Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Vanishing Demographic

Bruce Feiler reports on a story at Fox News that will disturb some and excite others depending on whether one is a Christian or a secularist. A study called The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) reveals that:

Protestants now represent only half of all Americans, down almost 20 percent in the last twenty years. In the coming months, America will become a minority Protestant nation for the first time since the pilgrims settled Massachussetts.

Meanwhile, the number of people who claim no religious affiliation has doubled since 1990 to fifteen percent, its highest point in history.

Here are some other findings of the survey:

1) The number of Christians has declined 12% since 1990, and is now 76%, the lowest percentage in American history.

2) The growth of non-believers has come largely from men. Twenty percent of men express no religious affiliation; 12% of women.

3) Young people are fleeing faith. Nearly a quarter of Americans in their 20's profess no organized religion.

4) But these non-believers are not particularly atheist. That number hasn't budged and stands at less than 1 percent. (Agnostics are similarly less than 1 percent.) Instead, these individuals have a belief in God but no interest in organized religion, or they believe in a personal God but not in a formal faith tradition. People are leaving institutional religion but they're not leaving God, at least they claim not to be.

The fact that so many people are finding traditional religion inadequate comes as no surprise, but it should serve as an alarum for organized religious institutions. They simply aren't meeting peoples' needs, especially the need of young people to be offered a belief system that seems vibrant, powerful, and relevant to their lives.

Feiler says that catering to older believers, which many churches do because the old people are the big contributors, is a recipe for failure. Younger Americans feel excluded and are tuning out. This is precisely what Mark Kinnaman documents in his book Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity.

Feiler also observes that Americans are interested in God, but they don't think existing institutions are helping them draw closer to Him. This may be true of traditional denominational religion, much of which seems to have lost its way in seeking to ingratiate itself with Modernity. Traditional denominations like the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, etc. have been slow to recognize that forms, structures, and practices that were adequate for prior to the 1970s often seem alien and bizarre to people born after 1960. Even so, what is true of "mainline" protestantism is much less true of contemporary independent churches many of which have shown an admirable flexibility and adaptibility without compromising traditional Christian faith.

The column closes with a hope and a warning:

"Americans' interest in religion has not always been stable. It dipped following the Revolution and again following Civil War. In both cases it rebounded because religious institutions adapted and found new ways of relating to everyday Americans."

They need to do the same today or "risk becoming Europe, where religion is fast becoming an afterthought."


Michelle Malkin

Lloyd Grove at The Daily Beast gives us a little insight into Michelle Malkin who is one of the most influential people in the blogosphere:

So who is this softspoken, self-deprecating woman talking to me on the phone?

"I'm a human being," Malkin says from her home in tranquil Colorado Springs (tranquil, except for the shrieking of Air Force jets-"the sound of freedom," Malkin says), far, far away from the media-political complex. "I mean, every once in a while it might get under my skin. But I can't stop ad hominem attacks against me."

I've just asked if it ever bothers her that so many people dislike her - even worse, despise her. She did, after all, once write a book defending the World War II internment camps for Japanese-Americans, and calling for racial profiling of Arabs in the war on terror.

The recipient of occasional death threats, she has twice felt the need to move her family to undisclosed locations-and in recent years decamped from suburban Washington to the flyover wilds of Colorado. When she goes on book tour or lectures on college campuses, she is accompanied by a private security guard. "I limit the amount of traveling and speaking that I do, but you just never know," she says.

There's much in this piece that'll interest readers who want to see how one woman has made a difference in the way America is informed about its political leadership. It also gives a sense of the sort of vitriol the left seeks to throw in the face of anyone who challenges their dogmas and criticizes their apostles.


An Intelligent Debate on Intelligent Design

Telic Thoughts digs up an Uncommon Knowledge segment from a couple of years ago that's worth watching if you'd like to see a calm debate between two of the most prominent figures in the Darwinism/Intelligent Design controversy discuss the issue. The two are Massimo Pigliucci, a Darwinian, and Jonathan Wells, an IDer. The discussion is moderated by Peter Robinson who does an outstanding job of keeping the debate on track and focusing on some interesting issues. He manages to pack a lot into a twenty six minute segment. Give it a look:


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ignorance and Cowardice?

Very few people, at least among conservatives, put any confidence in candidate Obama's claim that Afghanistan was the war we had to fight, that this was the "good war," a "war of necessity." Many observers thought then that he was just using this rhetoric to prepare the country for a withdrawal from Iraq and allay fears among voters that he might be capitulating in the war against Islamic terrorism. Few conservatives believed then that his heart was really in fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan so few are now surprised that he seems to want to dither over General McChrystal's report that he needs 45,000 more troops to prevent defeat in that woe-begotten territory.

Columnist Ruben Navarette, who is certainly no knee-jerk Obama opponent, writes that:

According to McClatchy Newspapers, military officials in Kabul and Washington say that the White House and Pentagon over the last six weeks had issued directives telling McChrystal not to submit a specific request for an increase in U.S. forces; the general is said to want as many as 45,000 additional troops. The administration isn't ready to consider that option. Instead, McChrystal sent his 66-page report last month to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. As everyone knows by now, the general concluded that the U.S. effort in Afghanistan "will likely result in failure" without a new strategy and an urgent infusion of troops. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, both backed that assessment.

Obama's own arguments about what to do in Afghanistan have not been very persuasive. Not even to himself. In March, he declared that the United States would prevent the return of the Taliban and "enhance the military, governance and economic capacity" of Afghanistan in order to help prevent al-Qaeda from returning and once again using the country as a launching pad for further attacks against the United States. But now the president seems to be backing off from his own hard line. On CBS' "Face the Nation," Obama said that "the only reason I send a single young man or woman in uniform anywhere in the world is because I think it's necessary to keep us safe. ... We're not gonna put the cart before the horse and just think by sending more troops (to Afghanistan) we're automatically going to make Americans safe."

So no matter what Obama said in the spring, it is no surprise that many White House advisers, including Vice President Joe Biden, are looking for a way to leave Afghanistan. That would be a grave mistake, and an abdication of Obama's duty to keep Americans safe by preventing more acts of terrorism. More than a clumsy flip-flop on policy, it would also be an outright betrayal of the military leaders that he put in charge of the operation in Afghanistan.

According to McClatchy, some members of McChrystal's staff said they don't understand why Obama called Afghanistan a "war of necessity" but still hasn't given them the resources they need to do what is necessary.

McChrystal is in a tough spot. When he isn't fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, he has to combat ignorance and cowardice on the Potomac. The general might have to end his career over this. But he shouldn't back down -- not when strong leaders are in such short supply.

Ignorance and cowardice are strong words, especially when used to describe the President of the United States, and I don't want to judge whether they apply in this case. Nor do I want to parse Navarette's reference to the dearth of strong leadership and speculate on exactly who he had in mind, but I do think that Mr. Obama has been disingenuous with the American people on the matter of his committment to Afghanistan. The President, after all, is a man of the left, the left abhors our military involvements abroad, and everyone who understands this should have known prior to the election that Mr. Obama would vacillate on Afghanistan regardless of how resolute he sounded during the campaign.

Now the President is confronted with a choice, and he can't vote "present." He must either accede to General McChrystal's request or he must pull up stakes in Afghanistan and come home. If he does the former he will surely anger his progressive base. If he does the latter he risks being judged by history as feckless and irresponsible and will be roundly punished by historians for handing Afghanistan back to al Qaeda to be used as a base for further terror operations against the U.S. and this after the loss of hundreds of American lives on that barren soil.

Moreover, if he chooses to give up in Afghanistan it will be a demoralizing blow to the American military and our intelligence agencies and will greatly strengthen the resolve of our enemies who already believe that we lack the endurance to prevail in the generational war they're waging against us. The weakness Mr. Obama will project if he withdraws will haunt this country for decades in a myriad of ways, just as did our ignominious flight from Vietnam in the 1970s.

Mr. Obama is going to have to spurn his base once again or be seen by the world as weak, wobbly, and risible. The first step in doing the right thing would be to finally, eight months into his presidency, give a nationally televised speech on Afghanistan and Iraq and dispel the growing suspicion that he simply doesn't care very much about what happens there.


New Media Vs. Old

Reformed leftist Ron Radosh indicts modern journalism for dereliction of duty and blames it for the rise of the hyper-partisan talk shows that afflict talk radio and both MSNBC and Fox News:

Let us examine a few recent developments. First, the resignation of Van Jones. Jones's background and previous life as a far-left revolutionary was exposed by a blogger who writes under the name Gateway Pundit. Material about Jones was made available at David Horowitz's website The material was relevant to the public's right to know whether such a man should have ever been appointed to a White House position. The blogs were completely ignored, until Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck took up the case and nightly aired segments about him. But it was not until he resigned that readers of the "paper of record," the New York Times, ever heard one word about him. Clearly, liberal editors and reporters, knowing that conservatives were responsible for digging up the easily found data about Jones, thought it could be ignored. That decision further inflamed Fox's viewers, whose protests and ruckus forced the administration to ditch him.

Had they done their job, the placing of Fox News alone as the only media outlet concerned about Jones might not have taken place....[R]egular reporters were not interested; nor were their editors. Indeed, they probably decided to not look into it when they found out where the sources about Jones came from. It was a decision that seriously hurt their own credibility. At that point, the Jones case became a battle between Fox News and MSNBC; i.e., Beck and Hannity versus Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow.

A similar thing took place with ACORN. As we now know, the recent actions to defund them by Congress and for the IRS and Census Bureau to break their contracts with the group came after the independent videos made by the now famous duo of Hannah Giles and James O'Keefe were put up at Andrew Breitbart's Big Government website. After the Fox News regulars aired them repeatedly, they became major news - and eventually, one knew it was over for ACORN once Jon Stewart and Jay Leno both ran biting sequences ridiculing the community organizing activist group.

The traditional media, the big three networks, major newspapers, Time, Newsweek, etc. have two, perhaps fatal, handicaps. First, their key staff people are often committed to an ideological progressivism that induces them to suppress stories unfavorable to their committments and to run stories, like CBS did with the George Bush National Guard story, which would advance their goals were they true but which turn out to be fabrications. This sort of thing has seriously eroded their credibility.

Second, they operate under constraints of time and space which simply don't fetter the new media. If there's a story out there newspapers can report it at best once a day and they can only devote a limited number of column inches to it. Newsmagazines can't even report it that often. If there are updates to the story they have to wait in abeyance until the next edition is published a day, or even a week, later.

Blogs are free to give as much space to a story as they wish, and they can update throughout the day. A story spreads much faster across the internet than through any other medium. The most popular blogs can also rely on an army of competent readers with expertise in a diverse array of fields to comment on technical aspects of a story and to correct mistakes. In short, many blogs present more stories on particular subjects, more thoroughly, more often, in a more entertaining way, and contrary to what traditional media people like to think, just as accurately, as any other news vehicle. It's hard to compete with that.

The traditional news venues in this country are in trouble. Part of their woes are due to the fact that they simply are not structured to compete with the newer forms of media, and part is that too many of them are simply not trusted to objectively report the news. At least in the new media you know you're getting a conservative or liberal slant and you can easily check their competitors (except in talk radio which, for some reason, has not been favorable to liberal success)to see what they have to say about a matter. This is very hard to do if one relies purely on broadcast news, newspapers and magazines.

Anyway, check out Radosh's piece. It's pretty good.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Revolution in Higher Ed

Zephyr Teachout at the Washington Post offers up a disturbing augury of the future of higher education:

Students starting school this year may be part of the last generation for which "going to college" means packing up, getting a dorm room and listening to tenured professors. Undergraduate education is on the verge of a radical reordering. Colleges, like newspapers, will be torn apart by new ways of sharing information enabled by the Internet. The business model that sustained private U.S. colleges cannot survive.

The real force for change is the market: Online classes are just cheaper to produce. Community colleges and for-profit education entrepreneurs are already experimenting with dorm-free, commute-free options. Distance-learning technology will keep improving. Innovators have yet to tap the potential of the aggregator to change the way students earn a degree, making the education business today look like the news biz circa 1999. And as major universities offer some core courses online, we'll see a cultural shift toward acceptance of what is still, in some circles, a "University of Phoenix" joke.

Just as other dispensers of information, e.g. newspapers, are fighting an increasingly desperate battle to survive the encroachments of modern communication technologies so, too, will universities be forced to change or perish:

This doesn't just mean a different way of learning: The funding of academic research, the culture of the academy and the institution of tenure are all threatened.

Both newspapers and universities have traditionally relied on selling hard-to-come-by information. Newspapers touted advertising space next to breaking news, but now that advertisers find their customers on Craigslist and, the main source of reporters' pay is vanishing. Colleges also sell information, with a slightly different promise -- a degree, a better job and access to brilliant minds. As with newspapers, some of these features are now available elsewhere. A student can already access videotaped lectures, full courses and openly available syllabuses online. And in five or 10 years, the curious 18- (or 54-) year-old will be able to find dozens of quality online classes, complete with take-it-yourself tests, a bulletin board populated by other "students," and links to free academic literature.

Because the current college system, like the newspaper industry, has built-in redundancies, new Internet efficiencies will lead to fewer researchers and professors. Every major paper once had a bureau in, say, Sarajevo -- now, a few foreign correspondents' pieces are used in dozens of papers. Similarly, at noon on any given day, hundreds of university professors are teaching introductory Sociology 101. The Internet makes it harder to justify these redundancies. In the future, a handful of Soc. 101 lectures will be videotaped and taught across the United States.

When this happens -- be it in 10 years or 20 -- we will see a structural disintegration in the academy akin to that in newspapers now. The typical 2030 faculty will likely be a collection of adjuncts alone in their apartments, using recycled syllabuses and administering multiple-choice tests from afar.

There's more on this sad prognostication at the link. I don't wish to sound like a Luddite, but I think what Teachout envisions would be a terrible development. The classroom is more than just a space in which knowledge is imparted. It's a place where relationships are formed, where students get the chance, if they want it, to ask spontaneous questions and pursue lines of inquiry in ways that are hard to achieve through a computer screen. Teaching is more than just putting a syllabus online and emailing tests to students. It's also communicating a love and enthusiasm for the subject matter and an interest in one's students. Moreover, a campus is more than just a place where students go to attend class, it's a community where dozens of opportunities for growth and development present themselves to young people.

It's not that students can't learn by staring at a monitor for even more hours every day than they already do, it's rather that learning in isolation is one-dimensional and impersonal.

What Teachout is predicting is essentially the dehumanization of education, an impoverishment of the intellectual life that will make us more alienated, estranged, and less human. I hope she's wrong.


Eroding Freedom

According to a report at another bit of our freedom will slide away if ObamaCare passes into law:

Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) received a handwritten note Thursday from Joint Committee on Taxation Chief of Staff Tom Barthold confirming the penalty for failing to pay the up to $1,900 fee for not buying health insurance.

Violators could be charged with a misdemeanor and could face up to a year in jail or a $25,000 penalty, Barthold wrote on JCT letterhead. He signed it "Sincerely, Thomas A. Barthold."

According to the bill currently before the Senate (Sen. Max Baucus' bill) you will be required to buy health insurance, regardless of whether you think you need it or not, and regardless of whether you want it or not. If you don't buy it you will be fined. If you don't pay the fine you will be put in jail. How's that for Hope 'n Change?

The argument is sometimes made that this is no different than requiring people to buy automobile insurance, but that argument is specious. You are not required to buy automobile insurance unless you drive. If you don't drive you don't have to buy it. Moreover, drivers are required to have coverage in the event they harm someone else in a traffic accident. If a driver could only harm himself there would be no need to require coverage.

If people wish to risk not having health coverage they should have that right, but then medical facilities should have the right, as a general principle, to decline treating those who accept that risk. Government should stay out of it.

The reason for requiring coverage, of course, is that it's hard to mandate that insurance companies cover pre-existing conditions if people can wait to buy insurance until they have a problem. By forcing everyone into the system, insurers will have enough capital to cover PEC patients they'd be unable to cover under the current system. The problem is that a lot of people are too well off to qualify for medicaid but too poor to be able to afford to buy insurance or to even pay the $1900 fine. These people should be free to decide how they wish to direct their meager resources without the nanny state coercing them into buying health insurance.

The idea that health care coverage is somehow a right is, in any event, a rather recent and dubious, invention. Millions of people alive today grew up with no "right" to health care coverage and chose to risk living without it until they were able to afford it or got a job that offered it.

The Baucus bill is an attempt to take away the freedom you have to manage your own affairs and to make your own choices in life. If, as we've been told with monotonous regularity since the 70s, the government should stay out of our bedrooms, then even more should the government stay out of our decisions about how to manage our finances and our health care.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Blinded by the Light

The web site Copyrights and Campaigns has an analysis of the prospects for the recent lawsuit filed by ACORN and two former employees against the two young filmmakers who videotaped employees of the group dispensing advice to a fake pimp and prostitute, as well as against Big Government, the blog that publicized the videos. The suit, which seeks monetary damages and an injunction against further broadcast of the videos, alleges that the filmmakers violated Maryland's law against surreptitious audio recording. It's unlikely, says C&C, that the suit will succeed.

Here's the nut of ACORN's problem:

Maryland's statute requires consent from all parties to record -- which the defendants clearly appear to have lacked. But, crucially, courts have interpreted the statute to apply only where the plaintiffs have a reasonable expectation of privacy ("REP") .... While the law in Maryland itself is scant, and the question is not entirely free of doubt, I think it unlikely that a Maryland court would find that ACORN and its employees had a REP in the circumstances here. Thompson and Williams (the ACORN employees)were speaking with complete strangers they had just met. They were meeting in an office open to any customer who happened to wander in off the street. Though the meeting itself appears to have occurred in a conference room, the door was open. And it appears likely that their voices could be heard outside the room; after all, in the video, we can hear children's voices carrying into the room where the recording occurred.

This is pretty ironic. ACORN employees are caught engaging in disreputable if not illegal behavior, and so ACORN sues the people who caught them doing it. That's like the burglar suing the homeowner because the homeowner shined a light in his face causing him to trip down the stairs and break his leg. To make it worse there are reports (though I don't vouch for their accuracy) that the left is scouring the internet trying to dig up dirt on the girl who played the role of the prostitute in the sting. It's not clear what, other than giving vent to their vindictiveness, they would hope to accomplish by destroying her reputation. Perhaps they simply wish to intimidate anyone who might be inclined to shine a bright light on the inner machinations of other left-wing organizations in this country.

The lawsuit may actually blow up in ACORN's face, however, since they may be forced in discovery to reveal exhaustive information about their operation. Wouldn't that be interesting.


The Secular Party

Secular Right offers an interesting graphic which shows that the Democratic party is becoming increasingly the party of secularists whereas the Republican party is becoming increasingly the party of the religious. As secularism increases in the U.S. (from 9% in 1990 to 15% today) those without any religious affiliation are finding a home in the Democratic party:

People like Glenn Beck often insist that there's no substantive difference between the two major parties but, as this graphic illustrates, such claims are misleading.

It might be interesting to speculate on why secular folk are drawn to the Democrats and religious folk are attracted to the GOP. One reason, surely, is that the Democrat party is seen, with some justification, as the party of abortion and libertinism and the party whose supporters pose the greatest threat to religious freedom in this country.


Friday, September 25, 2009

You Tell 'Em, Ed

This is Ed Schultz of MSNBC doing his best impression of a calm, reasoned, fair-minded assessment of the critics of the President's health care plan:

Ed Morrissey at Hot Air says: "I seem to recall that Republicans wanted to abolish the death tax, and Democrats objected. Which party wants to make money off of your dead corpse?"

Good question. Anyway, this clip is a fine example of something I mentioned yesterday. The less confident a man is in making his case the more prone he is to using this sort of ridiculous rhetoric. After all, when people have the facts on their side they'll argue the facts for the simple reason that it's the most persuasive type of argument. If they stoop to scurrilous and absurd smears, as Schultz does, that's a good indication that at some level they know they're trying to hold indefensible ground, and they try to compensate for the weakness of their position with an abundance of insults, name-calling and bluster.


See No Evil (On the Left)

Nancy Pelosi called them Swastika-sporting Nazis. Other Democrats accused them of being a racist mob. Harry Reid labeled them "evil-mongers" (Ooh, that must have hurt). They were mocked as "tea-baggers," a sleazy innuendo referring to a gay sex act. There was, we were told by gentle, peace-loving Democrats, the threat of imminent violence in their protests (despite the fact that the only violence was perpetrated by a union thug who beat up a black guy selling flags and another Obama supporter who bit off the finger of an elderly man).

Who were these disreputable individuals who posed such a serious threat to our public discourse? They were mostly retired grandfathers and grandmothers fed up with politicians who were about to foist upon them a revolutionary overhaul of American health care that most of the politicians hadn't even studied. To grind salt into the wound some Democrat politicians actually scoffed at the idea that they should read the legislation they were voting on.

When a million, more or less, of these angry but good-humored citizens descended on Washington, D.C. the other week to express their displeasure with Congress and the Obama administration they actually left the place cleaner than they found it. Nevertheless, they were maligned and deprecated by Democrats and their media allies.

Now we face another massive protest, this time by people who truly are violent and who certainly don't plan to clean up their mess before they leave. These are people who will destroy property and maim innocents who get in their way. They've done it before. But you'll hear nothing but the sound of silence from Pelosi and Reid about these people. That's because these demonstrators are seen by progressives as fellow-travelers. They're far-left anarchists and as such they incur sympathy for their cause and even, surreptitiously, perhaps, for their tactics among more main-stream leftists in our political class and media.

There will be few denunciations of these people emanating from leftist precincts this weekend when they converge on Pittsburgh to try to disrupt the G20 Summit that's convening there. No matter how much vandalism they commit, no matter what the cost to the taxpayers of their behavior, the left will be largely silent. No insults, no ridicule, no allegations of Nazism, no complaints about violence - none of the condemnations such as were directed at the obstreperous but otherwise peaceful town hall protestors and tea-partiers. What we'll hear from the Democrats in Washington will be the sound of silence.

Let me know about it if I'm not right.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Another Puzzle

The other day we talked about a couple of evolutionary puzzles - insect metamorphosis and the waggle dance of bees. Robert Deyes at Uncommon Descent offers us another: Animal migration.

Creatures as diverse as Monarch butterflies, Green sea turtles, Arctic terns, Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, and salmon all must coordinate a complex series of factors - body mass, time of migration, food availability, weather, global position (without benefit of landmarks for pelagic migrants) - all, in the case of young of the year, without ever having done it before. How did such astonishing abilities evolve when the costs and risks to the organism are so high and the benefits so seemingly minor? Here's Deyes:

Those in favor of evolution's ways openly struggle to understand the selective advantage afforded by the migratory birds' seemingly deliberate draining of precious resources. By their own admission "Migration exacts a high toll [as] grizzlies wait in streams and gorge on exhausted salmon migrating home from the sea, and falcons feast on fatigued songbirds arriving at their winter home in Africa. Fuel used by muscles to propel wings, fins, and legs is unavailable for reproductive activities, and time spent on the move is time not spent gathering food." They counter their self-imposed quandary by assuming a priori that selection 'favors the brave' and that over time survival benefits must have outweighed such costs. Evolution is after all a 'fact' and so what must have happened must have happened. Such circular reasoning of course gets us nowhere and leaves the above functional challenges unanswered.

Migration is indeed a mystery - a mystery in terms of how it's accomplished and a mystery in terms of why and how it ever evolved. Of course, if the evolution of this amazing behavior were directed by an intelligent agent a big part of the mystery, though certainly not all of it (the question of how the agent did it, for example, would still remain), would be cleared up.


Huffing and Puffing

Michael Egnor at Evolution News and Notes writes that:

"The ID-Darwinism debate is rapidly eroding materialist credibility, not only because of the strength of the ID arguments, but because ID proponents have forced materialists to state clearly what they believe. Candor is incompatible with materialist ideology; Darwinists are angry in large part because they've been forced to explain themselves."

This is an interesting insight. Nothing irritates a man like having to defend what he just knows to be true, especially when the truth is obvious to him and he can't understand why it isn't obvious to everyone. Unfortunately, Darwinism is only obvious if one starts from the assumption that materialism, or naturalism, is true. If that's so then something like Darwinian evolution simply must be the case, but the problem is that it's by no means obvious that materialism is true, and there are lots of reasons to think that it's not.

The IDer who attacks Darwinism by attacking materialism is cutting to the heart of the matter. He's laying seige to fundamental core convictions and showing them to be little more than smoke and mirrors. Few approaches are more certain to arouse a man's anger than exposing the hollow pretensions of his presuppositions. Most intelligent people sense when the philosophical ice is cracking under their feet and they often seek to mask their alarm and insecurity by throwing up clouds of anger and hostility, as if huffing and puffing were an adequate substitute for rational explanation.

It's a good rule of thumb, I think, that the angrier and nastier someone gets in an argument the less sure he is of the strength of his case.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Reacting to Race

Evan Coyne Maloney at Big offers us a heuristic for understanding everything from why criticism of President Obama is seen as racist to the failure of the traditional media to investigate ACORN to the reporting on the Kanye West boorishness at the Country Music Awards. Maloney tells us that there are several rules we need to keep in mind, and once we have mastered them we will understand all else. It's sort of like finding the DaVinci Code. Anyway, here are the rules:

  1. If a person is a member of a group guilty of past racial oppression, that person has no moral standing in relation to anyone in any group that's ever been a victim of that oppression.
  2. A member of an oppressor group is always assumed to be guilty in relation to a member of a victim group.
  3. An oppressor can only avoid presumed guilt by making a display of his or her sympathy for the oppressed.
  4. Members of victim groups can lose their moral standing by expressing a preference for individual rights as opposed to group rights.
  5. Advocating on behalf of a victim makes one almost as unassailable as being that victim.
  6. Coming to the defense of an oppressor is even more repugnant than being that oppressor.

Maloney applies the rules in order to interpret the three stories mentioned above, but he could have cited others. The reaction to the beating given to a white student to the cheers of the black students on a school bus would have almost certainly have been much different had the races been reversed. As it was, the media, leery of violating rule #2, focused their commentary almost entirely on the kindness of the boy who stepped in to stop the assault, and the possibility of racist motivation was scarcely mentioned even though the victim was one of only a few kids on the bus who was white. If the races had been reversed there's little doubt that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton would have been on the scene demanding justice for the victim and the media would have been amplifying their voices. Instead, because it was a white kid that got beaten by black kids, the story, like others of its kind, quietly slipped off the media radar screen.

If we really wanted to move beyond race into the post-racial promised land that we heard so much about during the presidential campaign wouldn't we start applying the same standards of judgment to everyone regardless of their skin color? Let's judge people by what they do. Let's judge them by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

Here's my rule, call it rule #7: Regarding any interracial incident, ask whether the reaction to the episode would be different were the races reversed. If the answer is yes, then something is wrong with one of the two reactions.


Refusing to Face the Emptiness

In a book review at First Things Edward Oakes makes the following observation about atheism:

In Untimely Meditations, Fried�rich Nietzsche spins a tale that goes like this: Once upon a time, on a minuscule planet orbiting a mediocre star, clever little animals emerged from the slime - and not long after began using puffed-up words like truth and goodness. Even worse, they thought they could attain genuine knowledge in this ultimately dead world. But their little C-grade star eventually cooled, and these pathetic little creatures died out, and with them died their proud words and hard-gained knowledge. The universe shed not one tear but merely looked on from its cold, infinite, uncaring skies.

One must at least credit Nietzsche for drawing out the consistent implications of atheism. Recent atheists, in contrast, seem to preach their atheism with an odd fervor, and one looks in vain for these overheated unbelievers to acknowledge that atheism entails a pointless universe. Perhaps, though, we should sympathize with our current crop of evangelizing atheists. Nietzsche's pointless-universe thesis is so difficult to maintain that not even he could manage it. In a later book, The Gay Science, he came to the conclusion: "It is still a metaphysical faith upon which our faith in science rests - that even we seekers after knowledge today, we godless anti-metaphysicians, still take our fire, too, from the flame lit by a faith that is thousands of years old, that Christian faith which was also the faith of Plato: that God is the truth, that truth is divine."

Rare is the contemporary atheist who takes his atheism as radically as did Nietzsche.

Indeed. Rare is the atheist who can bear to live consistently with his atheism. As someone once noted, atheists refute their belief everyday by how they live their lives. They live as if their lives are full of point and purpose when, in fact, in a Godless world, point and purpose are empty concepts.

The irony of this is that the atheist is often at pains to accuse the believer of living by an irrational faith when, in fact, the very essence of irrationality is refusing to accept the logical conclusions of one's presuppositions. The paradigm case of irrationality is the modern atheist who tries to inject meaning into his life by undermining belief in the only thing that could possibly make life meaningful.

Like Nietzsche, the atheist Jean Paul Sartre sees the consequences of his atheism much more clearly than do many modern skeptics:

"I was thinking...that here we are eating and drinking to preserve our precious existence and that there's nothing, nothing, absolutely no reason for existing." Jean Paul Sartre (Nausea)


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

William P. Alston (1921-2009)

Bill Alston died last week. That probably means very little to most readers, but if you're among those who have done some reading in the philosophy of religion and/or epistemology you've probably encountered Alston's name and works more than once. He was a giant among contemporary philosophers, and he was also, by all accounts, a wonderful man.

Tom Senor shares some personal memories of Alston at Prosblogion, and what he tells us about him might serve as a model and inspiration for any student who hopes one day to be a teacher. Alston exemplified, in Senor's account, everything that good teachers should be.

Jeremy Pierce also offers some fine reminiscences of Professor Alston here. Anyone interested in being familiar with modern philosophy should be familiar with Bill Alston and reading these two pieces is an excellent step in that direction.


Hope for Spinal Cord Injury Victims

In a stunning development scientists have been able to restore near-normal mobility to rats whose spinal cords have been severed from their brains. Evidently, tissue in the spinal cord is capable of taking over some of the functions of the brain:

Paralysed rats whose spinal cords had been severed from their brains were made to run again using a technique that scientists say can work for people, according to a study released Sunday.

Consistent electrical stimulation and drugs enabled the rats to walk on their hind legs on a treadmill -- bearing the full weight of the body -- within a week of being paralysed.

With the addition of physical therapy, the rodents were able after several weeks to walk and run without stumbling for up to 30 minutes, reported the study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Remarkably, the animals could adjust their movements in response to stimuli despite the lack of signals to and from the brain: when the treadmill was reversed, for example, the rats walked backwards.

"This means that the spinal network is almost capable of cognitive processing," explained Gregoire Courtine, a professor at Zurich University.

"It can understand that the external world is changing, and interpret this information to modify the way it activates muscle," he told AFP by phone.

Earlier studies had shown that nerve networks in the spinal cord can produce limited motion in the muscles independent of the brain or sensory organs. But this is the first time that researchers have been able to restore normal or nearly normal functions.

The article concludes by pointing out that there's no reason why the same procedures couldn't work in human beings. This would be a marvelous gift to the quarter of a million people in the U.S. who have suffered severe spinal cord injury. Nearly half of all spinal cord injuries are caused by automobile accidents, and more than half of these occur among young people between 16 and 30 years old. Perhaps there is hope for these tragic cases.


Tolstoy Or Dostoyevsky

Lovers of Russian literature will enjoy the essay by David Hart at First Things in which he compares the genius of Dostoyevsky to the genius of Tolstoy. I've read both but studied neither and am in no position to pronounce upon the question of which is superior, as Hart does. I will say, though, that in all my admittedly inadequate reading of the great novelists there are few passages I have come across as powerful and mesmerizing as Dostoyevsky's chapter four and five of Book Five of The Brothers Karamazov. In chapter four, titled Rebellion Dostoyevsky presents the problem of theodicy in perhaps its most powerful form in all of literature. Theodicy is the attempt to explain how one can believe in God in the face of the world's staggering evil.

In chapter five, titled The Grand Inquisitor, Dostoyevsky relates his famous parable of Christ's return to Spain at the height of the Spanish Inquisition. In the parable, Christ is actually thrown in prison, not by unbelievers, but by a Cardinal of the Church. What's more surprising, perhaps, is that the rationale the Cardinal gives for this incredible act seems wholly plausible. One can imagine such a thing happening.

Both of these chapters are dialogues between the devout Alyosha and his atheistic brother Ivan. It's Ivan who carries the dialogue, challenging his beloved brother, an orthodox monk, to respond. The two chapters are unequalled, at least in my experience, by anything else in literature. They can be read by themselves without reading the rest of the book, but I commend the entire novel to anyone who has the time. It'll stay with you for the rest of your life and the two chapters I've mentioned will compel you to think about the problem of evil more deeply, perhaps, than you ever did before.

I also recommend Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment for its portrayal of a man named Raskolnikov who tries to live consistently as a Nietzschean moral nihilist. The man who thinks himself "beyond good and evil" (the title of Nietzsche's book on the subject), as does the otherwise likeable Raskolnikov, becomes a moral monster, who can't live even with himself. His amorality, his view of himself as a Nietzschean superman, leads to insanity. Dostoyevsky's treatment of this theme is the best I've ever read.

Nevertheless, Hart thinks Tolstoy is superior and perhaps he is, but I fell in love with Dostoyevsky as a young man and recommend him every chance I get.


Monday, September 21, 2009

Waggle Dance

Insects are amazing creatures. One of the most mind-rocking discoveries about them was made by Karl von Fritsch back in the 1940s when he worked out the significance of the honeybee waggle dance. This astonishing behavior occurs inside a pitch dark hive when a bee returning from a feeding foray does a dance that signals to other bees - which feel the dancer's moves with their forelegs - which direction and how far they should fly to find food. The dance even factors in such variables as windage. It's truly astonishing and, as an article by Caroline Williams at New Scientist tells us, how and why such a behavior could have evolved is a profound mystery.

Now new research is suggesting that honey bees usually ignore the dance and rely on other methods to find food, but if the dance is irrelevant the mystery just deepens. After all, the dance is still an accurate code for finding food so the question of how and why an insect with a brain smaller than a grain of sand developed such an elaborate behavior is still unanswered. Moreover, if the dance is unnecessary or ignored then we're faced with the question as to how it evolved when it doesn't confer any particular advantage on the bees. We're also confronted with the puzzle of explaining, if the bees don't need it and don't pay much attention to it, how and why it's retained in the genome.

Since we're asking difficult questions about the evolution of insect behaviors that are excruciatingly difficult to explain in terms of purely mechanistic processes, here's another - butterfly metamorphosis. How did it come to pass that a caterpillar could build around itself a chrysalis, completely dissociate the cells and tissues of its body inside the chrysalis, and reorganize those tissues in the form of a butterfly? To think that such a process could have evolved solely by chance is not unlike thinking that a computer programmed to build motorcycles could, by randomly jostling the bits and bytes of software code, reprogram the computer to build fighter jets.

I have no problem with the notion that metamorphosis developed over time and that mutation and natural selection played a role. My problem is with believing that such a process could occur without the guidance of an intelligent mind. It takes more faith than what I can muster to believe that natural processes alone are sufficient to accomplish such miracles.

People sometimes say that Christians must check their reason at the door of the church, but no one must suspend his reason or his skepticism more often than the materialist who believes that metamorphosis evolved solely by the chance concatenation of physical forces.


Hey, Let's Defend Iran Against Israel

Gerald Posner interviews former Carter National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski for The Daily Beast and gets a real scoop. In the course of the session Brzezinski opined, believe it or not, that we should be prepared, essentially, to go to war with Israel in order to defend Iran:

Posner: How aggressive can Obama be in insisting to the Israelis that a military strike might be in America's worst interest?

Brzezinski: We are not exactly impotent little babies. They have to fly over our airspace in Iraq. Are we just going to sit there and watch?

Posner: What if they fly over anyway?

Brzezinski: Well, we have to be serious about denying them that right. That means a denial where you aren't just saying it. If they fly over, you go up and confront them. They have the choice of turning back or not. No one wishes for this but it could be a Liberty in reverse. [Israeli jet fighters and torpedo boats attacked the USS Liberty in international waters, off the Sinai Peninsula, during the Six-Day War in 1967. Israel later claimed the ship was the object of friendly fire.]

This is quite startling advice. Mr. Brzezinski advocates attacking an ally who was trying to do what we should have done ourselves by taking out Iran's nuclear weapons capability. Mr. Brzezinski is suggesting here that we should actually put our airmen at risk in order to defend Iran. He thinks that we should throw our relationship with Israel away - the intelligence cooperation, the alliance with the only country in the Middle East that shares our values - in order to keep Iran safe, even though Iran has threatened numerous times to use its nukes to destroy Israel.

People can differ on exactly what should be done about Iran, but an act of war against ally seems an odd way to treat one's friends. Wouldn't some sort of diplomatic protest after the fact be wiser than going to war with a country with which we share such a close relationship? Apparently, Mr. Brzezinski doesn't think so.

It's no wonder people get the willies when they think of Democrats running our national defense.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Market Trends

For those of you interested in business and the stock market, David Callaway at has good news and bad news. Here's a synopsis:

Wednesday's 108-point run was the best day of the month for the Dow, and it's now up more than 3% for September, 11.6% for the year, and nearly 50% from its bear market closing low on March 9.

But just as stocks couldn't go straight down to zero this spring, a favorite prediction of the bears and the shorts at the time, they can't go straight back up either. We've no better chance of hitting Dow 14,000 again this year as we had of hitting Dow 3,500 in March, when the average got below 6,500.

Earnings aren't good, Washington is in typical gridlock on health care and financial regulation, banks continue to fail at an alarming rate and unemployment is approaching 10%. Yet some economic numbers do show that the worst of the recession is over, a theory which garnered a modicum of credibility this week when Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke said the recession has "likely" ended.

Still, it's hard to see this rally as anything other than a momentum bandwagon right now. Online brokerage trading volumes are surging at Charles Schwab Corp., E-Trade Financial, and TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. and small investors are jumping back into funds and especially exchange-traded funds.

At some point, a correction is inevitable. And arguably, it's OK to just ride this out until that day comes. Might be next week; might be next year. When it does come, though, it will come with a loud crack in equities, as all the positive momentum behind the market right now suddenly shifts to an embarrassing, emperor-without-clothes type of feeling, which will precede a rush to sell.

That ultimately will be healthier for the market than the current sprint to Dow 10,000, though it might not feel like it at the time. By the end of the year, I think we'll be higher than we are today, likely above 10,000. December in particular could be a strong scene-setter for a recovery run in 2010.

So what's the take home message? It appears to be that the road ahead for investors (and businessmen and women) is going to be bumpy, but that if you just ride it out you'll be fine. I'm not an economist but I have some doubts about this. It may be that over the relatively short term things will be fairly positive, but what happens when our huge deficits start building in a year or so, and we have to pay on the debt. The only way we'll be able to do that is to impose onerous taxes on businesses or print money which will generate inflation. Either course will kill the markets. It seems inevitable that one or both of those alternatives lies in the not so distant our future, so I wonder why Calloway thinks that 2010 will be a year of recovery.

Perhaps the only thing that's going to be recovered in 2010 is the good sense of the voters who will decide to cashier the people who got us into this mess.


Why The Arabs Languish

The folks at Strategy Page analyze Islamic terrorism and why Arab civilizations have stagnated while the rest of the world passes them by:

In many parts of the world, especially among young Moslem men, Islamic terrorism has become fashionable. It's a coping mechanism for failure. More than half a century after the Arab world once more became free (first from centuries of Turkish rule in 1918, then a few decades of European supervision), the truth has sunk in. While the rest of the world prospered during the last half century, the Arabs are still uneducated, unproductive, poor and ruled by tyrants and kings. What are young Moslems to make of this?

Blaming the Jews has accomplished nothing, except to provide more opportunities to fail. Supporting al Qaeda (with money and volunteers) produced the September 11, 2001 attacks. That had young men dancing in the streets all over the Arab world (much to the chagrin of their elders, and embarrassment of their governments). But the response has led to an even longer list of failures. Not only was al Qaeda, and similar organizations, revealed to be mindless murderers of innocent Moslems (in Iraq, Afghanistan, and several other Islamic nations), but these Holy Warriors proved embarrassingly incompetent when fighting the Crusaders from the West.

American troops suffered far fewer casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan (where the casualty rate was actually a third of what it was in Vietnam) than in earlier wars. While pro-terrorist web sites loved to feature videos of roadside bombs going off and American troops getting shot out, more embarrassing were U.S. videos of Islamic terrorists being caught in the act, and bombed or shot up. Worst of all were those videos, taken by American UAVs or helicopter gunships, that showed terrorists trying to plant roadside bombs, which then blew them up because of improper handling (or construction.)

One of the little discussed tragedies of Islamic terrorism is the fact that most of those it attracts are the least capable. Islamic terrorism is not only an act of extremism, but also of desperation of those who have few other prospects. It's an international organization because Islam, in general, has not been amenable to taking advantage of new technology and economic opportunity, except for cable TV and the Internet. That's why the Moslem world has lagged so far behind the rest of the world in the last century. Religious leaders are reluctant to discuss the possibility of Islam being part of the problem, although many educated Moslems are becoming more aggressive in seeking out cultural problems, and proposing solutions. Terrorism is not seen as a practical way out by most Moslems, but the threat of retribution by Islamic radicals makes it difficult for most Moslems to speak up.

It's hard to overstate the importance of the religious worldview of a people in shaping their culture. Everything they value, everything they accomplish, is a consequence of what they believe about God, man, life, and nature. A worldview, for example, that inculcates the idea that our minds are gifts from God that He wants us to use to unlock the secrets of His creation will have a completely different developmental history than cultures which believe that our minds should be used only to study theology. A worldview which sees nature as the creation of a rational, loving God who gives it as a gift for our safe-keeping will imbue the people who hold it with a completely different attitude toward scientific investigation than a worldview which teaches that technological progress is somehow outside the proper concern of the truly pious.

Even many thoughtful atheists recognize that the values we have always held dear in our democracy are derivatives of our Christian heritage and can not be sustained by any other worldview. Atheist philosopher J�rgen Habermas, for example, has observed that:

"Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. To this we have no other options. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter."

Habermas is right, of course. The Enlightenment sought to ground the virtues of Western civilization in the exercise of human reason and wound up giving us the soul-crushing totalitarianisms of the 20th century. Modernity's rejection of God in general and Christianity in particular led to unprecedented horrors in China, Cambodia, Africa, Germany, the Soviet Union and elsewhere around the globe. One hundred million people were murdered in the name of reason, science, and state atheism. In the attempt to deify man the 20th century wound up dehumanizing him and grinding him into the earth everywhere but in those cultures which remained under the sway of a vibrant Christianity.

Jesus taught that truth makes us free. It will liberate us from superstition and the sort of assumptions that enchain men rather than free them. The problem with the Arab world is that they are in thrall to a worldview that locks its adherents in the chains of a mental dungeon rather than freeing them to fluorish.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Nowhere to Hide

Strategy Page features an interesting report on the silent war against Islamic terrorists around the globe:

Navy SEALS reportedly launched a daring raid Tuesday in southern Somalia that targeted and killed a senior al Qaeda leader wanted for several deadly attacks. This was the latest in a series of covert operations carried out by US and allied special operations. At least four other high-profile raids by ground forces took place in Pakistan, Madagascar, and Syria over the past several years, while others have gone unreported, according to US officials.

The successful Somali raid targeted Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a senior al Qaeda leader in East Africa as well as a senior leader in Shabaab, al Qaeda's surrogate in Somalia. Nabhan is thought to train terrorists in Somalia and has been at the forefront in cementing ties between Shabaab and al Qaeda. He has been wanted for his involvement in the 1998 suicide attacks against US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, as well as leading the cell behind the 2002 terror attacks in Mombasa, Kenya, against a hotel and an airliner.

Reports of the operation are still unclear as the U.S. military has refused to comment. But various press accounts from eyewitnesses and unnamed intelligence sources provide a glimpse of the operation.

The operation, dubbed Celestial Balance, was approved 11 days ago after US intelligence determined that Nabhan was shuttling back and forth between the Shabaab-controlled port cities of Merka and Kismayo. A car transporting Nabhan and five other foreign fighters was escorted by another car carrying three Shabaab escorts; the vehicles were hit as they stopped for breakfast as they traveled to Kismayo.

According to one witness, upwards of six helicopters were involved in the raid. At least two AH-6 Little Bird special operations attack helicopters strafed the two-car convoy. Other helicopters dismounted Navy SEALs, who seized the body of Nabhan and another, and purportedly took two other wounded fighters captive. An unconfirmed report indicated that Sheikh Hussein Ali Fidow, a senior Shabaab leader, was among those killed. All nine al Qaeda and Shabaab leaders and fighters were killed during the operation.

It's good to know that despite the widespread view on the Left that terrorists should be treated as criminals with Miranda rights rather than as mortal enemies President Obama is pressing the fight against al Qaeda wherever they can be found. It's also good to know that we have men capable of executing such dangerous missions with skill and courage.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

This Is Very Sad

I want very much to like and respect former President Jimmy Carter, but it seems that every time he opens his mouth he says something irresponsible. This is no exception:

Like so many others who are calling any criticism of President Obama a sign of racism, Mr. Carter offers not a shred of evidence that any of Mr. Obama's critics are motivated by race let alone that the "overwhelming" number are. The charge of racism is an admission that the left has no argument. There's nothing they can say in defense of the current administration's headlong rush to bankrupt the nation and to move us toward an ever-expanding role for government in our lives, so they accuse anyone who doesn't want to go along for the ride of being a racist. They offer no evidence, no support of the accusation, they just state it as an axiomatic truth.

Liberals accept as an article of their faith that America is a deeply racist nation. If you ask them to show you an example of racism in America today they're hard put to come up with one, but that doesn't diminish the strength of their conviction. Their dogmatic certainty is just as rock solid and just as purblind as that of any stereotypical fundamentalist. Given their assumption that America is still living in the 1930s, and given their utter incomprehension that anyone could possibly oppose liberal policies on their merits, it seems obvious to them that opposition to Mr. Obama could not possibly be based on anything but his skin color.

Now, I don't have any doubt that there's racism in this country. After all, one could go here,for example, and see a school bus full of white kids hooting and hollering as a couple of their friends beat up just about the only black kid on the bus (or maybe it was the other way around, I forget), but to accuse the President's political opponents of being racially motivated without adducing even a shred of empirical evidence for the charge beyond, maybe, a couple of ambiguous signs in a protest march is not only vile, it's stupid.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Why People Don't Believe Him

Newsweek columnist George Will explains why President Obama seems to be the victim of a strange kind of inverse relationship. The more he talks the less people believe what he says. The President has played so fast and loose with so many matters involving the people's money, most lately health care reform, that people respond to his words like they respond to the guy in the bar who's always spinning yarns that everyone knows aren't true.

Here are a few excerpts from Will's incisive column:

On the 233rd day of his presidency, Barack Obama grabbed the country's lapels for the 263rd time-that was, as of last Wednesday, the count of his speeches, press conferences, town halls, interviews, and other public remarks. His speech to Congress was the 122nd time he had publicly discussed health care. Just 14 hours would pass before the 123rd, on Thursday morning. His incessant talking cannot combat what it has caused: An increasing number of Americans do not believe that he believes what he says.

He says America's health-care system is going to wrack and ruin and requires root-and-branch reform-but that if you like your health care (as a large majority of Americans do), nothing will change for you. His slippery new formulation is that nothing in his plan will "require" anyone to change coverage. He used to say, "If you like your health-care plan, you'll be able to keep your health-care plan, period." He had to stop saying that because various disinterested analysts agree that his plan will give many employers incentives to stop providing coverage for employees.

He deplores "scare tactics" but says that unless he gets his way, people will die. He praises temperate discourse but says many of his opponents are liars. He says Medicare is an exemplary program that validates government's prowess at running health systems. But he also says Medicare is unsustainable and going broke, and that he will pay for much of his reforms by eliminating the hundreds of billions of dollars of waste and fraud in this paragon of a program, and in Medicaid. He says Congress will cut Medicare (it will not) by $500 billion-without affecting benefits.

He says the nation's economic health depends on controlling health-care costs. Yet so important is the trial bar in financing the Democratic Party, he says not a syllable in significant and specific support of tort reforms that could save hundreds of billions of dollars by reducing "defensive medicine" intended to protect not patients from illnesses but doctors from lawyers. He has said he will not add a dime to the deficit when bringing 47 million people into government-guaranteed health care. But Wednesday night, 17 million went missing: "There are now more than 30 million American citizens who cannot get coverage." Almost 10 million of the uninsured are not citizens, and most of them are illegal immigrants.

Presumably the other 7 million could get insurance but chose not to. Democrats propose fines to eliminate that choice. He suggests health-insurance companies are making excessive profits. But since 1996, profits of the six such companies in the S&P 500 have been below the 500's average. He says a "public option"-a government insurance program-would not be subsidized to enable it to compete unfairly with private insurers. (The post office and the government's transportation -"public option," Amtrak, devour subsidies.) He says the public option is vital for keeping health insurers "honest"-but that it is only a wee "sliver" of reform.

The President is either confused about his proposals or he's deliberately trying to deceive the American people into thinking that those proposals are something that they're not. In either case, he has just about exhausted the confidence the electorate placed in him last November. If he turns out to be a one-term President it won't be because of racism, or because people misrepresented his policies, or because of congressional Democrats (although they're trying hard to ensure that the voters get fed up with the President's party). If Barack Obama fails to win the support of the electorate in 2012 it will be largely because voters simply don't believe that he knows what he's talking about or that he's telling them the truth.


Norman Borlaug - Hero

Contrary to the faux heroes offered up by our celebrity culture most real heroes are people we've never heard of. Such, perhaps, was Norman Borlaug who died recently at the age of 95. Borlaug was an agronomist who won a Nobel prize in 1970 for having saved from hunger hundreds of millions of starving peasants around the world.

Guy Sorman tells his story in a piece at City Journal. The account of how Borlaug's work on developing strains of wheat and rice to relieve famine conditions in Mexico and India is fascinating in itself, and I hope you'll read it, but there's also an ideological moral to the story.

Sorman writes:

Borlaug was no innocent scientist: he knew that science could feed the world only when political conditions were right. In the case of India and Mexico, the semi-dwarf wheat and rice worked marvels because the farmers owned their own land. As private owners, they had a vested interest in using more expensive seeds that would produce a higher yield. Local authorities provided the water for irrigation: both the Mexican and Indian governments did it right, later followed by Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines. But without private entrepreneurs, the Green Revolution would not have taken place. While touring the world, Borlaug always stressed that seeds by themselves could not eradicate hunger. Private property, entrepreneurship, and reliable governments were essential prerequisites.

Borlaug's pro-market advocacy did not please everyone in the Third World. The Indian Left always saw the Green Revolution as an engine of injustice, and it attacked Borlaug for generating a social divide. It's true that the most dynamic farmers in India did become wealthy, but the poor became poorer only relative to the new bourgeoisie.

As it was with the Left in India so it is with the Left everywhere. They seem to prefer that everyone be hungry rather than see a few get wealthy. They think that collectivism and socialism can solve food shortages despite the fact that the history of the twentieth century has consistently been one of capitalist countries sending food to hungry people in socialist countries. One reason why third world nations remain mired in poverty and hunger is because they've adopted an unworkable socialist model which removes all incentives for farmers to work hard to produce a surplus. Yet we keep hearing, even from many in our country, that private property and private enterprise are great evils even as American agriculture continues to help feed the world.

Those who believe that socialism would do better might offer some indication of how many hungry children socialism fed in the 20th century.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Is America Breaking Up?

Pat Buchanan wonders, with good reason, I think, if America is breaking up. Here's the heart of his essay:

[T]he episode [the President's speech to school students] reveals the poisoned character of our politics.

We saw it earlier on display in August, when the crowds that came out for town hall meetings to oppose Obama's health-care plans were called "thugs," "fascists," "racists" and "evil-mongers" by national Democrats.

We see it as Rep. Joe Wilson shouts, "You lie!" at the president during his address to a joint session of Congress.

We seem not only to disagree with each other more than ever, but to have come almost to detest one another. Politically, culturally, racially, we seem ever ready to go for each others' throats.

One half of America sees abortion as the annual slaughter of a million unborn. The other half regards the right-to-life movement as tyrannical and sexist.

Proponents of gay marriage see its adversaries as homophobic bigots. Opponents see its champions as seeking to elevate unnatural and immoral relationships to the sacred state of traditional marriage.

The question invites itself. In what sense are we one nation and one people anymore? For what is a nation if not a people of a common ancestry, faith, culture and language, who worship the same God, revere the same heroes, cherish the same history, celebrate the same holidays and share the same music, poetry, art and literature?

Yet, today, Mexican-Americans celebrate Cinco de Mayo, a skirmish in a French-Mexican war about which most Americans know nothing, which took place the same year as two of the bloodiest battles of our own Civil War: Antietam and Fredericksburg.

Christmas and Easter, the great holidays of Christendom, once united Americans in joy. Now we fight over whether they should even be mentioned, let alone celebrated, in our public schools.

Where we used to have classical, pop, country & Western and jazz music, now we have varieties tailored to specific generations, races and ethnic groups. Even our music seems designed to subdivide us.

One part of America loves her history, another reviles it as racist, imperialist and genocidal. Old heroes like Columbus, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee are replaced by Dr. King and Cesar Chavez.

Buchanan has a point. As we become more and more diverse, as we focus on the things which make us different rather than the things which we share in common, as fewer and fewer Americans revere our nation's history, traditions and founding documents, as fewer Americans speak a common language, we will become increasingly Balkanized. Every nation is subject to certain centrifugal forces that tend to rip it apart. What holds a people together against those forces is a dominant culture in which everyone shares. We no longer have such a culture, or it is rapidly disappearing, and what we do have diminishes its hold on the hearts and minds of Americans with every new generation.

America may well be breaking up, and that fact raises an interesting academic question: Can a democracy long endure when none of its sub-cultures is any longer dominant? In other words, can a democracy survive multiculturalism and its attendant relativism? My fear is that the answer is "no." At least it's hard to think of an historical precedent.


Re: The 9/12 Photo

Several readers have written to inform me that the photo I used to accompany my post titled 9/12 Tea Party was actually taken at a different rally.

I thought when I first saw it that the scene looked too sunny to have been taken last Saturday when the northeast was pretty much soaked in a steady drizzle, but then I thought that maybe in D.C. the sun might have come out more than it did where I live.

Anyway, the pic is not of the 9/12 protest and should not be used as a guage of how many people were in D.C. last Saturday. TCS kindly sent along a link that has some info on the photo. It appears that the shot may have been taken of a Promise-Keepers rally that took place in October of 1997, an event that, coincidentally, I happened to have attended.

I was going to take the photo off the website, but since I'm in it I decided out of vanity to leave it up.



Last year Congress and President Bush agreed to suspend the ban on oil drilling on the continental shelf. Things were set to resume tapping into the oil reserves on the shelf this year, but unfortunately the Obama administration suspended the suspension by imposing a six month delay on the granting of leases needed to begin drilling.

That delay is set to expire on September 21st and the administration and Congress have an excellent opportunity to demonstrate how serious they are about creating jobs, stimulating the economy, balancing the budget, and making us energy independent of the Middle East.

According to a report by the American Energy Alliance (AEA) drilling would add $8 trillion to our GDP and generate $2.2 trillion in new tax revenues. This would go a long way toward reducing the deficit that Congress and the President have burdened us with.

Allowing drilling would also, according to the AEA report, create 1.2 million jobs each year and generate $70 billion in wages. The new jobs would not be limited to just the oil industry but would be realized in a wide spectrum of industries upon which oil drilling depends. It would be a substantial boost to the economies of coastal states like California which are teetering on the brink of insolvency.

The continental shelf holds at least 80 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Since we import about 4 billion barrels a year we could cut our imports in half and have enough oil to last for at least another forty years.

More oil and lower dependency upon foreign suppliers means cheaper gas. Cheaper fuel means lower prices for everything manufactured and/or shipped in the United States. This would be a boon not only to the middle class but especially to the poor.

Democrats in Congress, however, are very reluctant to go along with offshore drilling. They prefer a cap and trade system to reduce fuel consumption that would help reduce global warming. Cap and trade would raise the cost of fuel, kill job growth, make everyone poorer and reduce global temperatures a measly two tenths of a degree Celsius by 2100. It's hard to see why this is a more desirable policy than exploiting the resources we already have, and given the alternatives it's astonishing that there's any debate about which course of action we should follow.

Instead of just reiterating their refusal to allow drilling it would be helpful if the Democrats would share with us the reasons for that refusal.

[Some of the above information was gleaned from an article by Rep. Doc Hastings in the Washington Times.]


Monday, September 14, 2009

Seeking God in Science (Pt. II)

In chapter two of Seeking God in Science (See here for the first part of our discussion of the book) Brad Monton considers the question of whether ID is legitimate science and here, as in chapter one, he slays a number of hostile polemical dragons. He argues that attempts to define science have a dismal history and that, Judge Jones' decree in Kitzmiller vs. Dover School District notwithstanding, there's no good reason to think that intelligent design is not science. Monton takes on one contender after another and tosses each in turn out of the ring. His analysis of his opponents' arguments is incisive, sometimes brilliant, and the upshot is that, though he thinks ID wrong, there's no good reason for excluding it from the community of scientific theories.

The next chapter was perhaps the most interesting. He begins by saying that the important question is not whether ID is science but whether it's true, and he's exactly right about this. He thinks the arguments in its favor have some plausibility but not enough to persuade him to abandon his atheism or to accept that there is a non-theistic designer.

The problem, I think, with Monton's argument in this chapter is that he seems to make the term "somewhat plausible" synonomous with "not very likely." I don't know if this is intentional, but I do think it's misleading. For example, in considering the argument for a designer based on the fine-tuning of the universe he notes that most people simply lack the expertise to evaluate the claims that the relevant parameters must be set at precisely the values they are for life to exist and thus shouldn't make too much of the extraordinary coincidence that so many values are indeed calibrated to such fine tolerances.

That's true enough, but it's an objection one could make to any theory in science. Most philosophers and even many scientists know very little about relativity theory or quantum mechanics or string theory or even evolution. They rely on people who do know about these things, and they assume that the people who do have expertise are largely correct in their conclusions.

The fine-tuning argument has as an implied premise that the physicists who argue that the dozen or more values must be almost exactly what they are or else the universe wouldn't exist and/or life wouldn't exist, are most likely correct. If they are then an intelligent designer is the best explanation for the cosmic structure.

The argument isn't a proof in the deductive sense, but it's much more than "somewhat plausible" since the claim that the cosmos is fine-tuned for life seems to be admitted by even opponents of ID and is much more likely to be true than false.

Similarly, Monton asserts that we are not warranted in believing that the universe had a beginning because we can't know what happened prior to about 10 ^ -12 seconds after the initial event. Because we can't penetrate that time horizon we're not warranted in believing that the universe began to exist. I think this is not quite correct. We may well be warranted in believing that the universe began to exist in a big bang but we're not warranted in saying that it certainly did. And if we are warranted in believing that the universe began to exist then we may well be justified in believing that it had a cause of its existence.

His most problematic objection to ID has to do with the ID argument that life itself is astronomically improbable as a product of blind, impersonal forces. He doesn't dispute this, but he does argue that the universe is spatially infinite and rather homogenous throughout. Therefore there would be an infinite number of planets like our own and no matter how small the chances of life arising naturalistically, if the probability is at all greater than zero it must have happened. Indeed, it must have happened infinite times.

I find this argument implausible. It's based on the assumption that given infinite opportunities anything that is possible to be the case will be the case. Given an infinite number of planets there would be an infinity of planets like earth and in an infinite number of planets anything which is at all possible will be actual. One problem with this argument is that its based on the assumption that the universe is infinite and that it has a fairly uniform composition throughout, but we have no more reason to think this second assumption true than we did to think that the universe had a beginning. If Monton is not warranted in believing that the universe had a beginning then I don't see how he's warranted in believing that the universe is both infinite and uniform.

But even if we grant Monton these assumptions it seems to me that they actually confirm the existence of a designer. Let's stipulate that there is a non-zero probability that some part of our spatially infinite universe was designed. In other words, we're stipulating that it's possible that a designer exists. If so, then given an infinite number of parts to the universe, at least one of them (actually an infinity of them) must be designed. Thus a designer exists. This doesn't prove that the designer has designed every part of the universe but its a very short psychological step from the existence of a designer of an infinite number of parts of the universe to the existence of the entire universe.

At any rate, an argument that demonstrates the existence of a designer of even just a part of the universe seems to be a defeater of Monton's belief that no such designer exists.

The fourth chapter addresses the question whether ID should be taught in public school science classrooms. Here again Monton relentlessly punctures many of the arguments raised by those who oppose doing so.

The book is a delight to read, as much for Monton's relentless devotion to the truth and the clarity of his argumentation as it is for the interesting perspectives brought to the topic by an atheist defending intelligent design. I recommend it to anyone interested in the controversy surrounding the debate between IDers and those who oppose them.


The ACORN Saga Continues

Perhaps you've heard that ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), President Obama's former associates, are once again in the news and the news isn't good. A pair of intrepid young indy filmmakers surreptitiously filmed the proceedings as they visited two ACORN offices, one in Baltimore and one in Washington, posing as a pimp and a prostitute. The pair claimed that they wished to run a prostitution business using teenage El Salvadoran girls and they needed advice on housing options. They were counseled by ACORN representatives as to how they could get away with running their business in Baltimore and how they could mislead the IRS and avoid paying taxes.

The conselors were fired when the video broke, but there's a much deeper, more systemic problem with ACORN than just a few ethically challenged housing advisors. ACORN representatives have over the years been convicted in numerous states of voter registration fraud and a host of other legal violations. The odor of corruption and/or mismanagement has clung to them for at least a decade.

Yet ACORN has been given access to millions of dollars in stimulus money and were contracted to help carry out the 2010 census (although in the wake of this latest scandal the census bureau has severed its connection with ACORN).

If you'd like to be brought up to speed on this latest episode in the ACORN saga go here and scroll down. There's plenty of information and video shot by the young undercover investigators in the ACORN offices.

By the way, the young man who did the filming, who did the kind of investigating reporting the traditional media seem loath to do, James O'Keefe, may be prosecuted by Baltimore City for secretly taping the exchange with the ACORN people. Law enforcement authorities had been questioned as to whether the city was going to do anything about what some thought to be ACORN's obvious breach of the law so the State's Attorney's office looked at the tape and decided, astonishingly, that the malefactor was the filmmaker.

Meanwhile, the traditional media slumbers while this travesty plays out.

Margaret Williams, an ACORN board member, predictably blames the whole contretemps on .... racism. Sigh.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Update on 9/12 Numbers

Jason writes to inform me that ABC is denying having ever claimed that there were 2 million people marching in Washington yesterday.

I have no way of knowing what the actual number was, but when taken together with the fact that there were other such gatherings around the country, it does seem that there's a lot of dissatisfaction out there with the direction the Democrats are taking this country.

It's also noteworthy, perhaps, that so many of the people who traveled across the country to attend this event say that they've never done anything like it before. They never protested anything more than an underdone steak in a restaurant, but they've finally decided that they can be silent no longer. Their children's futures are being placed at risk by this Congress and administration.

Let's just set the number in D.C. yesterday at "lots."


Saturday, September 12, 2009

9/12 Tea Party

According to ABC as many as two million people showed up in Washington, D.C. today to protest out-of-control government spending and an unprecedented arrogation of centralized power. My local news was reporting "tens of thousands" but this appears to be a gross underestimation:

That's an awful lot of racists.

Go here for more pics of the party and enjoy the Doobie Brothers a while:

UPDATE: The photo above showing the crowd in the Capitol mall tuurns out to have been taken at a different rally which took place in 1997 and should not be used to guage the number of people at the 9/12 protest.


Re: Wednesday's Speech

Caleb, a young law student and friend, writes to share some thoughts on our post about the President's speech last Wednesday.

He has a lot of interesting things to say and closes with this:

I, like many, took umbrage with Rep. Wilson's comments. My issue, however, was not with what he said, but the manner and place in which he said them. While I deplore the current partisanship of politics, where names are flung around with increasing frequency, I realize that it would be hypocritical for one to slam Rep. Wilson for calling Obama a liar when Sen. Reid called President Bush a liar. However, yelling this during a joint address to Congress seems highly disrespectful. So did the various Republicans who were clearly Blackberrying, held signs that said "What bill?", etc. I'm not saying that the Democrats were never guilty of rude behavior towards the President. However, I feel that it is up to both sides, Republican and Democrat, to show more respect for the office. I do not agree with everything that Obama said during his speech, but to call him a liar during it is extremely rude and cheapens the political debate.

Caleb's right. The Democrats were just as rude to Mr. Bush when he tried to pitch social security reform to them in 2004, Mr. Obama was not being forthright about coverage of illegal aliens, and Senator Reid has never been forced to apologize for calling Mr. Bush a liar on national television. Nevertheless, it was unseemly and inexcusable for congressman Wilson to blurt out "You lie!" in that forum, and he apologized for it. We're still waiting for Senator Reid's apology.

Read the rest of Caleb's thoughts on the Feedback page.


Seeking God in Science (Pt. I)

Bradley Monton is an atheist philosopher of science who has written one of the best books on the controversy surrounding intelligent design I've come across. Monton's book is exceptionally fair to the point of being in places almost sympathetic to ID, though he's at pains to stress that he's not a proponent. Even so, I suspect that the book will have a lot of opponents of ID wondering exactly whose side Monton is on.

The book is titled Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design (157 pages) and is divided into four chapters plus a preface. It opens with the claim that "This book is not providing a full-fledged endorsement of intelligent design. But intelligent design needs to be taken more seriously than a lot of its opponents are willing to."

His goal in writing the book is:

"not to serve one side [in the debate] or the other side, and in fact my goal isn't even to be useful. My goal is simply to evaluate the arguments on both sides as carefully and objectively as I can. If this ends up serving one side more than the other, I don't care; my goal is to do the best I can to get at the truth."

This is certainly a welcome approach, one rarely found among opponents of ID (Michael Ruse and Ronald Numbers are the only other anti-ID writers I can think of who might share Monton's desire to be fair to the arguments of their opponents), and Monton's treatment of the topics in his book is as fascinating as it is refreshing.

The first chapter consists of an attempt to refine the definition of intelligent design so that the arguments both pro and con can be evaluated more effectively and to dispose of a number of weak or misleading arguments with which opponents of ID have cluttered the landscape. It should be noted that this is not a book about the science involved in evolution. In fact, there's very little science in the book at all. It's a book of public philosophy and can be read with profit by any educated person who is aware of the controversies swirling around ID.

In chapter one Monton makes an interesting claim. He observes that if we're trying to find an explanation for certain features of the universe - like its existence and the fine-tuning of the cosmic constants and parameters - then an intelligent cause is clearly our best option. ID offers the best explanation for cosmic fine-tuning and the existence of the world, but he doesn't accept ID because, as an atheist he doesn't think there's any explanation for these phenomena at all. ID is the best explanation, but he believes all explanations are false. The universe just is and there's no explanation for it.

This is an interesting approach but it strikes me as a science-stopper, an accusation which is often leveled at ID. Scientists should always be looking for the explanations of physical phenomena. To say of some contingent state of affairs that it has no explanation seems to me, at least, to be rather ad hoc. Monton says our choice is between an intelligent cause of the world and believing that it just is and has no explanation or cause. If those are our choices, and I think Monton is right about that, it seems that the "no explanation" position is a very high price to pay in order to be able to hold on to one's atheism.

One of the weak anti-ID arguments Monton addresses is the claim by opponents that ID is a religious idea. Monton offers an interesting counter. He points out that, for all we know, our world could be a computer simulation designed by an inhabitant of some other world. Everything about the visible universe could in fact be the product of a very sophisticated software program. If that's a possibility, no matter how bizarre it may sound (and Monton cites some reasons for thinking it may be the case), then ID could be true and there would be nothing necessarily "religious" about it.

In other words, just because many IDers are religious people does not entail that ID must be a religious theory any more than the fact that many Darwinians are atheists entails that evolution is inherently atheistic.

I'll talk more about Brad Monton's book on Monday. Meanwhile, if you're interested in the issues involved in this debate, no matter which side of it you're on, you really should think about ordering a copy.