Friday, July 31, 2009

Cry Racism Some More

Let me see if I understand this. If you see two black men trying to break into a house you're a racist if you report to the police that two black men are trying to break into a house, even though knowing the race of the perps could be of value to the police in eliminating others as possible suspects.

At least that's apparently what we are to deduce from the experience of Lucia Whalen who, be it noted, did not mention the race of the men she was led to believe were trying to break into a home in her neighborhood:

The woman who dialed 911 to report a possible break-in at the home of black Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. said Wednesday she was pained to be wrongly labeled a racist based on words she never said and hoped the recently released recording of the call would put the controversy to rest.

With a trembling voice, Lucia Whalen, 40, said she was out walking to lunch in Gates' Cambridge neighborhood near Harvard University when an elderly woman without a cell phone stopped her because she was concerned there was a possible burglary in progress.

Whalen was vilified as a racist on blogs after a police report said she described the possible burglars as "two black males with backpacks."

Tapes of the call released earlier this week revealed that Whalen did not mention race. When pressed by a dispatcher on whether the men were white, black or Hispanic, she said one of them might have been Hispanic.

"Now that the tapes are out, I hope people can see that I tried to be careful and honest with my words," Whalen said. "It never occurred to me that the way I reported what I saw be analyzed by an entire nation."

Even if Ms Whalen had reported that the men were black, which they were, why would that be racist? And why should the cretins who are subjecting her to threats and ridicule be angry with her? She's just a good person doing her civic duty and now she's being smeared by the lefty blogosphere, which excels at this sort of thing, for reporting the apparent crime.

I remember the much-cited story of Kitty Genovese who was murdered by a man on a city street back in the 1950s, and although dozens of people heard her calls for help, few actually did anything. They didn't want to get involved. I can imagine that from now on no one who witnesses a crime being committed by a black is going to want to get involved by reporting it for fear of being slandered for his/her efforts. Easier to just let society crumble than to suffer the abuse of those small minds who see racism lurking in every cultural crevice and those fetid souls who relish destroying and defaming whoever they can.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Re: <i>Taken</i>

Alas, no anti-torture absolutists chose to reply to my invitation to watch the movie Taken and explain why the Liam Neeson character was wrong, immoral, or unjustified to use torture in interrogating the men who had information on his daughter's whereabouts. A couple of readers did endorse Neeson's methods, however, and asserted that the circumstances of their use justified their employment. You can read their comments on the Feedback page.


Paramilitaries, Theirs and Ours

The New York Times has an article that reveals the horrors Iranian detainees swept up in the aftermath of the massive protests over voter fraud several weeks ago underwent. Eyewitness accounts of atrocities perpetrated by military and paramilitary groups like the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij that are outside the structure of civilian law enforcement are now leaking out:

Some prisoners say they watched fellow detainees being beaten to death by guards in overcrowded, stinking holding pens. Others say they had their fingernails ripped off or were forced to lick filthy toilet bowls.

The accounts of prison abuse in Iran's postelection crackdown - relayed by relatives and on opposition Web sites - have set off growing outrage among Iranians, including some prominent conservatives. More bruised corpses have been returned to families in recent days, and some hospital officials have told human rights workers that they have seen evidence that well over 100 protesters have died since the vote.

On Tuesday, the government released 140 prisoners in one of several conciliatory gestures aimed at deflecting further criticism. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad issued a letter urging the head of the judiciary to show "Islamic mercy" to the detainees.

I'm glad Mr. Ahmadinejad is concerned about the welfare of the detainees, but I thought the fact that their murders numbered only in the hundreds was already a sign of "Islamic mercy."

Anyway, more details of the abuses - which make Abu Ghraib look like a Sandals resort - can be found at the link.

One of the especially disturbing revelations about the events in Iran is the role played by the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij. Why is this particularly disturbing? Because one of the things President Obama wants to do once he has passed the legislation that is currently before us - health care reform and cap and trade - is to establish a civilian security force that will rival the military in its training and funding. In other words, he envisions a paramilitary force at the government's disposal pretty much like the Iranian mullahs have at theirs:

I wonder if he plans on calling it the Basij. I guess we'll see.


Can't be Bothered

It seems like the only people in favor of the Democrats' plan for health care reform are people who haven't read the bill.

During a speech at a National Press Club luncheon, House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.), who has apparently decided himself not to read it, questioned the point of being expected to do so. He said:

"I love these [House] members, they get up and say, 'Read the bill.' What good is reading the bill if it's a thousand pages and you don't have two days and two lawyers to find out what it means after you read the bill?"

Well, the point, of course, is that you're getting paid by the taxpayers to read it Mr. Conyers, and if you don't have time to do it then it is criminally reckless of you to vote for it. Indeed, anyone who does vote for such a revolutionary piece of legislation without having read it should be subject to impeachment for malfeasance.

Many of those who have read the 1000 page monstrosity tell us that it's a looming disaster. It will, according to many analysts, end private insurance, putting tens of thousands of people out of work. It will take medical decisions away from you and your doctor and place them in the hands of some anonymous bureaucrat in Washington. It will cause procedures like colonoscopies to be rationed so that rather than getting screened every three years screenings could be extended to, say, every six years, thereby increasing your risk of colon cancer. It will increase waiting times for procedures like MRIs and CAT scans from days to months. It will deny certain procedures like joint or heart valve replacements to people who are judged too old, too feeble, or too heavy. The bright, clean clinics and hospitals that make our stays reasonably pleasant today will likely be deemed superfluous and too costly to maintain. And all of these blessings will cost us trillions of dollars over the next two decades.

Before you and your colleagues kill the best medical care system on the planet, Mr. Conyers, please at least have the decency to learn what you're voting for.


Gangster Government

Rep. Michelle Bachman calls our attention in this video to the economic brutality and corruption involved in the closing of GM car dealerships across the land:

If you're politically connected, you can survive. If not, tough luck. If the Democrats behave this way with the people who own and work for car dealerships, how will they behave when government health care is the only game in town? How much bribery do you think there'll be as people seek to curry favor with congressmen in order to get moved up on the waiting list for a procedure? How much bribery will there be if cap and trade is passed and government bureaucrats control how much carbon a business can use and emit? When government runs things the opportunities for corruption will be massive.

If we want a model of what life will be like if the Democrats get their legislation passed, we might look toward the old Soviet Union. How's that for hope and change?


Disparate Impact

Shelby Steele, author of White Guilt and Affirmative Action Baby, has a column in the WaPo that I commend to anyone interested in the conversation about race in this country. As he does in his books Steele argues that affirmative action is not so much about helping blacks, it's more about relieving largely white institutions from the burden of guilt for past racial injustice. It's a way of gaining for themselves a kind of racial absolution. Steele writes, for instance, that:

It is important to remember that the original goal of affirmative action was to achieve two redemptions simultaneously. As society gave a preference to its former victims in employment and education, it hoped to redeem both those victims and itself. When America -- the world's oldest and most unequivocal democracy -- finally acknowledged in the 1960s its heartless betrayal of democracy where blacks were concerned, the loss of moral authority was profound. In their monochrome whiteness, the institutions of this society -- universities, government agencies, corporations -- became emblems of the very evil America had just acknowledged.

Affirmative action has always been more about the restoration of legitimacy to American institutions than the uplift of blacks and other minorities. For 30 years after its inception, no one even bothered to measure its effectiveness in minority progress. Advocates of racial preferences tried to prove that these policies actually helped minorities only after 1996, when California's Proposition 209 banned racial preferences in all state institutions, scaring supporters across the country.

But the research following from this scare has .... has completely failed to show that affirmative action ever closes the academic gap between minorities and whites. And failing in this, affirmative action also fails to help blacks achieve true equality with whites -- the ultimate measure of which is parity in skills and individual competence. Without this underlying parity there can never be true equality in employment, income levels, rates of home ownership, educational achievement and the rest.

In order to account for the elusive competitive parity latent racism and discrimination are assumed to be lurking insidiously in the nooks and crannies of society, always working to keep blacks from getting ahead. The proof that these malefactors are still in play is the occurrence of "disparate impact," an indicator not of black failure but of an indelible white racism.

We are headed now, it seems, into a legal thicket created by the incompatibility of two notions of equality: "disparate impact" and "equal protection under the law." The former is a legalism evolved from judicial interpretations of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act; the latter is a constitutional guarantee. Disparate impact lets you presume that an entire class of people has been discriminated against if it has been disproportionately affected by some policy. If no blacks do well enough on a firefighters promotion exam to win advancement while many whites do (Ricci v. DeStefano), then this constitutes discrimination against blacks.

Disparate impact and racial preferences represent the law and policymaking of a guilty America, an America lacking the moral authority to live by the rigors of the Constitution's "equal protection" -- a guarantee that sees victims as individuals and requires hard evidence to prove discrimination. They are "white guilt" legalisms created after the '60s as fast tracks to moral authority. They apologize for presumed white wrongdoing and offer recompense to minorities before any actual discrimination has been documented. Yet these legalisms are much with us now. And it will no doubt take the courts a generation or more to disentangle all this apology from the law.

We blacks know oppression well, but today it is our inexperience with freedom that holds us back almost as relentlessly as oppression once did. Out of this inexperience, for example, we miss the fact that racial preferences and disparate impact can only help us -- even if they were effective -- with a problem we no longer have. The problem that black firefighters had in New Haven was not discrimination; it was the fact that not a single black did well enough on the exam to gain promotion.

Today's "black" problem is underdevelopment, not discrimination. Success in modernity will demand profound cultural changes -- changes in child-rearing, a restoration of marriage and family, a focus on academic rigor, a greater appreciation of entrepreneurialism and an embrace of individual development as the best road to group development.

I'd like to post Steele's complete column, but I refer you instead to the link. There's much more there that's worth considering.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Stunted Development

According to Strategy Page, as North Korea moves toward chaos with the imminent succession crisis looming when Kim Jong Il dies, South Korea and China are increasingly concerned about the primitiveness of the refugees that are making it out of that prison state:

South Koreans are growing increasingly anxious at the difficulties North Korean refugees are having in adapting to life in a prosperous democracy. There are over 17,000 refugees in South Korea now, and the children do not do well at school. Few get into a university. The adults do poorly in establishing prosperous careers. These refugees are among the most enterprising North Koreans, because of the planning they had to do, and risks they had to take, to get out of the country. But these people are obsessed with basic survival, not personal improvement and advancement, as in South Korea, and the rest of the world.

Sixty years of police state rule up north, plus the 1990s famine, has seriously crippled the initiative and ambition of the northerners. It appears that the North Koreans are much more psychologically damaged, than were the East Germans (and east Europeans in general) after their communist dictatorships collapsed in 1989. This just makes South Korea, and China, even more anxious about a collapse of the North Korean government, while would leave China and South Korea to deal with refugees, and picking up the pieces in general.

Meanwhile, those Norks who can are preparing to flee once the end comes:

Some senior officials are making escape plans, gathering portable wealth and cultivating connections in China that would be useful for a getaway. There is a growing consensus that Kim Jong Il will be gone within three years, and that after that, chaos.

The North Koreans have managed to stunt the development of three generations of their people by forcing them to live in a Marxist paradise. There's a lesson here for the rest of the world: The fewer freedoms a people have the more dehumanized they become.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

No Reform Without Tort Reform

There's a very good column at NRO by Charles Krauthammer on the contradictions in President Obama's health care reform plans. It's these contradictions (some might call them deceptions) that are causing the plans to collapse in Congress and with them, perhaps, Mr. Obama's presidency. As we said last week, if he doesn't get health care he'll probably not get cap and trade or another stimulus bill, and if he doesn't get these he won't be able to accomplish much else over the next three years. He will, in effect, be a lame duck after less than a year in office.

Indeed, after the disastrous week he had last week (staying with the wrong side on Honduras, a weak press conference on health care reform, putting his foot in his mouth on the Gates arrest) it would not be surprising to see his approval ratings drop soon into the low forties.

Anyway, the most important part of Krauthammer's column, in my opinion, was the spotlight he cast on the vast distance between Mr. Obama's claim that his health care reform agenda is not about politics and the absence in any of the Democratic plans of tort reform:

This is not about politics? Then why is it, to take but the most egregious example, that in this grand health-care debate we hear not a word about one of the worst sources of waste in American medicine: the insane cost and arbitrary rewards of our malpractice system?

When a neurosurgeon pays $200,000 a year for malpractice insurance before he even turns on the light in his office or hires his first nurse, who do you think pays? Patients, through higher doctors' fees to cover the insurance.

And with jackpot justice that awards one claimant zillions while others get nothing - and one-third of everything goes to the lawyers - where do you think that money comes from? The insurance companies, who then pass it on to you in higher premiums.

But the greatest waste is the hidden cost of defensive medicine: tests and procedures that doctors order for no good reason other than to protect themselves from lawsuits. Every doctor knows, as I did when I practiced years ago, how much unnecessary medical cost is incurred with an eye not on medicine but on the law.

Tort reform would yield tens of billions in savings. Yet you cannot find it in the Democratic bills. And Obama breathed not a word about it in the full hour of his health-care news conference. Why? No mystery. The Democrats are parasitically dependent on huge donations from trial lawyers.

No plan that does nothing about the cost to health care consumers of malpractice insurance and defensive medicine can really be called "reform." If and when the Democrats address tort reform they should then proceed to clean out the $60 billion in fraud and waste in medicare and medicaid.

Read the rest of Krauthammer's column. It's worth the two minutes it'll take.


Colombia's War on Drugs

To get a sense of the sort of people our government has chosen to side with in the struggle for control of the Honduran presidency, read the article at Strategy Page on what's going on in Colombia between the Colombian government, the drug lords, and the leftist FARC rebels. Note the role played by Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez and the similarities between ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, Chavez, and Ecuadorean president Rafael Correia. Here's how the report begins:

The first six months of 2009 was a bad time for the drug gangs, and leftist rebels like FARC and ELN. In those six months, security forces launched over 10,000 raids, patrols and other operations against rebels and gangsters. This resulted in 834 battles, leading to the deaths of 307 rebels and their allies. Over 600 FARC camps were found and destroyed, and nearly 1,300 rebel attacks were disrupted. Some 4,000 rebels were disarmed (nearly 40 percent just from FARC). The army lost 75 troops, with another 279 wounded.

The increasing pressure on drug gangs along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts has led to increased exports of cocaine to Europe and the Middle East, via Africa. Some drug lords, like Daniel Rendon, responded to the increased pressure by offering his gunmen a $1,000 bonus for each policeman or soldier they kill. This sort of thing has happened before in South America, and usually results in more dead gangsters, and the police are less likely to try and capture armed criminals, fearing that the crooks are actually out looking for the bounty money. For Rendon, the bounty offer quickly led to his capture, and the demise of his bounty offer.

Government intel has uncovered a six month effort by FARC to get Russian made, SA-24, portable surface-to-air missiles from Venezuela. FARC has already received Swedish AT4 (bunker buster) portable rocket launchers from Venezuela, and some of these have been captured by the army.

Read the rest of this report at the link and bear in mind that our president and state department are on the same side of the Honduran imbroglio as those like Chavez and Correia who are supporting the rebels and the drug lords.



Just because President Obama is trying to turn the U.S. into a third-world country doesn't mean that he was born in one. National Review Online editors think that we've had enough on the matter of whether Mr. Obama is constitutionally eligible to hold the office he's in, and I agree.

I don't have to see his original birth certificate, if such a document even exists, but it would be nice if we could have a peek at his academic records. I'm perfectly willing to believe Mr. Obama was born in Hawaii, but I'm really curious about whether he ever took a course in economics.


Myopic Agnosticism

We mentioned the other day Brad Pitt's claim that he was "probably 20 per cent atheist and 80 per cent agnostic. I don't think anyone really knows. You'll either find out or not when you get there, until then there's no point thinking about it." Mr. Pitt is laboring under a misconception that's common in our culture that agnosticism is a completely different epistemic category than atheism.

That's not quite so. Atheism is the lack of belief in a God or gods. It comes in at least two varieties which I prefer to call "hard atheism" and "soft atheism." The hard atheist makes the bold and metaphysically indefensible claim that there is no God or gods. I say this is indefensible because it claims as truth something we can simply not know.

If there is a God presumably that is something that could be known, i.e. if God revealed Himself to us either in this life or the next, but if there is no God no one could ever discover the fact. So hard atheism is philosophically naive.

The soft atheist claims more modestly that God may exist but as yet he has seen insufficient evidence to warrant belief that He does. This is agnosticism, and it's a form of soft atheism because the agnostic lacks a belief in God but is, hypothetically at least, willing to entertain that God may exist.

When Pitt says there's not much point in thinking about whether God exists he's telling us that he lacks a belief in God but doesn't much care one way or the other. This is really a kind of soft atheism, probably very common in our secularized culture, that perhaps we could call short-sighted, or myopic, agnosticism.


Can't Have Both

Mark Krikorian writes at NRO's The Corner to fill us in on some of the new health care reform proposal's more unsavory provisions. Here's one:

Democrats have stopped even pretending to try to keep illegals from being covered by Obamacare - they rejected an amendment that would have required Obamacare applicants to be screened with the same eligibility-screening database as used for welfare applicants, thus guaranteeing that lots of illegal aliens would receive taxpayer-funded health care. Even legal immigration would be subsidized. Jim Edward's NRO piece exposed a fascinating wrinkle - you can sponsor an immigrant so long as your income is 25% above poverty, but Obamacare would expand Medicaid to those earning 50% above poverty. So, as Jim wrote, "The end result would be that someone poor enough to qualify for Medicaid would be able to sponsor new immigrants to the U.S. What are the chances that these newcomers sponsored by Medicaid recipients would be able to afford health insurance when their sponsors can't?"

Obviously, the Obamacare proposal is an abomination and Congress needs to throw it out and start from scratch. But whatever they come up with, the lesson for immigration is unchanged - in an era when we have massive transfers of taxpayer funds to the poor, whether through Medicaid or food stamps or public-education funding or whatever, you just can't keep importing more and more poor people. The libertarians will say the answer is to abolish all of these taxpayer-funded programs; but even if that's true, until we do abolish them, ongoing mass immigration is simply unjustifiable.

Either shut down illegal immigration or shut down the welfare state. As we're seeing in California you have to do one or the other. If we don't it won't be long before Americans are sneaking across the border to Mexico to try to find work.


Monday, July 27, 2009


After listening to so many African-American talking heads on cable news offer thoughtless, knee jerk endorsements of Professor Gates' tantrum and the President's foolish decision to inject himself into the matter of Gates' arrest, it's refreshing to listen to these black cops speak in support of officer Crowley:

If liberal America wants to see what race relations could be like in America if we'd just start seeing each other as people and not as identity groups they should watch this video.


<i>Taken </i> and Torture

I watched the movie Taken starring Liam Neeson the other night and wondered what those who think that torture is absolutely wrong would say about Neeson's character's behavior. Neeson plays a retired CIA operative named Bryan Mills whose daughter is kidnapped in Paris by Albanian sex slave traders.

Mills sets out after his daughter and her kidnappers, leaving mayhem and carnage in his wake, in a pursuit that strains credulity but nevertheless wins the viewer's forgiveness because it's, well, interesting. Along the way Mills resorts to some rather unorthodox means of interrogation and it was here that I wondered about the anti-torture absolutists.

Let us, just for the sake of discussion, imagine that a man's daughter had really been kidnapped and sold into sex slavery, and the man found it necessary, in order to find and rescue her, to use methods which would give Eric Holder and Barack Obama an attack of the vapors. Would the anti-torture absolutist maintain that the man did the wrong thing?

Now if you are such an absolutist, before you answer the question you have to subject yourself to the movie, otherwise you might not appreciate the dilemma Bryan Mills faced. So, have at it. Let me know if you blame Mills for using torture or if you think he was justified, but only if you've seen the movie first.


Bumper Sticker

Seen in Florida:

"You don't see Obama stickers on cars going to work."

Unfortunately, if we get cap and trade and the Democrat version of health reform, you won't see many cars going to work.


Throw Granny Off the Train

Betsy McCoughey at the New York Post fills us in on the disturbing views of two of President Obama's close medical advisors. The first is Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, brother of Mr. Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Here's what Ms. McCoughey tells us about Dr. Emanuel. Read it carefully and think about the kind of world these men would lead us to:

Savings, [Dr. Emanuel] writes, will require changing how doctors think about their patients: Doctors take the Hippocratic Oath too seriously, "as an imperative to do everything for the patient regardless of the cost or effects on others."

Yes, that's what patients want their doctors to do. But Emanuel wants doctors to look beyond the needs of their patients and consider social justice, such as whether the money could be better spent on somebody else.

Many doctors are horrified by this notion; they'll tell you that a doctor's job is to achieve social justice one patient at a time.

Emanuel, however, believes that "communitarianism" should guide decisions on who gets care. He says medical care should be reserved for the non-disabled, not given to those "who are irreversibly prevented from being or becoming participating citizens . . . An obvious example is not guaranteeing health services to patients with dementia."

Translation: Don't give much care to a grandmother with Parkinson's or a child with cerebral palsy.

He explicitly defends discrimination against older patients: "Unlike allocation by sex or race, allocation by age is not invidious discrimination; every person lives through different life stages rather than being a single age. Even if 25-year-olds receive priority over 65-year-olds, everyone who is 65 years now was previously 25 years."

The bills being rushed through Congress will be paid for largely by a $500 billion-plus cut in Medicare over 10 years. Knowing how unpopular the cuts will be, the president's budget director, Peter Orszag, urged Congress this week to delegate its own authority over Medicare to a new, presidentially-appointed bureaucracy that wouldn't be accountable to the public.

Since Medicare was founded in 1965, seniors' lives have been transformed by new medical treatments such as angioplasty, bypass surgery and hip and knee replacements. These innovations allow the elderly to lead active lives. But Emanuel criticizes Americans for being too "enamored with technology" and is determined to reduce access to it.

Dr. David Blumenthal, another key Obama adviser, agrees. He recommends slowing medical innovation to control health spending.

Blumenthal has long advocated government health-spending controls, though he concedes they're "associated with longer waits" and "reduced availability of new and expensive treatments and devices." But he calls it "debatable" whether the timely care Americans get is worth the cost. (Ask a cancer patient, and you'll get a different answer. Delay lowers your chances of survival.)

Obama appointed Blumenthal as national coordinator of health-information technology, a job that involves making sure doctors obey electronically delivered guidelines about what care the government deems appropriate and cost effective.

In the April 9 New England Journal of Medicine, Blumenthal predicted that many doctors would resist "embedded clinical decision support" -- a euphemism for computers telling doctors what to do.

Americans need to know what the president's health advisers have in mind for them. Emanuel sees even basic amenities as luxuries and says Americans expect too much: "Hospital rooms in the United States offer more privacy . . . physicians' offices are typically more conveniently located and have parking nearby and more attractive waiting rooms."

Evidently, convenience and comfort are amenities we should not expect in Dr. Emanuel's, and thus Barack Obama's, brave new world. Nor should we expect care for those beyond a certain age, the quality of their lives representing an expense the state shouldn't have to bear.

No one has leveled with the public about these dangerous views. Nor have most people heard about the arm-twisting, Chicago-style tactics being used to force support. In a Nov. 16, 2008, Health Care Watch column, Emanuel explained how business should be done: "Every favor to a constituency should be linked to support for the health-care reform agenda. If the automakers want a bailout, then they and their suppliers have to agree to support and lobby for the administration's health-reform effort."

Do we want a "reform" that empowers people like this to decide for us?

We've noted in the past that modern progressives are kissing cousins to 20th century totalitarian fascists. Drs. Emanuel and Blumenthal do nothing to dispel that notion. That President Obama is quietly surrounding himself with such men - Dr. John Holdren, his science czar, being another like-minded advisor - is not just disturbing, it's frightening.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Who Are the Uninsured?

The administration and its allies in the health care debate keep reminding us of the urgency of extending health insurance coverage to the 47 million people in this country who don't have it, but who are these people who are uninsured?

It turns out that most of them could be covered under existing plans, and many of the rest are illegal aliens and shouldn't be covered anyway.

Ramirez breaks it down for us:

See here for more data on the uninsured.


Presidential Prayer

President Obama has admitted something (besides that he's a smoker) certain to win him the enmity of liberals everywhere. After all, it was just such an admission by George Bush that got him clobbered by the secular left, so we can expect that these folks'll be similarly dismayed and scornful of Mr. Obama:

President Barack Obama says he's gone from praying nightly before going to bed to praying all the time because he has a "lot of stuff" on his plate and needs "guidance all the time."

Obama made the comments in an interview to air Thursday on ABC's "Nightline."

Obama says he thinks every president has been humbled by the number of issues they have had to deal with. He says he thinks they are quickly cured of the illusion that one person can solve all those problems.

When George Bush acknowledged his dependence upon prayer he was mercilessly ridiculed by some in the lefty media for thinking he had God's ear and that God might actually give him guidance. Surely, the sense of fairness and objectivity prized by such people will lead them to begin directing the same sort of scoffing and jeering at President Obama any day now.

Why are you laughing?


Common Sense

Susan Estrich is a liberal Democrat who has managed Democrat campaigns and served as an advisor to President Clinton and other Democrat politicians. She certainly has no political axe to grind so it's interesting that she would write this column, not because it brings a needed dose of common sense to the health care debate but because it makes President Obama seem kind of, well, irresponsible. Here's an excerpt:

The president is "not familiar" with the bill. No one can explain how it will work yet, as Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., told a contentious town meeting. There are various plans, and negotiations are still in the early stages. But whatever it is, we should be for it.

Am I missing something?

We're only talking about our health and our kids' health, the things my mother, may she rest in peace, told me a thousand times are the only things worth caring about. If you have your health, you have everything. And if you don't, what in the world matters more than the best health care in the world, which is found right here?

Not by everybody, mind you, and not cheaply, for anybody. No one's suggesting for a moment that there aren't major problems with both access and cost. But the best health care in the world is still here, and before we take steps that could make things much worse, I'd like to be very certain that they will indeed make things much better.

Read the rest of her essay at the link.


Minimally Conscious State

Some people have been saying this along, but now there's solid evidence to back it up. Not everyone who is in a coma is completely unaware of what's happening to them. More significantly, some who are diagnosed as comatose are able to feel pain but unable to communicate that fact. New Scientist has the story. Here's part of it:

If there's one thing worse than being in a coma, it's people thinking you are in one when you aren't. Yet a new comparison of methods for detecting consciousness suggests that around 40 per cent of people diagnosed as being in a vegetative state are in fact "minimally conscious".

In the worst case scenario, such misdiagnoses could influence the decision to allow a patient to die, even though they have some vestiges of consciousness. But crucially it may deprive patients of treatments to make them more comfortable, more likely to recover, or to allow them to communicate with family, say researchers.

In a vegetative state (VS), reflexes are intact and the patient can breathe unaided, but there is no awareness. A minimally conscious state (MCS) is a sort of twilight zone, only recently recognised, in which people may feel some physical pain, experience some emotion, and communicate to some extent. However, because consciousness is intermittent and incomplete in MCS, it can be sometimes very difficult to tell the difference between the two.

Of the 44 patients diagnosed as being in a vegetative state by the clinicians, the researchers diagnosed 18, or 41 per cent, as being in a MCS according to the CRS-R.

"We may have become much too comfortable about our ability to detect consciousness," concludes Joseph Giacino who did the study at the JFK Rehabilitation Institute in New Jersey. "I think it's appropriate for there to be some level of alarm about this."

I think that's a considerable understatement. Remember the smug confidence bordering on arrogance of those who argued that Terry Schiavo could be starved and dehydrated to death without experiencing pain? I wonder what they're saying now.


Friday, July 24, 2009

The Curious Case of Brad Pitt

Hot Air links us to an interview with actor Brad Pitt at Pitt is being interviewed on the occasion of a release of an upcoming movie and seemingly out of the blue he's asked the following:

BILD: Have you found happiness in life?

Brad Pitt (nodding): Hm - yes. I am on the path I want to be on."

BILD: Do you believe in God?

Pitt (smiling): "No, no, no!"

BILD: Is your soul spiritual?

Pitt: "No, no, no! I'm probably 20 per cent atheist and 80 per cent agnostic. I don't think anyone really knows. You'll either find out or not when you get there, until then there's no point thinking about it.

No point thinking about it? What could be more important to think about? I'm reminded of a couple of lines from Samuel Johnson:

"It is astonishing that any man can forbear enquiring seriously whether there is a God; whether God is just; whether this life is the only state of existence. These are the questions every reasonable person ought to consider with an attention suitable to their importance."

I guess when you're a movie star and you've made important films and dated important women you don't need to think about what it all amounts to so much. Blaise Pascal was intrigued by this uncurious approach to life and describes the strangeness of it in this ironical fashion:

"I know not who sent me into the world, nor what the world is, nor what I myself am. I am terribly ignorant of everything...

I see the terrifying immensity of the universe which surrounds me, and find myself limited to one corner of this vast expanse...

All I know is that I must soon die, but what I understand least of all is this very death which I cannot escape. As I know not whence I come, so I know not whither I go. I only know that on leaving this world I fall for ever into nothingness or into the hands of a wrathful God, without knowing to which of these two states I shall be everlastingly consigned. Such is my condition, full of weakness and uncertainty.

From all this I conclude that I ought to spend every day of my life without seeking to know my fate. I might perhaps be able to find a solution to my doubts; but I cannot be bothered to do so, I will not take one step towards its discovery."

It sounds like Pascal is describing Mr. Pitt, but perhaps his cognitive faculties suffered so much damage in Fight Club that his curiosity about things that really matter has atrophied.



The President seems intent on making himself look both small and obtuse in the matter of the arrest of professor Henry Louis Gates of Harvard. His comment was:

"With all the problems facing the nation, it doesn't make sense to arrest a guy in his own home if he's not causing a serious disturbance."

What do the problems facing the nation have to do with the arrest? Should the police stop doing their job just because the nation has problems? If all the problems were resolved would the arrest of professor Gates have then been in order? Was this an intelligent thing for the President to say?

Then White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, questioned about the flap as the president headed for two health care events in Cleveland, stressed that Obama "was not calling the officer stupid." He said Obama felt that "at a certain point the situation got far out of hand."

Well, Mr. Gibbs is splitting rhetorical hairs. The President of the United States said that the police, i.e. officer Crowley, acted stupidly. That's pretty much the same thing as calling him stupid, and it's certainly demeaning for an individual law enforcement official to be personally insulted on a nationally televised press conference by the most powerful man in the world.

Officer Crowley was insulted and President Obama was diminished. What on earth is the President of the United States doing calling a local policeman's actions stupid? Why did he feel that this was something, given all the problems the nation is facing, that he should comment upon at all? I can't imagine George Bush doing anything so graceless.



Why do so many contemporary atheists feel the need for religious services and rites? G. Jeffrey MacDonald of Religion News Service tells us about a new atheist fad:

Up until last summer, Jennifer Gray of Columbus, Ohio, considered herself "a weak Christian" whose baptism at age 11 in a Kentucky church came to mean less and less to her as she gradually lost faith in God.

Then the 32-year-old medical transcriptionist took a decisive step, one that previously hadn't been available. She got "de-baptized."

In a type of mock ceremony that's now been performed in at least four states, a robed "priest" used a hairdryer marked "reason" in an apparent bid to blow away the waters of baptism once and for all. Several dozen participants then fed on a "de-sacrament" (crackers with peanut butter) and received certificates assuring they had "freely renounced a previous mistake, and accepted Reason over Superstition."

"It was very therapeutic," Gray said in an interview. "It was a chance to laugh at the silly things I used to believe as a child. It helped me admit that it was OK to think the way I think and to not have any religious beliefs."

There's more on the de-baptism "movement" at the link.

I wonder if one of the silly things Ms Gray believed as a child is that the process depicted in this video is the result of chance and blind forces hacking away for a few million years until they were able to produce muscle contraction:

I'm reminded of the quote from Francis Crick that biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved. Crick realized that if people weren't careful and diligent when they considered the enormous improbablity of biological structures and processes they were seeing in their labs their common sense would overwhelm their commitment to materialism and then all would be lost. Maybe that quote could be incorporated into the de-baptism liturgy while de-baptizees are fluffing their brains with the hot air of atheism.


Zelaya's Thievery

The other day we cited reports that the illegal referendum that Manuel Zelaya was trying to impose on Honduras had already been rigged. Now we have another report from today's Washington Times that charges Zelaya of having robbed the country's central bank of almost 3 million dollars:

Honduran officials are investigating allegations that President Manuel Zelaya and his chief of staff stole millions of dollars from the central bank before the military ousted Mr. Zelaya last month, according to a senior Honduran official, government documents and other evidence.

A security video from the Central Bank of Honduras made available to The Washington Times shows officials entering the bank June 24 and withdrawing large amounts of Honduran currency. The money was driven to the office of Mr. Zelaya's chief of staff, Enrique Flores Lanza, according to depositions by three witnesses to Honduran prosecutors.

Government documents and testimony by the three say that about $2.2 million was taken.

The video, originally aired in Honduras, has not been previously reported by U.S. media.

An additional $550,000 was withdrawn hours later from the central bank by order of Mr. Lanza, according to bank documents obtained by The Times.

The Obama administration and the rest of the left can continue to defend this guy if they want, but all it does is continue to deplete their moral credibility.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cry Racism!

If anybody acted stupidly in this ridiculous affair it was the man who on national television labeled a police officer "stupid" while admitting that he didn't know the facts of the case.

A police officer gets a call from a neighbor that two men are trying to break into a nearby home. The officer responds and is yelled at by one of the men who turns out to be the homeowner. Because of the abusive reaction the man is placed under arrest for disorderly conduct. Now the officer is being called a racist not only by the homeowner but also implicitly by the president of the United States. That is simply inexcusable.

Evidently, it's racist in the minds of some to try to protect a man's home from a possible intruder if that intruder is a black man.

The homeowner, a prominent Harvard professor named Henry Louis Gates, is demanding an apology from the officer. The officer says he followed procedure, has nothing to apologize for, and none will be forthcoming. The ABC report linked to above certainly bears this out. If the report is accurate he shouldn't apologize, but Barack Obama surely owes an apology to the officer.

Fat chance that'll happen.


Adapting to the Rules

A recent article in Strategy Page explains how the Marines are adapting to the new rules of engagement in Afghanistan designed to limit civilian casualties:

The U.S. Marine advance into Helmand province is being slowed down by the new Rules Of Engagement (ROE), which forbid the use of bombs or missiles in any situation where there might be civilians. The Taliban will typically spend the night, or longer, in a village or walled compound, and that's where U.S. troops will typically trap them. But bombs and missiles cannot be used on these places, so U.S. troops have to besiege the place, or just move on, leaving the Taliban alone.

Some marines get creative, like having the jet fighters or bombs make a high speed pass over the Taliban held buildings. The fearsome noise will sometimes unnerve the Taliban and cause a surrender, but not as much as it used to. Another favorite tactic is having the fighter (usually an F-16 or F-18) come in low and use its 20mm cannon. But these air craft only carry a few seconds worth of ammunition. Moreover, having these jets fly that low makes them liable to crashing (this has happened, at least once) or being brought down by enemy fire (has not happened yet). But the cannon fire sometimes induces the Taliban to give up, or try to flee.

The other option, when you have the Taliban cornered, and using human shields, is to go in and fight them room-to-room. That gets more Americans killed, as well as putting the Afghan civilians in danger. This room-to-room tactic has not been used much, as commanders don't want to take the heat for losing troops in that kind of fighting.

If there is a lot more of this house to house fighting, and civilians get killed, the ROE may be changed again to forbid any kind of combat if civilians are present. This reduces the anger of locals from civilian deaths involving U.S. forces, but makes it much more difficult to hunt down and destroy the Taliban gunmen. The Taliban are still vulnerable, as they have to move in order to operate, and the Afghan Army or police can often negotiate a surrender, or go in and root them out by force. But the best troops available for chasing down the Taliban gunmen are the U.S. and NATO forces.

The rules are appropriate. Curtailing civilian deaths is not only the moral thing to do it will also pay off in the long run by diminishing resentments among the people whose hearts we must win if we're to have any permanent success.

Even so, coalition casualties are rising, partly due to the new rules and partly due to the increased tempo of operations in Helmand Province. One sign that the media has recovered from the swoon it suffered at the thought of an Obama presidency will be when they start reminding us every day how many Americans have died in Afghanistan since Mr. Obama was inaugurated.


Mediocre Pick

At the end of a post on Judge Sonia Sotomayor the other day I wondered if Democrats had forgotten the questiion that was on all of their lips when Clarence Thomas was nominated fro the Supreme Court, to wit "Is this the best qualified pick President George H. W. Bush could have made?"

Well, Richard Cohen, a liberal writer at the Washington Post, asks virtually that same question and comes up with an interesting answer. She's qualified, but hardly the best pick Obama could have made:

She is fully qualified. She is smart and learned and experienced and, in case you have not heard, a Hispanic, female nominee, of whom there have not been any since the dawn of our fair republic. But she has no cause, unless it is not to make a mistake, and has no passion, unless it is not to show any, and lacks intellectual brilliance, unless it is disguised under a veil of soporific competence until she takes her seat on the court. We shall see.

In the meantime, Sotomayor will do, and will do very nicely, as a personification of what ails the American left. She is, as everyone has pointed out, in the mainstream of American liberalism, a stream both intellectually shallow and preoccupied with the past.

Cohen laments that President Obama declined to find a liberal to equal in quality of mind Antonin Scalia or several of the other conservatives on the Court:

Where in all of Sotomayor's opinions, speeches and now testimony is there anything approaching Scalia's dissent in Morrison v. Olson, in which, alone, he not only found fault with the law creating special prosecutors but warned about how it would someday be abused? "Frequently an issue of this sort will come before the court clad, so to speak, in sheep's clothing," he wrote. "But this wolf comes as a wolf."

My admiration for Scalia is constrained by the fact that I frequently believe him to be wrong. But his thinking is often fresh, his writing is often bracing; and, more to my point, he has no counterpart on the left. His liberal and moderate brethren wallow in bromides; they can sometimes outvote him, but they cannot outthink him.

This is the sad state of both liberalism and American politics. First-class legal brains are not even nominated lest some senator break into hives at the prospect of encountering a genuinely new idea.

In other words, in his attempt to play ethnic and gender politics President Obama has squandered an opportunity to appoint an exceptional jurist. Of course, it may simply be that there are no exceptional jurists to be found on the left, I don't know, but it says something about Obama's own frame of mind that intellectual excellence is to him secondary to political appeasement.

Parenthetically, I was amazed by a paragraph in Cohen's column in which he takes Sotomayor to task for her reluctance to condemn capital punishment. The surprise is not that he finds capital punishment an abomination, the surprise comes in the last line:

She was similarly disappointing on capital punishment. She seems to support it. Yet it is an abomination....It is always an abuse of power, always an exercise in arrogance -- it admits no possibility of a mistake -- and totally without efficacy. It is not a deterrent, and it endorses the mentality of the killer: Human life is not inviolate.

This last sentence is a bit of a stunner coming from a man who has in the past claimed to be resolutely pro-choice on abortion.


Progressive Racism and Double Standards

Last week I mentioned that contemporary progressives still have a certain nostalgia for the eugenic impulses of their 20th century forebears but are usually careful to keep their sympathies to themselves. Occasionally, though, someone says something, like Justice Ginsburg did the other day (see link), that causes eyebrows to rise.

I've been admonished for concluding too much from one person's slip, but it's not just one person who affords us glimpses into the progressive mindset.

Recently, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Houston to receive Planned Parenthood's highest honor, the Margaret Sanger Award. Here's what First Things (subscription required) says about the event:

In her acceptance speech, Mrs. Clinton took time to laud the organization's founder: "I admire Margaret Sanger enormously, her courage, her tenacity, her vision ....I am really in awe of her."

Now Margaret Sanger was both a eugenicist and a racist, a woman who saw abortion as a means of limiting the growth of the black population. That was a large part of the vision, perhaps the dominant part, that Mrs. Clinton so deeply admires.

I know some might be saying that just because Mrs. Clinton praised Sanger it doesn't follow that she embraces all of Ms. Sanger's dreams and hopes. Perhaps not, but given that this was the main force motivating Sanger's founding of Planned Parenthood it makes it a little difficult to think that Clinton did not have this in mind.

Moreover, some readers might recall that the left went into high dudgeon a few years back when on the occasion of Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday Senator Trent Lott praised him by saying he would have made a good president had he been elected when he ran for the office way back in 1948. Lott was just being kind, but since Thurmond was, in his early years, a segregationist the left demanded and got Lott's resignation as Senate Majority Leader. Praising a superannuated former segregationist, we were told, said something unsavory about Lott and, indeed, about Republicans in general.

Obviously, the same standard doesn't apply to Democrats like Ms Clinton who is "in awe" of a racist eugenicist. No one has called for her resignation, and hardly anyone has noted that her praise of Sanger's "vision" was arguably worse than Lott's compliment to an old man who had been in the Senate since before most Americans were born.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

<i>Sic Semper</i> Opportunists

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania made a cold political calculation earlier this year and decided he could not defeat Rep. Pat Toomey in the GOP primary. So he bolted from the Republican party, with which he had been affiliated at least since being first elected to the Senate in 1980, and joined the Democrats. No doubt he thought this would win him enough Democrat votes to defeat Toomey in the general election in 2010, but apparently he miscalculated. Though holding a 20 point lead over Toomey in May, a new Quinnipiac poll shows the Senator today in a statistical tie with his nemesis.

Not only did Specter lose his seniority by joining the Democrats (though he evidently had been led to expect he would retain it), he looks like he may well lose his prestigious seat in the Senate as well. His only course of action is to support Obama's legislative agenda and hope that agenda will succeed. If he opposes it, which he might have done if he remained a Republican, he'll lose his party's backing altogether. If he supports it, and it fails either to be passed into law or winds up wrecking the economy, he'll lose the support of independents and moderate Dems. He has put himself in an unenviable position, but no tears are being shed for him in Pennsylvania where many people see him as an opportunist who's getting what he deserves.


Expiration Date

Russ Douthat has a fine column on affirmative action in the New York Times. He writes that a good case could be made for the need for affirmative action in the decades after the post WWII civil rights struggles, but that there needs to be a statute of limitations:

Allowing reverse discrimination in the wake of segregation is one thing. Discriminating in the name of diversity indefinitely is quite another.

After noting that by 2042 the United States will be a "majority minority" nation Douthat says:

A system designed to ensure the advancement of minorities will tend toward corruption if it persists for generations, even after the minorities have become a majority. If affirmative action exists in the America of 2028 [the date that Justice Sandra O'Connor suggested as an upper limit], it will be as a spoils system for the already - successful, a patronage machine for politicians - and a source of permanent grievance among America's shrinking white population.

For myself, I don't understand why affirmative action has continued this long, much less why it should still be around in 2028. Affirmative action was designed and justified as a means of racial reparations, a way to compensate those who had been disadvantaged by segregation. Now, going on three generations after segregation has ended, defenders of affirmative action say we still need it. Why? What evidence is there that racial discrimination is still a significant factor in American life? What social conditions, what metric, would the defenders of affirmative action accept as justification for the conclusion that affirmative action is no longer necessary?

The most frequently cited example of the need for affirmative action today is the paucity of minorities in certain fields, but racial discrimination isn't the only, or even the best, explanation for that lack. How do we distinguish between competing explanations? The argument that the shortage of qualified minorities is itself evidence of discrimination has been threadbare now for twenty years. It's time that we insisted that in this country, just as no one will be denied a job or college admission on the basis of race, neither will anyone be awarded one on the basis of race.


Pure Evil

Lest anyone doubt what sort of people the Iranian authorities are The Jerusalem Post gives us a good idea via an an interview with a former Basiji member who was himself briefly imprisoned for having released protesters from detention without authorization:

The Basiji member, who is married with children, spoke soon after his release by the Iranian authorities from detention. He had been held for the "crime" of having set free two Iranian teenagers - a 13-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl - who had been arrested during the disturbances that have followed the disputed June presidential elections.

"There have been many other police and members of the security forces arrested because they have shown leniency toward the protesters out on the streets, or released them from custody without consulting our superiors," he said.

He pinned the blame for much of the most ruthless violence employed by the Iranian security apparatus against opposition protesters on what he called "imported security forces" - recruits, as young as 14 and 15, he said, who have been brought from small villages into the bigger cities where the protests have been centered.

"Fourteen and 15-year old boys are given so much power, which I am sorry to say they have abused," he said. "These kids do anything they please - forcing people to empty out their wallets, taking whatever they want from stores without paying, and touching young women inappropriately. The girls are so frightened that they remain quiet and let them do what they want."

These youngsters, and other "plainclothes vigilantes," were committing most of the crimes in the names of the regime, he said.

Asked about his own role in the brutal crackdowns on the protesters, whether he had beaten demonstrators and whether he regretted his actions, he answered evasively.

"I did not attack any of the rioters - and even if I had, it is my duty to follow orders," he began. "I don't have any regrets," he went on, "except for when I worked as a prison guard during my adolescence."

So what did he do during his adolescence that causes him regret? Read on:

When he was 16, "my mother took me to a Basiji station and begged them to take me under their wing because I had no one and nothing foreseeable in my future. My father was martyred during the war in Iraq and she did not want me to get hooked on drugs and become a street thug. I had no choice," he said.

He said he had been a highly regarded member of the force, and had so "impressed my superiors" that, at 18, "I was given the 'honor' to temporarily marry young girls before they were sentenced to death."

In the Islamic Republic it is illegal to execute a young woman, regardless of her crime, if she is a virgin, he explained. Therefore a "wedding" ceremony is conducted the night before the execution: The young girl is forced to have sexual intercourse with a prison guard - essentially raped by her "husband."

"I regret that, even though the marriages were legal," he said.

Why the regret, if the marriages were "legal?"

"Because," he went on, "I could tell that the girls were more afraid of their 'wedding' night than of the execution that awaited them in the morning. And they would always fight back, so we would have to put sleeping pills in their food. By morning the girls would have an empty expression; it seemed like they were ready or wanted to die.

"I remember hearing them cry and scream after [the rape] was over," he said. "I will never forget how this one girl clawed at her own face and neck with her finger nails afterwards. She had deep scratches all over her."

A nation that institutionalizes this sort of behavior and incorporates it into its laws is simply evil. There's no other word for it. The Iranian regime deserves universal reproach, but Western diplomats and media, steeped in multicultural relativism, have lost their ability to reproach anyone lest they be accused of cultural chauvinism.


Bad Company

I'm not saying this report is correct, mind you, but it certainly seems to be genuine:

Honduran authorities have seized computers found in the Presidential Palace belonging to deposed president Mel Zelaya. Taking a page right out of the leftist dictator's handbook, these computers, according to the news report, contained the official and certified results of the illegal constitutional referendum Zelaya wanted to conduct that never took place. The results of this fraudulent vote were tilted heavily in Zelaya's favor, ensuring he could go ahead and illegally change the constitution so he could remain in power for as long as he wanted to. ACORN, I'm sure, is taking notes.

This is the man that the OAS, the UN, and the Obama State Department want the Honduran people to reinstall as their leader.

Manuel Zelaya had, according to the article, already fabricated the results of the unconstitutional referendum he was trying to illegally foist on the Honduran people when he was deposed. Whether the report is correct or not, it really is distressing that our president and secretary of state have thrown their influence behind a man supported by the Castro brothers, Hugo Chavez, and Daniel Ortega, and are pressuring the Hondurans to reinstall him in office. It is to our national shame that we find ourselves in such company.

Meanwhile, here's the latest column on the Honduran situation from the indispensable Mary Anastasia O'Grady at the Wall Street Journal.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tutoring Uppity Negroes

This is getting a little old now, but it's still worth posting because it illustrates how people who claim to be free of racist assumptions are sometimes prone to the most patronizing behavior toward blacks. Senator Boxer thinks that because Mr. Alford is black that he should hold certain views about economic issues, and because he doesn't have those views he needs to be tutored by the kindly white lady who will deign to patiently instruct the poor benighted negro:

Senator Boxer is like a character out of a Flannery O'Connor short story. One can almost hear her pleading with equal measures of exasperation and condescension in her voice, "Mr. Alford, here's what others of your race think about this legislation, why don't you be a good boy and think like they do?"

This is how some people display their racial broadmindedness, I guess, by talking down to the uppity negro.


Signature in the Cell

In the controversy between Darwinian materialism and intelligent design there are four main issues over which the battle is joined. These are the origin and structure of the universe, the origin of life, the origin of species or diversity, and the origin of human consciousness. It's interesting that despite materialist boasts of epistemic superiority they have a theory for only one of these (speciation). For each of the others the materialists have no testable, empirical, scientific explanations at all. Notwithstanding, we're constantly reminded by experts such as Judge Jones of the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District case that Darwinian materialism is science and intelligent design (ID) is religion.

Even the one theory that the materialists do have, common descent, often proves to be a procrustean bed for the facts that scientists uncover in their daily work, but even so, that theory is really not at issue between IDers and Darwinians. What's at issue in the debate is not the scientific facts, but the theoretical significance of those facts. The materialist says that the universe, life, and consciousness each has a purely material explanation even if they haven't the haziest idea what it could be, and the IDer says that the scientific evidence that we have in each of these areas points most plausibly to intelligent agency.

Now comes a book by Stephen Meyer, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, that shows the utter inadequacy of materialist explanations for the origin of life. SIC may well prove to be a game-changer in the debate over whether the origin of life can be explained in purely physical terms. Surely if Judge Jones had read it he would have been hard pressed to arrive at the conclusions he did. SIC will make it very difficult for future critics of ID to get away with some of their traditional accusations and arguments.

In his book Meyer accomplishes a number of things: He demonstrates in convincing fashion the sheer implausibility of any materialist explanation for the DNA enigma, i.e. the origin in the genetic material of specified functional information. He methodically makes the case that of the possible explanations for the digital code inscribed on nucleic acid molecules - chance, physical law, a combination of chance and law, or intelligent purpose - the best is clearly intelligent provenience. He also takes on just about all of the common objections to ID, especially those which arose in the 2005 Dover trial, and one by one shows each of them to be lacking in any real force. The complaint that ID is religious, that it's not science, that it's a souped up version of creationism, that it's not testable, makes no predictions, and leads to no research are all addressed and thoroughly refuted.

His argument is so thorough and so devastating to materialism that many readers will find themselves wondering how anyone could still embrace it.

Meyer adopts an interesting format for his book. He weaves the science and philosophy together with his personal intellectual biography to trace how he came to hold the views he does.

The book is long (508 pages) and not every chapter will interest those who may not have much background in cell biology, but he makes every topic accessible even to the scientifically uninitiated. He unravels the argument throughout the book, but for me his discussion in the epilogue of how information is not only coded straight forwardly on the DNA molecule, but how the same nucleotide sequences can code for different proteins depending on a host of complex biochemical conditions, much like a word can have multiple meanings depending on the context in which it is used, was of special interest. His explanation, too, of how information is stored not only in nucleic acids but also in structures in the cell, and indeed the very structure of the cell itself, was fascinating.

To get an idea of how astonishing this is imagine a page of text. The text itself has one meaning, but if it appears on a certain kind of paper it might take on additional meanings. Moreover, if you read, say, every third word yet another meaning would come to light, or if you read the text backwards still another meaning would be revealed. The information in the cell has this kind of complexity. Intelligent cryptologists can create this sort of code, but blind chance and physical forces have never been known to do so, nor, as a matter of probability, is there any but the most nominal chance that they could.

There've been a number of books that everyone interested in the intelligent design controversy should read. They're classics in the history of the attempt to legitimize intelligent agency as an explanatory cause of physical events. Some of these are: Darwin on Trial by Philip Johnson, Evolution: a Theory in Crisis and Nature's Destiny by Michael Denton, Darwin's Black Box and Edge of Evolution by Michael Behe, The Design Inference and The Design Revolution by Bill Dembski, among others.

SIC makes such a powerful case and covers so much ground that I'll be surprised if it doesn't join this list in becoming a classic, not just in the literature of the debate over intelligent design, but also in the popular science literature as well.


Keeping the Mo

One of the dangers of front-loading all of one's major legislative goals into the first six months of a presidency, as Barack Obama has done, is that if he fails to get cap and trade and health care reform, his agenda will pretty much grind to a halt. It'll be extremely difficult for him to recover his political momentum and do anything much after these signature items have gone down in flames. He'll be a lame duck with three years left to go in his first term.

That these items will fail to be enacted is much more likely if unemployment continues to rise into double digits, and people have the sense that the stimulus was a boondoggle. Confidence in the president and his prescriptions for the nation's problems will evaporate and it'll be very hard for him to muster support for anything else he wants to do.

This is why the president seeks to impress upon us a sense of urgency. It's crucial that congress rush these bills to a vote, not because they must be enacted soon - much of the health care legislation would not take effect until three years after the bill is signed - but because he knows that they will never get passed if the economy worsens further. He also knows that the more time people have to ponder what his legislation entails the more the opposition to it will mount.

The Catch-22 is that the President has to get these bills passed before the economy gets worse, but if he passes them it's almost certain that that in itself will make the economy worse.


Monday, July 20, 2009

With Angela

The author of Angela's Ashes, one of the best books of the last twenty years, died Sunday of complications from skin cancer. Frank McCourt was 78 and his story of growing up poor in Ireland was read and loved by millions around the world. The book won a Pulitzer Prize when it came out a dozen or so years ago.

The Daily News has a story by Denis Hamil that gives us a glimpse of what Frank McCourt was like. If you read Angela's Ashes you'll want to read Hamil's column.

If you've never read Angela's Ashes I can't think of a better book to take to the beach.


Sunday, July 19, 2009


It's the conviction of David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, a religious research organization, and his co-author, Gabe Lyons, that Christianity has an image problem. Kinnaman and Lyons are two young men who set out to determine through polling and interviews exactly what young people (18-40) who stood outside the faith thought of Christianity and Christians.

They published their findings two years ago in an excellent book titled Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks of Christianity, and the results aren't flattering. Fairly or unfairly, justifiably or unjustifiably, pluralities of younger adults see Christians as hypocritical, insincere, homophobic, naive, too political, and judgmental.

Now this is not how Christians see themselves, of course, and so the news is hard to take. Nevertheless, whether there are good grounds for thinking this way of Christians or not, and the authors cite a lot of anecdotal evidence that certainly justifies at least some of these perceptions, this is how millions of "outsiders" do in fact see those who claim to be followers of one who was none of those things.

Though not without its irritations, this is a book that every Christian, certainly every Christian in leadership or ministry positions, really should read. Only by knowing what those outside the church have experienced and come to believe about Christianity can there be any chance of changing those beliefs.

Kinnaman and Lyons give a chapter to each of the perceptions listed above and explain how they arrive at their conclusions. For example, their data show that in the cohort of outsiders from 16 to 29 years of age 91% think Christians are (a lot or some) antihomosexual, 87% think Christians are judgmental, and 72% think they're out of touch.

Don't think, though, that the book is just page after page of statistics. The stats are just a small part of the information Kinnaman and Lyons provide. Much of the book is comprised of stories like that of a woman who sought help in dealing with her troubled son but received instead lectures from the women in the church about her status as an unmarried mother. She left.

Such stories are depressing, but Christians need to hear them. Only by seeing how others see us can we change those things about us which can be, and need to be, changed.

Buy two copies of Unchristian - one for you and one for your pastor. It can be ordered here.


Quantum Entanglement

Denyse O'Leary at Uncommon Descent calls our attention to a Wall Street Journal article by Gautam Naik from last May. Naik was writing on the weird, Alice-in-Wonderland world of quantum physics where none of the laws of our everyday experience apply. He says:

One of quantum physics' crazier notions is that two particles seem to communicate with each other instantly, even when they're billions of miles apart. Albert Einstein, arguing that nothing travels faster than light, dismissed this as impossible "spooky action at a distance."

The great man may have been wrong. A series of recent mind-bending laboratory experiments has given scientists an unprecedented peek behind the quantum veil, confirming that this realm is as mysterious as imagined.

Quantum physics is the study of the very small -- atoms, photons and other particles. Unlike the cause-and-effect of our everyday physical world, subatomic particles defy common sense and behave in wacky ways. That includes the fact that a photon, which is a particle of light, exists in a haze of multiple behaviors. They spin in many ways, such as "up" or "down," at the same time. Even trickier, it's only when you take a peek -- by measuring it -- that the photon fixes into a particular state of spin.

In other words, the world of our everyday experience may not be at all the way the world really is. Our perceptions could well be illusions that result from the fact that we are a certain size and observe the world from a particular perspective. Ultimate reality could be very much different than what we imagine it to be.

Stranger still is entanglement. When two photons get "entangled" they behave like a joint entity. Even when they're miles apart, if the spin of one particle is changed, the spin of the other instantly changes, too. This direct influence of one object on another distant one is called non-locality.

Last year, Dr. Nicolas Gisin and colleagues at Geneva University described how they had entangled a pair of photons in their lab. They then fired them, along fiber-optic cables of exactly equal length, to two Swiss villages some 11 miles apart.

During the journey, when one photon switched to a slightly higher energy level, its twin instantly switched to a slightly lower one. But the sum of the energies stayed constant, proving that the photons remained entangled.

More important, the team couldn't detect any time difference in the changes. "If there was any communication, it would have to have been at least 10,000 times the speed of light," says Dr. Gisin. "Because this is such an unlikely speed, the conclusion is there couldn't have been communication and so there is non-locality."

In 1990, the English physicist Lucien Hardy devised a thought experiment. The common view was that when a particle met its antiparticle, the pair destroyed each other in an explosion. But Mr. Hardy noted that in some cases when the particles' interaction wasn't observed, they wouldn't annihilate each other. The paradox: Because the interaction had to remain unseen, it couldn't be confirmed.

In a striking achievement, scientists from Osaka University have resolved the paradox. They used extremely weak measurements -- the equivalent of a sidelong glance, as it were -- that didn't disturb the photons' state. By doing the experiment multiple times and pooling those weak measurements, they got enough good data to show that the particles didn't annihilate. The conclusion: When the particles weren't observed, they behaved differently.

In a paper published in the New Journal of Physics in March, the Japanese team acknowledged that their result was "preposterous." Yet, they noted, it "gives us new insights into the spooky nature of quantum mechanics." A team from the University of Toronto published similar results in January.

Put another way, at a very fundamental level the universe is observer-dependent. The distinction between objective reality and subjective reality is smeared and hazy. The world turns out to be contingent in many ways, perhaps in every way, upon observing minds.

Quantum properties are not understood but they are nonetheless being exploited in a lot of technologies, some of which are discussed in the remainder of the article. It's fascinating stuff.

As I mentioned above, quantum mechanics suggests to some scientists that the reality we see is a kind of illusion. Christian theologians have been saying this for millenia, of course, and in fact, we discussed this on Viewpoint in a little more detail here. I wrote there, in part, that we might:

"Consider just one example from the quantum world. Pairs of sub-atomic particles formed simultaneously share a property known as entanglement. These particles are somehow mysteriously connected to each other even if they are separated by vast distances across space. If one of the pair undergoes some alteration the other undergoes a corresponding alteration even though any message sent from the one to the other would have to travel at near infinite speed in order for the second particle to know that the first has been altered.

How does this happen? There's no physical explanation for this instantaneous connectivity. If, however, these particles, and everything else, are really part of God's consciousness, the problem of entanglement is explained. Every event is immediately known by God, and His mind imposes the laws that govern the behavior of these particles."

That scientists are beginning to discern a deeper, mind-based level of reality reminds me of the closing lines of Robert Jastrow's God and the Astronomers:

"For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries."

Or, in the words of Sir James Jeans, "The world is beginning to look more like a grand idea than a great machine."


Saturday, July 18, 2009

What Could Go Wrong?

Betsy McCaughey's column at the New York Post opens with these disturbing graphs:

President Obama promises that "if you like your health plan, you can keep it," even after he reforms our health-care system. That's untrue. The bills now before Congress would force you to switch to a managed-care plan with limits on your access to specialists and tests.

Two main bills are being rushed through Congress with the goal of combining them into a finished product by August. Under either, a new government bureaucracy will select health plans that it considers in your best interest, and you will have to enroll in one of these "qualified plans." If you now get your plan through work, your employer has a five-year "grace period" to switch you into a qualified plan. If you buy your own insurance, you'll have less time.

And as soon as anything changes in your contract -- such as a change in copays or deductibles, which many insurers change every year -- you'll have to move into a qualified plan instead.

When you file your taxes, if you can't prove to the IRS that you are in a qualified plan, you'll be fined thousands of dollars -- as much as the average cost of a health plan for your family size -- and then automatically enrolled in a randomly selected plan.

It's one thing to require that people getting government assistance tolerate managed care, but the legislation limits you to a managed-care plan even if you and your employer are footing the bill (Senate bill, p. 57-58). The goal is to reduce everyone's consumption of health care and to ensure that people have the same health-care experience, regardless of ability to pay.

Unfortunately, it gets no better as the column continues. Especially troubling, in addition to the cost and the inconvenience, is McCaughey's assertion that part of the expense of the new program is to be defrayed by reducing medicare benefits to the elderly. Please read it all to gain a clearer picture of what the Democrats are trying to do to your health care. Also keep in mind that although congress wants to impose this on the rest of us, they will not be subject to it themselves.

Meanwhile, one Canadian's testimony doesn't mean everything, but it should count for something:

The Democrats under President Obama want to replace the best health care system in the world with a bureaucratic nightmare that organizationally looks like this:

Everyone who thinks this'll make health care choices simpler and easier to navigate raise your hand.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Worldwide Caliphate by 2020

From Strategy Page:

Al Qaeda has a plan, and it was first published, four years ago, in a book (Al-Zarqawi: al Qaeda's Second Generation) by Jordanian journalist, Fouad Hussein. Several al Qaeda leaders were interviewed for the book, including al Qaeda's man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The current version of the plan has been showing up on Islamic radical websites since late last year.

The basic al Qaeda plan lays out a very straightforward strategy for world conquest. Actually, it sounds a lot like what the Nazis and communists had in mind last century. The only difference is that, while the Nazis killed you for who you were, and the communists killed you for what you believed, al Qaeda kills you for not being Moslem. No matter which zealot gets you, you're still dead.

Despite several setbacks, al Qaeda is still proclaiming the plan as in play. The al Qaeda plan has seven phases, all leading to world conquest. It goes like this.

Check out their plan at the link. Despite the fact that al Qaeda has experienced severe setbacks they're still convinced that Allah is on their side and will give them total world domination within ten years.

Exit question: If you were an al Qaeda foot soldier committed to the plan outlined at the link would you consider the election of Barack Obama and Democratic control of the Congress a sign of Allah's favor or his displeasure?


Heresy in the Episcopal Church

Richard Mouw wishes to take polite exception to a rather surprising claim by the presiding bishop of the Episcopal church. In a brief essay at Christianity Today Mouw writes this:

In her opening address to the Episcopal Church's recent General Convention, the Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, the church's presiding bishop, made a special point of denouncing what she labeled "the great Western heresy" - the teaching, in her words, "that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God." This "individualist focus," she declared, "is a form of idolatry."

There is good news and bad news here. The good news is that the Episcopal Church's presiding bishop is not afraid to denounce heresy. The bad news is that we evangelicals turn out to be the heretics she is denouncing.

One wonders why Jefferts Schori thinks heretical the idea that we are each accountable to God, and that we, as individuals, can gain eternal life. Upon what, exactly, does she base this strange notion? The Bible? Christian tradition? Maybe, like lots else that issues forth from the cogitations of our mainline bishops and theological poobahs, she just made it up.


Israeli Training Upgrade Needed

McClatchy has a report by Dion Nussenbaum on investigations into the conduct of the Israeli military forces during their operation last winter in Gaza against Hamas. Much of it is troubling.

I have no sympathy for Hamas, a brutal terrorist organization committed to the destruction of the Israeli state and the murder of its citizens. I thought at the time that the Israelis should have continued the fight until they had utterly eliminated Hamas as a functioning organization. Even so, without impugning men who must make excruciating decisions in the pressure cooker of combat, I also want to affirm the necessity that wars fought by civilized people against barbarians still be fought by the precepts of Just War theory.

The problem is not that the Israeli government doesn't agree, but rather that the training of its officers needs to be improved so that every one of them agrees as well. In the case of the Gaza conflict, apparently, there were too many cases when it wasn't clear that mid-level officers understood what was acceptable and what was not.

Here are just two excerpts from Nissenbaum's report. There are more at the link:

Two soldiers from the Givati brigade who served in Zeitoun told the story of shooting an unarmed civilian without warning him. The elderly man was walking with a flashlight toward a building where Israeli forces were taking cover.

The Israeli officer in the house repeatedly ignored requests from other soldiers to fire warning shots as the man approached, the soldiers said. Instead, when he got within 20 yards of the soldiers, the commander ordered snipers to kill the man. The soldiers later confirmed that the man was unarmed.

When they complained to their commander about the incident, the soldiers were rebuffed and told that anyone walking at night was immediately suspect.

Israeli combatants said they forced Palestinians to search homes for militants and enter buildings ahead of soldiers in direct violation of an Israeli Supreme Court ruling that bars fighters from using civilians as human shields.

"Sometimes a force would enter while placing rifle barrels on a civilian's shoulder, advancing into a house and using him as a human shield," said one Israeli soldier with the Golani Brigade. "Commanders said these were the instructions, and we had to do it."

That this testimony is true seems hard to deny since it's doubtful that dozens of soldiers would lie about these things. How widespread such abuses were is less clear. That they violated both Israeli law and war doctrine is certain. They reveal a lacuna in the training of Israeli troops that the government should remedy forthwith.

There are more accounts at the link along with Israeli Defense Forces denials of the accuracy of the testimony. Read them and decide for yourself and keep in mind that the Israelis are facing an enemy which couldn't care less whether its troops commit atrocities. Indeed, they encourage it.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Wise Latina Is Fibbing

Evidently, even leftist law professionals are disgusted with the prevarications of Sonia Sotomayor in her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. This quote is from a liberal law professor at Georgetown, Mike Seidman, after her second day of testimony:

Speaking only for myself (I guess that's obvious), I was completely disgusted by Judge Sotomayor's testimony today. If she was not perjuring herself, she is intellectually unqualified to be on the Supreme Court. If she was perjuring herself, she is morally unqualified. How could someone who has been on the bench for seventeen years possibly believe that judging in hard cases involves no more than applying the law to the facts? First year law students understand within a month that many areas of the law are open textured and indeterminate-that the legal material frequently (actually, I would say always) must be supplemented by contestable presuppositions, empirical assumptions, and moral judgments.

To claim otherwise - to claim that fidelity to uncontested legal principles dictates results - is to claim that whenever Justices disagree among themselves, someone is either a fool or acting in bad faith. What does it say about our legal system that in order to get confirmed Judge Sotomayor must tell the lies that she told today? That judges and justices must live these lies throughout their professional careers?

Perhaps Justice Sotomayor should be excused because our official ideology about judging is so degraded that she would sacrifice a position on the Supreme Court if she told the truth. Legal academics who defend what she did today have no such excuse. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Actually, she wouldn't sacrifice a position on the Court if she told the truth. The Democrats are crooning and gushing over her and have more than enough votes to confirm her no matter what she says, unless she blunders by saying something nice about George Bush or Dick Cheney.

It's the fact that she has nothing to lose by telling the truth that makes her unwillingness to do so all the more distressing to observers both left and right.

Quick Quiz: Liberals beat George Bush the elder over the head with one question in particular when he nominated Clarence Thomas to serve on the Supreme Court. Do you know what it was?

Answer: "Is Judge Thomas really the best qualified person that President Bush could have found to nominate to the Supreme Court, or did he nominate Thomas just to curry favor with African-Americans?"

I wonder why liberals have forgotten to raise that question this time around with another minority nominee.

Thanks to The Volokh Conspiracy for the Seidman quote.