Saturday, May 30, 2009

With Small Men

Dennis Prager challenges us to name a single contemporary European who has achieved greatness in some field other than politics, sports, or popular entertainment. The challenge may not be quite fair because greatness often takes a generation of two to become apparent, but Prager's point is that Europe has declined to the point where it's no longer turning out men and women of high accomplishment:

Even well-informed people who love art and literature and who follow developments in science and medicine would be hard pressed to come up with many, more often any, names. In terms of greatness in literature, art, music, the sciences, philosophy, and medical breakthroughs, Europe has virtually fallen off the radar screen.

What has happened is that Europe, with a few exceptions, has lost its creativity, intellectual excitement, industrial innovation, and risk taking. Europe's creative energy has been sapped. There are many lovely Europeans; but there aren't many creative, dynamic, or entrepreneurial ones.

So, if this is true to what shall we attribute the blame for this tragic state of affairs? Prager gives us an answer:

There are two reasons: secularism and socialism (aka the welfare state). Either one alone sucks much of the life out of society. Together they are likely to be lethal.

His argument in defense of this claim deserves to be presented in full:

Even if one holds that religion is false, only a dogmatic and irrational secularist can deny that it was religion in the Western world that provided the impetus or backdrop for nearly all the uniquely great art, literature, economic and even scientific advances of the West. Even the irreligious were forced to deal with religious themes -- if only in expressing rebellion against them.

Religion in the West raised all the great questions of life: Why are we here? Is there purpose to existence? Were we deliberately made? Is there something after death? Are morals objective or only a matter of personal preference? Do rights come from the state or from the Creator?

And religion gave positive responses: We are here because a benevolent God made us. There is, therefore, ultimate purpose to life. Good and evil are real. Death is not the end. Human rights are inherent since they come from God. And so on.

Secularism drains all this out of life. No one made us. Death is the end. We are no more significant than any other creatures. We are all the results of mere coincidence. Make up your own meaning (existentialism) because life has none. Good and evil are merely euphemisms for "I like" and "I dislike."

Thus, when religion dies in a country, creativity wanes. For example, while Christian Russia was backward in many ways, it still gave the world Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Tolstoy, and Tchaikovsky. Once Christianity was suppressed, if not killed, in Russia, that country became a cultural wasteland (with a few exceptions like Shostakovich and Solzhenitsyn, the latter a devout Christian). It is true that this was largely the result of Lenin, Stalin and Communism; but even where Communism did not take over, the decline of religion in Europe meant a decline in human creativity -- except for nihilistic and/or absurd isms, which have greatly increased.

As G. K. Chesterton noted at the end of the 19th century, when people stop believing in God they don't believe in nothing, they believe in anything. One not only thinks of the violent isms: Marxism, Marxism-Leninism, Fascism, Maoism, and Nazism, but of all the non-violent isms that have become substitute religions - e.g., feminism, environmentalism, and socialism.

The state sucks out creativity and dynamism just as much as secularism does. Why do anything for yourself when the state will do it for you? Why take care of others when the state will do it for you? Why have ambition when the state is there to ensure that few or no individuals are rewarded more than others?

America has been the center of energy and creativity in almost every area of life because it has remained far more religious than any other industrialized Western democracy and because it has rejected the welfare state social model.

Which is why so many are so worried about President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party's desire to transform -- in their apt wording -- America into a secular welfare state. The greatest engine of moral, religious, economic, scientific, and industrial dynamism is being starved of its fuel. The bigger the state, the smaller its people.

Indeed. I'm reminded by Prager's essay of the closing words of John Stuart Mill's On Liberty:

A State which dwarf's its men, in order that they may be more docile instruments in its hands -even for beneficial purposes - will find that with small men no great thing can really be accomplished.


Atheistic Ethics

David Harsanyi of the Denver Post writes an odd column explaining how he was driven by moral considerations to abandon his pro-choice views in favor of a pro-life ethic. This is all very well but the odd part is that he seems completely unaware that his new-found sense of moral obligation toward the unborn is completely incompatible with the first two sentences of his essay:

As an atheist and a secular kinda guy, I practice moral relativism regularly. Still, I've always struggled mightily with the ethics and politics of abortion.

This statement simply negates all that comes after. If Harsanyi is correct that there is no God, then there's simply no reason why anyone should think that abortion is wrong or that one has any obligation to respect human life. Harsanyi says, for example, that:

After a life of being pro-choice, I began to seriously ponder the question. I oppose the death penalty because there is a slim chance that an innocent person might be executed and I don't believe the state should have the authority to take a citizen's life. So don't I owe an nascent human life at least the same deference? Just in case?

Well, no, not if atheism is true, you don't. As Dostoyevsky put it, "If God is dead then everything is permitted." There are no obligations, no moral debts that we owe anyone. How could there be? What is it, precisely, that imposes the obligation that Harsanyi thinks he has to nascent human life?

What happens when we can use abortion to weed out the blind, mentally ill, the ugly, or any other "undesirable" human being?

What happens is that we go ahead and do it if we can get enough influential people to feel the same way we do. In a Godless world, might makes right. If a group of people have the power to practice the kind of eugenics Harsanyi's talking about here, there's no reason why they shouldn't do it.

Now, I happen to believe (as the civil libertarian and pro-life activist Nat Hentoff once noted) that the right to life and liberty is the foundation of a moral society.

Actually, the foundation of a moral society, indeed the foundation of the right to life and liberty, is the existence of God. Take that away and there are no rights and there's certainly no "moral society." This is not to say that one must believe in God to live by the values Harsanyi esteems. That's not the point at all. The point is that, given atheism, one can live by any values one chooses. The choice to live by this value rather than that is completely subjective and arbitrary. Harsanyi's preference for protecting the unborn is simply a matter of his own taste, like his preference for one flavor of ice cream rather than another. He could, were he inclined, support the murder of toddlers and it would not be any more or less wrong, in a moral sense, than his desire to protect them.

Charles Darwin writes in his autobiography that "One who does not believe in God or an afterlife can have for his rule of life ... only to follow those impulses and instincts which are the strongest and which seem to him to be the best." Darwin is correct in thinking that for the atheist morality is simply a matter of personal preference and subjectivity, but such thinking leads us to the edge of the abyss. If one man's impulses and instincts incline him to be a child molester and another's predispose him to be a great humanitarian what basis does Darwin, or Harsanyi, have for saying that one is any better, or worse, than the other?


Friday, May 29, 2009


By now, some of our readers may have read Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse by James W. Rawles...

Part novel, part survivalist-handbook, Patriots tells of a small group of friends facing every American's worst nightmare-the total collapse of society. The stock market plummets and hyperinflation cripples commerce and then a seemingly isolated financial crisis passes the tipping point when an unprepared government fails to act. Practically overnight, the fragile institutions of democracy fall apart and every American is forced to survive on their own.

Evading mobs of desperate, out-of-control citizens who have turned Chicago into a wasteland of looting and mayhem, this novel's protagonists make their way to a shared secure ranch in the wilds of northern Idaho. Here the survival-driven group fends off vicious attacks from the outside and eventually assists in restoring order to the country. The compelling, fast-paced action-adventure novel has readers jotting notes and referencing the book's impressive index for informative survivalist tips on everything from setting up a secure shelter to treating traumatic flesh wounds.

The primary message of the book is about being prepared to be self-sufficient should we find that some of the services we've come to expect and rely upon no longer are available like running water, electricity, fully stocked grocery shelves, law enforcement, etc. I found several interesting things about this book:

  • It's a self-sufficiency manual wrapped inside a novel. So even if some threads of the story might seem to wander a bit, there's always an underlying educational "how-to" to be learned.

  • The events that are unfolding in our economy as I write this have the potential to cause the very social collapse that Rawles describes in his story. Government administrations have ignored the Constitutional mandate for honest money for decades and have embraced Keynesian economics at their (and our) peril. The big banks have hijacked our government and the Administration does their bidding with little or no regard for the cost to the American citizen.

  • There is a surprising turn of events toward the end that I just didn't see coming (you'll have to read the book to find out).

  • Perhaps, most importantly, the book should motivate the reader to contemplate their degree of preparedness and what they would do should such a scenario unfold.

For those with confidence that such a disruption couldn't happen here in America, you only have to recall the breakdown of law and order, the killing, raping, and looting that took place in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. At least two observations may be made: First, it is ultimately the individual's responsibility to provide for their own security, protection, and welfare. It is not the job of the government and it obviously was a mistake for those who thought that it was. And second, if there was anything positive about Katrina, it's that it was localized to the Gulf area rather than being national in scope.

In the story, the incompetents running our country are held responsible for the unraveling of our social fabric but it could just as easily be caused by a terrorist attack or even a major sun spot or solar storm event. Rawles makes an interesting point when he says that our society's civility is only a thin veneer. Take away food and water for four days and it will be stripped away in an instant. If that happens, what are you going to do?

Check it out.

Latina Justice

Karl Rove maintains that both President Obama and the Republicans get something from the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor:

Mr. Obama said he wanted to replace Justice David Souter with someone who had "empathy" and who'd temper the court's decisions with a concern for the downtrodden, the powerless and the voiceless.

"Empathy" is the latest code word for liberal activism, for treating the Constitution as malleable clay to be kneaded and molded in whatever form justices want. It represents an expansive view of the judiciary in which courts create policy that couldn't pass the legislative branch or, if it did, would generate voter backlash.

There is a certain irony in a president who routinely praises America's commitment to "the rule of law" but who picks Supreme Court nominees for their readiness to discard the rule of law whenever emotion moves them.

Rove is correct to point out the irony. Liberal judicial philosophy is not about determining what the law says but about enacting into policy what they wish it said. A judge who rules on the basis of empathy is a judge who is derelict in her responsibility. An impartial judge should not allow personal feelings to obtrude into her interpretation of the law. If she does then she'll be showing a favoritism or bias toward one or the other of the parties who appear before her. That this is improper is the whole point of the symbol of justice as a blind-folded woman.

The Sotomayor nomination also provides Republicans with some advantages. They can stress their support for judges who strictly interpret the Constitution and apply the law as written. A majority of the public is with the GOP on opposing liberal activist judges. There is something in our political DNA that wants impartial umpires who apply the rules, regardless of who thereby wins or loses.

Mr. Obama understands the danger of heralding Judge Sotomayor as the liberal activist she is, so his spinners are intent on selling her as a moderate. The problem is that she described herself as liberal before becoming a judge, and fair-minded observers find her on the left of the federal bench.

Republicans also get a nominee who likes showing off and whose YouTube moments and Google insights cause people to wince. There are likely to be more revelations like Stuart Taylor's find last Saturday of this Sotomayor gem in a speech at Berkeley: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion [as a judge] than a white male who hasn't lived that life." Invert the placement of "Latina woman" and "white male" and have a conservative say it: A career would be finished.

Few revelations in recent weeks show the media's total abandonment of their traditional role as neutral watchdogs of the political power players than the revelation to which Rove refers. If, mutatis mutandis, this fatuous remark had been made by a white male, especially a conservative white male, he'd have been keel-hauled by the media and the left. The President would have yanked his nomination within hours, but the same comment from a Hispanic woman elicits nothing more from our media guardians than a few tut-tuts before they commence stomping upon any hapless Republican who might suggest that just maybe Ms Sotomayor is a bit of a bigot.

The media has also quickly adopted the story line that Republicans will damage themselves with Hispanics if they oppose Ms. Sotomayor. But what damage did Democrats suffer when they viciously attacked Miguel Estrada's nomination by President George W. Bush to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the nation's second-highest court? New York Sen. Chuck Schumer was particularly ugly, labeling Mr. Estrada a right-wing "stealth missile" who was "way out of the mainstream" and openly questioning Mr. Estrada's truthfulness.

Democrats can get away with this because both Hispanics and African-Americans, like drug-dependent women living with abusive boyfriends, are perfectly willing to suffer the indignities heaped upon them by the party overseers as long as those "boyfriends" keep promising them more "candy."

Nonetheless, Republicans must treat her with far more care than Democrats treated John Roberts or Samuel Alito and avoid angry speeches like Sen. Ted Kennedy's tirade against Robert Bork. The GOP must make measured arguments against her views and philosophy, using her own words and actions.

The Ricci case is an example: Whites were denied fire department promotions because of a clear racial quota. Ms. Sotomayor's refusal to hear their arguments won her stinging criticism from fellow Second Court of Appeals judge Jos� Cabranes, a respected Clinton appointee.

The Ricci case is right now before the Supreme Court and knowledgeable observers predict that it's going to be overturned. Perhaps Ms Sotomayor should have had a little empathy for the firefighters in this case who worked very hard (overcoming dyslexia in the case of Mr. Ricci) to prepare for the test and pass it. According to NPR:

Frank Ricci, the lead plaintiff in this case, is not a naturally gifted test taker. In an affidavit, he said he has dyslexia, that he studied as much as 13 hours a day for the firefighter promotional exam, that he paid someone to read the textbooks onto audiotapes, prepared flashcards and worked with a study group. And he passed.

Ms Sotomayor disdained the test results because all the people who passed were white (one Hispanic). Her empathy evidently does not extend to such as Mr. Ricci who, due to an unfortunate accident of birth, is a white male.

Anyway, unless the Republicans block her in committee she'll be the next Supreme Court Justice, and she'll have ample opportunity to demonstrate how a Latina judge is better situated than those doofus white men on the Court to interpret the Constitution. I can't wait.


The Crucial Factor

Noemie Emery cuts to the heart of the debate over torture with a fine essay at the Washington Examiner. She notes that in all the sturm und drang the most crucial element in determining the nature of the act is often omitted - intent. Whether an act is evil or not depends not merely upon the act itself, as so many of President Bush's critics seem to assume, but mostly on the reasons why it is done.

This is such an elementary ethical principle that one is taken aback by the realization that it still needs to be articulated. Here's some of Emery's column:

The key to the way we judge the morals of violence is that, while the impact on the victim always is similar, force used offensively and force used defensively have always been two different things. Shoot someone, or failing that, fracture his skull with a fire tong, and you inflict pain, harm, and possibly death on your victim, but the reason you do it determines your fate.

Stand at the top of a hill with a rifle, and spray shots at the people beneath you?

If it's campus, you're a monster, and serial killer. If it's a battlefield, and you're facing an enemy onslaught, you'll get a medal, if you survive. Charge at someone with bayonet fixed and pointed? If you're an Axis soldier impaling civilians, it's an act of the utmost depravity. If you're a Union soldier at Little Round Top at Gettysburg, fighting off the oncoming Confederate army, you're a national hero, saving the last, best hope of mankind.

In the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln was offered the use of a bullet that exploded inside the body, doing the victim incredible damage. Lincoln approved it: It would shorten the war. For the same reason - to shorten the war - President Harry S Truman incinerated not one but two Japanese cities. Neither man is considered a war criminal (except by Bill Maher), as they took some lives to save more lives, specifically those entrusted to them, and to preserve a political system less unjust than the ones they were fighting.

Their guilt is absolved by their intent, which was to save lives, and a more benign social order. Yet liberals, who apply the motive defense in trying to exonerate perpetrators of criminal violence - the accused was stressed out, he ate Twinkies, he was deprived as a child, etc. - seem strangely unwilling to extend this to those who made use of 'harsh' tactics to forestall further attacks after thousands had perished in the most torturous manner on Sept. 11, 2001.

"The horror of Sept. 11 resides in me like a dormant pathogen," writes Richard Cohen, shortly before comparing George Bush to a Nazi for trying to make sure such a horror would never recur. "Here, once again, were the squalid efforts of legal toadies to justify the unjustifiable," as he informs us. "I know it is offensive to compare almost anyone or anything to the Nazis, but the Bush-era memos struck me as echoes from the past."

But the Nazis' intent was to invade countries and subjugate and degrade whole populations, set up death camps where as many as 11 million civilians would perish, and orchestrate the elimination through starvation and torture of the ethnically impure from the universe. The intent of Bush and his people in water-boarding three hard core terrorists was to prevent another 9/11, that was sprung on his unaware and his innocent country.

Cohen's characterization is at best simplistic and reveals an inchoate, underdeveloped moral understanding. His argument, if one might wish to characterize it as such, is that since the Nazis inflicted suffering, and the Bush people inflicted suffering, therefore the Bush people are Nazis. It's pretty embarrassing, but there you have it, and Cohen isn't the only one to comment on this issue whose logical abilities are similarly attenuated.

The crucial question that needs to be asked to determine whether the Bush administration acted in a morally reasonable way is not so much what did they do, but rather why did they do it, and this question seems to concern very few of Bush's critics.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Voter Apathy

It turns out that large numbers of people who voted for President Obama in November disagree with much of his program and policies. Given that anyone who was paying attention last Fall had to know what Obama would do once he was in office, we must conclude that these people either weren't paying attention or they voted for Obama notwithstanding their disagreements with his plans for the country. The first is irresponsible, the second is irrational.

With an electorate like this out there it's no wonder Democrats want to make it easier to vote.


Uncivil Discourse

What can be done to instill civility into our political discourse? The last eight years were characterized by a viciousness that may have been unprecedented in most of our lifetimes, and though Republicans have, I honestly believe, treated President Obama with much greater respect than Democrats treated President Bush, it remains the case that with the advent of blogs, cable TV, and talk radio civility seems to have become an anachronism.

Some people, perhaps, might think that it's only those who suffer most from the kind of eye-gouging that occurs daily in the blogosphere and on the airwaves who call for civility. Civility, in this view, is the plea of those who hold to what Nietzsche called slave morality, the attempt by the weak to mitigate the harshness of their masters by foisting a moral system on them that would constrain their will to power. In other words, pleas for civility are the recourse of society's losers who don't want the strong to be all the time beating them up, but who are otherwise powerless to prevent it.

I think, though, that the opposite is true. Civility is a mark of strength. Calmness and courtesy are indicators of confidence in one's positions. Lies, insults, and rudeness are red flags hoisted by people who subliminally recognize that their arguments are inherently weak. The flimsiness of a point of view can often be measured by the level of shrillness and meanness with which it's presented. If one's ideas are compelling then he has nothing to fear by extending courtesy and respect to the other side.

No one makes this case with more clarity or eloquence than John Stuart Mill in his wonderful book On Liberty. Mill writes, for instance, that:

The worst offense of this kind which can be committed by a polemic is to stigmatize those who hold a contrary opinion as bad and immoral men .... [O]pinion ought, in every instance, to determine its verdict by the circumstances of the individual case; condemning everyone, on whichever side of the argument he places himself, in whose mode of advocacy either want of candor, or malignity, bigotry, or intolerance of feeling manifest themselves, but not inferring these vices from the side which a person takes, though it be the contrary side of the question to our own; and giving merited honor to every one, whatever opinion he may hold, who has calmness to see and honesty to state what his opponents and their opinions really are, exaggerating nothing to their discredit, keeping nothing back which tells, or can be supposed to tell, in their favor. This is the real morality of public discussion: and if often violated, I am happy to think that there are many controversialists who to a great extent observe it and a still greater number who conscientiously strive towards it.

I write all this after having read a post by Rod Dreher who recently found himself exposed to radio talker Mark Levin:

I don't listen to talk radio a lot, because I have a short commute between office and home. But last fall, I got into the car with a colleague to go pick up a pizza (we were working late), and heard some conservative talker with a screechy voice just making an ass of himself. Even when I disagree with Limbaugh, he's interesting to listen to -- funny and entertaining. So too with Laura Ingraham, and even Anne Coulter. But this guy was just horrible. He sounded horrible, and he whined and moaned and basically carried on like the shrill crackpot at the bar that you excuse yourself to go to the bathroom to get away from, and then head for the door.

"That's Mark Levin," my friend explained.

After recounting a decidedly unpleasant exchange Levin had with a caller, Dreher says this:

A cretin who would say something like this on his radio show is a big deal among a lot of conservatives. Good grief. Having spent about 15 unpleasant minutes listening to this creep, I cannot imagine why anybody pays attention to him. Seriously, where is the pleasure in listening to this kind of trashmouth? If I were on the left, I would make sure that people thought that Mark Levin was the face of the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

I guess not even Dreher can resist the temptation to resort to name-calling, but that's not my point, exactly. The fact is that he's right about Levin (to get a sense of Levin's style go here), and not just Levin, and certainly not just conservative talk radio personalities.

Nevertheless, speaking just of conservatives, it's counter-productive of them to dress themselves in such uncomely rhetorical robes because it closes off any chance that their ideas, which are usually superior to those of the left, will get a hearing among the great mass of people who see themselves as neither conservative nor liberal, but who could potentially be swayed by compelling arguments humorously and irenically presented.

Ugly, nasty rhetoric, gratuitous insults and name-calling, refusing to let opponents be heard, are all tactics which generate only resentment and a desire to tune the offender out. They put off the very people we want to reach and they rarely persuade. For this reason I no longer read Ann Coulter (though Dreher seems to like her), nor listen to Michael Savage or Mark Levin and have a great deal of difficulty tolerating Sean Hannity. Despite the ratings and success of these people I don't want any of them to be the face of modern conservatism. I have no problem with their frequent criticisms of liberalism - indeed, I often agree with them - but I have a big problem with the manner in which they often make those criticisms and the way they too often treat liberals as persons.

Nor can the left plead rhetorical chastity. Left-wing blogs are often stomach-turning in their vileness, and I can scarcely watch Chris Matthews on MSNBC who is, in my opinion, one of the rudest people on cable TV. And when it comes to sheer meanness Matthews' colleague Keith Olbermann is all that Dreher accuses Mark Levin of being, and worse.

It's hard to treat people with respect and dignity, of course, when they refuse the same courtesy to others, and it's easy to succumb to the temptation to call one's opponents names when they behave in ways that make the name appropriate. It's not always wrong, after all, to call a stupid idea stupid or to call a despicable human being despicable. Sometimes, when stakes are high and the battle hot some rhetoric and behavior are warranted which would not be otherwise, but incendiary language should be used sparingly and judiciously, never gratuitously. If it's deemed appropriate to use a pejorative in our discourse the reason for it should be explained, and it should not simply be employed as a pinch-hitter for an argument. To employ a different metaphor, our political discourse should be more like those laser-guided missiles the military uses and less like indiscriminate carpet bombing.

Nevertheless, drawing lines our rhetoric should not cross isn't easy, and fair-minded people will disagree as to when the line is being breached. No one wants to narrow the bounds to the point where satire is prohibited or the mot juste that would prick the egos of pompous gasbags is disallowed. Then, too, there are those like Perez Hilton, who, because of their cruel treatment of others, deserve a brutally frank assessment of their own relevant inadequacies. Any line we draw should not rule out of bounds condign frankness about those who mistreat others.

But the difficulty in knowing precisely where to place the foul line does not relieve us of the prima facie duty to give the benefit of the doubt, to exercise restraint, and to refrain from calling people names, as Levin and Dreher both do, over legitimate differences of opinion.

We can accurately describe someone's behavior as stupid, sleazy, or sickening without imputing those adjectives to the person himself, at least until such time as a long train of examples makes it impossible to separate the person from the behavior.

Politics (or any arena in which ideas are at issue) is, switching metaphors again, like boxing. There's nothing wrong with trying to hit your opponent with all you've got. There's nothing wrong with trying, within the rules, to diminish his ability to impose his will, there's nothing wrong with using language that packs a wallop, but it's always wrong to hit below the belt, to try to hurt and humiliate the other person. It's not wrong to deflate arrogant political egos, but it's always wrong to try to destroy people who are honestly and sincerely trying to do the best job they can. Too many people in our politically-oriented media think that the way to prevail in our nation's policy battles is by grievously crippling their opponents or by destroying them personally. Doing this may certainly bring one power, but it's a benefit gained at the cost of one's humanity. It's a devil's bargain.

There's more on the Dreher/Levin contretemps here. For what it's worth I think Dreher overstates Levin's importance to conservatism. He's not the face of contemporary conservatism, as Dreher alleges. That distinction, in my opinion, goes to Rush Limbaugh - whom both Dreher and I often appreciate - and increasingly to Glenn Beck.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Augustine on Creation

Alister McGrath has a fine article in Christianity Today on Augustine (354 A.D. - 430 A.D.) and "how the great theologian might weigh in on the Darwin debate." It's surprising, perhaps, to read how prescient Augustine was:

In The Literal Meaning of Genesis, which was written between 401 and 415 .... Augustine draws out the following core themes: God brought everything into existence in a single moment of creation. Yet the created order is not static. God endowed it with the capacity to develop. Augustine uses the image of a dormant seed to help his readers grasp this point. God creates seeds, which will grow and develop at the right time. Using more technical language, Augustine asks his readers to think of the created order as containing divinely embedded causalities that emerge or evolve at a later stage. Yet Augustine has no time for any notion of random or arbitrary changes within creation. The development of God's creation is always subject to God's sovereign providence. The God who planted the seeds at the moment of creation also governs and directs the time and place of their growth.

The idea of a seed, an acorn perhaps, is a nice metaphor for an increasingly popular theory among some Intelligent Design advocates called "front-loaded" evolution. In this view God created the universe with all the potential for everything that would emerge in the universe packed into the initial conditions which obtained at the Big Bang. Thus the physical universe unfolded in precisely the way God intended, ultimately producing human beings.

Augustine also argues that Scripture teaches that time is also part of the created order, that God created space and time together. For some, however, the idea of time as a created thing seemed ridiculous. Again, Augustine counters that the biblical narrative is not open to alternative interpretations. Time must therefore be thought of as one of God's creatures and servants. For Augustine, time itself is an element of the created order. Timelessness, on the other hand, is the essential feature of eternity.

This is an incredible insight for a man of the fifth century given that this view of time is exactly that held by modern cosmologists. Time requires matter in motion. To see this try to imagine time in a world in which all matter is frozen in a motionless state. It's a condition not unlike that of the characters in a movie when the pause button on the remote is pushed. For these characters there is no time until the action resumes. If there's nothing, no matter nor energy, then there can be no time, at least not as we understand it. Thus apart from the universe, and the movement of its material components, the kind of time with which we are familiar does not exist.

Now, Augustine may be wrong in asserting that Scripture clearly teaches that the Creation was instantaneous.... Other options certainly exist-most notably, the familiar idea that the six days of Creation represent six periods of 24 hours, or the related idea that they represent six more extended periods, possibly millions of years. Nevertheless, Augustine's position ought to make us reflect on these questions, even if some of us believe him to be incorrect.

So what are the implications of this ancient Christian interpretation of Genesis for the Darwin celebrations? .... For Augustine, God created a universe that was deliberately designed to develop and evolve. The blueprint for that evolution is not arbitrary, but is programmed into the very fabric of creation. God's providence superintends the continuing unfolding of the created order.

This is a point similar to the one we illustrated a couple of months ago with the analogy of a braided river.

Where some might think of the Creation as God's insertion of new kinds of plants and animals readymade into an already existing world, Augustine rejects this as inconsistent with the overall witness of Scripture. Rather, God must be thought of as creating in that very first moment the potencies for all the kinds of living things to come later, including humanity.

This means that the first Creation account describes the instantaneous bringing into existence of primal matter, including causal resources for further development. The second account explores how these causal possibilities emerged and developed from the earth. Taken together, the two Genesis Creation accounts declare that God made the world instantaneously, while envisaging that the various kinds of living things would make their appearance gradually over time-as they were meant to by their Creator.

The image of the "seed" implies that the original Creation contained within it the potential for all the living kinds to subsequently emerge. This does not mean that God created the world incomplete or imperfect, in that "what God originally established in causes, he subsequently fulfilled in effects." This process of development, Augustine declares, is governed by fundamental laws, which reflect the will of their Creator: "God has established fixed laws governing the production of kinds and qualities of beings, and bringing them out of concealment into full view."

Augustine would have rejected any idea of the development of the universe as a random or lawless process. For this reason, Augustine would have opposed the Darwinian notion of random variations, insisting that God's providence is deeply involved throughout. The process may be unpredictable. But it is not random.

McGrath's article is good and would reward the reader who tackles the whole thing, especially those interested in how a strong commitment to the truth of Genesis can be reconciled with a contemporary belief in descent through modification.


Preliminary Thoughts on the Sotomayor Pick

David Frum caused eyebrows everywhere to rise by making the counterintuitive claim that the nomination of the very liberal Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court is perhaps the best thing that could have happened for conservatives. His reasoning, however, makes sense:

On the other hand, here's the possible good news in the Sotomayor nomination. A conservative legalist friend notes that the all-important 5th vote on the Supreme Court is Justice Anthony Kennedy's. The Reagan-appointed Kennedy has drifted to the left in recent years - in part (it's gossiped) because of his negative reactions to the brilliant but sometimes acerbic Antonin Scalia.

Having lost in 2008, Republicans had no hope of a conservative or even a moderate judicial nominee. What we should therefore be hoping for, my friend continues, is the most personally obnoxious liberal, someone certain to offend and irritate Kennedy - and push him careening back rightward. For this reason, the politic Elena Kagan would be the very worst pick from a conservative point of view. As dean of Harvard Law School, she proved herself adept at wooing conservative support. By contrast, if Jeffrey Rosen's reporting is correct, Sotomayor was almost unanimously disliked by her colleagues on the Second Circuit and even more by their clerks. And she's unlikely to gain humility from this latest promotion... so who could be better?

This is interesting, but there's really no need to find out whether Frum is correct, since the GOP could easily block Ms Sotomayor's appointment. In order to get a nominee to the full Senate for a confirmation vote the Senate Judiciary committee has to give her ten votes, at least one of which has to be from the minority party. With Senator Specter having defected to the Democrats the remaining Republicans could, if they had the resolve, refuse to give that vote to Sotomayor, just as Democrats bottled up numerous Bush appointees to the federal bench and just as many of them voted against John Roberts and Samuel Alito in the full Senate.

It is one of the ironies of politics that Senator Obama, having declared Roberts and Alito both qualified, legally and temperamentally, to serve on the SCOTUS, nevertheless voted against both and led the filibuster against Alito. Now that he's nominated a woman who gives us good reason to doubt her temperament, Republicans are being warned by such as Senator Schumer that they better not oppose her.

Actually, given Sotomayor's judicial philosophy they should, but given the GOP fear of alienating minority groups, they probably won't.

It's remarkable that Democrats had no qualms about savaging Clarence Thomas, Condaleeza Rice, Miguel Estrada, or Alberto Gonzalez, nor did they pay a political price for doing so, but Republican knees turn to jelly at the thought of losing votes they don't have anyway by opposing a Hispanic woman who believes that the role of the judge is to usurp the role of the legislature by making policy. If Republicans don't block Sotomayor it'll be a good example of the GOP's willingness to sacrifice principle to politics and another reason why they languish in the minority in Congress.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Sting

President Obama assured us that once in office we would henceforth take the "high road" in our treatment of terrorist detainees. Under his presidency, he promised, we would return to our "highest values," etc. Unfortunately, we're beginning to learn that what the President promises is often not quite what he does. Consider this example from the New York Times:

The United States is now relying heavily on foreign intelligence services to capture, interrogate and detain all but the highest-level terrorist suspects seized outside the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, according to current and former American government officials. The change represents a significant loosening of the reins for the United States, which has worked closely with allies to combat violent extremism since the 9/11 attacks but is now pushing that cooperation to new limits.

In the past 10 months, for example, about a half-dozen midlevel financiers and logistics experts working with Al Qaeda have been captured and are being held by intelligence services in four Middle Eastern countries after the United States provided information that led to their arrests by local security services, a former American counterterrorism official said.

In addition, Pakistan's intelligence and security services captured a Saudi suspect and a Yemeni suspect this year with the help of American intelligence and logistical support, Pakistani officials said. The two are the highest-ranking Qaeda operatives captured since President Obama took office, but they are still being held by Pakistan, which has shared information from their interrogations with the United States, the official said.

The current approach, which began in the last two years of the Bush administration and has gained momentum under Mr. Obama, is driven in part by court rulings and policy changes that have closed the secret prisons run by the Central Intelligence Agency, and all but ended the transfer of prisoners from outside Iraq and Afghanistan to American military prisons.

When George Bush sent terrorists to other countries for interrogation the Left went orbital with outrage. President Obama assured us that he would not accept the "failed policies of the past," but how is what the Times reports any different than what Bush did? Instead of sending the prisoners to foreign countries to have their fingernails pulled out our people just tell their people where to find the bad guys and let their people make the arrest and take the terrorists home to be hooked up to the electrodes.

Further on in the article it mentions the difficulty Obama administration officials are struggling with trying to figure out where high level detainees will be kept now that the president has promised to close down Guantanamo. Of course, just because he promised to close Gitmo ...well, by now you probably get the picture.

Hot Air points out that this is the second Bush policy in the last three days for which the Left trashed Bush but which Obama appears to be continuing. The other one is to continue to hold detainees indefinitely without trial.

What a slickster. His modus operandi is to fire up the opposition to Bush, give everyone the impression that he's the antithesis of Bush, and then continue doing much the same things Bush did while his adoring supporters ooh and ahh over how he's purged us of the evil policies of the past and brought us "change." How long will it be before it dawns on those same supporters in the media and elsewhere that they've been conned pretty much like Paul Newman conned Robert Shaw in The Sting?


While Europe Slept

First Things features a sobering but important essay by Jean Bethke Elshtain titled "While Europe Slept." What she says about Europe is, one fears, equally true of the U.S., or will be in another generation or so. Here's how her essay opens:

In the great cathedrals in Europe, a few people-usually elderly women-can be found at worship. Everybody else is a tourist, cameras hanging around their necks, meandering through. I was recently in Scotland, and I read a newspaper story commenting on three hundred deserted churches dotting the Scottish countryside, asking if they should be destroyed or turned into bars and cafes. Europe herself, in her proposed constitution, refuses to acknowledge the heritage of Judaism and Christianity-although Greece and Rome and the Enlightenment are acknowledged.

Europe cannot remember who she is unless she remembers that she is the child not only of the ancient Greek and Roman worlds and the Enlightenment but also of Judaism and Christianity-the child, therefore, of Catholicism and the Reformation. If Europe abandons her religious heritage, the idea of Europe dies. And Europe has abandoned, or forgotten, her religious heritage. Europe is now "post-Christian." What does this mean? What does it portend?

If a culture forgets what it is, as I believe Europe has done, it falls first into an agnostic shrugging of the shoulders, unable to say exactly what it is and believes, and from there it will inevitably fall into nihilism. Detached from its religious foundations, Europe will not remain agnostic. The first result is manifest in those ideologies of multiculturalism that make "difference" a kind of sacred, absolute principle, although no principle is considered to have any such status. Difference tells us nothing in and of itself. Some ways of life and ways of being in the world are brutal, stupid, and ugly. Some a human rights-oriented culture cannot tolerate. A culture must believe in its own enculturating responsibility and mission in order to make claims of value and to institutionalize them in social and political forms. This a post-Christian Europe cannot do.

Multiculturalism is then, in practice, a series of monoculturalisms that do not engage one another at all; rather, the cultural particulate most enamored of gaining and holding power has an enormous advantage: One day, it proclaims, we will bury you. A sign carried by radical Islamist protestors in London during the fracas over the Dutch cartoons proclaimed, "Europe is a cancer / Islam is the answer." A perverted idea of Islam confronts a Europe that has lost a sense of who she is and what she represents.

For that Europe, the window to transcendence is slammed shut. Human values alone pertain. But these human values are shriveled by a prior loss of the conviction that there is much to defend about the human person, and they are seen as so many subjectivist construals without any defensible, objective content. Unsurprisingly, what comes to prevail is a form of reduced utilitarianism that rationalizes nihilism.

The territory as one's own property is the self itself, or an understanding of the self shorn of any encumbrances of the past, any shackles of old defunct moralities. The self blows hither, thither; it matters not, if it blows my way. The question of what the self is, and whether it has any transcendent meaning, is answered with a shrug.

The late John Paul II saw the result of the belief that we are sovereigns of ourselves, wholly self-possessing. In Evangelium Vitae he writes: "If the promotion of the self is understood in terms of absolute autonomy, people inevitably reach the point of rejecting one another. Everyone else is considered an enemy from whom one has to defend oneself." Society "becomes a mass of individuals placed side by side, but without any mutual bonds."

Someone may attach a value to us - we may have a market price, so to speak - a price, but not a dignity. Should no one attach value to us and we be too bereft or wounded to attach it to ourselves, we become dispensable. The final triumph of this notion will be a world in which the powerful have their way simply because they can and because the ethical and moral barriers to taking what they want have all been lost. The final fate of the disabled in a liberal society will not be a happy one. We champion "access" even as we redraw the boundaries of humanity to exclude wide swaths of human persons from this access.

Over time human rights, now almost universally accepted among Europeans, will themselves come to be seen as so many arbitrary constructions that may, on utilitarian grounds, be revoked-because there is nothing intrinsic about human beings such that they are not to be ill-treated or violated or even killed. Even now, many do not want to be bothered with the infirm elderly or damaged infants, so we devise so-called humane ways to kill them and pretend that somehow they chose (or would have chosen) to die. Elderly patients are being killed in the Netherlands without their consent. A new protocol for euthanizing newborns with disabilities is institutionalized in the Netherlands, and the doctor who authored the protocols, Eduard Verhagen, tells us how "beautiful" it is when the newborns are killed, for, at last, they are at peace.

Read the rest of this prophetic article. It's crucial that moderns and post-moderns alike see clearly the hell to which post-Christian assumptions are leading us. Very nearly every paragraph Elshtain writes is worth underlining.


Obamaman Can

This has apparently been all over the internet, but I just came across it recently at Hot Air. Comedian Greg Morton does a riff on Candyman that's been viewed over a million times on You Tube.

Funny and disturbing at the same time.

My favorite Obama song, though, is still this one:


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Liberty at Stake

Liberty University is in the news. It seems that it will no longer recognize its campus Democratic club because, officials say, the national party's platform goes against the conservative Christian school's moral principles:

Officials at the private Lynchburg school, which was founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, said they made the decision after receiving complaints from trustees, parents and donors.

"They really are great kids and good friends of mine," said Jerry Falwell Jr., who became the school's chancellor after his father died in 2007. "It's just an issue of what Liberty's mission is."

The decision led to swift and strong criticism by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and the three Democrats running to replace him. Kaine, who spoke on the campus on behalf of then-Sen. Barack Obama last year, urged the school to reconsider.

"For Liberty University to deprive the College Democrats of the same opportunity as College Republicans ... violates that fundamental principle of fairness and teaches the students the wrong message," Kaine said.

This is a story not lacking in ironies. To be sure, the university has an obligation to guarantee that its values and mission are not weakened, and it's certainly understandable that the administrative honchos would see the national Democrat party as a serious threat to those values, but banishing one mainstream political organization while allowing its competitor seems a bit, well, unChristian and unAmerican. Indeed, its the sort of thing that happens most often on liberal campuses which makes it funny that the Democrat governor would complain about it. How loudly have Democrats complained about the indoctrination, intimidation, and suppression of conservative views in public universities across the nation? Not loud enough so's anyone would notice.

Anyway, I'm frankly conflicted on this. I'm not sure Liberty should stifle their students' political views unless the students are publicly and overtly undermining the mission of the school - which, indeed, they may have been doing in campaigning for a radical pro-choice presidential candidate. However, there's nothing about being a Democrat or belonging to a Democrat campus organization that inherently requires one to have the same moral outlook as Nancy Pelosi, John Murtha, Barney Frank and Ted Kennedy. Surely, student Democrats can espouse positions on issues of foreign and economic policy that don't obviously clash with the mission statement of the university.

On the other hand, the university, being a private school, has the right and the obligation to set the limits of acceptable discourse on campus. I don't think a school like Liberty should feel the need to balance a pro-life student organization with a pro-choice group nor should they feel constrained to permit groups on campus that advocate gay marriage. If the national Democratic party takes these positions, and it does, then it's understandable that the university would wish to derecognize the campus affiliate.

Nevertheless, perhaps Liberty should consider changing its name.


Future Draft Choice

In 2008 my first choice for the Republican candidate for president was Dick Cheney, my second was Jeb Bush. I knew that neither had a chance of being nominated even were they interested in running, which neither were, and both had even less chance of being elected were they nominated. Even so, I'm convinced that the country would've been much better off under either than it is today, which isn't saying a whole lot, I guess.

But now comes another possibility, albeit with a name that's bound to be hard to overcome, but someone who has all the fire and punch of Sarah Palin alloyed with the gravitas that distinguishes her father. I speak of Liz Cheney. The woman is quickly endearing herself to the hearts of every American grown weary of the bloviations and pretensions of the Left and tired also of liberal nostrums and shibboleths going unchallenged by a media more inclined to genuflect at the name of Barack Obama than to ask of him critical questions.

To be sure Liz, Dick's daughter, is not yet ready for the office of POTUS (which didn't stop a mesmerized nation from electing Mr. Obama, of course), but in four or eight years, who knows? Meanwhile, here's some video of her taking on one of the more execrable of our media bullies, Lawrence O'Donnell. The video couldn't be embedded but it can be accessed at

Liz Cheney is a formidable woman, intelligent and charming, just like her mom, and she appears to have a potentially great future in American politics if she wants it. I hope she does.



In a post a couple of days ago I wondered (facetiously) if Barack Obama may have MPD (Multiple Personality Disorder). Then along comes this article in the Jerusalem Post and I wonder whether I should drop the word "facetiously."

President Barack Obama agreed Wednesday to share US nuclear power technology with the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, giving his consent to a deal signed in the final days of George W. Bush's administration.

The agreement creates a legal framework for the US to transfer sensitive nuclear items to the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven Middle Eastern states that wants nuclear power to satisfy growing demand for electricity.

Although flush with oil, the emirates imports 60 percent of the natural gas they use to generate electricity. The United Arab Emerates wants to break its dependence on outside sources for its energy needs and settled on nuclear power as the best option.

There's something very odd about this. The President opposes developing more nuclear power plants in the U.S. to alleviate our own dependence upon outside sources of energy because that's bad for the environment, what with radiation and whatnot, but he's prepared to help Middle East countries build nuclear facilities to help them meet their energy demands. Does he think it's okay if it's just Arabs who get exposed to radiation?

Anyway, while one Obama personality is explaining why we can't build more nuclear power plants in this country, even though it's the cleanest, safest energy available on a mass scale, another personality is making deals with the U.A.E. to help them build those very same plants.

I think his various personalities ought to sit down and have a long talk with each other.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

God Help Us

A woman writes to First Things (subscription required) to relate a couple of anecdotes from the last presidential election campaign. She tells us that:

During the campaign, a woman in her mid-twenties told me she would not vote for Gov. Sarah Palin because "Palin is so stupid she doesn't even know where Alaska is." I asked what she meant, and she explained that in a TV interview Palin had referred to Alaska as "up North," whereas everyone knows Alaska is "down there with Hawaii south of California." I surmised that her knowledge of geography is based on seeing textbooks depicting the U.S. map with an insert for Alaska and Hawaii placed in the lower left-hand corner, underneath California. When I gently explained where Alaska is, she dismissed it with, "Well, Palin's stupid anyway."

A second voter, a man about thirty, said he would vote for Obama rather than McCain because "Obama has young children so he probably cares more about the future than McCain does."

A Catholic nun was enthusiastically supporting Obama (as was most of her order), and, when I pointed out Obama's positions on abortion issues, she refused to believe it was true on the grounds that such a wonderful man could not possibly support abortion.

God, please save us from ourselves.


Ten Punches

Yesterday I commented on Barack Obama's recent speech which was largely given to criticizing Bush administration policies on homeland security. Within minutes of the conclusion of the President's address former Vice-President Dick Cheney gave a stout defense of those policies in a speech at The American Enterprise Institute. This was quite a remarkable conjunction of events, actually, and The Telegraph U.K.'s Toby Harnden composes a fine analysis of Cheney's riposte titled "The 10 Punches Dick Cheney Landed on Barack Obama's Jaw".

Here's an excerpt from Harnden's essay. He first quotes Cheney and then comments:

[Cheney said] "By presidential decision last month, we saw the selective release of documents relating to enhanced interrogations. This is held up as a bold exercise in open government, honoring the public's right to know. We're informed as well that there was much agonizing over this decision. Yet somehow, when the soul searching was done and the veil was lifted on the policies of the Bush administration, the public was given less than half the truth."

The release of the documents was a nakedly political move by Obama and Cheney called him on it. This passage from Obama's speech today came across as completely disingenuous: "I did not do this because I disagreed with the enhanced interrogation techniques that those memos authorized, and I didn't release the documents because I rejected their legal rationales -- although I do on both counts. I released the memos because the existence of that approach to interrogation was already widely known, the Bush Administration had acknowledged its existence, and I had already banned those methods."

The President's justification for releasing the memos is weak and unconvincing. If the contents of the memos were widely known what was gained by releasing them? And why the reluctance to release the additional memos that Cheney is requesting be released so that the American people will have all the facts before them? The most plausible explanation for Obama's decision is that he thought the memos would embarrass Bush. If that was indeed his motive it certainly makes the President look both tacky and vindictive.

It's worthwhile to read Cheney's other nine punches to the presidential jaw at the link to Harnden's column.


Silver Lining for GOP

It's not uncommon nowadays to hear commentators pronouncing last rites over the dying remnants of the Republican party. The conventional wisdom has it that the country has lurched leftward, electing the most radical congress and administration in history, and all that's left for Republicans is to get on board the train to Euro-socialism or else just go gently into the outer darkness of political oblivion.

Pat Buchanan, however, isn't completely convinced. It's true that the GOP is in a difficult spot and the nation's demographics are definitely not trending in their favor, but there are glimmers of hope that he gleans from a new book by Democrat strategist Chuck Todd. After reciting the dispiriting litany of handicaps, trends and obstacles faced by the GOP in 2012 Buchanan espies a silver lining:

Despite all of the above, John McCain, two weeks after the GOP convention, thanks to the surge in energy and enthusiasm Sarah Palin brought to the ticket, was running ahead of Obama. It was the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the crash and the panic that ensued, which McCain mishandled, that lost him all the ground he never made up. Had the crash not occurred, the election might have been much closer than seven points, which in itself is no blowout.

Second, an astonishing 75 percent of voters thought the country was headed in the wrong direction. Obama won these voters 62 percent to 36 percent. But if the country is seen as headed in the wrong direction in 2012, it will be Obama's albatross.

Third, only 27 percent of voters approved of Bush's performance as of Election Day; 71 percent disapproved. Only Harry Truman had a lower rating, 22 percent, and Democrats were also wiped out in Washington in 1952.

Here is Todd's dramatic point: "With the single exception of Missouri, which barely went for McCain, Obama won every state where Bush's approval rating was below 35 percent in the exit polls, and he lost every state where Bush's approval was above 35 percent." Obama rode Bush's coattails to victory. Had Bush been at 35 percent or 40 percent, McCain might have won. But, in 2012, Obama will not have Bush to kick around anymore.

There's much more at the link to persuade Republicans that it's not yet time to start jumping off bridges, and much, too, to sober Democrats still dancing exuberantly in the end zone after regaining control of both the legislature and the White House. Obama's victory is due largely to factors which won't obtain in 2012.

Since before WWII only one Democrat president, Bill Clinton, has ever been re-elected to a second term, and there's much reason to suspect that Obama will prove to be more like Jimmy Carter than Bill Clinton.


Friday, May 22, 2009

The Obama Speech (Pt. I)

In his speech yesterday outlining his rationale for embarking on a "new direction" in the fight to keep us safe from "man-caused disasterism" (by the way, what does it mean to set off in a new direction given that the last direction has kept us safe for almost eight years?) President Obama said this:

I know some have argued that brutal methods like water-boarding were necessary to keep us safe. I could not disagree more," Obama continued. "As commander-in-chief, I see the intelligence, I bear responsibility for keeping this country safe, and I reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation. What's more, they undermine the rule of law. They alienate us in the world. They serve as a recruitment tool for terrorists, and increase the will of our enemies to fight us, while decreasing the will of others to work with America. They risk the lives of our troops by making it less likely that others will surrender to them in battle, and more likely that Americans will be mistreated if they are captured. In short, they did not advance our war and counter-terrorism efforts - they undermined them, and that is why I ended them once and for all.

I'm sure President Obama believes all these claims, but I don't know why. He certainly offers no reasons why anyone else should believe them. He refuses to release the relevant CIA memos Dick Cheney has asked him to make public that would show us how effective these measures really were. He simply tells us that they were counterproductive and expects us to take his word for it. He declines to tell us which methods he's referring to when he says that there are more effective ways of getting information from terrorists. He cites no evidence for his assertion that waterboarding or confinement at Guantanamo serves as an effective recruitment tool for jihadis or increases their will to fight us - a claim, by the way, which I find particularly risible since every Arab in the world knows that compared to the brutalities his own government inflicts on its enemies, being captured by the U.S. is like being taken into custody by a bunch of Amishmen. Nor is there any reason whatsoever to accept his naive belief that the Islamists would treat captured American soldiers kindly if only we hadn't waterboarded Kalid Sheik Mohammed.

In other words, the President's entire paragraph is little more than a recital of left-wing myths which no one ever really challenges and everyone just "knows" to be true. Well, I don't know that any of them are true, and I'd like to hear just once from someone who advances these myths a little bit of evidence in their behalf.

But this paragraph wasn't the only instance of the vacuity of yesterday's address. See the following post for more examples.


The Obama Speech (Pt. II)

In his address yesterday on American foreign policy, President Obama said this:

I understand that it is no secret that there is a tendency in Washington to spend our time pointing fingers at one another. And our media culture feeds the impulses that lead to a good fight. Nothing will contribute more to that than an extended re-litigation of the last eight years. Already, we have seen how that kind of effort only leads those in Washington to different sides laying blame, and can distract us from focusing our time, our effort, and our politics on the challenges of the future.

He said this after having spent almost the entire speech faulting the Bush administration for all manner of failings. If anyone exhibits the Washington tendency to point fingers, surely it's the President. It's worthwhile noting, I think, that his much maligned predecessor never once indulged what must have been an enormous temptation to blame his own predecessor for the problems facing the country in 2001. Obama frequently insults and demeans the Bush administration and makes himself look small every time he does it.

And then there's this:

We see that, above all, in how the recent debate has been obscured by two opposite and absolutist ends. On one side of the spectrum, there are those who make little allowance for the unique challenges posed by terrorism, and who would almost never put national security over transparency. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who embrace a view that can be summarized in two words: "anything goes." Their arguments suggest that the ends of fighting terrorism can be used to justify any means, and that the President should have blanket authority to do whatever he wants - provided that it is a President with whom they agree.

Both sides may be sincere in their views, but neither side is right. The American people are not absolutist, and they don't elect us to impose a rigid ideology on our problems. They know that we need not sacrifice our security for our values, nor sacrifice our values for our security, so long as we approach difficult questions with honesty, and care, and a dose of common sense.

This is a fine example of Barack Obama's adroit employment of the straw man technique. There is no one, at least as far as I'm aware, who is an absolutist on torture except those, like the President himself, who insist that it's always wrong. Those who support the use of waterboarding do so only in certain very restricted circumstances and only if it's administered in certain highly restrictive ways. To suggest that the proponents of "harsh interrogation" believe that "anything goes" is a misrepresentation of their position that is as hyperbolic as it is unfair.

It's not unusual for the President to make allegations which ascribe to unnamed persons positions that no one really holds, but he diminishes his credibility further every time he does it.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Free Soup

Tell me what's wrong with this picture. The first lady is serving meals in a government, i.e. taxpayer, funded soup kitchen to homeless indigents:

The fellow taking her picture is using what I'm told is a Black Berry that costs about $500. How many people do you know who can afford a $500 cell phone?

So what are we doing buying this guy dinner? I wonder if we also bought him his cell phone.


Obama's Pick for SCOTUS

Given that President Obama is not going to nominate to the Supreme Court an originalist (a Justice who seeks to determine the original intent of those who wrote the Constitution) what's the best those who don't want another activist (a Justice who legislates from the bench) on the Court can hope for?

The New Ledger nominates Cass Sunstein:

I start with the obvious: Cass Sunstein would not be my pick for the Supreme Court were I President of the United States, simply because he and I do not share the same judicial philosophy. I want my judges and Justices to adhere to original public meaning jurisprudence, and Cass Sunstein is not an originalist. As such, my view is that his approach to interpreting the Constitution is not the best approach. (Doubtless, he would say the same thing about my approach.)

But I will follow up with something just as obvious: Cass Sunstein is plenty bright and plenty learned enough-to say the least!-to be a Supreme Court Justice. While originalists like me disagree with him, we can still find areas of doctrinal commonality between us. A Justice Sunstein would be both a worthy opponent for originalists, and, perhaps more often than some might expect, a valued ally. For this, his nomination to the Supreme Court by President Obama to fill the seat being vacated by Justice Souter, ought to be desired across ideological lines.

Read the rest of The New Ledger's case at the link. I don't wish to prejudge the President's pick, but I'm doubtful that Cass Sunstein would pass muster in the current White House. He's neither a member of a minority group nor is he female. It's a sad fact that one of the qualifications for being appointed to the most important court in the land is a biological trait over which one has no control and which has nothing to do with one's fitness for the office, but that's the world in which we now live. In our postmodern society racial and gender identity are considered every bit as important - if not moreso - as the keenness of a candidate's legal mind.


Unimaginable Debt

The Washington Post offers a graphic illustration that compares the projected deficits under President Obama to those under President Bush. It's pretty stark ... and frightening. Imagine that you owed far more on your credit card than you could ever pay and every month the interest kept increasing the total. Your credit rating falls as you fail to pay your bills, you lose your home, car and insurance coverage, you're unable to buy clothes or food for your children and no one will lend you any more money.

This is the situation we will soon be in as a nation when the bills start arriving from President Obama's great spending spree. Astonishingly, he himself admitted last week that our debt is unsustainable. Here's part of the Bloomberg story:

President Barack Obama, calling current deficit spending "unsustainable," warned of skyrocketing interest rates for consumers if the U.S. continues to finance government by borrowing from other countries.

"We can't keep on just borrowing from China," Obama said at a town-hall meeting in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, outside Albuquerque. "We have to pay interest on that debt, and that means we are mortgaging our children's future with more and more debt."

Holders of U.S. debt will eventually "get tired" of buying it, causing interest rates on everything from auto loans to home mortgages to increase, Obama said. "It will have a dampening effect on our economy."

Earlier this week, the Obama administration revised its own budget estimates and raised the projected deficit for this year to a record $1.84 trillion, up 5 percent from the February estimate. The revision for the 2010 fiscal year estimated the deficit at $1.26 trillion, up 7.4 percent from the February figure. The White House Office of Management and Budget also projected next year's budget will end up at $3.59 trillion, compared with the $3.55 trillion it estimated previously.

It makes me wonder if Mr. Obama suffers from multiple personality disorder. Who does he think is responsible for plunging us into this debt? Is he battling some other personality for control of his spending impulses? Is there no one in his administration who can urge him to be more responsible? Is there no one who could manage the equivalent of taking a scissors to his credit cards?

The man should be attending meetings of the governmental equivalent of shoppers anonymous, but instead he keeps running up massive debt while warning us that we just can't afford it any more. This is how an alcoholic behaves. The addict keeps on drinking while bemoaning the fact that he's ruining his life and killing his body.

In the President's case, however, it's not his life he's ruining. It's our children's lives which are being devastated by his profligacy. This is what one gets when one votes for someone just because he promises Hope and Change.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Holder's Tortured Logic

Andrew McCarthy at NRO offers up a devastating critique of Attorney General Eric holder's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee last week. Apparently, Holder was either ignorant of the law on torture or he is willing, as McCarthy says, to misstate it.

Here's what happened. Holder was being questioned by two congressmen, Dan Lungren and Louie Gohmert, on the question of whether the CIA committed torture of detainees under the Bush administration.

The two congressmen highlighted a fatal flaw in Holder's theory. Moreover, they demonstrated that - despite having accused the CIA and the Bush administration of war crimes by cavalierly branding waterboarding as "torture" - the attorney general has still not acquainted himself with the legal elements of a torture offense, particularly the required mental state. This is remarkable, given that Holder's own department explained these elements less than a month ago in a federal appeals court brief.

Rep. Lungren pointed out that if the attorney general truly believes "waterboarding is torture," he must also think we torture our own Navy SEALs and other special-operations personnel when we waterboard them as part of their training. "No . . . not in the legal sense," countered Holder. You see, said he, it's "a fundamentally different thing," because...

"...we're doing something for training purposes to try to equip them with the tools to, perhaps, resist torture techniques that might be used on them. There is not the intent to do that which is defined as torture - which is to inflict serious bodily or mental harm. It's for training. It's different."

But it's not different because "it's for training." Look at the torture statute (Sections 2340 and 2340A of the federal penal code) and try to find a "training" exception. There isn't one. What removes an act from the ambit of torture (besides lack of severe pain) is intent. Lungren pressed this point, and Holder admitted that the training was "not torture in the legal sense because we're not doing it with the intention of harming these people physically or mentally." Intent, he acknowledged, was the key question.

Then, Lungren pounced. The CIA interrogators who questioned top al-Qaeda captives like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah intended no more harm to them than Navy instructors intended to their SEAL trainees. In fact, we know that the CIA went to great lengths, under Justice Department guidance, precisely to avoid severe harm. Their purpose, Rep. Lungren observed, was to "solicit information," not to inflict torture.

Read the rest of this at the link if this is an issue that you're concerned about.

Meanwhile, here's the position Obama and the Democrats find themselves in as they obsessively strive - like Javert pursuing Jean Val Jean in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables - to land Bush administration officials in prison for having ordered that terrorists be waterboarded to elicit information from them:

They have to contend with the fact that their own President Clinton used extraordinary rendition which resulted in real torture to those who were sent to countries like Egypt and Yemen for interrogation. They have to finesse the fact that Democratic congressional leadership, including the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, knew about the methods being used and condoned them. They have to explain the fact that President Obama refuses to release CIA memos which would settle the question of how effective these methods were, and now they have to somehow circumvent the fact that their own Attorney General has tacitly admitted that according to U.S. law waterboarding, as practiced by the CIA, is not really torture.

I suspect that most Democrats are regretting that they tried to crucify the Bushies on this issue and are right now wishing that the whole matter would just go away. I'll be surprised if they continue to pursue it. If they do I'll have to change the literary analogy from Javert to Melville's Captain Ahab.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Minor Point

I don't want to nitpick the President's speech at Notre Dame, but in it he made a statement that perpetuates a misunderstanding. He said this:

Those who speak out against stem cell research may be rooted in an admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son's or daughter's hardships can be relieved.

The President in these lines refers to a class of people which doesn't exist. No one that I know of speaks out against stem cell research. Not even President Bush spoke out against stem cell research. What many people oppose is embryonic stem cell research because it kills a living embryo. There are other ways of creating stem cells and everyone is hopeful that these will bear fruit.

Personally, I wonder about the consistency of those who oppose embryonic stem cell work. I agree that we should not be creating embryos simply to harvest their cells, but I'm not sure how people can object to using surplus embryos produced in a fertility clinic for research purposes but not object to the production of the surplus embryos in the first place.

In other words, fertility clinics produce more embryos for a couple than what they eventually implant in the mother's womb. The surplus is ultimately destroyed. Yet at most there is muted criticism of this practice from the pro-life community. If there are not objections to the way fertility clinics help mothers have children then why make an issue of using the doomed embryos to help others have a better life?

The embryos will ultimately die. To harvest their cells is almost like harvesting organs from an organ donor. If this is morally problematic then surely producing extraneous embryos is also problematic, but if producing extraneous embryos is acceptable then so, too, should harvesting their cells be acceptable.

Having said this, I thought President Bush's ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research was wise. He didn't oppose stem cell research nor did he end embryonic stem cell research. He merely decided that, given the moral concerns of many Americans, it's best to leave such research to the private sector and not use taxpayers' dollars to fund the destruction of those embryos.


Campus Fascists

Edward Olshaker at American Thinker asks us to....

Imagine it's 1940, and picture Adolf Hitler speaking at a US university, receiving a polite reception, while Winston Churchill is barred from speaking because his safety cannot be guaranteed.

It's unthinkable, yet the very same pro-fascist dynamic is a reality in 21st Century America.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comes to America knowing he is a second-class citizen who is denied the free-speech rights enjoyed even by prominent jihadists, having been violently prevented from speaking on campuses in the US and Canada in recent years.

Protestors at Berkeley, the campus once synonymous with the term "free speech," forced the cancellation of Netanyahu's speech there, as well as two subsequent speeches, in November 2000.

And yet Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a vicious anti-semite and homophobe, gets a polite reception at Columbia a year and a half ago. So what lesson does this travesty invite us to draw?

Perhaps one lesson is that if you're an ally of the U.S. and the leader of a democracy where people are free to select their government the Left will fight tooth and nail to keep you from being heard, but if you're tyrant and dictator and an enemy of the U.S. then you're more than welcome to present your case on American campuses.

Olshaker is right. Today's Left are the new fascisti. Read the rest of his column at the link.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Atheists Intrigued by Design

It's difficult for many people, including people in the media, to grasp the idea that intelligent design is not a theory held solely by theists. To be sure, most of its adherents are theists of one sort or another, but there are also a number of atheists who find themselves charmed by the idea that intelligence is somehow responsible for the universe. One example is the philosopher Bradley Monton author of Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design. Mike Gene talks about an exchange Monton had with another atheist philosopher in which Monton says this:

...atheist-minded philosophers are unhappy with how some intelligent design opponents seem more focused on emotion and rhetoric than argument - they expect better of people (especially philosophers) who are engaging in this debate. For example, I recently got an email from a philosopher of science at a top philosophy program, which read in part:

"I'm also an atheist who thinks that the arguments for ID are far more interesting than philosophers tend to appreciate. I think it's lamentable that the climate now is such that you can't seriously discuss such things without attracting ill will from well-meaning opponents of the religious right.... Writing a book like yours is a brave thing to do and it might make the world a better place."

Gene goes on to discuss the constraints scientists are placing upon themselves in their writing and research in order to avoid giving credence to intelligent design. It's a fascinating post.

Part of the reason why, perhaps, so many think that ID is a religious hypothesis is that they don't understand what a religious claim is. To be religious a claim about reality must go beyond existential assertions about what exists ultimately and assert certain obligations toward that ultimate reality (i.e. worship, devotion, fealty, etc). In other words, the claim that God exists is a metaphysical claim as is the Darwinian claim that whether He exists or not, God is irrelevant to the diversification of life. Both of these claims have religious implications but neither of them is itself a religious assertion.

Philosopher Roy Clouser in his book The Myth of Religious Neutrality puts it differently. He says that what all religions share in common, the core that makes them "religious," is that they all hold that there is something ultimate which depends upon nothing else for its existence and upon which all else depends. According to this definition every thinking person has a religion. For most atheists the religion is materialism, the belief that matter is the self-existent primal source of all that is. For many others it's theism, the belief that the ultimately real is an intelligent, personal mind.

So, here's the point: either ID is not religious because it imposes no duties toward the Designer upon anyone, or, if Clouser's definition be accepted, it's no more religious than is its rival, materialistic Darwinism. Either way, the claim that ID doesn't belong in public school classrooms because it's religious (there may be other legitimate reasons for excluding it, though I can't think of any) is a canard that few who think about the issue in an unbiased fashion will find tenable.

Thanks to Bradford at Telic Thoughts for the links.


Macho Men

The American Thinker's George Joyce recounts for us an incident on a recent edition of the NPR show "Wait, Wait ...Don't Tell Me":

On Thursday evening's NPR quiz show "Wait Wait . . . Don't Tell Me" senior Obama advisor David Axelrod made reference to Miss California Carrie Prejean as a dog. Politico is reporting that when Axelrod was asked on the show if he had helped the Obama's choose their recently acquired dog Axelrod replied:

"I was only called in for the final three, and one was Miss California."

When a senior advisor to the President of the United States refers to a courageous, twenty-one year old Christian woman as a dog it's a sign that conservatives have finally found a crack in the Obama administration's armor. Axelrod's remark is also an indication of the off-the-charts sense of superiority that characterizes many of those on Obama's staff.

How much longer will this country be able to endure the utter contempt these progressives have for traditional American values? When will conservatives begin to stand up for this young woman and the values she is defending?

I second Joyce's questions and raise him a couple: How is Axelrod's calling a 22 year-old college student a "dog" any more acceptable than Don Imus calling the Rutgers girls basketball team "nappy-headed 'hos"? For that matter, why doesn't Axelrod call his boss a dog? Prejean's views on gay marriage, the ostensible trigger for the abuse she has received from the left, are precisely those of Barack Obama, at least they are if Obama was telling the truth when he announced his views on the subject.

Why do people on the left (e.g. Bill Maher) feel compelled to insult a young woman who merely gave an honest answer to a question from a judge in a beauty pageant? Is it because she stumbled a bit in her delivery? Is it because her answer is what the majority of people in this country believe about marriage? Is it because she's a Christian and nevertheless posed for some less than Christian photos? Or is it just that she's a Christian, period?

Maybe it's because Axelrod, Maher, Keith Olbermann, Perez Hilton, Michael Musto, et al are arrogant, adolescent bullies who, like prebuscent middle school boys huddling in the lavatory, think it's cool to insult and laugh at people who're better than they are. It's amusing to consider that these heroic, stalwart specimens of left-wing masculinity would never do to, say, a Muslim man what they're eager to do to a gentle Christian college girl.

But perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps these macho tough guys have indeed scoffed at the beliefs of Muslims who hold to much more extreme views on gay marriage than does Carrie Prejean. Perhaps they've courageously laughed with public derision at Islamic law and the Muslim belief in the Prophet. Perhaps they've roundly ridiculed the Muslim's belief that Allah regards homosexual behavior as an abomination worthy of public execution.

Or maybe not. Maybe their courage only extends to mocking harmless young women. It is, after all, much easier to beat up on a co-ed beauty pageant contestant than to take on grown men who are likely to exact a steep price for their insolence.

Anyway, here's the last question: When is the National Organization for Women going to step in and defend this woman from the rhetorical assault these "men" are waging against her?

Okay, you're right. That's a silly question.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Thought for a Sunday

Among other things, I see this as interesting support for Predestination as opposed to Free Will. But even beyond that, it should cause one to take pause.

And so pride, the loss of humility, is the root of every sin and evil. It was when the now-fallen angels began to look upon themselves with self-complacency that they were led to disobedience and were cast down from the light of heaven into outer darkness. Likewise, it was when the serpent breathed the poison of his pride - the desire to be as God, into the hearts of our first parents, that they too fell from their high estate into the wretchedness to which all humankind has sunk. In heaven and on earth, pride or self-exaltation is the very gateway to hell.


The life God bestows is imparted not once for all but each moment by the unceasing operation of His mighty power. Humility, the place of entire dependence upon God, is from the very nature of things the first duty and the highest virtue of His creatures.


Humility is a virtue that only comes in power when the fullness of the Spirit makes us partakers of the indwelling Christ and He lives within us.

Andrew Murray, Humility - The Journey Toward Holiness

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Contingency Plan

The big fear in the Middle East right now is that the Taliban will topple the current regime in Pakistan and gain control of their nuclear weapons. It's hard to imagine a more frightening circumstance than Islamic terrorists armed with nukes.

To prevent this the military has been training a special ops unit to insert itself into Pakistan, if the Taliban seems on the verge of overrunning it, and to secure the weapons and transfer them to a safe location. Here are excerpts from the Fox News report on this program:

The United States has a detailed plan for infiltrating Pakistan and securing its mobile arsenal of nuclear warheads if it appears the country is about to fall under the control of the Taliban, Al Qaeda or other Islamic extremists.

American intelligence sources say the operation would be conducted by Joint Special Operations Command, the super-secret commando unit headquartered at Fort Bragg, N.C.

JSOC is the military's chief terrorists hunting squad and has units now operating in Afghanistan on Pakistan's western border. But a secondary mission is to secure foreign nuclear arsenals -- a role for which JSOC operatives have trained in Nevada.

The mission has taken on added importance in recent months, as Islamic extremists have taken territory close to the capital of Islamabad and could destabilize Pakistan's shaky democracy.

"We have plans to secure them ourselves if things get out of hand," said a U.S. intelligence source who has deployed to Afghanistan. "That is a big secondary mission for JSOC in Afghanistan."

The source said JSOC has been updating its mission plan for the day President Obama gives the order to infiltrate Pakistan.

"Small units could seize them, disable them and then centralize them in a secure location," the source said.

A secret Defense Intelligence Agency document first disclosed in 2004 said Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal of 35 weapons. The document said it plans to more than double the arsenal by 2020.

What makes the Pakistan mission especially difficult is that the military has its missiles on Soviet-style mobile launchers and rail lines. U.S. intelligence agencies, using satellite photos and communication intercepts, is constantly monitoring their whereabouts. Other warheads are kept in storage. U.S. technical experts have visited Pakistan to advise the government on how to maintain and protect its arsenal.

Also, there are rogue elements inside Pakistan's military and intelligence service who could quickly side with the extremists and make JSOC's mission all the more difficult.

"It's relatively easy to track rail-mounted ones with satellites," said the intelligence source. "Truck-mounted are more difficult. However, they are all relatively close to the capital in areas that the government firmly controls so we don't have to look too far."

JSOC is made up of three main elements: Army Delta Force, Navy SEALs and a high-tech special intelligence unit known as Task Force Orange. JSOC was instrumental in Iraq in finding and killing Abu Musab Zarqawi, the deadly and most prominent Al Qaeda leader in the Middle East.

This seems like our best option in Pakistan should Islamist seizure of the weapons appear imminent. So, what is the plan for Iran?