Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How Much Power?

A little humor from Michael Ramirez to cap off the month:

I wonder how far President Obama is going to go with this exercise of his power. Is everyone who manages an institution which takes federal money going to be subject to being fired by the White House? What about schools and colleges? Are their administrators under Obama's thumb? What about employees of towns and cities that are recipients of federal largesse?

How much power will the President arrogate to himself before the people stand up and say "that's enough?"


The Basic Difference

Here's a quick quiz: How would you describe the fundamental difference between modern liberals (progressives) and modern conservatives?

Perhaps one way to answer this is to note how each group would answer another question:

Should government be empowered to regulate our lives to maximize the common good or should it be limited to protecting citizens from encroachments upon their basic freedoms?

Which of these two views did you think our Founders had in mind?

Progressives believe the role of government is to use its power to ensure that the greatest good is done for the greatest number of people. They hold that the greatest benefit is realized when everyone has a roughly equal share of the world's resources and that it is the role of government to bring this about, even if that means taking from those who have and giving to those who don't. To progressives, opposition to this view is a sign of greed and selfishness.

Conservatives maintain that that is not at all what our Founders intended. The men who established this nation, and most of those who followed them, believed that the purpose of the government they established was to guarantee the freedoms articulated in the Declaration of Independence and especially the Bill of Rights, and to protect these from the encroachments of all who would take them away, both foreign and domestic. The progressive view, most conservatives would argue, leads ultimately to tyranny.

Chances are if you hold to the first view you're a Democrat and if you hold to the second you're a Republican.

Right now, the first view is prevailing.


One in Ten Chinese

The British TimesOnline has a story about the amazing struggle and growth of the Chinese church:

A murmur of "Amen" echoes softly down a corridor in a luxury Beijing hotel. Dozens of young Chinese are gathered in a beige-carpeted conference room to listen to the word of God. After helping themselves to hot water or tea at the back of the room, they find a seat and chatter with friends. They tuck Louis Vuitton and Prada handbags under their seats, switch their mobile phones to silent and turn to listen to a young woman who takes the microphone to ask for silence and recite a prayer.

A casually dressed, grey-haired Chinese man takes to the podium. "Let us begin with a look at the Gospel of Saint John." There is a rustling of pages as converts and curious open their Bibles. Almost everyone in the room is scarcely a day over 30. Most look as if they are in their early twenties. They are fashionably dressed - girls with high-heeled boots, men sporting trendy knitted hats. This is Friday night Bible class in Beijing. And it is a weekend venue of choice for growing numbers of well-off middle-class city sophisticates.

The fact that this class is technically illegal, run by pastors lacking approval from the state-sanctioned Protestant church, is not the attraction. These are not young people seeking a frisson of excitement from some underground activity. They are at the forefront of a movement sweeping China - the search for spiritual satisfaction now that Marx is démodé.

No attempt is made to conceal what is, in effect, an underground religious gathering. A sign in Chinese outside the conference room reads: "Hill of Golgotha Church meeting". A board outside the hotel lift directs visitors to Hall 5. There is not a nod towards secrecy or even discretion. There is no sense of anxiety, let alone fear, that officials could burst in to break up this illegal assembly even though police do still frequently raid house churches run by underground Protestant pastors.

In fact, across China religion is undergoing a defiant and extraordinary revival. Millions of Chinese are turning to familiar traditional faiths such as Buddhism and Taoism - a mystical belief with about 400 million adherents that is China's only indigenous creed. Taoist believers, like Buddhists, visit temples across the country to burn incense, present offerings and request readings from fortune tellers. Others are finding comfort in Confucius, but it is Christianity that is leading the battle for China's 1.3 billion souls.

Recent surveys calculate the number of Christians worshipping independently of the State churches in China to be as high as 100 million. That means that almost one in every ten Chinese may now be a Christian, making Christianity bigger than the 74 million-member Communist Party.

These one in ten are not, presumably, tepid about their faith like, say, many mainline protestants and Catholics in America. These are people who realize they could very well pay a terrible price for attending a worship service. Yet they come.

There's an interesting irony in this. While Christianity seems to be flickering out in those regions of the globe where it held sway for almost 2000 years and where there's been no real social or political cost for affiliating with a church, it's exploding in places like China, where the faithful could be imprisoned, beaten, or otherwise sanctioned. It's also burgeoning in Africa and elsewhere in the third world countries that girdle the southern hemisphere.

Such news doubtless moves people like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins to reach for the Maalox.


Monday, March 30, 2009

Re: Presidential Trends, Etc.

Jeff writes to add some insights of his own to the post titled Presidential Trends. Here's part of what he says:

...two candidates that fit all of these characteristics better than both Jeb Bush and Bobby Jindal are Mike Huckabee and Tim Pawlenty (both of which are younger than Jeb Bush anyway). Both of these men served as Governors and both are very open about being Evangelical Christians. Both are down to earth and were popular in each of their bluish states (Arkansas and Minnesota). Both reached out to those outside of their own party and worked together to find positive solutions to problems and got a lot accomplished despite the opposing party in their states' legislatures. I think that a candidate such as Huckabee or Pawlenty would be a fresh new face for the GOP and could attract voters outside of the far right and rather than focusing on negativity and what the other party is doing wrong, they would focus on coming up with solutions and making progress.

The rest of Jeff's e-mail can be read on the Feedback Page.

Another reader wrote to take issue with the tone of an article by Keith Pavlischek that we discussed a few weeks ago. That letter is also on the Feedback Page.


The Problem of the Self

A.C. Grayling at New Scientist discusses a little of the history of an interesting metaphysical problem. The problem lies in trying to ascertain exactly what it is we are referring to when we talk about the self. What is the self? Who is the I or me to which I refer when I use these words? If it's just the body, as materialists believe, then what is it about us that perdures through time and makes us the same self from one point in time to the next?

Grayling writes:

After John Locke published his Essay Concerning Human Understanding in 1690, he sent copies to various savants of his acquaintance, asking for comments and in particular for advice on whether he had left out anything essential - for if so, he could add it to a second edition. His correspondent William Molyneaux of Dublin replied that Locke needed to say something about personal identity: that is, what makes a person the same person throughout their life.

Belief in the idea of a substantial soul - a "you" that is separate from your body - was waning. In the absence of this metaphysical entity as a convenience for underpinning personal identity, what, asked Molyneaux, makes the retired general continuous with the eager subaltern of 40 years before, and he with the red-cheeked baby in his nurse's arms 20 years before that? In response, Locke added a chapter to his second edition which instantly caused a storm of controversy and has been famous ever since in the annals of philosophy.

In that chapter Locke argued that a person's identity over time resides in their consciousness (he coined this term, and here introduced it to the English language) of being the same self at a later time as at an earlier, and that the mechanism that makes this possible is memory. Whereas a stone is the same stone over time because it is the very same lump of matter - or almost, allowing for erosion - and an oak tree is identical with its originating acorn because it is the same continuous organisation of matter, a person is only the same through time if he or she is self-aware of being so. Memory loss interrupts identity, and complete loss of memory is therefore loss of the self.

The divines, represented by Edward Stillingfleet, Bishop of Worcester, took umbrage and attacked Locke for ignoring the immortal soul. In 1712 The Spectator magazine ran a front-cover demand that "the wits of Kingdom" should get together in conference to settle the matter of personal identity and selfhood, because the controversy was getting out of control. In 1739, when David Hume published the first volume of his Treatise on Human Nature, he stated that there is no such thing as the self, for if one conducts the empirical inquiry of introspecting - looking within oneself - to see what there is apart from current sensations, feelings, desires and thoughts, one does not find an extra something, a "self", over and above these things, which owns them and endures beyond them.

Thus in 50 years the unreflective idea that each individual has an immortal soul as the basis of their selfhood had changed utterly. For millennia before Locke, no one had so much as raised the question. But it was no surprise that the question should suddenly become urgent as the Enlightenment dawned, with its central idea of the autonomous individual who is a bearer of rights and responsible for his or her own moral outlook; such an idea needs a robust idea of selfhood, and the philosophers eagerly tried to make sense of it.

Hume's sceptical view did not prevail. Kant argued that logic requires a concept-imposing self to make experience possible, and the Romantics made the self the centre of each individual's universe: "I am that which began," wrote Swinburne in Hertha, "Out of me the years roll, out of me God and Man." Without a deep idea of the self there could be no Freud or psychoanalysis.

So fundamental is the idea of the self to modern human consciousness that one would expect developments in neuroscience to have a direct bearing on it. And ... that is exactly what is happening - with surprising and often disconcerting results.

The disconcerting results consist primarily in the inability of materialist philosophers to identify anything other than the physical body that would constitute a self. If we have a mind or a soul then presumably it is that, or could be that, which comprises the essential "me," but for modern materialists who have no room in their ontological cupboard for immaterial substances, nothing remains but to conclude that we are simply a mobile pile of carbon and a few other elements. These chemicals are in constant flux so the self is constantly shifting and changing. There's nothing upon which to base a belief that I am the same person I remember being ten years ago.

T.S. Eliot put it this way: "What we know of other people is just our memory of the moments during which we knew them. And they have changed since then....At every meeting we are meeting a stranger."

If this is the case several awkward conclusions follow. In the first place there's no sense in which I can be held responsible for what was done by an individual who had my name and social security number ten years ago. It wasn't me. I cannot be held responsible for promises, contracts, crimes, or anything, for that matter, any more than I could be held responsible to keep a promise made by you.

Another thing that follows from the materialist view of man is that if there really is no self then there's no intrinsic human worth, no dignity, no significance to the individual, or indeed to humanity as a whole. We're simply a couple of scoops of gooey organic molecules, and there's not much value to goo.

Of course, once society comes to recognize and accept this unfortunate idea it will be no time at all before holocausts start looming right around every corner.

Ideas, especially metaphysical ideas, have consequences.


Bristol and Ashley

It'd be a terrible shame if the allegations of a tape of Joe Biden's daughter using cocaine really exists. I'm sure it would be a source of anguish for Biden and his wife, and it's beneath contempt that someone made it and is trying to shop the tape around. I'm frankly very reluctant to talk about it and prefer that this sort of thing just be ignored.

However, there's a point about this that needs to be made. Vice-president Biden has, to his credit, been a leader in the war on drugs, created the Drug Czar post and sponsored much anti-drug legislation. Thus the problems his daughter is allegedly having must be especially painful, and we should all be sympathetic, but this leads me to my point.

When word came out that Sarah Palin's daughter was pregnant and unmarried the media and many Democrats richly, and publicly, enjoyed the irony of the daughter refusing to abide by the values of the mother. Bristol Palin's story was all over the media. Some outlets even ran unsubstantiated allegations that Sarah's mentally retarded child was really Bristol's. Then, even after the election was over, the media came back to get in a few more kicks to the Palins' ribs when Bristol and the baby's father broke up. The whole episode was very sad and quite contemptible, but that didn't hinder gleeful reporters from doing their worst to gloat over every detail.

Now the shoe may be on the other political foot, but you'll probably not hear much about Ashley Biden on the six o'clock news, nor should you. But then you shouldn't have heard much about Bristol Palin, either. A principled reluctance on the part of journalists and political operatives to embarrass the families of our public figures is only principled if it's a courtesy extended to all of our public figures and not just those on the side we want to see win.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Is ID Boring?

At Telic Thoughts Bilbo recalls that in the documentary, Expelled, professor of evolutionary biology William Provine complains that Intelligent Design is "boring." Provine goes on to insist that Darwinism leads to the view that life is meaningless, there's no foundation for ethics, no basis for free will, and no life after death. Provine is surely correct about these entailments of a Darwinian worldview, but he's hardly correct about ID being boring. Nevertheless, a lot of commenter's at Telic Thoughts agreed with him, so I felt constrained to throw my two cents in:

Boring? What could be more exciting than to believe that scientific investigation actually means something, that the whole universe is imbued with purpose, that there's a reason, an intention, for why things are the way they are? What could be more exciting than thinking that one's research is literally thinking the designer's thoughts after it?

On the other hand, what could be more depressing than Professor Provine's view that life is meaningless, moral obligation is groundless, free will is an illusion, and the universe is just a pointless, accidental ontological burp?

Not surprisingly, several readers disagreed with me. One remarked that:

...except that the ID community doesn't do any research. And most of the time doesn't show much interest in biology except insofar as it supports their metaphysical predilections. While Darwin's Theory spawned generations of research, entire new fields of study, ID is a deadend.

Whatever the truth of these claims may be, they're a bit beside the point. The question is not whether intelligent design is a research program, it's whether it's interesting as an interpretation of the results of scientific investigation. Regardless of its merits as a scientific enterprise in itself, ID is a fascinating way of looking at the world. It maintains that the world is filled with transcendent purpose and meaning. It holds that scientific labor is not just mere fact collecting, but is actually a way of discovering how a superhuman intellect thinks.

Another commenter took exception to this claim. He wrote that, "Grandiose self-delusion like that is more properly the domain of theology and philosophy departments."

On the contrary, the idea that science is "thinking the designer's thoughts after it" goes back as far as Johannes Kepler and is certainly the attitude held by many of the founders of modern science. Men of the intellectual stature of Galileo, Newton, Faraday, Boyle, Einstein and, more recently, George Smoot, all have employed some variation of this sentiment in describing their work. To call it "grandiose self-delusion" is to belie an unfortunate ignorance of the history of science.

At any rate, I thought it interesting that no one chose to respond to the second part of what I wrote, i.e. that what's really discouraging and boring is the view Provine derives from his Darwinism that life is fundamentally pointless. If that's true, and I think it is given Provine's atheism, then what is the point of scientific research? Scientists spend their lives gathering a few facts, and some small number of them may even discover something that makes life better for a while, but in the end it's all for nothing. We all die, the world perishes in a solar explosion, and none of it matters at all. That view may not itself be exactly boring, but it sure does sap the motivation to go to the lab each day out of anybody that allows it to sink in. How can someone who really thinks this take their work seriously?


Presidential Trends

Sitting in my favorite restaurant the other day I reflected over lunch on the last five presidential elections and realized that there are some interesting patterns to be found in them:

Since 1992 we have had five presidential elections. In every one of them (3 elections) in which a younger candidate ran against a significantly older candidate the younger man won. In every election in which one candidate was a former governor and the other was not (4 elections) the former governor won. In every one in which one candidate was a war veteran and the other was not (all 5), the veteran lost. In every one of them (all 5) in which one candidate appeared considerably more at ease talking about his religious faith than did his opponent that candidate won.

The implications of this seem obvious. If the GOP wants to enhance its prospects of reclaiming the White House in 2012 they should look not to aging senators but to young, charismatic governors or ex-governors who hold sincere and well-thought out religious convictions.

It sounds like a recipe for Bobby Jindal, Sarah Palin, or Jeb Bush, if he had a different last name. Of course, if the Republicans do decide to go with another war vet in 2012, and choose David Petraeus, the trend against electing vets could come to a screeching halt.


Age of Confusion

National Review's Katherine Jean Lopez reflects on a recent poll of teenagers which found that 50% of them blamed Rihanna for the drubbing she received at the hands of her boyfriend Chris Brown. Half of the teens surveyed believed that Rihanna must have deserved it somehow. Here are some highlights of her post:

It's just one survey. But it's very bad news. And feminists are to blame.

I don't say that to bash Gloria Steinem, or whoever the most easily blamed feminist would be at this point. I say that so we can collectively get our heads out of the feminist fog in which we've been lost.

What has happened - and what Rihanna and Chris have to do with Gloria and us - is that by inventing oppression where there is none and remaking woman in man's image, as the sexual and feminist revolutions have done, we've confused everyone. The reaction those kids had was unnatural. It's natural for us to expect men to protect women, and for women to expect some level of physical protection. But in post-modern America, those natural gender roles have been beaten by academics and political rhetoric and the occasional modern woman being offended by having a door opened for her. The result is confusion.

And perhaps, too, a neo-feminist backlash.

The need for some return to sanity is presented pretty clearly in an article in the April issue of O, the Oprah Magazine. The article details how some women find themselves leaving men in favor of relationships with partners of their own gender.

One recently divorced academic describes what attracted her to a future female lover. "She got up and gave me the better seat, as if she wanted to take care of me. I was struck by that," she said. "I felt attracted to her energy, her charisma. I was enticed. And she paid the bill. Just the gesture was sexy. She took initiative and was the most take-charge person I'd ever met."

This article isn't about closeted homosexuality. It's not making the case that there is a vast population of women who were born to be with women, who are instead trapped in unfulfilling heterosexual arrangements. No, this article, despite its celebration of unconventional lifestyles, boils down to something much more orthodox: Femininity and masculinity mix well together. And women are taking masculinity where they can get it, even if that's in the arms of another woman.

Last year, Kathleen Parker published a book called Save the Males. What a perfect title, what a necessary cause, I thought at the time. As Parker wrote: "For the past thirty years or so, males have been under siege by a culture that too often embraces the notion that men are to blame for all of life's ills. While women have been cast as victims . . . men have been quietly retreating into their caves."

Lopez's article isn't long and could be read with profit by both men and women. Give it a look.


Friday, March 27, 2009

GOP Fiddles While Economy Burns

While the economy is being consumed in the flames of out of control spending and borrowing, and the administration rushes to throw ever more gasoline onto the inferno, the GOP is addressing itself to the gravity of the problem by valiantly undertaking to change the way we pick the national champion of college football:

Everyone from President Barack Obama on down to fans has criticized how college football determines its top team. Now senators are getting off the sidelines to examine antitrust issues involving the Bowl Champion Series. The current system "leaves nearly half of all the teams in college football at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to qualifying for the millions of dollars paid out every year," the Senate Judiciary's subcommittee on antitrust, competition policy and consumer rights said in a statement Wednesday announcing the hearings.

Under the BCS, some conferences get automatic bids to participate in series, while others do not. Obama and some members of Congress favor a playoff-type system to determine the national champion. The BCS features a championship game between the two top teams in the BCS standings, based on two polls and six computer ratings.

Behind the push for the hearings is the subcommittee's top Republican, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. People there were furious that Utah was bypassed for the national championship despite going undefeated in the regular season.

The subcommittee's statement said Hatch would introduce legislation "to rectify this situation." No details were offered and Hatch's office declined to provide any.

Hatch said in a statement that the BCS system "has proven itself to be inadequate, not only for those of us who are fans of college football, but for anyone who believes that competition and fair play should have a role in collegiate sports."

In the House, Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, has sponsored legislation that would prevent the NCAA from calling a football game a "national championship" unless the game culminates from a playoff system.

Forgive my asking, but where in the Constitution is Congress granted the prerogative of determining how we select a football champion? What business is this of the government's? Will my grandson's 8-10 baseball team be the next to fall under Senator Hatch's scrutiny?

God save us from our elected leaders.


Toward a Secular Society

Peter Glover claims at First Things that "the government and media of Great Britain have put in place over the last few decades a determined program to abolish the influence of Christianity" in that nation. Lest you think Mr. Glover exaggerates you should read some of the examples he cites:

How else to read the story, in November 2008, of a foster mother struck off the register by her local council for "allowing a Muslim girl in her care to convert to Christianity"? The woman had looked after as many as eighty children over the previous decade. Although she was a practicing Anglican, everyone agrees that she put no pressure on the girl. The woman testified, "I did initially try to discourage her. I offered her alternatives," including "finding places for her to practice her own religion."

Eventually though, at her own insistence, the girl was allowed to attend church with her foster mother. Within months she asked to be baptized (under Shari'a Law, an act of apostasy for which the death sentence is prescribed). Local officials ruled that the foster mother had "failed in her duty to preserve the girl's religion and should have tried to stop the baptism." Council officers subsequently barred the woman from foster parenting, her sole source of income.

This case was matched by that of Caroline Petrie, who was suspended from her post as a community nurse when she offered to pray for an elderly patient. (The public furor eventually led to Petrie's reinstatement.) In another case late last year, a registrar of marriages asked to be relieved of the duty of officiating at "gay marriages." She was refused and threatened with dismissal.

Jeremy Vine is a highly visible BBC broadcaster and a practicing Anglican. In a recent interview, Vine explained how difficult it had become to speak of his faith on air. It is, he claimed, now "socially unacceptable" to mention one's Christian faith in public. Society in Britain has become intolerant of the freedom to express the religious views that were "common currency thirty or forty years ago," Vine added. "The parameters of what you might call 'right thinking" are closing. Sadly, it is almost socially unacceptable to say you believe in God." All of which is unsurprising, given that last year Mark Thompson, director-general of the BBC and a practicing Catholic, issued an edict stating that the BBC should treat Islam "more sensitively" than Christianity.

This is truly disturbing stuff. As we wrote the other day, history shows that nations which self-consciously jettison the Judeo-Christian heritage upon which they were built not infrequently collapse into moral anarchy and thence into oppression and tyranny.

Another unsettling aspect of this trend is that so many Americans think it would be just great if we followed Europe's example.


The Sky Is Falling. Really.

A reader once pointed out that we at Viewpoint, much like the MSM, seem to dwell disproportionately on bad news. I don't think that's true. After all, we regularly featured Good News from Iraq posts back when few could find any good news about Iraq. We've also reported on medical advances that promise to make our lives better, and we have even on occasion wished our readers merry Christmas. Nonetheless, we're sensitive to the charge that we're rivaling Glenn Beck for perpetual "gloom and doom."

Yet, having said all that, we still find this depressing report from the National Academy of Sciences irresistable.

It appears that, in fact, we're all doomed, and by the very thing that has made modern life so wonderful - electricity. More precisely, we're doomed by our failure to adequately protect our power grid against solar storms.

These excerpts will give you the gist of the report, but the whole thing makes fascinating reading - that is, if you're fascinated by reading about how civilization could come to an abrupt end and millions will die:

It is midnight on 22 September 2012 and the skies above Manhattan are filled with a flickering curtain of colourful light. Few New Yorkers have seen the aurora this far south but their fascination is short-lived. Within a few seconds, electric bulbs dim and flicker, then become unusually bright for a fleeting moment. Then all the lights in the state go out. Within 90 seconds, the entire eastern half of the US is without power.

A year later and millions of Americans are dead and the nation's infrastructure lies in tatters. The World Bank declares America a developing nation. Europe, Scandinavia, China and Japan are also struggling to recover from the same fateful event - a violent storm, 150 million kilometres away on the surface of the sun.

According to the NAS report, a severe space weather event in the US could induce ground currents that would knock out 300 key transformers within about 90 seconds, cutting off the power for more than 130 million people (see map). From that moment, the clock is ticking for America.

First to go - immediately for some people - is drinkable water. Anyone living in a high-rise apartment, where water has to be pumped to reach them, would be cut off straight away. For the rest, drinking water will still come through the taps for maybe half a day. With no electricity to pump water from reservoirs, there is no more after that.

There is simply no electrically powered transport: no trains, underground or overground. Our just-in-time culture for delivery networks may represent the pinnacle of efficiency, but it means that supermarket shelves would empty very quickly - delivery trucks could only keep running until their tanks ran out of fuel, and there is no electricity to pump any more from the underground tanks at filling stations.

Back-up generators would run at pivotal sites - but only until their fuel ran out. For hospitals, that would mean about 72 hours of running a bare-bones, essential care only, service. After that, no more modern healthcare.

The truly shocking finding is that this whole situation would not improve for months, maybe years: melted transformer hubs cannot be repaired, only replaced. "From the surveys I've done, you might have a few spare transformers around, but installing a new one takes a well-trained crew a week or more," says Kappenman. "A major electrical utility might have one suitably trained crew, maybe two."

With no power for heating, cooling or refrigeration systems, people could begin to die within days. There is immediate danger for those who rely on medication. Lose power to New Jersey, for instance, and you have lost a major centre of production of pharmaceuticals for the entire US. Perishable medications such as insulin will soon be in short supply. "In the US alone there are a million people with diabetes," Kappenman says. "Shut down production, distribution and storage and you put all those lives at risk in very short order."

Actually the results of a severe solar storm are similar to the results from a single nuclear warhead detonated high over the continent to generate an electro-magnetic pulse (For more on EMP use our Search function and type in EMP). Anyway, check out the whole article sometime when you're feeling a sense that all's well with the world.

Now I have to go read some more about the global economic meltdown.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Political Orcs

Who does the left see as the biggest threat to their quest to keep their grip on government power and turn us into Sweden? The key to answering the question is to see at whom they've been aiming their fire and who is the target of their most despicable attacks. For a while it was Rush Limbaugh. Now it's Sarah Palin:

The people who are doing this to Governor Palin are shameless, unprincipled Machiavellian Leninists who are determined to destroy anyone who stands in their way. They don't care about the Constitution, they don't care about truth, they don't care about law, they care only about acquiring and keeping power. Here's what Lenin himself said in a speech in 1920:

"We repudiate all morality that proceeds from supernatural ideas that are outside class [socio-economic class] conceptions. Morality is entirely subordinate to the interests of class war. Everything is moral that is necessary for the annihilation of the old exploiting social order and for uniting the proletariat."

The modern left and its tool the Democrat party have adopted Lenin's political pragmatism. For them whatever works is right. If it helps to neutralize a political threat to their power by hounding a good woman and her family with lawsuits, if it means ridiculing her because her daughter doesn't live by the values the mother does, if it means reporting every bit of embarrassing news about the family that can be dug up, then that's what they're going to do.

When power is your summum bonum you can justify almost any behavior, no matter how contemptible. Palin's persecutors are, in my opinion, the political equivalent of Tolkien's orcs in the film version of Lord of the Rings.


Overseas Contingencies

The Washington Post blog reports that the Pentagon has been advised that we must no longer refer to the global war on terror as the global war on terror:

The end of the Global War on Terror -- or at least the use of that phrase -- has been codified at the Pentagon. Reports that the phrase was being retired have been circulating for some time amongst senior administration officials, and this morning speechwriters and other staff were notified via this e-mail to use "Overseas Contingency Operation" instead.

"Overseas Contingency Operation" sounds like a project to deliver relief aid to some third world basketcase. And what, exactly, does the word "contingency" mean in this context, anyway? Why do bureaucrats feel the need to obfuscate everything they can until no one knows what the heck they're talking about? Pat Buchanan says the new bureaucratese reminds him of the old CIA term for killing the enemy. It was not called "killing," it was called "terminating with extreme prejudice." I don't know which formulation is a greater offense to intelligent people - the current Pentagon jargon or the old CIA construction.

Anyway, I was kind of getting used to calling the war on terror the Global War on Man-Caused Disasterists. I don't know why we can't just stick with that.


Happy Birthday, Flannery

If you're a cynic about human nature, if a wry smile flickers across your face when you're exposed to progressive flummery about the inherent goodness of man, if you think that life is indeed a tale told by an idiot and is mostly sad, if you have a deep appreciation for a writer who is able to paint word pictures with extraordinary artistry, and if you have a somewhat off-beat sense of humor, then Flannery O'Conner is your gal. I love her work, so you know what that says about me.

I'm not alone, though. Millions of others do, too, among whom is Ralph Wood of Baylor University. His brief essay on O'Conner on the anniversary of her birth (3/25/1925) is worth reading. He begins with this improbable opening:

Flannery O'Connor is an offensive writer. Readers who haven't dipped into her stories and books sometimes don't know where to begin with this author, who was born on this day in 1925.

It is almost impossible to read O'Connor without revulsion - so frequent are the deaths, so maniacal the characters, so uninviting the fictional world. There we encounter, for example, a club-footed delinquent who lies and steals because, he says, he's good at it; a little rich boy who drowns himself in search of the salvation his parents hold in contempt; a baptizing backwoods prophet who has spent time in an insane asylum and who deafened his own nephew with a shotgun blast; a failed white liberal writer who contracts a lifelong disease while seeking to celebrate a secular communion with black dairy workers; a mass-murdering misfit who guns down a complacent grandmother while complaining that Jesus has "thown" everything off balance; and a self-satisfied farm wife who thanks Jesus daily for making her both white and prosperous - until she is slugged in the head with a psychology textbook thrown by a Wellesley student.

All true, all true, and yet she's the best short story writer I've ever read. Happy birthday, Flannery. I'm sure the angels are amused by your wit and amazed at your wisdom.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Coming Death Match

Strategy Page offers this assessment of the situation existing between Israel and Gaza:

The deadlock continues, with Hamas refusing to compromise on its goals of destroying Israel and driving Jews from the region. Even though nearly three billion dollars in aid is being offered if Hamas will make peace, Hamas refuses to do so. Hamas is on a Mission From God, and acts the part. Negotiations over the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held by Hamas for three years, also broke down (over the issue of how many senior terrorists would be released, and how many would be released outside if Gaza or the West Bank). In response to this, Israel arrested ten Hamas leaders in the West Bank, and restricted visitors and packages for 11,000 Palestinian prisoners. Israel has also continued its operations against terrorist group leaders in Gaza (where they are killed by missiles) and the West Bank (where they are taken alive, if possible.)

Israeli military and intelligence officials talk openly of "finishing" the military operations against Hamas. The January 18 ceasefire is considered just that, and it's expected that Hamas intransigence during any negotiations will result in a deadlock and the resumption of fighting. The second round is expected to be a death match, with no end until the Hamas leadership is captured or killed, and Hamas weapons (especially the thousands of rockets) captured or destroyed.

Israel now believes that Hezbollah and Hamas have over 50,000 rockets in place, to fire on Israel. Most of these rockets are small (under 100 pounds, with a range of under ten kilometers). Most of the rockets are controlled by Hezbollah in Lebanon, and can only reach largely Arab communities in northern Israel.

Eliminating Hamas is what the Israelis should have done the first time around, and why they didn't is a mystery. Their dilatory policy has only dragged out the inevitable and increased the suffering of the Palestinian people.


Begins With H

Democrats are so angry with AIG for awarding large bonuses to its executives that they passed a law that taxes those bonuses at a rate of 90% unless the recipients voluntarily return them. Wouldn't it set a better example and send a positive message to beleaguered taxpayers if the politicians who received contributions from AIG also returned those contributions?

For starters how about if President Obama returned the $110,332 in campaign contributions he received from AIG. Senator Dodd, who first amended the stimulus bill to allow for those executive bonuses and then launched a tirade against AIG for granting them, has himself collected $281,038 in campaign contributions from AIG. Senator Chuck Schumer, another Democrat outraged by the bonuses, was the recipient of $111,875.

While these and others of our political class pontificate on the wickedness of accepting multi-million dollar bonuses when the company needs all the help it can get and is receiving taxpayer-funded bailouts to keep them afloat, they nevertheless seem to have no intention of returning their own "bonuses."

There's a word for this that begins with "h" and ends in "y," and it's not "happy."


Runaway Train

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi tells an audience comprised in part of illegal aliens that they are patriots and those who want immigration laws enforced are "unAmerican." If you think this sounds perverse you're not alone:

Now no one will ever mistake Ms Pelosi for either a deep thinker or a stateswoman, but her shameless pandering and blithe acceptance of a flood of illegals pouring into the country, imposing enormous burdens on communities and sucking up jobs while many Americans are losing theirs, reveals what I think is a secret among the political cognoscenti that no one is really talking about.

Why do so few in government care to stop illegal immigration despite the violence, crime and economic stress it's imposing on many of our cities and towns? Perhaps it has to do with the parlous future of social security and medicare. Quite simply, neither of these programs is sustainable. They're ponzi schemes built on the assumption that the workforce and economy will continue to grow, but that assumption is very doubtful. The economy looks to be entering a period of stagnation that could last well into the foreseeable future while at the same time boomers are moving into their retirement years, and the population of taxpayers paying into these systems is diminishing. This confluence makes the collapse of social security and medicare seem inevitable. Without an influx of workers both systems will be bankrupt within a decade or so, and that was before the Obama administration piled trillions of dollars of debt on the backs of a dwindling number of taxpayers.

To get an idea of the magnitude of the debt problem, by the way, see this.

At any rate, a growing population is thought by many to be our only hope of deferring calamity for a couple of generations, and the only way our population is going to grow is to let in millions of immigrants. Our irresponsible fiscal and monetary policies have put us on a runaway train that's hurtling downhill. About all we can do to slow it down a little is drag our heels by opening our borders and essentially stretching Mexico's boundary northward to Canada.

Great solution. I guess we better hope that those illegal immigrants are indeed patriots because if Washington has its way we're going to have a lot of them.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Model Railroaders

So maybe you like model trains and even built a layout of your own. If so, you'll find this pretty amazing:

There's more explanation of this display here.

Thanks to Hot Air for the tip.


Brief History of the Politicization of Iraq

David Horowitz and Ben Johnson at FrontPage Mag want to insure that the American people don't forget the history of the Democratic party's opposition to the Iraq War over the past five years. Their essay is worth quoting at length:

On this sixth anniversary of America's invasion of Iraq, there is finally a consensus among supporters and opponents that we've won the war. The surge that Bush launched and Democrats opposed has been successful and, as a result, Iraq has become a Middle Eastern democracy, an anti-terrorist regime, and an American ally.

It would be hard to imagine a more remarkable turnabout or a more comprehensive repudiation of conventional political wisdom. Yet this has not led to a comparable reappraisal by critics of the war of their previous attacks, or to any mea culpas by Democrats who launched a scorched earth campaign against the president who led it, and continued it for five years while the war dragged on.

The Democratic attacks on the war described America's commander-in-chief as a liar who misled his country and sent American soldiers to die in a conflict that was unnecessary, illegal and unjust. This made prosecution of the war incalculably harder while strengthening the resolve of our enemies to defeat us. It is time to re-evaluate the words and actions of the war's opponents in the stark light of a history that proved them wrong.

In the fall of 2002, a majority of Democrats in the Senate joined Republicans in voting to authorize President Bush to use force to remove the regime of Saddam Hussein. In July 2003, only three months after Saddam had been removed, the Democratic National Committee launched a national campaign which accused President Bush of lying in order to trick Democrats into voting for the war. It was the beginning of a five-year campaign designed to paint the president as the liar-in-chief and America as a criminal aggressor, and the military occupier of a poor country that had not attacked us.

What had changed in the intervening three months to turn Democrats so vehemently against the war they had authorized? The answer can only be found in domestic politics. In those three months, an unknown antiwar candidate named Howard Dean had taken the lead in the primary polls and was looking like a shoe-in for the Democratic presidential nomination. As a result rival candidates who had voted for the war, including eventual nominees Kerry and Edwards, changed their positions 180 degrees and joined the attacks on President Bush.

Naturally, the Democrats couldn't admit their attacks were motivated by crass political calculations. Instead, they claimed that they had been deceived by the White House which had manipulated the intelligence on Iraq, persuading them to support the war on false premises.

This allegation was in fact the biggest lie of the war, since Democrats had full access to all U.S. intelligence on Iraq through their seats on the congressional intelligence committees. This intelligence was available to them, in advance of their vote to authorize the use of force. In the months and years that followed, the Democrats added other false charges -- that troops "killed innocent civilians in cold blood," were "terrorizing kids and...women," and had committed atrocities comparable to "Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime."

They rejoiced when news reporters leaked information about national security programs designed to combat the terrorists - and thus destroyed them. They held up funding for American soldiers on the battlefield, attempted to cut off all funding, and when that failed, tried to tie funding to a timeline that would ensure America's defeat. They openly accused uniformed officers like General David Petraeus of lying about conditions on the ground and hoped against hope that "this war is lost, and the surge is not accomplishing anything."

It's interesting to me that the Democrats' modus operandi seems to be to approve something and then, when it becomes politically expedient, to act as if they were opposed and outraged all along. This is what they did with corporate bonuses, for example, and its what they did with Bush and the Iraq war. No one will ever mistake these guys for profiles in political courage.

It's also interesting to me that ever since it became clear that the war was essentially over, that we had won, and that Bush had largely been vindicated, we've heard next to nothing about Iraq in our media. They don't want to remind people, I guess, how terribly wrong they were about it.


Inching Toward the Exits

When Frank Rich of the New York Times is casting nervous glances toward the lifeboat you know the USS Obama is in serious trouble. Rich thinks that Obama may well be having his "Katrina Moment," the moment when Bush's alleged dithering started his approval ratings on a long downward trajectory.

Rich is terrified that the same thing might be happening to Obama because of the mess at AIG and CitiGroup:

Six weeks ago I wrote in this space that the country's surge of populist rage could devour the president's best-laid plans, including the essential Act II of the bank rescue, if he didn't get in front of it. The occasion then was the Tom Daschle firestorm. The White House seemed utterly blindsided by the public's revulsion at the moneyed insiders' culture illuminated by Daschle's post-Senate career. Yet last week's events suggest that the administration learned nothing from that brush with disaster.

The rest of his column is a plea for the administration to get its act together - which it clearly hasn't - because if they don't not only will we suffer the economic consequences but, worse than that, we'll find ourselves delivered into the hands of the evil Republicans:

As the nation's anger rose last week, the president took responsibility for what's happening on his watch - more than he needed to, given the disaster he inherited. But in the credit mess, action must match words. To fall short would be to deliver us into the catastrophic hands of a Republican opposition whose only known economic program is to reject job-creating stimulus spending and root for Obama and, by extension, the country to fail. With all due deference to Ponzi schemers from Madoff to A.I.G., this would be the biggest outrage of them all.

This is vintage Rich. He can never resist deliberately misrepresenting the political opposition in order to make rhetorical hay. But never mind. The news in this column is that even Obama's most steadfast supporters are, barely two months into the administration, inching toward the exits. That is not a good sign.


Monday, March 23, 2009

No Place to Hide

According to the LA Times the Obama administration is continuing the Bush policy of attacking al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan. The Bush policy underwent an important revision last summer and since then has been very successful in severely weakening al Qaeda.

Here are some excerpts from the Times' article:

An intense, six-month campaign of Predator strikes in Pakistan has taken such a toll on Al Qaeda that militants have begun turning violently on one another out of confusion and distrust, U.S. intelligence and counter-terrorism officials say.

The pace of the Predator attacks has accelerated dramatically since August, when the Bush administration made a previously undisclosed decision to abandon the practice of obtaining permission from the Pakistani government before launching missiles from the unmanned aircraft.

Because of its success, the Obama administration is set to continue the accelerated campaign despite civilian casualties that have fueled anti-U.S. sentiment and prompted protests from the Pakistani government.

"This last year has been a very hard year for them," a senior U.S. counter-terrorism official said of al Qaeda militants, whose operations he tracks in northwest Pakistan. "They're losing a bunch of their better leaders. But more importantly, at this point they're wondering who's next."

U.S. intelligence officials said they see clear signs that the Predator strikes are sowing distrust within Al Qaeda. "They have started hunting down people who they think are responsible" for security breaches, the senior U.S. counter-terrorism official said, discussing intelligence assessments on condition of anonymity. "People are showing up dead or disappearing."

But the Predator campaign has depleted the organization's operational tier. Many of the dead are longtime loyalists who had worked alongside Bin Laden and were part of the network's hasty migration into Pakistan in 2001 after U.S.-led forces invaded neighboring Afghanistan. They are being replaced by less experienced recruits who have had little, if any, history with Bin Laden and Zawahiri.

The offensive has been aided by technological advances and an expansion of the CIA's Predator fleet. The drones take off and land at military airstrips in Pakistan, but are operated by CIA pilots in the United States. Some of the pilots -- who also pull the triggers on missiles -- are contractors hired by the agency, former officials said.

The Bush administration had been constrained by its close ties with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who argued against aggressive U.S. action. But by last summer, after a series of disrupted terrorist plots in Europe had been traced to Pakistan, there were calls for a new approach.

The breaking point came when Musharraf was forced to resign mid-August, officials said. Within days, President Bush had approved the new rules: Rather than requiring Pakistan's permission to order a Predator strike, the agency was allowed to shoot first.

The success of the Predator campaign has prompted some counter-terrorism officials to speak of a post-Al Qaeda era in which its regional affiliates -- in North Africa and elsewhere -- are all that remain after the center collapses.

"You can imagine a horizon in which Al Qaeda proper no longer exists," said Juan Zarate, former counter-terrorism advisor to Bush. "If you were to continue on this pace, and get No. 1 and No. 2, Al Qaeda is dead. You can't resuscitate that organization as we know it without its senior leadership."

There are more details at the link. I believe President Obama is doing the right thing by pursuing this course of action, but I have to wonder - is this what the pacifist left had in mind when they cast their troth with the young Senator from Chicago?


Bailing Out the Rich

Thomas Sowell notes that the administration's mortgage bailout plan would rescue people defaulting on mortgages valued upwards of $729,000. Think about that.

Compassion is helping those less fortunate, but for the President compassion means you helping those much more fortunate, or irresponsible, than you. How many of us would even think of buying a house for three quarters of a million dollars?

Maybe you live in a modest home or in an apartment because you can't afford a home. No matter. You're required to help those who purchased a $730 thousand dollar house, but who defaulted on their payments, stay in their home. This is evidently the current administration's idea of sharing the burden.

Bush was severely criticized for giving tax cuts to people who pay taxes, i.e. the top 60% or so of wage earners. We were told that this amounted to a transfer of wealth from the lower classes to the rich. This was, of course, false. No wealth was transferred. People were simply allowed to keep more of what they earned.

To see a real transfer of wealth from the middle class to the upper class one should look at Obama's mortgage bailout plan.


Atheism and the French Terror

We've sometimes argued here that a nation that spurns the Judeo-Christian God leaves itself no ground upon which to stand when making moral judgments. There may be the odd exception, of course, but a state whose moral pilings are not sunk into Divine law will sooner or later subside into dissolution and avarice and perhaps into violence and bloodthirstiness. Moreover, the more self-consciously secular or atheistic a nation becomes the deeper it will descend into this amoral mire. At least this has been the history of the twentieth century, but it's not just a phenomenon of the twentieth century.

Perhaps the paradigmatic example of the slide into degeneracy that results from a conscious rejection of a theistic foundation for morality is the terror that followed the French Revolution of 1789.

The revolutionaries were uncompromising atheists intent on fulfilling the hope attributed to the French philosopher Denis Diderot who was said to have exclaimed that he longed to see the day when the last king would be strangled with the entrails of the last priest.

Inspired by men like Diderot and Rousseau the French set about trying to establish a state in which the influence of the Church was expunged and priests were executed. The horror that followed the Revolution of 1789 is hard to imagine. Lacking any transcendent constraint upon their hatreds and passions the French authorities wallowed in an orgy of horrific bloodshed.

In the course of nine months some 16,000 men, women, children, and even infants were sent to the guillotine. Some 40,000 more died as a result of being whipped, branded, broken on the wheel, mutilated, or otherwise abused. On one day 800 people were hacked to death, and on another 500 children were taken to a meadow where they were systematically clubbed to death. River barges were laden with people and pushed out into the river where they were sunk, drowning all on board.

The 20th century witnessed similar horrors perpetrated by communists who, in the name of state atheism, murdered over 100 million people, and atheistic or pantheistic Nazis who in the name of socialism and racial purity murdered another 6 million. The fruit of a consistent secularism is a "might-makes-right" ethic, which leads to the dehumanization of the other, which, in turn, leads to the guillotine and the abattoir.

Those who despise theism and the Church and wish to be rid of them need to give serious thought to exactly what would likely take their place.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Obamateur Hour

You'll recall, perhaps, that upon his recent visit to our shores British Prime Minister Gordon Brown presented President Obama and his family several gifts that fairly shimmered with historic significance and which evinced elaborate consideration and preparation. President Obama, for his part, presented the British Prime Minister with a set of classic movie DVDs that could have been purchased at Wal-Mart - and Brown doesn't even watch movies all that much.

Now we find out that the diplomatic gaffe is even worse than we thought. The DVDs, it happens, don't work in British machines.

Mark Steyn pokes a little fun at what he calls the "Obamateur Hour" crowd at the White House, and over at Powerline John Hinderaker asks the obvious question:

Can you imagine the Democrats' reaction if the Bush White House had given a European head of state a set of DVDs that can only be played on North American machines? It would have been conclusive proof of Bush's provincialism, lack of sensitivity to our allies' sensibilities, ignorance of the wider world, techno incompetence, failure to appreciate the superiority of European civilization, blah blah blah. That's how it would have been reported and editorialized on in every newspaper. So let's check tomorrow's papers and see whether that's how Obama's gaffe is covered. Or whether it's covered at all.

The media will doubtless downplay the blunder, just as they downplayed Secretary Clinton's embarrassing "reset" button blooper. This is, after all, no longer the Bush White House. No need, now that Bush is gone, to focus the country's attention on troubling signs of incompetence in the White House.

Actually, it's hard to fault the media for their inattention to the appalling lack of thought put into the Brown gift. The ongoing circus up the street on Capitol Hill is much too diverting to dwell on the administration's diplomatic lassitude. For sheer entertainment value it's hard to beat listening to the Democrats in Congress fulminating against corporate CEOs for handing out the bonuses the Democrats told them they could have in the first place. The "Obamateur Hour" is being played out at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, it appears, and lots of places in between.

Speaking of which, when is Treasury secretary Geithner going to get a staff?


Letter to the President

Somehow this letter to President Obama found its way into my mailbox:

Dear President Obama,

Thank you for helping my neighbors with their mortgage payments. You know the ones down the street, who in the good times refinanced their house several times and bought SUV's, ATV's, RV's, a pool, a big screen TV, two Wave Runners and a Harley. But I was wondering, since I am paying my mortgage and theirs, could you arrange for me to borrow the Harley now and then?

Richard Ford

Queen Creek, AZ

P.S. They also need help with their credit cards, when do you want me to start making those payments?

P.P.S. I almost forgot - they didn't file their income tax return this year. Should I go ahead and file for them or will you be appointing them to cabinet posts?

Pretty funny.



If you're in the mood for a film that'll make you feel good, make you laugh, and make you wish the world were like the microcosm depicted in this story, rent the 2007 movie titled Arranged. It's the story of two young women, one a Muslim, one an orthodox Jew, who find themselves working together as school teachers in New York City. They also find that despite the hatreds and hostilities between Muslims and Jews on the world stage these two women have much in common, especially since both of their families are trying to arrange marriages for them. It's a beautiful and funny story of friendship, and it provides an interesting glimpse of what it's like growing up Muslim and Jewish in America.

The film is for the most part very well acted, though I think the portrayal of the school's principal is a little heavy-handed, and I'm confident that you'll find much in it to enjoy and think about. It's unrated, but should be PG.


Friday, March 20, 2009


There are a couple of interesting submissions on our feedback page you might wish to check out.


Man-Caused Disasterists

Ace of Spades quotes this exchange between a Spiegel reporter and our Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano:

SPIEGEL: Madame Secretary, in your first testimony to the US Congress as Homeland Security Secretary you never mentioned the word "terrorism." Does Islamist terrorism suddenly no longer pose a threat to your country?

NAPOLITANO: Of course it does. I presume there is always a threat from terrorism. In my speech, although I did not use the word "terrorism," I referred to "man-caused" disasters. That is perhaps only a nuance, but it demonstrates that we want to move away from the politics of fear toward a policy of being prepared for all risks that can occur.

What an excellent idea. If we no longer call people terrorists then we'll no longer be afraid of them as they put the blade to our throats. Let Viewpoint be the first to adopt the new Orwellian phraseology. Suicide bombers and the 9/11 gang are no longer to be referred to as "terrorists" in our brave new world of Obamaspeak, they will henceforth be designated "man-caused disasterists."

I feel safer already. Don't you?


Academic Tyranny

Reuben Kendall, a mere freshman at the University of Tennessee, has the cheek to challenge the tenured dons of Darwinism to be more tolerant, open-minded, and to actually practice academic freedom. He's asking a lot of people who are among the most intellectually xenophobic dogmatists in our culture, but who knows, maybe some of them will be persuaded by his letter to change their minds about burning him at the stake and decide to just fail him instead.

Here's part of Kendall's letter to the student paper:

As a freshman, I haven't been at UT-Martin for very long. But some problems are so obvious that they don't take very long to notice.

In my studies I quickly realized that when it comes to the theory of evolution, Darwin is the only one who gets to answer questions-or ask them.

I want to question this theory - to test it; check its credentials. And I want honest, thoughtful answers to my questions, not pre-formulated quips and deflections. But I have learned that if I'm not an evolutionist, my questions don't get credited, or even heard.

When I ask why theories such as intelligent design are discredited so off-handedly, I typically hear, "Because intelligent design involves metaphysics, but evolution is based only on facts." Well, I am not so sure.

Obviously, Darwin observed mutation and selection processes within the finch species of the Galapagos. But was he really seeing the extreme mutation and selection that would be required to make a bird out of a dinosaur?

It seems to me Darwin's idea of increasingly specialized life descending from simple, single-celled creatures, was entirely conjectural....

The scientific community assures me that evolution will undoubtedly produce answers to all these problems. But in the meantime, nobody else is allowed to say anything. If you ask me, this isn't academic freedom.

True academic freedom would look like a variety of scientists, with differing opinions, having open and respectful debates about their ideas.

It would look like evolutionists actually being willing to learn what intelligent design advocates think, instead of dismissing them off-hand as religious fanatics or Creationists.

What a quaint idea, that.

What young Mr. Kendall is finding out is that many academics are only in favor of the free exchange of ideas and speech when their ideas are in the minority and out of power. Then they are all about the First Amendment to which they pay homage at every opportunity. Once they prevail in the political struggle, however, and obtain the power to stifle dissent, they'll do it faster than you can say "academic tyranny."

This is a time-honored tactic, especially among leftists. The left uses free elections to get their people ensconced in power and then ban meaningful elections. They use a free press to get their ideas propagated and then, once they're able, they shut down the free press. They employ public demonstrations to weaken the authority of the ruling bureaucracy, and once those rulers are toppled the left prohibits demonstrations. They use the law to erode the social structure they despise and once they're in power they pervert the courts and use them to punish political opponents.

But perhaps there's another, less malign, reason Mr. Kendall meets with silence and deflections when he poses his questions to his professors. Perhaps many instructors don't want a free and open discussion with a knowledgeable student because they simply fear their Darwinism will look lame to the rest of the class and, by extension, so will they.

It's a less malign reason for suppressing students like Mr. Kendall, but it's just as inexcusable.


Imprisoned in Your Body

I came across a report published last October that sent a chill up my spine. Researchers have confirmed something I had long feared. People in "comas" are sometimes minimally conscious and able to experience pain. They have no way, however, to communicate their suffering to those around them. It's thus quite possible that Terri Schiavo - and others in similar straits - suffered terribly when she was deprived of water and nourishment and essentially starved to death in 2005.

Imagine being aware, if only somewhat, of what is going on around you - imagine being in terrible discomfort - but also being unable to signal your discomfort to anyone or to do anything at all to alleviate it. You would be imprisoned in your body, and your body would be a torture chamber.

The report begins with this:

Do patients who survive a severe brain injury but fail to recover speech or non-verbal communication perceive pain? After their remarkable publication where they showed that a patient in a vegetative state in reality was conscious, scientists at the University of Li�ge (ULg) were able to tackle the very difficult issue of pain perception in coma survivors.

The Coma Science Group of the Cyclotron Research Centre and Neurology Department of the ULg used PET scanning to measure minimally conscious and vegetative patients' brain activation in response to noxious stimulation. After comparing results obtained in the different patient groups with those in healthy volunteers who could communicate it felt painful they concluded that minimally conscious patients must feel pain despite being unable to tell their environment. Hence, these patients should receive pain-killers, the authors concluded.

This study has major ethical and therapeutical consequences also with regard to end-of-life decisions in these challenging but vulnerable patient populations.

This last sentence is, of course, an understatement.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

A New Counterculture

When I was coming of age in the sixties there was among the young a movement of estrangement from the established seats of authority in government, entertainment, education, and even in the family. It was called the "counter-culture," and it expressed the normal desire of the young to write their own Declaration of Independence from the "oppressive" regimes of previous generations. It was often incoherent and self-indulgent, but not always.

The counter-culture rejected what they saw (sometimes rightly) as the hypocrisies and phoniness of their elders, and they chafed at the attempt of the older generation to inculcate those values into the young without being able to give a plausible justification of the standards they sought to impose.

Today those who once fancied themselves as counter-cultural comprise, in fact, the establishment. They dominate the film industry, the major television networks, the schools, and newsprint outlets. They control the Congress, the White House and large swaths of the judiciary. It's now their values that are being imposed on the next generation. What are those values?

Paradoxically they're a blend of both libertarianism and authoritarianism. In matters of personal ethics the former sixties rebels endorse a kind of moral laissez-faire. Sex, family, drugs, religion are all matters of personal taste. At the same time, certain other matters require strict conformity to the prevailing attitudes of the establishment. On questions such as gay marriage, abortion, George Bush, Darwinism, illegal immigration, capitalism, the military, etc. there's enormous pressure to conform one's opinions to the consensus establishment views.

During the sixties the more thoughtful among the young rebels realized that taking over the country required patience, time and perseverance, but they also knew that the mass of Americans were too apathetic about anything that really mattered to take notice of what was going on in the culture around them. Thus, they were confident that, like the slowly boiling water gradually overcoming the frog, they could gradually gain hold of the levers of cultural power until it was too late for a torpid "silent majority" to do anything about it.

Jeffrey Kuhner gives us a concise adumbration of what happened:

Since the 1960s, the radical left has sought to transform America by its "long march through the institutions." It has succeeded.

In fact, antiwar liberals simply followed the program outlined by Italian Leninist Antonio Gramsci, who advocated the theory of "cultural hegemony." Gramsci argued for an incremental socialism. He stressed that the key to winning political power lay not in seizing the economic means of production, but in capturing society's commanding cultural organs. This way the left could relentlessly mold public opinion and indoctrinate the youth. He predicted that, once the left attained cultural hegemony, the state would fall into its hands - like a ripe fruit.

President Obama's electoral victory represents the culmination of the left's march to power. Mr. Obama deftly exploited numerous advantages - a weak opponent, a fawning media, a financial crisis and a demoralized, fractured Republican Party. But the cultural groundwork had been laid for decades.

Mr. Obama is an anti-capitalist, anti-family and anti-American leftist. And here is what most conservatives do not understand: Large swathes of the American electorate don't care.

Precisely so, but the time is auspicious for the emergence of another counterculture, one which opposes the established political power structure, one which challenges its values and forces it to defend its ideas. The modern counterculture, the modern underground, will embrace not the hedonism and nihilism of the sixties and seventies, but rather the traditional virtues and values upon which this nation was founded.

It took more than fifty years for us to get where we are, and it will take time to undo that history, but if you're young and passionate for a return to the principles of individual freedom, excellence, and achievement, if you're eager to work to return our culture to a position of respect for both faith and family, the years ahead could be very exciting.


Leftist Ideology Trumps Competence

There are dozens of excellent jurists out there that President Obama could nominate to various judgeships. Indeed, President Bush nominated many of them only to have them languish awaiting confirmation by a Democratic senate in no hurry to seat judges appointed by the nefarious George Bush.

So, who does Barack Obama, after having promised us that competency would be his chief concern in all his appointments, make his first pick to fill an appellate court vacancy? Let Wendy Long at National Review Online explain:

As reported by the New York Times this morning, the first Obama federal Circuit Court of Appeals nominee is "moderate" David Hamilton of Indiana, to be nominated this week to the 7th Circuit.

It's interesting that this is what Obama and the New York Times call a "moderate": Hamilton has a history as a hard-left political activist, and his choice signals that Obama does intend to push extreme liberals onto the bench and politicize the courts as we've never seen before.

Hamilton was a fundraiser for ACORN (nice ACORN payback, Mr. President) and served as vice president for litigation and a board member of the Indiana ACLU. In 1994, when President Clinton nominated him to the district court, the ABA rated him as 'not qualified,' apparently because of his almost purely political (as opposed to legal and judicial) experience.

Interestingly, he is also the brother-in-law of perhaps the hardest left radical Obama nominee to the Department of Justice, Dawn Johnsen.

Beginning to notice a pattern here?

Indeed. Let's hope that the appointment of Mr. Hamilton is an aberration and that with the President's future appointees judicial competence will not be trumped by far left political views. Unfortunately, Mr. Obama has as yet given us little reason to be optimistic that this will be so.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hypocrisy or Buffoonery?

If the antics of our congressional poobahs were made into a television series it would quickly become a comedy classic. Take the reaction to the $450 million of executive bonuses paid by AIG after they had taken $173 billion of taxpayer money. Barney Frank, Chris Dodd and the gang are in high dudgeon, and Senator Dodd is threatening to levy a tax on the bonuses that would essentially confiscate them.

Set aside the dubious constitutional issues raised by threats by the state to legislatively target specific, individual, private citizens. Set aside the faux surprise of the President and congressional Democrats, many of whom knew these bonuses were coming for months if not longer. The part of this that earns our august leaders the Oscar for best comedy of the week is that it turns out that it's Chris Dodd himself who greased the skids for the bonuses in the first place.

Jim Meyer at Newsmax reports:

Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd on Monday criticized the bonuses given to executives of American International Group Inc. and suggested that the government could tax the recipients to recoup some or all of the payouts.

But it was Dodd who inserted language - known as the Dodd amendment - in the $787 billion stimulus bill that allowed all bonuses awarded before February 11, 2009, to be paid to AIG executives. That very amendment, which is now law, is now the chief hurdle to government officials who want to recover that money.

The amendment was meant to restrict executive pay for bailed-out banks, but it also included the exception for "contractually obligated bonuses agreed on or before Feb. 11, 2009."

Senator Dodd is, of course, denying that he ever did such a thing:

Dodd is telling reporters that his original language was changed in committee and he is not to blame. "When the language went to the conference and came back, there was different language," he told Fox News. "I can tell you this much, when my language left the Senate, it did not include it (the exception). When it came back, it did."

But his demurrals aren't persuasive. The bill went through so fast nobody had time to change much of anything in it:

Early Thursday evening, though, Democrats were at a loss to explain how and why the Dodd amendment was altered. Much of the stimulus bill was rushed through Congress with little opportunity to read or study exactly what was in it, despite frequent GOP requests to do exactly that.

No matter. When it comes to protecting our hard earned tax dollars few rush to the ramparts with more alacrity than Senator Dodd:

Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, thundered on Monday: "This is another outrageous example of executives - including those whose decisions were responsible for the problems that caused AIG's collapse - enriching themselves at the expense of taxpayers."

Incredibly, Dodd has now demanded a full briefing from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury on why "clauses weren't attached to the four AIG bailouts to halt bonuses," according to the New York Daily News. "Why wasn't the Fed putting conditionality [on the bailouts the] four different times they provided resources to AIG?" Dodd asked.

Well, it's because the Senator's amendment made it completely legal for AIG to do exactly what it did. Perhaps we can understand the Senator's motive for permitting those bonuses if we recall that:

Dodd is the largest single recipient of 2008 campaign donations from AIG, with $103,100, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That was more than presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain got, and nearly three times the $35,965 Sen. Hillary Clinton received.

Does this sound familiar? Senator Dodd takes the money with one hand and inserts the amendment with the other. Now the bonuses are actually awarded and Senator Dodd acts as if he's shocked and scandalized that AIG did exactly what he empowered them to do.

This certainly smells like politics as usual here in this golden age of Hope and Change.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Do Conservatives (Or Liberals) Love People?

In his much ballyhooed speech before the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) a week or so ago, Rush Limbaugh made the claim that "conservatives love people" - and everyone cheered. Actually, they cheered or laughed every time Rush exhaled so that doesn't mean much, but I thought his statement was a bit odd - mostly, I guess, because I'm not sure what he meant by it.

Did Rush mean that conservatives love people as individuals or did he mean that they love humanity in general? Liberals, too, often profess a love for mankind, but it's hard to credit their professions of love for their fellow man after they spent the last eight years heaping enormous dollops of hatred and contempt upon George Bush, Dick Cheney and everyone else associated with their administration.

Anyway, I think both Rush and the liberals are blowing smoke when they talk about their love for people.

After all, how do they define love? Is it an affection or fondness they feel toward others? Or is it, as I think it should be defined, a commitment to treat the other with dignity, respect, and kindness regardless of how we feel toward them? If it's the former then the self-professed lovers of mankind are being disingenuous. No one feels affection for everybody. If it's the latter, then both Rush and the liberal humanists are just kidding themselves and us: Rush certainly doesn't treat Bill Clinton or Barack Obama with dignity, respect, or kindness and the liberals certainly don't treat George Bush in particular, or conservatives in general, that way.

Dostoyevsky puts his finger on the problem when in his masterwork The Brothers Karamazov he quotes Father Zossima recounting the words of an acquaintance.

The old priest recounts the story of a disillusioned doctor who had great dreams of universal love but bitter disappointments in dealing with the real thing. "I love humanity," he said, "but the more I love humanity in general, the less I love people in particular." While his dreams portray visions of saving humankind, in his daily life the good doctor can't stand the people around him. "I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone for two days together. As soon as anyone is near me, his personality disturbs me and restricts my freedom." The slightest irritation rattles the poor man's nerves. He bristles at the way someone talks, sneers at the way someone walks or wheezes and can barely tolerate the manner of someone's dress or bearing. "In twenty-four hours I begin to hate the best of men. I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me."

French existentialist Jean Paul Sartre put the same idea somewhat differently in his play No Exit which he concludes with the claim that hell is other people.

At any rate, I think that any claim to a universal love for humanity should be greeted with a tincture of suspicion until we're told precisely what is meant by "love." I'm doubtless too much a cynic, but I really have difficulty believing that people who despise particular individuals really love humanity in general, even in the abstract.



Senator Charles Grassley is so outraged over the AIG bonuses that he wants the execs to either "quit or kill themselves." Representative Barney Frank is fuming about "rewarding incompetence." The cause of their anger is that AIG gave millions in bonuses to top executives after receiving billions of dollars of taxpayer bailout money. We should all be outraged as well, but not just at AIG.

We should be outraged that congress irresponsibly wrote the TARP legislation in such a way as to put no restrictions on how the money would be spent.

We should be outraged that congress irresponsibly pressured financial institutions to make loans to people who had no way to pay them back, thus precipitating the mess we're in.

We should be outraged that congress votes themselves outstanding health insurance, retirement benefits (they're vested after only five years of service at age 62), and a hefty salary ($174,000 for rank and file members) with automatic pay raises, all from the public purse.

We should be outraged that congress puts hundreds of millions of dollars of wasteful earmarks in appropriations bills that are often little more than ways to reward supporters back home.

It's certainly arrogant and disgraceful that AIG executives accepted those bonuses (The company was apparently required by contract to give them), but no more disgraceful than the behavior of our political leadership in Washington who abuse their power everyday by taking money from taxpayers and using it, either directly or indirectly, for their own personal gain.

Barack Obama promised he would end this sort of politics, but so far from ending it he's simply turned out to be an enabler of it. That should outrage us, too.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Rand's Villains

Yaron Brook, the president of the Ayn Rand Institute explains in the Wall Street Journal why he believes the late Ms Rand is as relevant today as ever.

Mr. Brook asks:

Why do we accept the budget-busting costs of a welfare state? Because it implements the moral ideal of self-sacrifice to the needy. Why do so few protest the endless regulatory burdens placed on businessmen? Because businessmen are pursuing their self-interest, which we have been taught is dangerous and immoral. Why did the government go on a crusade to promote "affordable housing," which meant forcing banks to make loans to unqualified home buyers? Because we believe people need to be homeowners, whether or not they can afford to pay for houses.

The message is always the same: "Selfishness is evil; sacrifice for the needs of others is good." But Rand said this message is wrong -- selfishness, rather than being evil, is a virtue. By this she did not mean exploiting others � la Bernie Madoff. Selfishness -- that is, concern with one's genuine, long-range interest -- she wrote, required a man to think, to produce, and to prosper by trading with others voluntarily to mutual benefit.

Rand also noted that only an ethic of rational selfishness can justify the pursuit of profit that is the basis of capitalism -- and that so long as self-interest is tainted by moral suspicion, the profit motive will continue to take the rap for every imaginable (or imagined) social ill and economic disaster. Just look how our present crisis has been attributed to the free market instead of government intervention -- and how proposed solutions inevitably involve yet more government intervention to rein in the pursuit of self-interest.

I think I'd want to quibble just a bit. I think Ayn Rand's atheism is simply wrong and thus the egoism and sexual morality she derives from it are wrong. Nevertheless, her analysis, especially in Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, of the great harm done by a collectivist government bent on redistributing wealth by seizing it from those who create it and giving it to those who create nothing is as trenchant today as it was when her books first appeared in the late forties and fifties. Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid could have been lifted right out of the pages of either of these novels. They're perfect avatars of Rand's villains.



Jason writes to tell me that an essay by Matt Labash in The Weekly Standard reveals much in common between Labash and me. Labash says:

Look at the outer shell--the parachute pants, the piano-key tie, the fake tuxedo T-shirt--and you might mistake me for a slave to fashion. Do not be deceived. Early adoption isn't my thing. I much prefer late adoption, that moment when the trend-worshipping sheeple who have early-adopted drive the unsustainable way of life I so stubbornly cling to ever so close to the edge of obsolescence, that I've no choice but to follow. This explains why I bought cassette tapes until 1999, why I wouldn't purchase a DVD player until Blockbuster cashiered their VHS stock. Toothpaste? I use it now that it's clear it's here to stay.

So I'm not inflexible. But there is one promise I've made to myself. And that is that no matter how long I live, no matter how much pressure is exerted, no matter how socially isolated I become, I will never, ever join Facebook, the omnipresent online social-networking site that like so many things that have menaced our country (the Unabomber, Love Story, David Gergen) came to us from Harvard but has now worked its insidious hooks into every crevice of society.

Labash's essay is pretty funny, but I empathize completely with his complaint. I just can't see the point of being "friends" with hundreds of people you don't know. It'd be different if you had something significant to say to each other, but Facebook dialogue is usually so banal it makes chat room conversation sound like a seminar at the Aspen Institute.

Besides, I don't get enough sleep as it is, I don't need to be up half the night trying to keep up with the goings on among five hundred of my closest friends. I'm perfectly happy to be the last person in America who is "friendless."

Gosh, I just realized this post sounds like something that was written on Facebook.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Good for the Goose

Michael Egnor corrects the muddled thinking of Timothy Sandefur. Sandefur argues that Darwinism should be taught in schools because it's science and intelligent design should not be taught because it's religion. Sandefur fails to see the special pleading in this, and Egnor points it out to him:

I believe that teaching public schoolchildren that the first two chapters of Genesis are literally true as science is unconstitutional, because it would constitute teaching a particular form of theistic religion on the public dime. I also believe that teaching public schoolchildren and students that...

The diversity of life [all life] on earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments...


By coupling undirected, purposeless variation to the blind, uncaring process of natural selection, Darwin made theological or spiritual explanations of life superfluous. ... Darwin's theory of evolution, followed by Marx's materialistic (even if inadequate or wrong) theory of history and society and Freud's attribution of human behavior to influences over which we have little control, that provided a crucial plank to the platform of mechanism and materialism--in short, to much of science--that has since been the stage of most Western thought.


Darwin knew that accepting his theory required believing in philosophical materialism, the conviction that matter is the stuff of all existence and that all mental and spiritual phenomena are its by-products. This is unconstitutional, because it is teaching atheism on the public dime.

I believe that teaching schoolchildren about intelligent design (which is not young earth creationism) is constitutional, because it is intrinsically part of the scientific debate about biological origins. It is part of the debate because intelligent design and Darwinism are affirmative and negative answers to the same scientific question: is there teleology in biology?

The Darwinian assertion of unguided processes is meaningless unless lack of unguidedness - design - can be tested scientifically. If a scientific question can meaningfully be answered in the negative, then there must be the logical possibility of answering the question in the affirmative. If intelligent design isn't science, then Darwinism can't be tested empirically, and is merely dogma.

This is a point we've made here many times. If the claim that natural processes alone are adequate to explain living things is scientific then the denial of that claim is also scientific, and the denial of that claim is the core assertion of intelligent design.

It is, moreover, simply false to assume that intelligent design is religious because the designer it implies must be God. It certainly does not have to be God, but even if it did that does not make it religious. God-talk is not necessarily religious. Seeking to discover the nature of ultimate reality has religious implications, as does the claim that the ultimate reality is space, time and matter, but it's not itself religious. It's philosophical.

It is also philosophically purblind to try to keep ID out of public schools because it entails a designer which could be God, but to allow Darwinian theories to be taught which entail that a designer is not necessary. Surely, the claim that an intelligent designer is not necessary to account for the world is a religious claim and anything which implies it, as Darwinism does, has no place in a public school - unless the counterclaim that natural processes are inadequate, by themselves, to account for the world is also permitted.


Darwin's Unfortunate Racial Views

Denyse O'Leary at Uncommon Descent wonders why people hold Charles Darwin in such high esteem. Of course he was hugely influential and gave us some wonderful insights into evolution, but the man was a racist, says O'Leary.

I sometimes think that Darwin's racism is a bit overstated, but then again he did say this:

"At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the Negro or Australian and the gorilla."

It sounds like something one might read in Mein Kampf. Imagine if a seminal intelligent design theorist, say William Dembski, were found to have written something like that. Would we celebrate his birthday? Would those in the academy who called themselves "Dembskiists" not be energetically flagellated at every opportunity by their academic peers? How do you suppose the media would respond? Never mind, no need to answer.

Anyway, O'Leary has issued a challenge to Darwinists to "divorce" themselves from old Charles. I doubt she's holding her breath.