamas' leadership. As soon as they are able they will be right back firing rockets at Israeli civilians. For the Israelis the cease-fire is an indication of their desire to curtail the killing, for Hamas it's an opportunity for them to rearm and continue their unending intifada against Israel at a later date. It doesn't make much sense for Israel to just play along.


Plague Attack

An al Qaeda affiliate in Algiers has closed down a camp after forty of terrorists in the camp died from what appears to be a highly contagious and lethal biological agent they appear to have been working on.

Imagine for a moment that their plan was to infect suicide carriers of the disease - some reports suggest it was bubonic plague - and then smuggle the carriers into the U.S. before they become symptomatic. All the terrorists need do once they're here is walk around any crowded city, or the Washington Mall during the Inauguration ceremony, and they could infect thousands who would then return home and in turn infect thousands more and so on in a cascade of sickness and death.

Meanwhile, we can thank goodness that the new Obama administration won't be violating anybody's rights by listening in to these terrorists' phone conversations as they plot their mass attacks. Nobody wants an attack like this to happen, of course, but stopping them by using a warrantless wiretap on the bad guys' phones in order to uncover their plot is just too high a price to pay, in our judgment, to save the lives of millions of Americans.


If Only Mugabe Were White

Bob Herbert describes the ghastly conditions that attend everyday life in Zimbabwe - a massive cholera outbreak, few medical facilities, no sanitation and schools businesses, etc. all shut down. Herbert says:

Most of the world is ignoring the agony of Zimbabwe, a once prosperous and medically advanced nation in southern Africa that is suffering from political and economic turmoil - and the brutality of Mugabe's long and tyrannical reign.

There are reasons for this indifference, of course, perhaps one of them being that neither Israel nor the United States is responsible for the plight of the Zimbabweans. Thus the world yawns. Another is that, in fact, Zimbabwe was once ruled by a white government and, despite being oppressive, was the most productive and prosperous nation in Africa. The whites were forced out by international pressure and Robert Mugabe took over in 1980, ruled even more oppressively, murdered thousands of political opponents, kicked white farmers off their land and gave the farms to his cronies who knew nothing at all about farming. Through corruption, murder, and mismanagement Zimbabwe was soon plunged into the deepest circle of hell.

Now millions of Zimbabweans are starving, there is no food distribution, tens of thousands more are dying of AIDS and cholera, inflation is at an astonishing annual rate of 231 million percent, unemployment is at 80%, male life expectancy is 37 and females can expect to live to the ripe old age of 34. These facts may be seen by some as having uncomfortable implications for majority rule in Africa and so some people, perhaps, prefer to ignore the disaster that Zimbabwe has become.

In any event, there are things, short of a military occupation for which there's evidently no stomach, that the world community can do to topple Mugabe. One strategy I've heard recommended is what's called cyber assassination: Employ talented computer hackers to go into the bank accounts of Mugabe and his henchmen and clean them out. Crash all government computers and deny the thugs the ability to use internet or cell phones to communicate. In other words, destroy the government electronically. Once the government can no longer pay their soldiers and police Mugabe will lose his grip on them and subsequently on his power. He will no doubt have to flee the country, but he should be denied landing rights anywhere outside Zimbabwe. With no money to buy loyalty from the brutes who prop him up, no way to communicate with his minions, and nowhere to go Mugabe would quickly wind up like Mussolini or Ceausescu.

Or the West can do what it's doing now. It can do what it's doing in Chad, what it's doing in Sudan, what it did in Rwanda. It can do nothing and just let the wretched Zimbabweans die long, slow miserable deaths.

Exit question: Why did the world care so much for the suffering of blacks in Rhodesia (former name of Zimbabwe) under Ian Smith, in South Africa under apartheid, and for the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza today, but cares nothing for the suffering of Palestinians in the Arab world, or of Iraqi Arabs under Saddam Hussein, or blacks throughout the continent of Africa? In each case where world opinion has been loud and effective the "oppressors" were of European descent, and in every case where the world seems disinterested the oppressors are of non-European descent.

If Mugabe were a white tyrant the United Nations would have rolled the tanks onto his doorstep twenty years ago and had him exiled to Antartica. Why does the world only seem to care enough about suffering people to do something about it when the pain is caused by whites?


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Not Their Finest Hour

Quick thought for those who watched or listened to the Inauguration coverage today: I can't decide which was most discouraging, the fawning hagiographical coverage of much of the MSM whose reporters have in some cases thrown objectivity to the winds to declare their undying fealty to their new political Adonis, or the niggling whining of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity over the merest parsings of Obama's speech.

All that these guys managed to do today was to remind a lot of those tuned in why they'd rather listen to Obama's dulcet adjurations than to their vacuous carping. It wasn't conservative talk radio's finest hour.


Little Arab Sympathy for Hamas

Strategy Page explains why Muslim criticism of Israel in the latest round of warfare against Hamas was relatively muted. It turns out that most Arab Muslims don't particularly care for Hamas, and weren't really sorry to see it get clobbered.

The article opens with this:

The only chance Hamas has of surviving its current battle with Israel, is to stir up enough anger against Israel to force the Israelis to stop fighting and enter into a ceasefire agreement that Hamas can easily subvert. This Information War campaign is not going well for Hamas. While there are demonstrations in Moslem countries, and in the West as well, they are not as numerous or as spirited as in the past. Worse, most Arab countries are either lukewarm in their criticism of Israel, or openly blame Hamas for the current round of fighting.

There are several trends going on here. First, most Moslem nations have had it with Islamic terrorism. Even before September 11, 2001, the current round of Islamic terrorism was unpopular in Moslem countries where Islamic terrorists had already been operating. The al Qaeda campaign in Iraq was particularly demoralizing to Moslems worldwide. Al Qaeda revealed itself to be more capable, and willing, to kill Moslem civilians, than non-Moslem troops. Al Qaeda made things worse by bragging about non-existent successes and claiming that victory was inevitable. By 2007, it was obvious that al Qaeda had been defeated, and even al Qaeda eventually admitted it. Now Hamas is asking Moslems to buy into another campaign, just like the failed al Qaeda effort. A lot of Moslems are not taking the bait, despite efforts by Arab media organizations to make it appear otherwise.

Read the rest at the link.


Inauguration Day

Today is certainly an historic day. A milestone in our cultural history has been reached as we inaugurate the first African-American president, indeed the first president of African descent ever to be elected in any non-African country. I'm delighted that the United States, alone, I think, among the nations of the world, has democratically chosen a member of a racial minority to be their chief executive and their commander-in-chief. It's another sign of America's greatness relative to the rest of the world. I just wish it had been a different African-American.

Don't misunderstand. I wish President Obama well, and insofar as he turns out to betray the people most responsible for getting him elected - the political far left - I will be cheering him on, but if he's a man of character he will strive to do the things he has promised to do over the last two years, all 510 of them, and the things he has promised are not things that I find particularly comforting.

Before the election we listed fifteen measures that Democrats could be expected to pursue should they acquire the political power to work their will in the legislature. Obama may not support all of these efforts, but if we're to take him at his word, he certainly supports most of them.

Here they are:

  • Remove all restrictions on abortion, including partial birth abortion.
  • Alter the meaning of marriage so that it's no longer the union of one man and one woman.
  • Appoint judges and Supreme Court Justices whose decisions will be based on political fashion rather than on the text of the constitution.
  • Effect a redistribution of wealth from the middle and upper classes to the underclass.
  • Treat terrorism as a police matter rather than as a global war on Western civilization.
  • Pile onto American business onerous regulations and taxes - e.g. higher minimum wage, capital gains taxes, greater health insurance costs - that will make it impossible to compete in the global market and which will result in higher cost to business and consequently higher unemployment.
  • Continue the accelerating secularization of our society.
  • Open our borders to anyone who wants to take up residence in our country and give illegal aliens the right to a driver's license, health care, education, and welfare.
  • Nationalize health care.
  • Deny to parents the right to choose the schools their children will attend.
  • Push fuel costs back up so as to force us to conserve and develop alternative energy sources.
  • Quell freedom of speech, particularly conservative or religious speech, through vehicles like the "Fairness Doctrine."
  • Downgrade our military preparedness and end the program that would enable us to shoot down incoming nuclear missiles.
  • Take away the right to own or buy most types of guns or to acquire a license to carry them on one's person.
  • Strip workers of the right to a secret ballot in elections related to union matters.

To the extent that President Obama tries to achieve the agenda laid out above we will voice our displeasure. Until then he will have our support. Moreover, if and when we do find it necessary to oppose our new president that opposition will be carried out with as much civility as firmness. We will extend to him the benefit of whatever legitimate doubts there may be and will strive always to treat the man and his office with courtesy and respect.

In short, we will not act like so many of President Bush's detractors in the congress and the media. We urge our readers to do likewise. One service the left has inadvertently done for the political discourse of this country over the last eight years is to display the ugliness of their brand of rhetoric and the unfairness of consistently putting the worst possible interpretation on the President's actions, aims, and motives. It's our hope that those who now find themselves in the political opposition will recoil from the left's jejunne foot-stamping and follow instead the example that President Bush himself has set.


Monday, January 19, 2009


Viewpoint has periodically urged President Bush to pardon or commute the sentences of Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean (most recently here), two border patrol agents who were charged with illegalities surrounding the shooting of a Mexican drug smuggler. Ramos and Compean were given 10-12 years in prison and loss of their jobs. Not even the prosecutor of the case thought that the sentence was just.

Now comes word that clemency has finally been granted and that the two men will soon be released from prison after having served two years of their sentences.

They never should have gone to prison in the first place. They shouldn't even have lost their jobs. A suspension without pay and/or demotion would have been more than enough. We're glad that they're being freed.


Hope for the Hearing Impaired

There are lots of folks out there, especially among the boomers, who are beginning to experience hearing loss and related problems like tinnitus - a constant hissing noise that sounds like escaping steam. The problems are most often caused by damage to the hair cells in the cochlea due to exposure to loud noises (like music on our i-pods) or chemicals. Most Ear, Nose and Throat specialists (ENTs) say there's usually not much to be done about it at present except the use of hearing aids and some kinds of therapy to help with the tinnitus.

Lately, however, a promising line of research has emerged that might afford hope. It turns out that transplanted stem cells have been shown to regenerate and repair these cells to some extent which may restore, at least partially, the lost function and diminish the annoying ringing that often accompanies hearing loss.

Another potentially helpful line of research employs gene therapy to regenerate damaged hair cells.

Despite these breakthroughs it seems as if treatments for humans are still years away. A list of links to reports on this kind of research can be found here.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Martin Luther King Day

Today the nation honors the memory of Martin Luther King - his courage, his leadership, his vision, and his sacrifice. I can think of no better way to understand why he's so highly regarded than to watch or read his I Have a Dream speech and/or his Letter From a Birmingham Jail. Both are excellent windows into the soul of the man, and in them both we see that King was motivated and inspired by his deep faith in, and his understanding of, the message of the Christian Gospel. Here's his very powerful and very moving I Have Dream speech:

Reflecting on the history of the American civil rights movement and its roots in the American experience with slavery I was reminded of something I had read recently about contemporary slavery.

There are an estimated 27 million people in slavery today, most of them children. Thousands of boys hardly big enough to hold a gun are enslaved by militia thugs in Africa and forced to murder, maim and rape (See the movie War Dance). Thousands of Asian girls, barely pubescent, are sold as sex slaves, often by their parents. Millions of others are forced to work long hours, as many as twenty hours a day, shackled to machines and looms, or to toil as domestic labor.

One sometimes hears that the Bible endorses slavery and that American slave owners were often Christians. The first claim is not true. The Bible recognized that slavery was a fact in the first century Roman Empire and that there was little that a nascent Christian church could do to change it. Christian slaves were encouraged, therefore, to live so as to be a witness to God to a pagan world, to use their suffering to glorify Christ.

The second claim is technically true, but misleading. Early southern slave-owners were often nominal Anglicans whose religion had very little relevance to their moral lives.

In any event, the abolitionist movement, like the twentieth century civil rights movement under the leadership of Martin Luther King and his allies, was led by Christians who took the Gospel seriously - people like William Wilberforce and his Clapham group, Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Lloyd Garrison, even the misguided and possibly deranged John Brown. Add to these the thousands of lesser known Christians who participated in the underground railroad, who wrote editorials in newspapers and magazines, who preached from the pulpits of hundreds if not thousands of churches on the need for Christians to live up to their creedal beliefs that all men are God's children, created equal and in His image. It was this preaching and influence, it was this conviction of the equality of all men before God, that gradually persuaded more marginally committed Christians of the incompatibility of slavery and the Gospel.

Today it is the case that slavery flourishes mostly in those lands where Christianity languishes, or where Christians have little political clout. This is a fact that should be troubling to anyone concerned about human rights as our society grows increasingly secular and Christianity gets pushed further into the shadowy margins of our public life.

Western secularists would do well to ask themselves what grounds they will have to keep slavery at bay if their dream of a completely naked public square is ever realized. Once Christian theism ceases to be the ground, guide, and motivation for moral conduct, as it was for Dr. King, it will gradually, and inevitably, be replaced by an ethic of might-makes-right, and in such a world slavery will almost certainly make a roaring comeback. A completely secularized world will look very much, at least as far as human oppression is concerned, like those parts of the world today where Christian influence is minimal.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

So Much for the Iranian Unit reports that the Israelis took only a day or so to all but wipe out a 100 man elite unit trained by the Iranians:

The so-called "Iranian Unit" of Hamas has been destroyed, according to Gaza sources cited Thursday by the Haaretz daily. The sources said most of the unit's 100 members were killed in fighting in the Zeytun neighborhood of Gaza City.

The terrorists had been trained in infantry tactics, the use of anti-tank missiles and the detonation of explosives, among other skills, by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard at Hizbullah camps in Lebanon's Beka'a Valley, as well as sites in Iran.

If the Israelis can so easily dispatch units trained by the Iranians the strength of the Iranian army itself is called into question. At the very least this is a huge embarrassment to Iran and Hizbollah. It also restores a lot of respect for the prowess of the Israeli Defense Force that had been diminished in the war in Lebanon two years ago.

In fact, one captured Hamas fighter said as much:

Two captured terrorists interviewed by Maariv/NRG say that Hamas was not expecting Israel's response to the escalation in missile attacks on Israeli targets that preceded Operation Cast Lead. One of them, a 52-year-old victim of a premature detonation who had already done time in an Israeli jail, said, "Hamas took a gamble. We thought, at worst Israel will come and do something from the air - something superficial. They'll come in and go out. We never thought that we would reach the point where fear will swallow the heart and the feet will want to flee. You [Israel] are fighting like you fought in '48. What got into you all of a sudden?"

Well, what got into them was that Hamas left them with no real alternative but to fight. Hamas may not have expected them to respond so vigorously, but what is the point of doing what Hamas thought they would do? A tit-for-tat retaliation solves nothing and only postpones the day when Israel will have to choose to dissolve itself or to eliminate Hamas.

In response to an e-mail from a friend asking me how I felt about the circumstances of the Palestinian people caught in the cross-fire, I replied that:

I feel deeply sorry for the Palestinian people. They have suffered terribly, and I wish their plight had some other solution. I know that most of them just want to live normal lives and raise their children and try to make a living. The whole situation is tragic. Yet I don't know what else Israel can do, given the leadership the Palestinians in Gaza have chosen for themselves. Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel, the deaths of Israelis, and the return of their land to Palestinian Arabs. That commitment is implacable. Given their determination I don't see how Israel can do anything other than follow one of several courses.

  1. They can acquiesce to Palestinian demands and dissolve the Israeli nation.
  2. They can try to cling to their security while establishing a border with Gaza something like we have with Canada.
  3. They can seek to protect themselves from murderous Palestinians infiltrating into Israel by setting up checkpoints and building walls along the border.
  4. They can seek to protect themselves from Palestinian terror by preventing them from getting the weapons the Palestinians use to kill Israelis.
  5. They can try to eliminate the leadership of their implacable foe and hope that the Gazan Palestinians follow the example of their West Bank cousins and select somewhat less bloodthirsty leadership.

One and two amount to national suicide. Three, four, and five impose terrible hardships on the Palestinian people. Yet, I think that three, four, and five are the only options left to Israelis unless they're willing to dissolve their state and emigrate. The Palestinian people are caught in a terrible situation, but it's mostly the fault of their own elected leadership. Just as the leadership of the German and Japanese people had to go in the 1940s in order for there to be peace, so, too, must the Palestinian leadership go if their people are going to have any hope of a future. And just as removing the German and Japanese leadership cost the lives of tens of thousands of civilian Germans and Japanese, the removal of Hamas cannot occur without severe hardship to the people they govern. It's a terrible tragedy but no different than the tragedy suffered by the German and Japanese people during WWII.

Hamas has to go. If the Israelis end this offensive before they've excised the cancer it will only metastasize throughout the region and come back more virulently than ever. In the meantime, let us pray for the Palestinian people.



When it was discovered that Joe the Plumber had an outstanding tax debt of about $1200 there were cries of outrage from the left which was incensed that Joe had already committed the blasphemy of asking candidate Obama a question the answer to which caused Obama serious embarrassment. Joe asked the question. Joe had unpaid taxes. Joe must be a weasel.

Now it turns out that President-elect Obama's selection for Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner failed to pay almost fifty thousand dollars in taxes dating back to 2001 until he was about to be appointed to the position of chief tax collector of the nation.

Since he's an Obama appointee, however, that's okay, even if he's not being quite forthright about why the taxes are unpaid. Democrats have circled the waggons around Mr. Geithner calling his tax delinquency, which would have gotten you or I thrown in jail and did get Joe the Plumber's personal records rifled through by Ohio's bureaucrats, an "honest mistake." Well, according to the pieces linked to above it doesn't seem like an honest mistake.

It might be something to think about when Barack Obama fulfills his promise to raise the share of your income that goes to pay the salaries of such as Mr. Geithner that the obligation to pay taxes only applies to you. It doesn't apply to the members of his cabinet. If you don't want to pay higher taxes you are, in the words of Vice-President elect Joe Biden, "unpatriotic," unless of course, you're part of the Democrat elite in which case your deliberate failure to pay is just, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid put it, a "hiccup."

It's ironic that Charlie Rangel (D. NY), the chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, the committee which writes tax legislation, claims he didn't know he had to pay taxes on several rental properties he owns, and that now the guy who will be in charge of raising the money to bailout our economy in the Obama administration claims he didn't know he had to pay taxes on income he made working for the International Monetary Fund - despite having received numerous notices from the IMF specifying his tax obligations.

One has to wonder whether these guys are dishonest or just incompetent. Either way it doesn't do much to boost one's confidence in the ability of the party that's promised to steer us through these difficult financial times. Nor does it do much to reinforce their image of themselves as the party of the little guy.


Friday, January 16, 2009

Dark Knight

"George Bush has been unjustly mocked, maligned, and misrepresented. Perhaps no president since Lincoln has been treated more unfairly and less charitably than President Bush." So says Andrew Breitbart in The Washington Times:

I have a dark secret to tell ... so that it's on the record. It's something that is difficult to say to certain friends, peers, family and, lately, many fellow conservatives.

I still like George W. Bush. A lot.

For starters, I am convinced he is a fundamentally decent man, even though I have read otherwise at the Huffington Post.

President Bush is far smarter, more articulate and less ideological than his plentiful detractors scream, and, ultimately, he will be judged by history - not by vengeful Democrats, hate-filled Hollywood, corrupt foreign governments, an imploding mainstream media or fleeting approval ratings.

George W. Bush is history's president, a man for whom the long-term success or failure of democracy in Iraq will determine his place in history. He may end up a victim of his own tough choices, but the cheerleading for his demise when Iraq's outcome is yet determined has hurt America and possibly set up the next president for the same appalling partisan response.

The fact that the United States has not been attacked since Sept. 11, 2001, far exceeds the most wishful expert predictions of the time. Perhaps facing another al Qaeda-led barrage would have reinforced our need for national unity, caused us to recognize the gravity of the Islamist threat and fortified Mr. Bush's standing at home and abroad.

Yet, thankfully, that never happened. And Mr. Bush has been punished for this obvious success.

Indeed, he has. He's been vilified by a nation that he has struggled mightily to protect. Rather than expressing their gratitude that their children have not died at the hands of a terrorist attack since 9/11, rather than praising him for the work he's done on behalf of the poor around the world, rather than noting that he's the only president in history to actually liberate 50 million people from oppression, his critics shout that he's the worst president in history and that they will prosecute him for war crimes and for other dastardly deeds like listening to terrorists' phone conversations.

George Bush is the Dark Knight, despised by the very people he protected despite the damage it did to him personally. I wonder how many of his diminutive detractors would sacrifice their own popularity and approval ratings to protect people who would only despise them for it. Not many, I'll bet, but then not many of them have the character that Bush has.

There's much more from Breitbart at the link.